Medical Misogyny

Medical Misogyny in Women's Healthcare

One of the most shared and engaged with posts on The Happy Pelvis Instagram, is one that points out the difference in a man’s medical treatment versus a woman’s, when it comes to going to see their doctor about pelvic pain. The response I received from the community was shocking and I noticed a common denominator: dismissal of symptoms or treatment based on gender, leading to more health and reproduction issues days, months or years later. It became crystal clear that medical misogyny is prevalent in women’s healthcare in 2020.

Curious to learn more, I asked the pelvic health community in my instagram stories:

What is most absurd answer or statement you have received from your doctor in regards to your pelvic pain?

I was completely stunned. Below are the responses:

“It’s your anxiety. Let’s try an antidepressant.”

“Don’t worry, when you have a baby it will go away. (I don’t want to have kids.)”

“Your boyfriend must be cheating and it’s probably Chlamydia.”

“That is just part and parcel of being a woman.”

“It will go away by the time you’re in your 40’s.”

“You’re just not use to having penetrative sex.”

“It’s normal to have constant bleeding, pain during sex, and endless pelvic pain flare ups.”

“Many women learn to live with their pelvic pain. Try sitting in Oatmeal.”

“Oh! Your poor husband.”

“They told me ‘It’s all in your head.’ but results came back showing I had an antibiotic resistant UTI.”

“Unexpectedly yelled at me to try to show me how it was linked to stress.”

“I won’t perform a Laparoscopy because I make more money delivering babies.”

“It’s the 21st century and you don’t need to have sex to make a baby so having pain doesn’t matter.”

“When I had excessive bleeding I got told ‘A man has to shave, a woman has to bleed’.”

“You should just accept that this is your life now.”

“Stop eating McDonald’s and it should get better.”

“I am an overachiever and overachievers get pelvic pain.”

“He told me I must have been molested as a child, and that must be what is causing my pelvic pain.”

“If you stop obsessing over it, it will get better.”

“Take your pain killers and think about something else during sex.”

“You don’t have any infections, so you’re good to go. Just take more Tylenol or Advil.”

“Have a glass of wine before intercourse.”

“You’re a young woman, I’m sure it will get better.”

“It’s just a bad period.”

“Maybe you’re not in love with your boyfriend.”

“We don’t test for Endometriosis but we can give you a pill to take away the pain.”

“It’s probably just IBS.”

“Have more sex, it will loosen the muscles.”

“You have not tried to conceive and failed, so you do not have Endometriosis.”

Can we take a minute to agree that these remarks are misogynistic, limiting and destroying the quality of life of so many women around the world?

The healthcare system is failing us.

It seems as though medicine hasn’t considered many women’s conditions or diseases to be very urgent or have not considered our pelvic pain to be ‘real’ conditions at all.

So when a woman tells her doctors about her symptoms, they are often disbelieved. This is a problem that was rooted in the 19th century, when Sigmund Freud created the term hysteria. For centuries, “hysteria” was a term used for any unknown symptoms in a women that could not be explained.

The fact that women are more likely to have medically unexplained symptoms, probably has something to do with the fact that medicine just hasn’t dedicated time to scientifically study women in order to be able to explain them.

Women have been left out of medical studies for a number of reasons, like constant hormonal changes, including a concern about the risks to them and their reproduction (Ironic, isn’t it?), but a main reason was that researchers found it easier to study only men.

Read: Why Doctor’s Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously.

There are so many “medically unexplained” conditions that disproportionately affect women, including Endometriosis, Fibromyalgia, Interstitial Cystitis/BPS, Vulvodynia and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, to name a few. These conditions remain so poorly misunderstood mostly because they assume they must be psychosomatic and “in your head”, so medicine has put very little effort or research dollars toward understanding them.

Medical misogyny has to end.

Our pelvis’ are like any other part of the human body and aren’t solely there for the purpose of baby making and others pleasure. The thought of so many doctors having the view of “many women live with pelvic pain, it’s normal”, directly shows that gender bias and limited thinking of medical professionals has halted correct care and research in any effort to better understanding these female dominated conditions.

I could rant and rave about medical misogyny but we must take action to spark change. I use this blog and platform to write about this as a way of getting my voice heard in hopes I can open the dialogue to help future generations of women.

At a higher level, a possible response or step forward could be gender neutral classes or training for medical students as part of medical degrees. As well as re-training of existing family doctors/general practitioners, in awareness of medical misogyny, and the science behind chronic pain.

We know gender bias in medicine exists and has been around for a long time. Yet, we are here, relying on brave women like us, to bring awareness and light to this important issue of medical misogyny.

With a modern healthcare system such as ours, here in Canada, we should expect a gender-neutral mindset from medical practitioners. Women need, deserve and demand better from our healthcare.

What if we lived in a world where these conditions that impact mainly women were seen as medical mysteries or enigmas that urgently needed to be solved and a women’s recollection of her painful experience in her body was trusted as reliable?

It is time to find out.

What is most absurd answer or statement you have received from your doctor in regards to your pelvic pain?

Let me know in the comments.

Michelle Signature

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