hands down

It is totally, exceptionally beautiful out today, and I’m sitting on the back patio at Aroma in a tank top, skirt, and kneesocks. The high today is 71 – 71 in MARCH. Ridiculous – but I’m not going to complain.

This morning, following a week of great trepidation, I performed my first pelvic exam. I was lucky to have a very particular and detail-obsessed instructor walk me through everything, which was really helpful, and I impressed her by not cross-contaminating at any point in the exam (this sounds horrifying to any woman, I’m sure, but believe me, we’re WAY more careful than most).

We use a technique called ‘wet hand dry hand’ to make sure that at no point in the exam do either the woman or the room become contaminated with things from the other. In practice this is frequently called ‘clean hand dirty hand’, which is interesting to me. In class the other day we talked about how everything is political, even things like birth control, which are nominally empowering to women, but which still require a male-dominated industry to dole them out. The terminology of ‘clean hand dirty hand’ is problematic in the same respect – which do you think is the clean hand? The one that is touching the woman’s body in the most intimate and private places? Or the hand that is touching the equipment, the sheets, or the lights?

The ‘dirty’ hand is the one that touches the body.

As a woman, I don’t want to be told that my body is ‘dirty’. As an instructor (or, thinking as a doctor), I don’t want to be introducing anything ‘dirty’ into a woman’s body. ‘Wet hand dry hand’ is much more straight forward and apolitical – the ‘wet hand’ touches the woman (and NOTHING else), and the ‘dry hand’ touches the equipment. There is no cross-contamination, and no politics or offense.

I expressed earlier that I was intimidated and unsure about this program, but the more I think about it, the more empowering and important I believe it is. This is an opportunity for women to advocate for themselves, for their physical health, and for the appropriate, polite, and caring treatment of other women. This is a way to be an advocate and to celebrate our bodies as women that isn’t just raising a fist to the sky and celebrating our gynecology. I am proud to be a part of it.

0 thoughts on “hands down

  1. I can’t believe this technique was EVER called ‘clean hand, dirty hand’. You have every right to feel upset about that. Obviously I don’t have to deal with this issue, but I’m horrified that doctors do or have refered to this technique in this manner. Which is why having awesome women like you taking part in a program like this is a GOOD thing. Teach em up!


  2. This reminds me of a story I heard somewhere, about how some father taught his son to wash his hands before urinating, because his penis wasn’t dirty–but his hands were. Apropos your tale, I can only say I’m all too often embarassed (or angered) for/by my entire gender.


  3. That is fascinating I think, and says a lot about cultures and the how hard it is to step away from cultural values and examine them, at times.

    I followed this link from your livejournal. I read this and then I walked out into the ktitchen to start dinner.
    I said to my fiance, “I just learned something really interesting about gyno exams, but I won’t say anything if it will really bother you.”
    He said “yeah, you can stop there.”
    I guess I walked into that one, but what can you do. Serves me right for being a wimpy woman and not just flat out telling him.
    I might tell him anyways. It is something that made me think. Thanks for sharing your experience.


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