Hysterical Women of the Week: 17 March

This week’s roundup of sexism and dismissal in women’s health

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In week two of #EndoMonth, our guest post was by illustrator Kaye Sedgwick-Jones (AKA OhhhKaye), looking at the normalisation of women’s pain, and the fact 33 per cent of women with endometriosis are told their symptoms are all in their heads.

Meanwhile, here’s what else has been happening…


The gender health gap: six stats that highlight the issues women face in healthcare

The Telegraph highlighted six stats on the gender health gap, showing that:

    • Women with Alzheimer’s get diagnosed later
    • Women are more likely to die from a heart attack
    • Women don’t seek help for fear of being dramatic
    • Fewer women participate in clinical trials
    • Women’s pain is often ignored
    • And men suffer too

Across diseases, women are diagnosed later than men

On a similar note, research published by the University of Copenhagen this week found that, across all diseases except osteoporosis, women are typically diagnosed later than men.


US publication BUST reports on actress Selma Blair’s comments on the difficulties of getting an MS diagnosis. Kat McQuade writes:

[Blair] recounts that doctors didn’t take her seriously, saying excuses like “[you’re a] single mother, you’re exhausted, financial burden, […] hormonal, pre-menopausal, post-menopausal, […] no one said, ‘maybe you should get an MRI. Maybe we should just check it out.”’ Blair herself would suggest to the doctors that they perform an MRI and they would insist she would not need one. It wasn’t until she fell in front of a doctor that she finally was diagnosed with an aggressive form of MS.

The medical industry has a long history of dismissing women’s pain and health issues, using excuses similar to the ones Blair stated above. Many doctors simply tell women to “ignore the pain,” call them hysterical, tell them they “pay too much attention to their own body,” dismiss them as anxious, or suggest meditation and yoga rather than prescribing important medication.

Like Blair, many women find themselves having to advocate for their own health, fighting to receive proper treatment from (often) male doctors who don’t believe them. In addition, black Americans of all genders have difficulty being diagnosed and are under-treated for chronic pain due to outdated and racist teachings in predominantly white medical schools.


‘I was accused of pretending that my daughter was sick’

Ahead of Mothers’ Day later this month, we’ll be exploring the stereotype of the ‘neurotic mother’ – the mothers accused by health professionals of being hysterical or melodramatic about their children’s health. The BBC this week reported the case of Nicky Rowlands, who was accused of fabricating her daughter’s illness:

An explanation Nicky had found through searches on the internet was, she said, laughed away as being extremely rare.

Then the arrival of a letter marked a change in the attitude of doctors.

Nicky was told she was being investigated by social workers for inventing her daughter’s symptoms, and Bethanie was to be sent to a psychiatric unit almost 100 miles away, in Southampton, where she stayed for 10 months between 2015 and 2016.

In Nicky’s case, the suspicion ended when she finally received a diagnosis for Bethanie.

Her daughter was suffering from the condition she thought she had identified before Bethanie was sent away: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare illness which can cause joint hypermobility, extreme tiredness and digestive problems.

While she is now back with her family, 15-year-old Bethanie knows she has a lifelong condition which means she will be fed by tube.

 


‘My doctors brushed it off as bloating’: Woman, 25, who told her doctors about abdominal pain for 9 years finally diagnosed with ovarian cancer – with a melon-sized tumor

This story from the US was reported by The Daily Mail this week – and it’s a familiar tale of a woman fighting to be taken seriously while doctors repeatedly dismissed the abdominal pain and bloating of ovarian cancer as digestive issues:

For nine years, Amanda Kabbabe felt sharp stomach pains.

The 24-year-old, from Hoboken, New Jersey, visited three primary-care physicians and four gynecologists, but they all dismissed her concerns.

They told her she was bloated and that she just needed to eat more lean protein and fewer carbs to feel better.

But Kabbabe, who is active and into fitness, has always been conscious about her diet. No matter how careful she was, she still felt an ache she described as ‘somewhere between a period cramp and stabbing sensation’.

At the end of October 2017, Kabbabe finally went to the emergency room after being forced to take the day off work because her whole body was radiating with stabbing, cramp-like pain.

A few weeks later, after several scans, she was finally diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In fact, her tumor was roughly the size of a honeydew melon.

In a first-person account for Cosmopolitan, Kabbabe, now 25, describes the frustration at being brushed off by several doctors, learning to forgive the healthcare professionals that missed her tumor and the importance of being your own advocate.


And finally…

A really important article from The Conversation on the struggles many new mothers have with breastfeeding:

Women are increasingly opening up about their breastfeeding struggles. However, as individual as each story is, many have a core theme – it wasn’t working and no one could tell them why.

Given the breadth and depth of medical knowledge, why do women still not have answers if they can’t breastfeed? Why do GPs have such little training on the breast, breastfeeding and human milk? Why are women who are struggling left to hunt down their own support, due to cuts in breastfeeding support services?

Why? Because for some reason breastfeeding is still seen as a lifestyle choice that women can give or take, rather than it being a primary physiological function of a bodily organ, which helps to protect maternal physical and mental health. If you ask a mother why she wanted to breastfeed, she will say how it helped her baby’s health. True, but there is another primary reason why breastfeeding is important – a woman’s right to have her body function as she expects.

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