A roundup of this week in sexism, hysteria, and women’s healthcare

This week we were lucky enough to feature two guest posts: the first from Dawn Smith, on her experience of fighting to have her ME taken seriously; and the second from Jennifer Richards, from women’s mental health charity Wish, introducing their new Women’s Mental Health Network, and seeking feedback from women with lived experience of mental health problems.

Elsewhere this week there’s been a whole lot of Brexit and UK political chaos, and a fair amount of Christmas, so this week’s roundup is a little shorter than usual. The eagle-eyed among you may also have noticed that December’s That Time of the Month newsletter didn’t appear in your inboxes on Tuesday. This month’s update will be a week later than normal – going out this coming Tuesday, 18 December – and will include details of our upcoming Christmas break, what’s coming up in 2019, and how you can submit your own story or guest post to Hysterical Women.

Invalid: Seeking a Cure for Medical Male-Practice

Eileen Pollack published a piece on Medium this week, exploring “how the medical establishment undermines, misdiagnoses, and gaslights women.” Of her own experience, she writes:

I now kick myself for putting up with so much sexism, for assuming my frustration and mistreatment were my own fault, for thinking if only I were tougher and more stoic, doctors wouldn’t dismiss me the way they dismissed their weaker, more hysterical female patients. Why did I so easily doubt my own experience? Why did I blame myself for my doctors’ refusals to take my ailments seriously?

Are male doctors too complacent about the cancer pill many women say is ruining their lives?

Last week’s Mail on Sunday reported on women’s experiences of horrendous symptoms and side effects from so-called cancer wonder drug tamoxifen:

Doughty couldn’t disagree more. ‘I object to the suggestion that the drug has “little toxicity” and is “well tolerated”,’ she says.

‘I see women who are struggling on tamoxifen and other hormone drugs on a weekly basis. The worst symptoms by far are the hot flushes and sweats, but many women suffer from joint pain and feel very depressed. That’s the real story.’

To say the medical community is divided over tamoxifen, and its downsides, would be a huge understatement. Last week, a Leeds University study found that four in five women at high risk of breast cancer, when offered the drug for prevention, didn’t want it. More than half reported concerns about potential unpleasant side effects.

It is hard not to notice that female medics seem more in tune with this than many male researchers. So is there, as some have privately suggested to me, a sex divide among doctors on the issue? And more importantly, where does this all leave patients?

There is a long-standing problem with sex bias in medical research – although few doctors will say much on the subject. Dr Clare Gerada, a GP based in London and former chair of the Royal College of GPs, says: ‘There has been a cautious, even paternalistic, medical approach to women for many years. Think back to Victorian times when women were treated for hysteria when they had physical illnesses.’

O’Riordan believes part of the problem is that women aren’t being completely honest with their doctors. She says: ‘Women often under-report side effects, thinking they just have to put up with them. About half of women stop tamoxifen treatment early, but pretend to their doctor they are taking it because they feel so guilty.

‘And some male doctors may well think, “How bad can a few hot flushes be?” So they don’t appreciate how debilitating the side effects are. Maybe they don’t think a pill can make you feel that bad.’

Cervical screening error: More women affected

Following the news in 18 November’s roundup post that 48,000 women had not been sent information about their cervical screening test or results, this week it was reported that a further 3,500 women have been affected.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, told BBC News: “Frankly, it is appalling that thousands of women have been affected by a further error. At a time when cervical screening attendance is falling, we cannot afford for faith to be lost in the programme. This could result in more women not taking up their invite. Waiting for results can already be an anxious time and failures such as this are only adding further stress to women.”

Refusal to give pregnant women vaccines branded unacceptable

A report published this week warns that failure to vaccinate pregnant women during deadly infectious disease outbreaks is putting them and their unborn children at risk, The Telegraph reports:

Pregnant women are usually excluded from vaccination campaigns because vaccines against infectious diseases like Ebola are rarely tested or approved for use in pregnant women.

This approach has led to anger among some that women are being put unnecessarily at risk during the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Studies of previous outbreaks show that between 80 and 90 per cent of all pregnant women who contracted the disease died.

But now a new report from an international group of experts in the United States calls for pregnant women to be included in vaccine development and campaigns.

It says the exclusion of pregnant women from vaccine research and development is unacceptable and “business as usual simply cannot continue”.

And finally…

Woman’s illustrative book about periods is what every teenage girl needs, writes Faima Bakar in The Metro, on Natalie Byrne’s book Period:

‘No one should be traumatised by a natural human body experience,’ adds Natalie. ‘A period is a natural thing our body does, just like having a burp, a wee, or a poo.

‘But a period is still today something we have so much taboo and stigma around. Even after writing this book, I still feel uncomfortable talking about my period and have to fight the internalised shame.

‘Talking about periods is so important, but with the shame and taboo around it, some parents and educators might not know how to tackle it.

‘Periods may seem like one small issue but it’s actually huge and encompasses a lot of topics, from mental health, wellbeing, body positivity, body literacy, inclusivity, the environment, myths and period poverty.’