Bachmann, HPV Vaccines, & Female Credibility

HPV vaccines have been a big political topic this week in the U.S. It all started at a Republican presidential debate when Michele Bachmann criticized Rick Perry’s executive order which mandated Gardasil for girls in Texas. Refreshingly, the framing of the issue was of pharmaceutical companies buying politicians, rather than the regular conservative line about how the vaccine makes girls turn slutty. This debate dust-up gained more ground when Bachmann began telling news outlets about a post-debate encounter with a woman who said her daughter was harmed by the vaccine. Because women have no credibility, and this story includes three females claiming harm, you can probably guess where this goes next.

News programs were quick to bring on a bunch of dudely experts saying that the vaccine is totally safe. (That’s the “medical community” for ya!) Pundits on the left jumped at another opportunity to write off Bachmann as crazy, while conservative commentators against “big government” mostly took Bachmann’s side. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Rachel Maddow Show each denounced Bachmann’s claim that the vaccine is unsafe. The undercurrent to this coverage was of “that dumb chick just believed what some lady told her?”

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell was one of the few who got it right when his show, The Last Word, revealed Perry’s connections to Merck and the large donations they gave to his PAC. AlterNet also has done their research. When a state mandates the vaccine, Merck is sure to make even more money (Gardasil had already made them $1.5 billion after its first two years on the market).

Unfortunately, this is a case of the wrong person having the (mostly) right message. People aren’t likely to believe the Queen of Scary Eyes, and, given basically everything she has said in the past, that would be a pretty good bet. But even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Between Gardasil and it’s competitor, Cervarix, the vaccines are known to have caused adverse reactions in tens of thousands of girls and women and has been responsible for about 70 deaths. This is only what has been reported to VAERS, the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System. David Kessler, the FDA commissioner under President Clinton, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that only 1% of doctors reported adverse reactions. There are surely many more reactions and deaths that were never reported, if only because the connection between the two was never made (or the patient was told not to believe there could be a connection). Girls and women who have collapsed after receiving the vaccine have been dismissed as simply fainting because of “fear of needles”.

A second HPV vaccine story was overshadowed this week. Apparently, completing two of the three doses of Cervarix was found to be as effective as completing the series. Funny how a thing like that only comes to light post-market, after years of charging $130 for each of the three shots.

Another timely coincidence regarding the vaccine is that it has been three years to the week that feminist and progressive blogs were up in arms about the Bush administration’s decision to make Gardasil/Cervarix a required vaccine for female immigrants. This too is a red flag for the vaccine’s safety, given the extensive history of people of color, especially women, being used as medical test populations. [Just off the top of my head (with the help of my bookshelf). . . the U.S. nuclear fallout tests over the Marshall Islands which caused generations of birth defects, gynecological experimentation on black slaves, the sterilization of Puerto Rican women without their informed consent, sterilization and other medical abuse of Native American women, the use of Norplant and Depo-Provera in non-Western nations and on poor women in the U.S., and on and on. This shit isn’t new.]

So, back in 2008, Feministe and RH Reality Check both wrote about this new vaccine requirement for immigrant girls and women (which has since been rescinded). Think Progress also had an article, titled “Bush Administration Forcing HPV Vaccine on Immigrants”. Here’s a screenshot of the article’s page at the moment.

This juxtaposition is a good visual summary of the response of many liberal TV people this week: the vaccine was scary and imposing then, but not since this wacky congresswoman started questioning it. And if the first photo of her shrugging didn’t let you know that she’s stupid, the second photo of Bachmann shrugging in the article will do it. The “expert” the headline refers to is Art Caplan, a bioethicist, who is challenging her to produce proof that the vaccine causes “mental retardation” as the woman who talked to Bachmann said. While the reported adverse effects haven’t shown cognitive problems, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened, nor does it mean that the vaccine is otherwise safe.

But whether or not that particular woman’s daughter acquired a cognitive disability because of the vaccine isn’t even the point. If the woman had said her daughter had one of the proven severe effects (like paralysis and seizures), the media response would still be the same. Some man would still ask her to prove to him that it’s unsafe (by his standards, not the standards of someone who might receive the drug, i.e. a female person).

Women’s experiences are always reduced to “claims” and “anecdotes”. The kind of proof that females have to show must go above and beyond whatever the male standard is. As I have written about previously, the side effects of birth control are minimized as well; it’s just something you supposedly have to deal with as a woman. ‘Female as masochist’ is an idea that runs deep.

When women refuse Pap tests, hospital birth, or other questionable medical intervention, they are accused of acting childish and not taking their health seriously. In reality, it’s the doctors who treat women as if we were stupid and immature. Whatever Bachmann’s motives may be for taking this position, the backlash to it is clear: don’t question what we say has to be done to your female body.

Dr. Diane Harper, the director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at University of Missouri said the following to ABC News in 2009:

The rate of serious adverse events is greater than the incidence rate of cervical cancer.

But women who raise concerns about the necessity of the vaccine are the irrational ones?

Well, fetch me my fainting couch.

Related:

A documentary about adverse reactions to Gardasil called “One More Girl” is scheduled for release next year.

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17 comments
  1. Hecuba said:

    The pseudo vaccine HPV has been promoted by the pharmaceutical industry as a supposed ‘magic bullet’ which will eliminate HPV but is it not strange boys and young men are not being told/coerced/cajoled into being vaccinated against HPV given it is predominantly males who transmit the HPV vaccine to females during penetrative sexual activity. The HPV vaccine is about sexual politics or rather male-constructed sexual politics wherein male bodies continue to be promoted as ‘invulnerable’ whereas female bodies are innately ‘faulty’ and their bodies must be subjected to male-centric/male defined medical control throughout their whole lives. STD’s are supposedly something which heterosexual women must endure and there must be no questioning of heterosexual male sexual practices because it is always supposedly women who transmit STDs to males and never the reverse.

    Feminists have long challenged the male-centric and male dominated medical establishment and given pharmaceutical industries are in league with many male medical professionals women are being told ‘you must take this pill; you must be vaccinated against yet another pseudo pandemic or you must submit to having internal examinations because if you don’t you aren’t enacting a healthy lifestyle.’

    See the two links below and particularly the first link because only this week research has been published to much muted malestream media coverage concerning the fact HPV DNA contamination has been located in Gardasil vaccines.

    But profit as always supercedes women’s health which is why Gardasil and Cervarix is being sold as a ‘magic bullet’ but in reality it is a very dangerous unproven and totally unnecessary vaccine. Not forgetting why are only half the human population being targetted given it is predominantly males who are the ones transmitting the HPV vaccine to females! Such action does not make sense unless of course one views male bodies as ‘invulnerable’ wherein male-centric dominant claims normal heterosexual behaviour means male penetration of female body is mandatory if ‘real sex’ is to take place and the risks women are forced to endure by the penis thrusting into their bodies are perceived as not real. Or else are what female bodies are supposedly designed for and have to endure endure because male sexual pleasure always supercedes women’s sexual pleasure and sexual autonomy. The fact male penetration of female body is a reproductive act is not recognised by male supremacy but instead is promoted as ‘real sex’ and is it not odd that birth control pills for women had to be invented in order that male penetration of female body is not challenged as supposedly the sin que of heterosexual behaviour! One wonders what the poor men would do if their pseudo penetrative right to female bodies was curbed/curtailed? Perhaps men would spontaneously combust due to lack of 24/7 penetrative sexual access to female bodies!

    http://www.global-sisterhood-network.org/content/view/2630/59/

    http://womenhurtbymedicine.wordpress.com/

  2. SheilaG said:

    Why not give boys all the drugs, and create a birth control drug to give to every boy? Why not direct all the drug interventions to boys and men, and create a safe sex campaign of no PIV ever, unless for procreative purposes only?

    It seems to me that sexually transmitted illnesses are all about males out of control, males demanding PIV, males refusing to take safety seriously. From syphillis in the 17-19th centuries and early 20th, to HIV AIDS to HPV, I’d say the male body is the disease factory to note, the behavior of males globally the big issue, so we need intervention on all levels to just say sex with men is inherently dangerous, that men can’t be trusted in any way to respect the bodies and health of women. From forced childbirth, to massive death in childbirth… I think we pretty much have the cause of the problem.

  3. yttik said:

    I shut the Daily show off in disgust. That talking vagina was the last straw.

    Bachman not only confronted Perry about the campaign donations he received from this vaccine, she went on to ask, why are we immunizing innocent 10 year old girls against a sexually transmitted disease? That part was completely ignored, but it was actually quite a rad/fem question. Maybe instead of immunizing children against an STD we should stop raping them? Ya think? Of course the Right will just insist that girls protect themselves by “just saying no” and the left will just insist that girls have a right to say yes and yes only, and nobody will ever get to the heart of the matter which is that perhaps men should stop manipulating, tricking, coercing, and outright raping young girls. Maybe girls are people and their health should matter to us?

    I’m telling you, I prefer Scary Eyes to everybody else. She may not be asking all the right questions but at least she’s in touch enough to be asking them. Do I think Perry signed that order because he really cared about the lives of girls, as he said? Pfffttt. No.

  4. FCM said:

    there were so many problems with this event its hard to know where to start. so first, your coverage of this was excellent lishra! thanks!

    i read about the same thing at msnbc, just ridiculous idiotic and biased reporting, as well as blatant screw-ups that showed the writer might not even know what the hell he was talking about. and hes a doctor! like this:

    The opponents of front-runner Perry think they have traction on the issue of whether he should have issued an executive order in 2007 mandating that girls entering sixth grade in Texas be vaccinated against cervical cancer.

    is guardasil being billed as a vaccine against cervical cancer? is it? i dont think so. its a vaccine against HPV, which is known to cause cervical cancer, which is not the same thing.

    then there was this:

    Republican hopefuls Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania piled on Texas Gov. Rick Perry about the alleged horror of the government doing what it can to help vaccinate young women.

    10-year old girls are young women now? okay. are 5 year olds? is a female fetus a young woman too? technically perhaps, which means this asshole is relying on technicalities to sell his point. its not working. 10 year old girls are still developing cognitively and in many other ways, so its going to be impossible to state with certainty that the vaccine “caused” cognitive deficits…but as you say lishra, its also impossible to say with any certainty that it didnt! the spinning! the weasel words! thats politics for you. womens bodies are the battleground for these political wars.

    How much it takes to buy Perry is a different issue. I simply want to rescue the HPV vaccine from harm at the hands of politicians willing to hurt girls to gain political advantage.

    oh NOW 10 year old girls are GIRLS. when we are talking about politicians “hurting” them, they are girls, babies even! when we are talking about vaccinating them against PIV-related medical events, they are WOMEN. okay! cause the PIV is consensual, always! boys and men arent raping 10-year old girls, young women are having consensual sex.

    The main route of HPV infection is sex. That’s why you need to vaccinate girls before they become sexually active. Numerous studies show that 5 percent of young women are sexually active at 13 years of age, a figure that rises to 20 percent by age 14. You cannot vaccinate babies because it is not clear how long the vaccine’s protection lasts and it would be really expensive to have to give the vaccine again to teenagers.

    sex! PIV=sex=PIV. no problemo! numerous studies show that YOUNG WOMEN are being raped by the time they are 13. but rape isnt the problem here. no siree bob. if you dont say it, it didnt happen. even when it obviously did, and is happening. to FIVE PERCENT of girls. and those are just the ones we know about.

    horrifying. just horrifying.

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/44507260/ns/today-today_health/t/hpv-vaccine-attack-could-harm-innocent-girls/#.TnPif6j4Zkx

  5. developing said:

    The scientist who invented the vaccine is based here, and lauded as a national hero. PIV can literally give women cancer, but point that out to a male or a woman and you’ll get a blank stare…they just applaud gardasil as saving the next generation of girls from cervical cancer, which you’re never supposed to link back to PIV….it’s always referred to as “exposure to HPV” – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the virus is airborne….

    “male sexual pleasure always supercedes women’s sexual pleasure and sexual autonomy” – that’s the core of the issue, although I’d go a step further and say that it also trumps women’s health and even women’s lives. The average straight woman is just expected to spend maybe 20 years on scary hormones, probably having a couple of abortions, having all sorts of gyno interventions etc, just because men and women cannot imagine that sex is anything other than PIV.

    Even worse, and this is just one anecdote, a woman died recently here from complications from a tubal ligation (I think it’s called that anyway) – she and her husband had 4 kids and didn’t want more, so of course she had to go off and have an invasive procedure under a general, when presumably he could’ve just had a vasectomy, worn condoms or, god forbid, done the myriad other things available to them other than PIV. But no, best the poor woman risk death so he can maintain his entitlement to reproductive access to a woman who no longer wanted to reproduce…It was of course presented in the papers as a terrible tragedy (which it was) but nobody questioned whether the procedure should’ve been necessary in the first place (which surely it wasn’t??)

  6. ybawife said:

    The never ending battle for control and access to girls and womens bodies it is all so depressing. Imagine boyz of 10 having to deal with all this….no way of course that will ever happen…..

    It was on the news here all the week and no one bothered to ask the question WHY would 10year old girls need to have this vaccine at all….you mention preventing cancer and all else is stematically forgotten, even though it has been evident for many years the PIV is the causation of this type of Cancer…there are no attempts at all to kerb or stop PIV….or to do anything to prevent boyz passing on these diseases when they become sexually active…..all the pressure is on girls as even feminist Mother urge their daughters to have the vaccine rather than risk further down the line their Daughter getting Ca Cervix…..torture to girls is the preferred solution and the phar mancologists make billions and act like heros , saving lives……bullshite all of it..and it takes a tea party to ask the questions where is the feminist power when we need it???????

  7. lishra said:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    Hecuba & SheilaG – The framing of women as disease-spreaders has got to be reversed. When I was reading up on HPV for my other blog, I came across a study that showed that women who have had sexual contact with men are *five times as likely* to acquire HPV than women who have had no sexual contact with men. Since the study uses the term “sex with men”, I’m guessing they mean PIV. So, if they were just calling it “sex” there may well have been women who had been raped, but didn’t consider it sex, of course, so they said that they hadn’t had sex with men. (http://againstallevidence.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/get-em-when-theyre-young/#comment-736)

    yttik – I turned the channel on The Daily Show as soon as they started on the topic… I knew where it would be headed. Or at least I thought I did… good lord… a talking vagina? The hell is that about? And why do I still watch that show?

    FCM – Yeah, this week was pissing me off royally, especially since all my favorite politico shows were falling in line just for the sake of disagreeing with Bachmann. But that’s what I have blogging for!

    developing – Absolutely. What women have been made to think is ‘normal’ with regards to consequences of PIV is so disturbing.

    ybawife – Yeah, that was the other big absence from this week’s conversations. If it’s a totally safe vaccine, etc (and it has shown promise for preventing HPV in male patients), then why not give the shot to everyone? Oh, right, *then* people would start complaining. It’s being used infrequently with boys, but it has started. Right now, 49% of girls in the U.S. have had the first shot of the series (with the percentage dropping off for the second and third doses)… once half of the 6th grade boys in the country have to start dealing with side effects, maybe then people will take more notice.

    Also, just a little update. I mentioned Lawrence O’Donnell’s show in my post and said they did a good job with this coverage. Well, until tonight. They had on another dude doctor who said that it’s totally safe. They went through a short list of the less severe side effects only. No mention of the seizures or paralysis that girls and women are getting, let alone the deaths that have been linked to it. No mention that there have been deaths. None. Well, when they got down the list to “fainting”, the doctor’s explanation was, “Well, that’s 12 year old girls”. DUDE. Grrr.

  8. The quote “5 percent of young women are sexually active at 13 years of age” is probably the most disturbing one here – that terminology is simply shocking! But I talk to people about this and NO ONE is shocked at the words they used! They just do not see the real issue that men are raping 13 (and younger) girls and giving the viruses that could kill them. I got one reply that yet again just blamed women…the girls themselves and the girl’s mother’s “who were probably just the same” – oh, getting raped/had PIV imposed on them at a young age by other teenage guys?!

    No one SEES that PIV is dangerous!!! Everyone KNOWS it is dangerous cos they all warn about the dangers, but they don’t SEE that it is PIV itself that is the cause of it all!
    Lol…airborne, yes! Reading some of the supporter’s websites you’d assume it was.

    Also there the vaccine is basically marketed at girls to prevent cervical cancer. NO, it is a vaccine against HPV! Which can cause cancer, but it is the HPV that is it is preventing, not the cancer itself. So people think it’s against cervical cancer and forget that MEN get the HPV virus too and that it causes OTHER cancers in MEN and MEN pass the HPV to women/girls! Why aren’t boys getting it vaccinated?!

    Quote from CDC:
    How common are HPV-related health problems in men?
    “About 1% of sexually active men in the U.S. have genital warts at any one time.
    Each year in the U.S. there are about:
    400 men who get HPV-associated penile cancer
    1,500 men who get HPV-associated anal cancer
    5,600 men who get HPV-associated oropharyngeal (mouth) cancers”

    Good grief.

  9. yttik said:

    What we never talk about is that the majority of young girls being subjected to PIV are targeted by older men. It depends where you live but in my neck of the woods, studies showed that 87% of teen pregnancies were caused by older men, not by teen age boys. Some teens certainly do engage in PIV, but the vast majority of harm, HPV, STD’s pregnancy, is really caused by older men engaging in statutory rape.

    Rather than demanding that men stop raping our daughters, we try to make sure girls have info about birth control, they have their immunizations, access to abortion, crash helmets, knee pads, dozens of different “rights” we allegedly grant them, all designed to try and reduce the harm they will experience. But the real root of the problem is like a big elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.

  10. FCM said:

    The idea that piv is inevitable and unavoidable, which is the context and subtext here, is a tacit admission that men rape women and girls and they will continue doing this, that our consent is illusory if not completely irrelevant, and that this is the reality we are living in. They say this without the ugliness of having said it. We all know and accept that this is true, without ever naming it. Radical feminists name it, but we are the only ones. When radfems say our consent is meaningless because men will rape us anyway, that is shorthand for this truth. This discussion breaks it open wide, and shows us in longhand what the problem is, and what radfems mean when we say what we say. Inevitable piv is rape, its a culture of permissiveness of men raping women, it means that what is “sex” to them is rape to us, this is what it all means. I hope that is clear.

  11. The Masked Lily said:

    FCM : “Inevitable PIV is rape”. Yes exactly! it’s a rapist mentality! men are raised to just expect it from women, and women are raised to just accept it. and so few break away from it.

    also, girls are dying. from a fucking vaccine. and it’s still being pushed on us. but men get a couple of pimples during preliminary testing of a male birth control? better scrap it then.

    fuck that.

  12. Thanks for this, Lishra. When I saw this on the news here in Australia, I was hoping it would be addressed on Radfem Hub, and I’m not disappointed.

    A while ago someone from the medical profession asked me if my daughter had been vaccinated. I said no, she’s gay. This guy started to explain that she still should be vaccinated and I asked him why. He just stopped mid sentence when he realised I had given him enough rope to hang himself. He was about to point out that being gay won’t stop men from raping her; that’s how normative rape is viewed. It was a chilling moment.

  13. lishra said:

    MSNBC is really disappointing me now. On his new show, Chris Hayes just claimed that the vaccine “reduces the incidents of cervical cancer by 70%”. No, it doesn’t. It protects against 70% of the HPV strains that cause cervical cancer. That isn’t the same thing. And, if you already have one or more of the strains when you get the vaccine, it’s not even doing that. Actually, if you already have one of the strains, getting the vaccine could actually make it more likely you’ll get precancerous lesions (44.6% increased risk). See more here [http://www.naturalnews.com/Report_HPV_Vaccine_3.html] and here [http://vran.org/about-vaccines/specific-vaccines/hpv-vaccine-cervical-cancer-vaccine/hpv-vaccine-our-daughters-are-part-of-the-worldwide-test-part-i/]

  14. FCM said:

    yes they keep doing that dont they? these clowns have no idea what in the hell they are talking about, or they are pretending not to. there is no vaccine for cancer, people. there is no vaccine for cancer, its an incurable disease that can only be managed and tends to recur. its one of the worst things that can probably happen to any of us, and completely takes over your life and your health for a period of time, the treatments are nearly intolerable, and you may or may not be one of the lucky ones who goes into remission and stays there.

    cancer vixen was a good read i thought. its a comic book-style journey through the authors experience with breast cancer. the parts about her mother were really profound, she imagined herself as a little girl being comforted by her mother. she also had no health insurance when she found out she had it (as many women dont) and she was 40 and the chemo was supposed to last 5 years or something? i dont remember, but she imagined her future children disappearing from existence permanently because by the time she finished her treatments she would probably be in menopause. the author was a NYC fashionista, not a feminist but i found it profound.

    http://www.amazon.com/Cancer-Vixen-Marisa-Acocella-Marchetto/dp/0307263576

  15. Maggie said:

    I agree with what’s being said here. So long as ‘”sex” = PIV’ remains the dominant ideology, there will be HPV, HIV and other horrors…

    If only men could take their own vaccines (drugs) they make and stop imposing them on womyn…

  16. zeph said:

    Thank you for this important post, Lishra. I have read it twice and I wish others would too.

  17. lishra said:

    Thanks, zeph!

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