Elizabeth Reis

Pronoun Privilege

Originally published as “Pronoun Privilege” in the New York Times on September 25, 2016. My fall classes started recently, and I had to face the pronoun question. It’s simple for me: My appearance matches my preferred pronoun, so I don’t worry about anyone misstating it. But some of my students are transgender or gender nonconforming,… Read more →

Women’s Health Care: Not Just for Women Anymore

Mammogram waiting rooms are sometimes different from other medical waiting areas. If you’re going to get an x-ray of your knee or any other body part, you stay fully clothed until you are called into a private exam room. But if you’re going for a mammogram and then a follow-up ultrasound (a separate procedure), you… Read more →

(Ar)Rest Rooms

The students in my senior thesis course at Macaulay Honors College, part of the City University of New York, were scheduled to present their original research at the annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research, in Asheville, North Carolina in early April. Those plans have been cancelled because the governor of New York has banned state-funded travel… Read more →

March Madness and the Sterilization of Basketball Fans

I was so surprised the first time I saw a commercial on television advertising sterilization. Yes, that’s right. Once a year, during March Madness, the annual NCAA college basketball tournament, urologists across the country encourage men to visit their offices to get vasectomies. This is a good time to have the procedure done, the pitch… Read more →

Mosquitos and Mothers: The Zika Virus and Real Talk on Birth Control

Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus in Latin America are wreaking havoc in people’s lives into the next generation. It’s only a matter of time before Zika is found in more places in the United States, as the first case of infant brain damage linked to the virus has already occurred in Hawaii. The baby’s mother… Read more →

Toxics in our Living Rooms

The comfortable chair that I just bought and sit in for hours each day is giving me a sore throat and making my eyes sting. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve been experimenting for about a month now, and I can say for certain that after about a half hour of sitting in it… Read more →

A Doctor, a Patient, a Rash, and Google

Don’t you hate it when you can’t get your doctor to agree with your own assessment of your symptoms? Never mind that she’s been to medical school and has years of experience. It’s MY body, and so I would like that fact to have as much weight in the diagnostic process. Alas, it does not…. Read more →

Love, Sex, and Pink Viagra

Ever heard of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD)? It’s a new “disease” distressing tens of thousands of (presumably straight) women. Estimates say that one in ten women are affected by this ailment, and it particularly touches those in long-term relationships. But wait … there’s a cure! An FDA advisory panel has just sanctioned the go-ahead… Read more →

Vagina Dialogues

By Elizabeth Reis

Students at Mt. Holyoke College are protesting the annual performance of Eve Ensler’s feminist classic, The Vagina Monologues. Their gripe with the play is that by focusing on vaginas, the play perpetuates “vagina essentialism,” suggesting that ALL women have vaginas and that ALL people with vaginas are women. Transgender and intersex people have taught us that this seemingly simple “truth” is actually not true. There are women who have penises and there are men who have vaginas. Not to mention women born without vaginas! Hence, these Mt. Holyoke critics imply, the play contributes to the erasure of difference by presenting a “narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” and shouldn’t be produced on college campuses.

Crafting Womanhood

By Elizabeth Reis

As a women’s and gender studies professor, I am especially aware of my privilege in not having to think constantly about my gender. Because I fit most of the criteria of a typical white American woman, I never get questioned or called out on my gender expression, and so I’m free to focus on other aspects of my life, leaving this area relatively unexamined. There have been two times in my life when I thought consciously about my gender identity: the first time I had sex (“this is how it’s done?”) and when I gave birth to my first child (“this is what women do?”). With both of those experiences, I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve never really felt like a WOMAN, whatever that’s supposed to feel like, but many women do this, and so I guess I’m one of them.” And that was the end of that. Since both of these events, many years ago, I’ve been able to put the question of my “womanliness” on the back burner and instead teach about the history and politics of gender in the United States.