Hysterical Women of the Week: 23 June

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

Between Trump and the Tory leadership contest, the political news of the last few weeks has been pretty grim when it comes to women’s health, and just about everything else. So let’s start this weekend’s roundup with some good news: researchers have developed a simple blood test for ovarian cancer, which could save thousands of women’s lives every year – although, as The i reports, further tests are needed to confirm the findings, while any resulting blood test could be years down the line.

In other nice news, The Sun this week reported on the launch of The Lowdown, a website for women to review their contraception methods – an initiative that I’m a big fan of. Founded by a woman who suffered from mood swings on the pill, The Lowdown is “the country’s first comprehensive contraceptive review site, which features candid personal appraisals of all 16 main methods of contraception from progesterone only and combined pills through to IUDs and rhythm method.” The only question for me is how well it can take into account the vastly different impacts that hormonal contraceptives can have on different women – which I recently wrote about for Patient.

Ok, on to the less nice stuff…


Pharmacist refused to give morning after pill on a Sunday ‘for personal reasons’

One of the big stories this week was a Lloyds pharmacist refusing to dispense the morning after pill because it went against her personal beliefs – instead telling the patient to come back tomorrow, despite the fact the morning after pill is more effective the earlier it’s taken after unprotected sex. The patient, named only as Siani, had pre-ordered and paid for the pill online, knowing that a limited number of pharmacies would be open on Sunday. She told Metro:

‘I don’t think it’s remotely acceptable that LloydsPharmacy created a situation where they discriminate against women by having the only branch in the city that is open on a Sunday staffed by a lone pharmacist who will not dispense women’s services.

‘And I don’t think it’s acceptable that they will sell a service that their staff refuse to deliver after accepting payment.’

Siani, who has a young son, said the pharmacy is right in the centre of a student area, adding: ‘I’m a mum in my 40s, I have very little shame left, but there will be girls having the same experience who have nothing like the resources I do.’

Siani continued: ‘You expect that sort of nonsense in America, but not here.


Doctors dismissed mother-of-two’s Lyme disease because she ‘didn’t look unwell’ – telling her to ‘try meditation’ instead

A classic Hysterical Women headline from The Daily Mail, reporting on the story of 37-year-old Katherine Wood from Massachusetts, US, whose Lyme disease symptoms were dismissed as psychosomatic.

Doctors told a mother-of-two who had Lyme disease dismissed her symptoms as imagined – telling her to ‘try meditation’ because she ‘didn’t look unwell’.

Katherine Wood, of Stow, Massachusetts, went out on a nature walk with her young son and his friend in November 2016 when she was bitten by a tick.

Because she didn’t have a fever, a headache, or a skin rash, the 37-year-old thought she was fine.

But over the next several months, Wood’s symptoms got worse and she saw more than a dozen specialists who either misdiagnosed her or told her they didn’t think anything was wrong.


Doctors’ failings on eating disorders ‘are costing lives’

A report by a parliamentary select committee this week concluded that a lack of understanding of eating disorders among doctors is resulting in too many avoidable deaths, with medical staff receiving too little training. As The Guardian reports:

It was essential the NHS learned from previous serious incidents. Nic Hart, the father of Averil Hart, from Newton, Suffolk, who died from anorexia, had been in constant correspondence with more than six organisations before any formal investigation was launched into his daughter’s death, the report stated.

The committee chairman, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, said: “My committee found serious failings in NHS care for people with eating disorders – doctors only receive a couple of hours of training, patients are left waiting for months for care, and the NHS doesn’t even have accurate data on the number of people suffering from an eating disorder throughout the UK.

“We cannot risk any more avoidable deaths from eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex mental and physical health illnesses and deserve dedicated training, specialist care and a commitment from the NHS to learn from its own mistakes.


Stella Creasy’s honesty about maternity leave shows how shockingly pregnant women are still treated

Pregnant Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy wrote for The Guardian this week, highlighting the lack of maternity leave for MPs, and sharing her broader experiences of the struggle to balance motherhood with politics. “My Labour colleague Tulip Siddiq was forced to postpone a C-section so she could cast a vote in the debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal in January… During my first miscarriage, aching and bleeding, I joined a protest for the extradition of a man who had raped and murdered a constituent. The day after I found out that another baby’s heartbeat had stopped, I led a public meeting on gang crime. I even scheduled the procedure to remove the body on a day I didn’t have a constituency advice surgery.”

While Creasy’s campaign is more about maternity rights than health, Harriet Hall wrote a great piece for The Independent on the high price women pay for our biology:

I often imagine a world in which men are child-bearers. I imagine them high-fiving over heavy flows and helicoptering used tampons around their heads in locker rooms as declarations of virility. Contraceptive pills would be free in every public bathroom. Offices would have childcare facilities and men would sit at their desks breastfeeding and being patted on the backs by their bosses, who would provide bonuses according to the number of offspring their healthy sperm had created.

Reproductive diseases would be the most highly funded in all healthcare. Childbirth would be pain-free, tear-free and safer than it has ever been and reaching menopause would earn you an OBE.

Sadly, this is but a dream. Women pay a high price for their biology. Taxed for having periods, enduring the mental health implications of hormonal contraceptives despite evidence pointing to male alternatives, and seeing our careers stagnate if we choose to have babies. Facing criminalisation in some countries if we don’t want them.


And finally…

My brilliant friend and anti-FGM campaigner Nimko Ali’s book What We’re Told Not to Talk About (But We’re Going to Anyway): Women’s Voices from East London to Ethiopia is published next week, featuring 42 women’s stories about sex, masturbation, periods, pregnancy, the menopause and more. Fiona Sturges wrote a brilliant interview with her for The Guardian: ‘Orgasms and sexual pleasure are a human right. I guard these things with my life’.

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