A few weeks ago someone suggested I take a look at the book Hot Pants! Do It Yourself Gynecology and Herbal Remedies.
After reading all 95 pages a more apt title would be From Camelot to the Clap, Ancient Gynecology for a Modern Woman. A Herbalist and a Radio Activist turn Fables into Feminism.
Because that, my friends, is what you get.
First of all, you cannot claim to be a DIY gynecology book without providing a step-by-step guide for taking your own Pap smear. Then there is the fact that the book starts with a handy disclaimer that it is “not intended to provide diagnoses or prescriptions.”
Then again, words apparently don’t matter much for a book that reads like a womanly woo word generator with body parts, medical conditions, compounding terms, and plant names.
Treat depression of the ovary with a tincture of cloves!
I mean don’t, but you get the idea.
The book was published in 1993 and shockingly updated in 2015, although the only updated information appears to be mention of the HPV vaccine (they do not call it evil, color me shocked) and guidelines for Pap smear frequency. Everything else is woo, ignorance, and cayenne pepper.
Apparently it takes a fuck load of cayenne pepper to treat, sorry my bad, cleanse the reproductive tract.
The idea for the table of contents is cute. A periodic table. Ha ha. Get it? Periods. Although, most of the information is bullshit, so a cute idea poorly executed.
The page numbers are a tacky reference to cervical mucus checks and a constant, annoying message that fertility awareness methods of preventing pregnancy are somehow superior. They’re not.
The book itself starts with some anatomically bizarre illustrations. I’d like to give the vulva rendered as the underbelly of a snail a pass as a printing error due to cost considerations, but no matter how intently I stare with the eye of faith it is so many shades of wrong. Look, I am an OB/GYN who trained on bedside ultrasounds in the early 1990s. I can turn a snowstorm into a 20 weeks fetus, so if you’ve lost me you’ve lost everyone. Let’s just say this illustration is a hot fucking mess.
And the reproductive organs? They look like the Scorpion King from The Mummy.
The patriarchy disguised as female empowerment starts early. The clitoris gets one line in the book as an organ for “sexual stimulation.” But the uterus? I’m sorry, I mean the womb? (I HATE THAT WORD).
Well…here’s what Hot Pants! wants you to know about the womb…
It is believed that the uterus is the center of a woman’s energy and that each month we gather up and store emotions and experiences in the womb. Menstruation is the release and cleansing of these emotions each month.
This sentence perfectly encapsulates the overlap between pseudoscience and the patriarchy. Both profit from misinformation and the idea that women are simply breathlessly awaiting our true purpose — to be filled with sperm.
While there are some facts that are correct, at least 80% of the book is batshit — woefully incorrect information that would be funny if it were not so harmful. Nestling facts next to dangerous fantasy makes it even worse. If 100% of the book was “take mud from yonder bog and render it with 5 drops of menses, a pinch of yarrow, and a handful of motherwort under a blood moon” most people, except the most dedicated blood sister herbalists, would give it a pass.
Snake oil is especially dangerous when it is on the same shelf as science.
The herbalist and radio activist advocate all the usual suspects, the well-known medically ignorant and potentially harmful “mother earth” remedies, such a sea sponges for tampons and rubbing garlic on warts. Rubbing warts can spread the virus, but hey facts. Am I right?
Then there are the even more ludicrous ideas, such as stuffing a sprig of parsley in your vagina daily for 3 to 4 days to bring on a period. I am sure the midwives of Avalon did not know that a menstrual period is the result of the withdrawal of reproductive hormones. I am not faulting the sisters of yore. I am disgusted that the authors of Hot Pants! are perfectly happy keeping women at an Arthurian-level knowledge-base.
There are a lot of warnings about CHEMICAL ANTIBIOTICS, setting up the lie that there are “natural” antibiotics.”
For example, the authors advocate sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing so you can best “determine which STI you have before treating yourself with an herbal remedy.”
I’m so dead I’m ded.
Like stuffing a garlic clove, that you must be careful not to nick, into your vagina for trichomonas.
That is both medically and botanically stupid. Garlic has to be cut or crushed to release the allicin that may have medicinal value (don’t pushed crushed garlic in your vagina, I’m just pointing out the sheer ignorance).
Or gonorrhea. Apparently, you can “treat” gonorrhea “easily’ with “one pill” (not in 2015, but fuck facts). The authors of Hot Pants! also want you to know there is another option for women who do not “feel comfortable with antibiotics.” Two to three months with a “decoction or tincture” of echinacea.
HAS SOMEONE CALLED THE CDC TO LET THEM KNOW THEY SHOULDN’T BE WORRIED ABOUT MULTI-DRUG RESISTANT GONORRHEA BECAUSE DECOCTION OF ECHINACEA?
You know what is going to give you fucking hot pants? The fever from your pelvic abscess due to your untreated gonorrhea.
*Gasps for breath*
And then there is the genital cleansing…
(side bar – I hate the word genitals almost as much as I hate womb, we are adults so it is okay to use adult words, such as vulva or lower reproductive tract, or God forbid as we are talking about cleansing, the upper reproductive tract)
…but this isn’t cleaning as in washing (phew!), no this cleansing as in purifying to prevent “cysts, adhesions, fibroids, etc.” because they “take refuge.”
Your reproductive tract is not a wayward bit of flotsam in the storm of life where barnacles and sundry creatures seek refuge.
Hot Pants! would be funny if all if of this destructive messaging were in the past.
Obsessions with womb cleansing and purity have been passed on for centuries because of the patriarchy. Initially, women passed this information along because they understood their worth was measured before marriage by virginity and after marriage by how many children they might bear. A “pure” vagina and uterus were currency.
A woman with knowledge was dangerous. She might get ideas that her worth lay not in her uterus, but in her mind. So women were not taught to read. They were barred from schools and universities. Our female ancestors did the best they could with the limited information they were allowed. I firmly believe these women would be aghast at modern women for willfully choosing scientific ignorance.
I imagine some woman from 1200 B.C. or 1200 A.D. with trichomonas being offered a clove of garlic or antibiotics along with the success rates of both and saying, “Well, we’ve been trying that garlic thing for years and everyone I know still has a green discharge. I’m going to go with this magic you call metronidazole. And how can I help spread this message to other women?”
Hot Pants! reads like a blueprint for GOOP. The recipe has not changed — equal parts medical ignorance, purity, cleansing rituals, the fetishization of natural, and delusional beliefs sprinkled with a conservative dusting of conspiracy theories. The only difference is the packaging.
In 1993 this was radical and feminist. In 2018 it is artisanal and feminist.
Passing off ancient myths about the reproductive tract as empowering women is a stunning display of a predatory marketing or ignorance and internalized patriarchy. I suspect Hot Pants! is the latter, so well-intentioned, then again if you don’t care enough to fact check some basics I seriously question your intentions.
Misinforming women about their bodies is not feminism, it is the patriarchy. And it serves no woman ever.
Verdict: Hot Pants! is a hot medical mess, but an interesting look at the intersection of pseudoscience, snake oil, and the patriarchy and how it has remained unchanged over the last 25 years.