A Paucity of Civility

Cartoon by Bennett

“Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail ­ as you surely will,  ­ adjust your lives, not the standards.”
― Ted Koppel

This week started out ordinary enough but took a quick turn when I got a message from the media director at my university that a 14 month old opinion article I’d written for the student newspaper and posted on www.kevinmd.com where I’m a regular contributor was suddenly being quoted on the Huffington Post and other websites.   Within hours, over a dozen media websites were quoting “A War on Pubic Hair”

The original article was written as one in a series of opinion pieces on medical issues pertinent to college students requested by the student newspaper.  I wrote it in spring 2011 after draining my umpteenth staph bacteria genital abscess due to the increasingly common practice of cosmetic removal of pubic hair.   I felt the students needed to understand the hazards of what they were doing and hoped I could spare the next patient from experiencing an infection so painful and potentially serious.

So this week it goes viral, over a year later, all in a matter of hours.  I was being quoted as if I had just been interviewed by these news agencies, which I had not, and they began feeding wrong information to each other:  I was identified as “a leading British physician” since the first media report originated in the U.K.   One British site actually asked permission to reprint the original article, which I appreciated so that my words could not be taken out of context, but they attached a photo of me to the article lifted from my family picture on my personal blog.

Soon my personal cell phone started to ring in the middle of the night and my email in-box filled up–messages from Europe, South America and all over the U.S. came in with requests for interviews, wanting me to elaborate in more detail on my very “provocative” point of view.  I said no to every one of them even though some are respectable agencies, like the BBC, because I’ve said all I have to say on this particular subject.  I do not want my long career to be reduced to my defense of pubic hair.   Indeed I can hold my head up and be proud to tell my grandchildren someday that I actually turned down the Playboy Channel.

The online comments on the articles rapidly reproduced themselves, numbering now in the thousands,  with many hostile to my perspective and saying so in the most inflammatory way possible, citing my age, my looks and obvious lack of sex appeal as showing I lacked credibility in this subject.  I dared to question the point of a multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry spawned by the multi-billion dollar porn industry, and no one was going to let me get away with it unscathed.

The internet has made it too easy for human beings to lack accountability for their words and actions by allowing anonymous comments on media websites and blogs.   It is easy to attack, lie, threaten, and bully when it is only words on a screen directed at someone you don’t know and will never meet.   Decency and civility are lost forever when the standards for moral and ethical behavior disappear in a fog of pixels and bytes.

Now after 48 hours it seems to have mostly blown over, though my name on Google will never look the same again.    It will take some time and distance for me to consider whether I did the right thing writing about a medical issue no one else would touch.   If it convinces someone to put away the razor, stop the waxing, and respect their body as nature intended it to be,  maybe I did.

Ask me in a year or so.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
Albert Einstein

11 thoughts on “A Paucity of Civility

  1. Bravo! I deeply respect your bravery in writing about a topic most of us only whisper about, and I’m grateful that you’re furthering the notion that we should respect our bodies as God made them. As for internet behavior – I will forever remember a sign Mr. Kredit had hanging in his classroom: “Courtesy is always in style.”


  2. wow , talk about opening a can of worms ! somedays it is just better to be a horse rancher and small farmer ,than a Doctor trying to help college kids ! Hang in there and know you are helping in both worlds …


  3. Great articles Emily ~ both of them ~ I saw your Huff Post article and, of course, had no idea. It would be so cool if THIS post went viral. Jim Wallis, years ago, wrote a “Civility Covenant” on showing respect to those who differ from us. And what is clear, in everything you write, is that a basic honor anchors you, even in a fray such as this. Love your humor and sensibility!


  4. Found your “hair” article at AlterNet, with a note that it was reposted from KevinMD. Hooray! You said something well that needed to be said. I followed a link here and discovered more of your writing and the wonderful quotes you collect. Thank you!

    I’m sorry you were targeted by trolls. Incivility in all its forms exhausts me, so I rarely post my own thoughts on the Internet. More surprising to me was that a British website could access your driver’s license photo so easily. My state doesn’t even allow anyone to smile anymore, so their license photos are even more dreadful than usual.

    Why would your state allow that photo to be shared with anyone other than law enforcement? It seems like a violation of privacy to me. I wonder if they haven’t properly encrypted or password protected the servers where they store that data. What else is being improperly shared, legally or not?


  5. I had read that “hair” article when it first came out, privately cheered it heartily, and didn’t realize until today that you were the author of it. It shocks me too how incredibly nasty people can be, especially under the guise of anonymity. As a pastor, I’ve asked my children’s ministry leaders to work diligently to teach the little ones how to disagree with one another in more respective ways. We’re trying to do our part to change this culture.


  6. My gosh Emily, what a shame to have to deal with all that drama. No wonder so many folks don’t want to have much to do with the internet. Keep remembering that God is using you for his glory. And I keep seeing you as the violet breaking through the rock!


  7. Your post on civility is spot on. We all need to do a better job of teaching our children and anyone we mentor about the importance of civility. Mostly that it impacts someone’s own self respect, despite anominity.

    I remember when email came on the scene in the work place. People didn’t think about the fact that it could be forwarded. So a few “private” debates, weren’t so private. One of my colleagues told everyone, “Before hitting the send button, think about how you would feel if that email ended up on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. If you would be embarrassed or upset at that thought… don’t send it!”. That’s a great standard to use in thinking about how we react and respond to others.


  8. Here’s hoping this will bring laughter, or at least a smile. I saw reference to your pubic hair article at Salon.com and clicked the link because of Current interest in the subject.

    I’m a 64 year-old female who lives in rural Oklahoma on 20 acres and formerly put out shelled corn (15-feet from the front door) for our deer population during extremely cold or snowy/icy conditions. Long story shortened, I created a small sanctuary…and loved every minute of it Until I realized I had unwittingly infested the grounds around the house with bushels of ticks.

    Skipping right ahead, at my last wellness appointment, during a breast exam, I told my nurse practitioner that I had waited most of the last year in anticipation of telling her that I was planning on removing my pubic hair because I hated finding seed-ticks on the upper thigh folds. She advised against it but not as fully as you described in your article. Thank goodness I heeded her advise for the complications you describe as just not worth it. .

    So, Doc, your article spreading unabated helped even a stray 64-year old who was contempllating the same action as the twenty-or-something set.

    I’m now a subscriber looking forward to reading your take on those moments that separate we rural dwellers from the urbanites

    P. S. My daughter and I spent the early morning hours on the nearby river, kayaking in a calm cove. We were alone with white and blue-gray heron, four turkey vultures, and a jumping catfish–all seeking breakfast. Ain’t life grand.


  9. That article is still producing. I cam here by following up on it. I am looking for permission to re/use adapt in a public health clinic. I will send you an email.


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