Chang discusses her own experiences of being harassed online, as well as the concomitant statistics that reveal the higher rates at which women experience such treatment—as well as the degree to which the harassment is gendered: For example, a 2017 Pew study indicates women say they are twice as likely as men to be harassed online because of their gender. Chang opines—persuasively so—that digital privacy is a feminist issue, one that elected officials and tech companies need to address.
I was there specifically to interview on stage one of the keynote speakers: Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB-GYN and pain medicine physician, who has gained an extensive following as a result of her outspoken criticism of what she calls the "wellness industrial complex." Specifically, she rose to prominence as a result of several viral essays she wrote criticizing "women's health" products sold by Gwyneth Paltrow's company Goop that are either useless or dangerous. Gunter's sights have expanded as her profile has grown to include Dr. Oz, the anti-vaccination movement, the anti-abortion movement and basically everyone whom she perceives as impinging on women's rights. When I had interviewed Gunter in March for Portland's weekly paper in advance of TechfestNW, she told me that approximately a year ago she had decided that "every piece of information I received about a woman, I would think, 'How does that benefit the patriarchy?'"
Gunter is commonly described as "Twitter's gynecologist," as she tweets prolifically on both health and political issues (she also writes a health column for The New York Times answering readers' questions) to her 150,000 followers. She told me she considers it her ethical duty, given her following, to stand up to anyone whose power, profit or politics endangers women's freedom.
Both online and in person, Gunter is fearless. As I write this, she has been battling on Twitter with a variety of anti-abortion posters (whom Gunter has renamed "forced birthers"), in some cases correcting misinformation and in others simply shutting them down: "Oh fuck off with your lies and shell games. And when you have fucked off, fuck off some more. And then keep going because you have not fucked off nearly enough," she tweeted recently in response to one such poster.
Gunter kindly gave me an advanced copy of her forthcoming book, The Vagina Bible, publishing in August, a 400-page guide Gunter wrote to counter the proliferate misinformation about women's health, and to help women understand and make informed decisions. This includes both refutation and science-backed examination of what Gunter calls "vaginal offenders," aka companies that are making money from products that are either useless or harmful to women (aka jade eggs, vaginal steaming, etc.).
I've been treating the book like The I Ching, opening it up at random and reading wherever I land (it's worth noting I'm not actually sure if this is how people use The I Ching). As it happens, the first place I landed when I got back to my hotel room after the conference was chapter 20, on cannabis. This coincided with me finding, in my TechfestNW thank-you swag bag, a glass container with a large, pungent bud of marijuana. I haven't been a pot smoker for a long time—at best it makes me say really mean things while laughing hysterically, and at worst it makes me vomit (jury is out on which of these reactions is least attractive). I spent 10 minutes trying to decide if I should try to bring the pot home as a gift (potential detainment or arrest by the TSA seemed like a downside) before going downstairs to gift it to one of the Portlandia extras working the front desk.
SFR's editor had told me this edition of the paper would have a cannabis focus—so, despite my personal lack of interest, I continued reading on the topic in Gunter's book, where she notes: "With the increasing legalization of cannabis, it should come as no surprise that it has found its way into the vagina." (I was, in fact, surprised.) She details the studies, or lack thereof thus far, on the impact of cannabis on the vagina. So, for now, if you're considering using vaginal cannabis products (which I had no idea existed), it's a "buyer beware" situation.
Now you know.