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Eating Disorder Recovery Is NOT About Feminism. It’s About Science!

Free From ShameI was doing my usual meandering around Twitter the other evening when I came across someone live tweeting the Annual Renfrew Center Conference. For those who don’t know, The Center is a well respected eating disorder treatment facility which specializes in treating only women.  You might think that is what I want to gripe about. You’d be wrong.  I wish there were more treatment options for men, but they do what they do, have a reputation at being good at it, and that’s fine.   As you can see, one of the keynotes of the event is feminist Gloria Steinam. The topic of the Conference is:

Feminist Perspectives And Beyond:”Honoring The Past, Embracing The Future-25 years later

I have nothing against Ms. Steinem. I support feminism. The Renfrew Center can have whatever speaker they want but as an evidenced based treatment center, I would hope that they would not perpetuate myths about eating disorder cause and recovery.

The first tweet I noticed was this:

My first thought was that it had to be an attempt at conference humor. I re-tweeted it with the commentary “Is that a joke“?  An “act of rebellion” against the injustice of the world? Really? Where is that in evidenced based, eating disorder treatment protocol?  I can promise Gloria and Renfrew that at eighteen years old in nineteen seventy-nine, I knew very little about the “injustices of the world. I was dealing with what was going on in my bathroom.  I was horrified at what I saw in the mirror and ashamed of it as I began to restrict then transitioning into bulimia.  An eating disorder which would keep me in its grips for over two decades.

Then came this:

“We are in a gender prison. And gender prisons cause eating disorders” @GloriaSteinem#renfrewconf2015

A “Gender Prison”?  What in the world is a “gender prison” ?  I was bulimic for over two decades and no one ever told me I was in a “gender-prison”   My shrink never told me I was in a “gender prison”.  I searched the DSM-5.  I scoured the internet for peer-reviewed articles about “gender-prisons” as either a cause or correlation to eating disorders. I found nothing.  I can’t even call that junk science. It’s simply nonsense. Not to mention the disenfranchising and stigmatizing of males with eating disorders.

The conference tweets caught the attention of others in eating disorder advocacy and recovery.

Frankly, I am not all that outraged at Gloria. This is what she does and if given the opportunity, she is going to do it. The blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of The Renfrew Center. They chose the conference topic and provided a platform ripe for such nonsense.  An evidence based treatment center having a feminist conference is troubling in itself but  they should have vetted her talk before allowing her on the stage.

An all female clientele and conference attendance is NOT an excuse to pander to absolute nonsense in eating disorder recovery.  It is not an excuse to stigmatize and disenfranchise men who are still in the shadows, in part because of the very gender -bias displayed in this conference.  A well respected treatment center like Renfrew should be backing evidenced based, gender inclusive recovery, not feminism based recovery.  I hope they are not telling their patients and their families that  their eating disorders are the result of “rebellion and “gender prisons” I also find it concerning that that National Eating Disorder Association seems to be fine with these type of statements and the included dis-enfranchising of males that comes with them.

Lets get into the present, not spread myths of the past. Let’s stop pretending males with eating disorders don’t exist with feminist rhetoric in place of evidence based science.

You can view the majority of the conversation about Ms. Steinam’s comments on twitter under the hashtag #RenfrewConf2015. If anyone has the full transcript of her talk I will certainly entertain the notion that these statements are totally out of context but given that they are inappropriate in any eating disorder recovery context I doubt my opinion will change.

Update 10/17/2015

I was tipped off that it is not the first time The Renfrew Center has empowered such nonsense from Gloria Steinam. She appears to be a regular in their “speaker well”.  Here is an article from November 14th 2010 and I quote:

“What does a great feminist organization like The Renfrew Center do to celebrate its quarter century? They invite Gloria Steinem to kick off the party of course”

A great feminist organization”.  I missed that in their treatment brochure.  I was under the impression that they are an evidenced based eating disorder treatment center. Silly me.

And we get this from Gloria:

she describes eating disorders as “inscribing on the female body the male power system.

As with “gender prisons“,  while it may be a personal, correlative part of someone’s individual environment that needs addressing,  I could find no mention of “the male power system” in any published study as a cause of eating disorders.

I am sure those who defended her with regards to her recent appearance at Renfrew,  will astoundingly find a way to defend that statement.  Renfrew needs to change its brochure to reflect it’s true goal of feminism over evidence based eating disorder recovery and its complete marginalization of males with eating disorders.

Eating Disorder Recovery Is NOT About Feminism. It’s About Science!

Brian Cuban

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APA Reference
Cuban, B. (2015). Eating Disorder Recovery Is NOT About Feminism. It’s About Science!. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 18 Nov 2015
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