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This month’s Health Storytelling Author Q&A, hosted by Maryn McKenna from Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health, was with author Rachel E. Gross about her book Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage (W.W. Norton, 2022). It was live-streamed on September 27 on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, and can currently be accessed as an archive on Youtube.
In the conversation, Gross explains her initial fascination with the female reproductive system, which is partially due to the “shock factor” associated with the topic, but also a need to represent other women in science who desire answers to questions about their own bodies. She challenges gender binaries by describing the similarities between male and female reproductive organs, and how they have essentially the same “ingredients,” but in a different configuration. Gross emphasizes that female reproductive research has primarily been viewed with the intention of solving a problem (such as improving fertility and treating disease), rather than following curiosity and delving into the functionality of the whole reproductive system. This has stunted research and limits our understanding. By challenging paradigms, Gross opens up a holistic conversation about female health and makes room for unconventional perspectives.
The Q&A at the end of the formal interview extends the discussion on why research injustices between male and female reproductive anatomy occurred historically. Gross describes women whose experiences fundamentally changed female reproductive research, but who were held back by the inability to conduct independent research, the burdens of divorce or family care, and lack of access to higher education.
Gross is refreshingly authentic and even opens up about her own health issues that inspired her journey of exploration: She felt frustrated that she couldn’t find an effective treatment, and that the options available had little basis in evidence. Her passion, expertise, and charisma make this discussion incredibly captivating and informative. It is an excellent introduction into the realm of female reproductive health.
By Sammy Ramacher