This weekend’s women’s health roundup
World Poetry Day fell in week 3 of #EndoMonth, and our guest post this week was Bridie Apple’s poem to her endometriosis surgeon, Oblivi-osis.
It’s also been a busy week for my own work. I wrote for Refinery29, asking:
Is Sexism In Medicine Driving Women To Dangerous ‘Natural’ Cures?
Barely a week goes by without another weird and wacky wellness trend hitting the internet – from Kardashian-approved vampire facials to colonics, to an ever-increasing list of things doctors have warned us not to put in our vaginas. But beyond Instagram, what exactly is driving women to try these kinds of alternatives?
Since October, I’ve been running Hysterical Women, a feminist blog exploring women’s experiences of feeling dismissed and let down by their doctors, and I’ve increasingly found myself wondering just how much this disillusionment is driving the $4.2 trillion global wellness industry.
I was also interviewed for Harriet Kean’s article in Grazia:
‘We need to start taking women’s illnesses seriously’
According to health journalist Sarah Graham, Amelia is not alone in her experience. ‘There’s a lot of research into the fact that women’s pain is taken a lot less seriously.’ Indeed, one study has found that women are less likely to be taken seriously in emergency departments than men, while another revealed that women are more likely to be prescribed anti-anxiety medication than men when they come to the hospital with pain.
Sarah, who runs the blog Hysterical Women, believes that this harks back to the idea of female hysteria (a misdiagnosis for women that dates back to the Ancient Greeks). ‘I think there’s still a hangover from this ideology,’ says Sarah. ‘This idea that women are unreliable and can’t be trusted to accurately describe what’s going on with their own bodies.’
Smear test: Fear, pain and misunderstanding keep women from undergoing a life-saving procedure
This week marked a decade since Jade Goody’s death from cervical cancer, and The Independent published a couple of really great and important pieces looking at the real reasons (some of which I’ve written about before) women might be put off attending cervical screening/smear test appointments.
In the first, Rachael Revesz writes: “For most people, a cervical screening test might not be a very painful experience. For others, according to Lynn Enright, author of Vagina: a Re-education, it can be really painful, traumatic or even impossible, depending on that person’s circumstances and experiences.”
In the second, Sirena Bergman explores the use of the speculum:
In among the shaming of women who fail to attend smear tests, no one seems to have considered the possibility that perhaps it’s not millions of women who are the problem, but a rather the way in which the test is conducted – a relic of Sims’ experiments of the 1800s, which treated women as objects to be fixed, rather than humans with complex feelings around bodily autonomy and differing anatomies which can drastically change their experience. And it all revolves around the speculum.
A generalised dismissal of women’s pain is a huge problem across the board, and is perhaps most clearly represented in attitudes towards smear tests, where women are essentially told to “suck it up”, while the establishment ignores the opportunity that medical innovations offer which could make it a much less traumatic procedure.
NHS will send ‘DIY smear tests’ by post in effort to tackle decline in cervical cancer screening
In related news, it was also announced this week that the NHS will pilot a scheme sending women DIY smear tests through the post – potentially a game changer for many women, but I’m personally not sure how confident I’d feel about doing it myself!
Women affected by endometriosis share just how debilitating the condition is in a photoshoot with photographer Rankin – including one whose period was non-stop for SIX months
On Thursday I had the privilege of attending the launch of a new endometriosis exhibition in London – a collaboration between Standard Life UK, Endometriosis UK, and photographer Rankin. Here the Daily Mail reports on the stories behind the photographs.
A Gynecologist for the Self-Care Generation: How much would you pay to feel heard?
US-based, but I found this article in The Cut quite fascinating:
For women especially, whose health concerns are too often minimized or dismissed by doctors, the promise of a doctor who takes your every physical/emotional/mental fluctuation seriously is a godsend, and could genuinely save lives. For now, though, their means to do so are rather limited. Tia, while nominally pro-choice, does not perform abortion services, for which they received some pushback in their first week…
What Tia can do (besides STI screenings, UTI tests, pap smears, prescribing birth control, and other standard gynecology services) is make a patient feel heard, which, of course, isn’t nothing. In its inaugural New York clinic, Tia does this via upgraded well woman exams with a gynecologist who looks you in the eyes. As an app, Tia does this by living in your phone, keeping track of your periods and your diet and your sleep and your stress and your sex life. Tia makes healthcare feel DIY, and fun: In the app, she’s an entity, popping up to text you reminders using emojis. “Our users describe [Tia] as, ‘She’s like your best friend who’s in med school. She sounds like she’s 29, and sends you Beyoncé GIFs, but reads academic journals,’” says Witte. What more could you want from a doctor?
A selection from The Daily Mail
Say what you like about The Daily Mail, but they cover an awful lot of stories on women’s health concerns being dismissed. In fact, they’re one of my main sources for our weekend roundups every single week. Here’s a selection from this week:
- Mother with terminal cervical cancer is calling for yearly NHS screening as her final pregnancy scan revealed a 3cm tumour after a CLEAR smear test
- Mother celebrates being cancer-free after the disease was missed for THREE YEARS because doctors assumed her low mood and bloating was because of postnatal depression
- Doctors said it was a ‘cold’ but it turned out to be cancer: 27-year-old was dismissed three times before medics finally gave her a scan and found a 5 inch tumor
- One in 20 women injured in the vaginal mesh scandal have attempted suicide as they battle severe pain, depression and recurrent infections as a result of the controversial implant
Next weekend, for Mothers’ Day, we’ve got some special guest posts focusing on the ‘neurotic mother’ stereotype – aka, what happens when ‘hysterical women’ become parents. These include a look at the infantalising language of childbirth, and the devastating story of one mother who wasn’t taken seriously when she knew her daughter was seriously ill.
So I was interested to read this week that the next subject to be tackled by documentary king Louis Theroux will be postnatal mental health, with his upcoming BBC documentary Mothers on the Edge, due to air in May.