I think we can all agree that it's B.S. to hold women accountable for the things the men in their lives do (co-conspirators aside, obviously). For example, when the New York Times published their exposé about Harvey Weinstein, there was a lot of conversation about who knew and who didn’t know about his behaviour. Had Oprah heard the rumours? What about Jessica Chastain? But as Entertainment Weekly rightfully pointed out at the time, focusing on who knew about Weinstein’s actions only serves to distract from those actions, or more accurately, who perpetrated them. So this week, when news broke that NFL player Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and worse, that he's unvaccinated, I rolled my eyes when Twitter immediately tried to pin the blame on his fiancée, Shailene Woodley. For one thing, she may be vaccinated herself—her current project has a mandatory vaccination policy, though it's unclear if it applies to lead talent and it does allow exemptions. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was something worth digging into about this reaction. Hear me out: I’m not saying that because of misogyny, or some weird sexist Yoko Ono thing. I’m saying that because literally—like, sociologically—it’s possible she did influence his decision and if you know who's actually experiencing vaccine hesitancy, you know why that matters.
Woodley is famously granola. In various magazine profiles, the actor has revealed that she’s basically a hippie who loves chaga mushroom tea, walking around naked and making her own toothpaste, deodorant and face masks out of clay. “I gather my own spring water from mountains every month,” she told Flaunt in 2013. “I go to a farm to get my food. I make everything from my own toothpaste to my own body lotions and face oils… I make my own medicines; I don’t get those from doctors. I make my own cheese and forage wild foods and identify wild plants.” At the time, this sounded super woo-woo but not so different from the things other celebrities were talking about. Oprah has been pushing meditation for years, Madonna loves a B12 shot for energy (which... is not actually how B12 works) and Gwyneth Paltrow's strict macrobiotic diet was supposedly about feeling "good and healthy." Also... Goop. (I should note here that a lot of wellness culture is actually about weight loss.)
Shailene Woodley made her and Aaron Rodgers’s covid vaccines out of the same clay she makes her toothpaste from— Emily (@emilybernay) November 4, 2021
But did you catch that? “I make my own medicines; I don’t get those from doctors” (emphasis mine). It's obvious that, like a lot of white women who found comfort and care in wellness, Woodley's enthusiasm for these practices overlaps with a mistrust of mainstream Western medicine.
To be fair, this mistrust is justified. Women have historically been treated terribly by the mainstream medical establishment. As Erin Biba pointed out in Dame magazine in 2019, “there are, obviously, many reasons for the growth of miracle cures and predatory medical treatments and their popularity among women. But one of the main causes is a failure of evidence-based medicine to properly study, understand, and treat women—or even to show them basic empathy. The lack of proper health care and even a basic understanding of women’s bodies has left women desperate for any possible treatment. Because why trust medical science when it ignores you and fails to treat your health seriously?”
medical misogyny is absolutely real. at 16 i had debilitating period pain and my (FEMALE) doctor wouldn't prescribe BC to help me because "you don't need birth control if you aren't having sex!". i had to jump through fucking hoops and suprise as soon as i went on bc it helped https://t.co/5f5K234ylU— cesium v (@cesium_v) November 2, 2021
In just one example of the ways women are still largely ignored when it comes to medical research, many clinical trials are still male-only because our hormones mean including us is too ‘complicated.’ As a result, “between 2004 and 2013, U.S. women suffered more than 2 million drug-related adverse events, compared with 1.3 million for men,” Kelly Burrowes, senior researcher at the University of Auckland, points out in a recent article. In fact, “eight out of ten of the drugs removed from the US market between 1997 and 2000 were withdrawn because of side effects that occurred mainly or exclusively in women.” And on the day-to-day, it’s also very common for doctors to actively minimize our pain—according to one study, women who went to American emergency rooms with acute abdominal pain had to wait an average of 65 minutes to receive painkillers; men waited for 49 minutes.
By contrast, even critics of the wellness industry admit it seems nice. As Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta (and outspoken Goop critic, sorry Gwyneth) Timothy Caulfield wrote in May, "And wow, Alternative Medicine, I’m impressed with how much time you spend with me! I very much appreciate how you listened patiently to all my concerns. And I gotta say, reflexology (basically, a fancy foot massage) feels darn good... I get why people enjoy hanging with you, Alternative Medicine." But the problem with wellness is that, as Caulfield points out later, its "core tenets [are not] scientifically plausible." In fact, rather than encourage people, and especially women, to advocate for better, effective care, it persuades them to buy all sorts of pseudoscientific snake oil.
I mean, this industry is massive, and it's only growing; in an April 2021 McKinsey & Company survey of 7,500 consumers in six countries, 79% of the respondents said they believe wellness is important, and 42% considered it a top priority. In fact, in every single market, there was a “substantial increase in the prioritization of wellness over the past two to three years.” McKinsey estimates the value of the global wellness market at more than $1.5 trillion, and expects it to grow between 5 and 10% annually. (The Global Wellness Institute puts the value much higher: $4.5 trillion.) Which makes sense; chaga mushroom tea isn’t free. Nor are Goop’s jade eggs, Moon Juice’s sex dust, or whatever wellness products have been classified as must-haves this month. And maybe that explains why racialized, fat, disabled, poor and/or queer women haven't adopted wellness in the same ways white women have, despite experiencing the highest levels of medical sexism.
This commercialization of care is itself a problem, as Michelle Cohen, a family physician and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Queen's University, argued in 2018. “The danger of Goop [and, I’d add, other wellness businesses] isn't simply in the broader risks of pseudoscience and misinformation, it's in the exploitation of medicine's sexism to create a new and gendered market for snake oil,” she wrote. “The wellness industry isn't pushing for more and better science into women's health—it wants instead to create a secondary pathway for women's issues outside of the mainstream. The subtler risk is that wellness will continue to evolve along a gendered path, disproportionately exposing women to the harms of quackery.”
But it’s not the only problem. Because women aren’t the only ones being harmed by this quackery. They also drive healthcare decisions for their families—according to a 2014 study published in Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, women also make 80% of the health care decisions for their families—which means they're bringing many more people along for the ride. You can certainly see that in Woodley’s own life. Back in 2014, she told BlackBook that she doesn’t use microwaves because her grandmother, a naturopath who does “live blood and cell analysis” told her to eat more vegetables and that microwaves aren’t great for her. The vegetable advice wasn’t bad, but it had nothing to do with the results of that analysis, which has been debunked as a diagnostic tool. Woodley also told the publication that she eats clay every day on the advice of Daniel Vitalis, the TV host and wellness entrepreneur. Apparently, “it combines with radioactive isotopes and heavy metals and takes them through your system.” (Just... no to all of this. And please do not eat clay.) You can’t tell me the messaging she received from her grandma as a kid didn’t prime her to believe this large, tattooed man who told her eating dirt would protect her from unseen dangers—or that she might express these opinions to her partner.
None of this excuses Rodgers, obviously. He’s the one who told reporters who asked about his vaccine status in August that he’d “been immunized,” a deliberate lie intended to protect him from backlash. After all, by the time of that press conference, he’d already sought an exemption from the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols and been denied. (According to the NFL, “Rodgers received homeopathic treatment from his personal doctor to raise his antibody levels and asked the NFLPA to review his status. The players' union, the NFL-NFLPA jointly designated infectious disease consultant and the league agreed that Rodgers' treatment did not provide any documented protection from the coronavirus.” This was likely an easy decision because homeopathy provides a placebo effect at best and is fatal at worst.) He’s also the one who decided to go to work, golf tournaments, Jeopardy! tapings and on vacation to Hawaii, interacting with other people without the protection of a mask or vaccine.
what is especially gross about aaron rodgers is that he and shailene woodley (who likely is unvaxxed as well) went on vacation in hawaii this past spring when people there were LITERALLY begging tourists to not visit. absolutely disgusting people— Sarah Hagi (@KindaHagi) November 3, 2021
But I keep coming back to Woodley, because when we talk about vaccine hesitancy, we often talk about hardcore anti-vaxxers, or racialized people who are (understandably) distrustful of the medical establishment, which means we’re missing a huge chunk of people: women. According to Bruce Anderson, the chair of market research firm Abacus Data, “the typical 'vaccine hesitant' person [in Canada] is a 42-year-old Ontario woman who votes Liberal.” He went on to explain that “they… try to avoid prescriptions, dislike putting anything unnatural in their bodies and 83 percent say they are reluctant to take any vaccines. Most worry that COVID-19 vaccines haven’t really been tested for a long time.” Sound familiar?
Obviously, Shailene Woodley is not actually to blame for Rodgers’ decision to skip his COVID vaccine, to lie about it, or to put others at risk. But, let's be real—getting vaccinated sounds kind of off-brand for her. And either way, it’s likely her beliefs played a role in his decision-making, which makes their relationship a microcosm of what’s happening across North America right now. And that’s why it’s worth talking about.
This smart piece on the rise of the toddler fashion influencer.
Personal finance writer Renée Sylvestre-Williams’ timely reminder that there’s a difference between being poor and being broke.
Scaachi Koul’s hilarious take on those Pete Davidson/Kim Kardashian dating rumours. (Also, do we still mash-up couples’ names? And if so, do we prefer Pim or Kete?)
The Guardian’s recent deep dive into Timothée Chalamet’s brand of fame, which I found fascinating because I love thinking about how public images are constructed.
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