Hysterical Women of the Fortnight: 14 April

Here’s what’s been happening in healthcare sexism over the last couple of weeks

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks here at Hysterical Women HQ, so the keen-eyed among you may have noticed I missed last weekend’s news roundup! To compensate, here’s a bumper edition, complete with all the news and views I’ve bookmarked over the last fortnight.

Firstly, thank you to Elaina Moscato, our first American guest blogger, who wrote this week’s guest post on her experiences of PMDD, exhaustion, and being dismissed as a ‘hypochondriac’ not only by doctors but also by members of her own family.

And, if you haven’t already, please sign up to our sister newsletter That Time Of The Month, for monthly women’s health updates. We recently migrated from TinyLetter to Mailchimp and have a snazzy new look, and I’m hoping to do more with the newsletter over the coming months – watch this space.


Calling Women ‘Hysterical’ Has Set Our Treatment Back Centuries

Huffington Post published this interesting – and very on brand for us – piece on the history of hysteria and how it’s affected women’s medical treatment for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In particular, writer Sarah Burton focuses on the similarities between the historical diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ and what we now know is endometriosis.

Women have been called “hysterical” for “overreacting” to pain for thousands of years.​ But when you look back in history, these “hysteria” symptoms sound an awful lot like endometriosis, one of the most common gynecological diseases in women. It causes heavy periods, infertility and generalized pain.

Gynecologist Dr. Farr Nezhat has studied the history of endometriosis, and he believes there’s much we can learn from historical mistreatment of women.

“Whenever you go to history, you learn from history,” Nezhat explained. “As long as women have existed, most positively endometriosis was there.”


Vaginal mesh: new guidelines insufficient, say campaigners

Campaigners have understandably reacted angrily to new NICE guidelines on the use of vaginal mesh, which continue to recommend the treatment as an option for urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse – although only if other, non-surgical methods have failed or been rejected.

The guidelines state that: “There is some evidence of benefit, but limited evidence on long-term effectiveness and adverse effects. In particular, the true prevalence of long-term complications is unknown.”

As The Guardian reports, Sling the Mesh campaigner (and previous Hysterical Women guest blogger) Kath Sansom said:

We are appalled that despite political campaigns and the obvious suffering of many women, these guidelines are no different from what was published in 2003. They are so weak, they clear the way for the next generation of women to be harmed. We told our stories and NICE ignored us.

Related: Agony of the women left behind by the national mesh scandal: After a change in medical guidelines thousands of women will be spared controversial surgery, but who will help the victims left behind? – The Daily Mail


Contradictory messages on fertility cause unnecessary worry

Family planning charity Bpas writes:

New data published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has revealed just how much we worry about our fertility – with over half of women, including nearly a quarter of young women, reporting concern. It is often suggested that women are unaware of their fertility decline and consequently risk ‘leaving it too late’, but the high level of anxiety in this study suggests otherwise.

Women are aware of all the things that may affect their fertility, from their age and weight to contraception and STIs. It’s time to acknowledge that overstating these risks is harmful too. At bpas we see women who thought they were infertile due to having had chlamydia, or who stopped taking the pill because of (unfounded) fertility concerns – only to end up with an unplanned pregnancy. Women deserve responsible, evidence-based communication on this subject, and nothing less.


‘Doctors waited until minutes before my operation to tell me the risks to my fertility and to ask if I’d considered freezing my eggs’

I was particularly struck by this piece in The i, having recently heard a very similar story from another young woman who, moments before endometriosis surgery, had been asked to sign a consent form for surgeons to perform a hysterectomy “if necessary”.

Like her, The i reports, Charlotte Rawlinson “was handed the consent form just 30 minutes before the operation.”

Just before having the exploratory surgery, she was warned it could result in the removal of her fallopian tubes and, if necessary, one of her ovaries.

It was the first time she’d been told her fertility could be impacted. She was 30 years old and had no children.

“I was asked by the doctors if anyone had discussed with me the option of freezing my eggs,” she told i. “I said ‘isn’t it a bit late now?’”


Other women’s health news worth reading:

  • Student with a brain tumour reveals her GP dismissed her crippling headaches FIFTEEN times before it was spotted by an optician – The Daily Mail
  • Is autism being missed among women and girls? – BBC News
  • “You’re Just Kooky”: Women Who Were Diagnosed With Autism Later In Life – Refinery29

  • Avid swimmer, 20, claims doctors accused her of ‘secret eating’ after medical condition caused her to pile on eight stone – The Daily Mail
  • The Morning After Pill Can Now Be Delivered To Your Door, If You Can Afford It – Grazia
  • All pregnant women and new mothers across England can now access specialist mental health support so ‘no-one slips through the net’ – The Daily Mail
  • Give women more consistent abortion service, NHS told – BBC News
  • Meghan Markle Making Her Own Choices On What’s Best For Her Health Should Be No Surprise In 2019 – Huffington Post

  • ‘Groundbreaking’ blood test that can detect endometriosis in 90% of cases could save women years of agonising pain waiting for a diagnosis – The Daily Mail (although Endometriosis UK says widespread news reports about the test offer women ‘false hope’)
  • Women face enough barriers to breastfeeding — incorrect medication advice should not be one of them – The Conversation

And finally…

A couple of very interesting discussions on the companies cashing in on feminist conversations around vulvas and vaginas.

More vagina dialogues are needed, but they shouldn’t be about profits, writes Eva Wiseman for The Guardian;

The new vagina marketing almost makes me nostalgic for those gentler days when the humble vajazzle gave way to vaginal glitter pills that made sex more princessy. At least those developments were easier to argue with. Unlike Goop’s vaginal egg, or Khloé Kardashian’s vajacial recommendation, those My Little Pony diversions never covertly claimed to free a woman from the shackles of patriarchy. The current iteration, where skincare products designed originally for the face appear repackaged for the vulva (a sheet mask containing activated charcoal that promises to “detox and soothe”, or coconut-scented wipes) sit amid uplifting quotes about womanhood is far, well… fishier.

And Athena Lamnisos, CEO of gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal, writes for The Independent that The ‘Feminine hygiene’ market is predicted to reach $42.7bn by 2022 – but it’s doing more harm than we realise:

Everyone is aware of body shaming (too fat, too thin) – it still happens, but there’s an acceptance that it’s wrong. “Internal body shaming” happens around women’s bodies – it’s the embarrassment that stops women attending screening, the shame that allows some to accept profuse and heavy bleeding without seeking help, and the stigma that makes them pause when they notice that their discharge smells and looks different, but not ask for advice.

We see the consequences of this in so many reproductive health issues – late diagnosis of endometriosis, the vaginal mesh scandal and at Eve, in delayed diagnosis of gynaecological cancers. If you want to use special hygiene products – go right ahead, spend your pounds on the full range of wipes, exfoliators, douches, highlighters (yes, highlighters) and masks (yes, masks, for your vulva) making it on to the market – just don’t believe that it’s necessary or good for your health. And be aware that you’re literally being sold shame in a bottle.

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