In a determined effort to challenge the status quo and combat ingrained sexism in medical terminology, Dr. Kristin Small, an Australian anatomy professor and obstetrician specialist from Queensland, is urging the global health community to reconsider the names of certain body parts that are presently deemed sexist, “irrelevant and misogynistic.” Body parts such as the Adam’s apple and the Achilles tendon, which are named after men but found in both male and female bodies, are among the targets of Dr. Small’s initiative.
Dr. Small argues that these body parts’ names should be more inclusive, reflecting all individuals rather than just the male portion of the population. Her goal is to spark a transformation in anatomical language worldwide, with countries like Australia and the United States leading the way.
As a female medical professional, Dr. Small recognizes the prevalence of sexist terminology within the medical community and feels it is time for an update. By leveraging her position as a professor, she is teaching her students alternative, more anatomically accurate terms that can resonate with everyone, rather than relying on names derived from “men, kings, and (male) gods.”
Dr. Small explained to the Courier-Mail, “I think we have a personal choice to decolonize our language, and these historical terms will fade out.” While she still requires her students to use traditional names during exams, she educates them on viable alternatives to the “dead man’s name” currently in use and devotes her time outside the classroom to advocate for change.
Dr. Nisha Khot, a council member of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, supports Dr. Small’s stance, agreeing that these “dead man” eponyms will soon become obsolete. She noted, “The young trainee doctors are mostly keen to learn the more relevant language and are often shocked when they hear the origins of some medical terms.”
One such example is the term “hysterectomy,” which has its roots in the sexist notion that women are emotionally weaker than men and therefore prone to hysteria.
Historically, doctors would remove a woman’s uterus as a treatment for female hysteria, resulting in the procedure’s current name. Dr. Khot and other like-minded academics advocate for the alternative term “uterectomy,” which is not only anatomically accurate but also free from the sexist connotation of male superiority.
Dr. Khot emphasized, “The push for change may have started in the area of women’s health, but the conversation is now in the wider health community. It just makes sense for the medics but also for the patients to use more understandable terms.”