This weekend’s roundup of sexism in women’s health
A survey published this week found that one in ten women think only men suffer heart attacks, following on neatly from last week’s post on the British Heart Foundation’s Bias and Biology campaign.
Also this week, a poll found that a third of women suffer from bladder weakness, but “would rather talk about money worries, relationship woes, weight gain or mental wellbeing” than incontinence. Seven in 10 of those who chose not to discuss it said they would not talk to their GP, with many admitting they did not want to “waste their doctor’s time”.
Elsewhere this week…
Doctors are still sexist: They believe men are the best surgeons and women are better as family physicians
The Daily Mail reported on research from Washington University, which found that: “Most doctors – both male and female – say men make better surgeons and women are more suited to family medicine.”
The research, by Washington University in St Louis, exposes a deep-rooted gender bias in the medical field that may partly explain why there are fewer female surgeons, and women are consistently paid less than their male peers in medicine.
The team studied 42,000 doctors’ responses to a recognized bias test, and found most of them associated men with ‘career’ and ‘surgery’, and women with ‘family’ and ‘family medicine’.
Women were far less likely than men to explicitly pair ‘men’ with ‘career’ or ‘surgery’, but when tested on their instinctive reactions (timing their reactions to certain words and associations) both men and women tended to lean that way, and associate women with family.
Why the drugs don’t work for women and what to do about it
The Times this week explored the gender gap in how medicines work, highlighting that “many of the drugs we commonly use have been trialled almost exclusively on males.”
The consequences of this have only started to become clear. A 2001 official audit of medicines withdrawn from the American market for safety reasons revealed that 80 per cent were a greater risk to women than men. Among them were appetite suppressants that caused heart valve problems, antihistamines that caused a potentially fatal irregular heartbeat, a diabetes drug that caused liver failure and a drug for irritable bowel syndrome that caused intestinal inflammation.
Black babies are more likely to be stillborn. That is institutional racism
This week Kuba Shand-Baptiste wrote for Indy Voices about the endemic racism in black women’s maternity care, off the back of new UK-based research into the issue.
When it comes to access to antenatal care, for example, black women in Britain on average receive less and lower quality health assistance while pregnant when compared to their white counterparts. It’s the same when what has come to be known as “pain bias” comes into play, in which medical professionals downplay or dismiss reports of pain depending on one’s gender, socioeconomic background or race. Black patients are, according to studies (although, once again, most of these are carried out in the US), less likely to receive pain relief than white patients due to racial bias.
Many of these recently statistics will feel very real to countless women, regardless of economic status. The poor medical treatment of Serena Williams during her pregnancy was perhaps the most high-profile example of what can happen when doctors fail to listen to and effectively care for their black patients.
Woman, 21, whose painful mouth ulcers were dismissed as ‘tonsillitis’ undergoes bone marrow transplant after she is diagnosed with rare blood disease
Another misdiagnosis story from The Daily Mail: 21-year-old Annie Lovegrove was sent home with paracetamol by her GP, only to be rushed to A&E, and eventually diagnosed with a rare blood disease, requiring 50 blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant.
A woman has told how her GP sent her home with paracetamol for her mouth ulcers only to discover the next day she had a life-threatening illness.
Annie Lovegrove, 21, went to see a GP when a large mouth ulcer wouldn’t go away, despite a course of antibiotics.
The doctor saw sores on her tonsils and thought she had tonsillitis, so sent her home again, but this time she developed a high fever and was rushed to A&E the next day.
‘It’s important that people don’t ignore the signs, like bruises and ulcers because that was my body’s way of telling me it was deteriorating.
‘If we didn’t go to A&E when we did, doctors said I wouldn’t have survived the next day.’
Women, infertility isn’t your fault – don’t let companies exploit our fears to make a quick buck
Another great piece by The Independent’s Harriet Hall, looking at the companies exploiting women’s fertility fears, after a £250 ‘fertility drip’ – with absolutely no scientific evidence to back it up – was roundly criticised for setting up shop in Westfield shopping centre.
Women are ripped off from a young age. Want to shave your prepubescent armpit hair? You’ll need to spend around 34 per cent more than a man would, on a pink razor to remove it. Concerned that your vagina doesn’t have the aroma of a florist’s front-of-store display? Remove all of its biological barriers using an “intimate feminine wash” that will likely give you thrush. And those standard pelvic floor muscle exercises you’re doing aren’t enough, you should probably insert a Bluetooth “trainer” inside yourself for the handsome sum of £170 to truly work out those vital muscles.
While women’s health issues have often suffered from lower funding than men’s concerns – erectile dysfunction studies outnumber research on pre-menstrual syndrome five to one, for example – our wallets have long been the target of misogynist money-makers who know how to peddle our weak spots.
Take the wellness company that has been criticised this week for selling a “fertility drip” for £250, without any scientific proof whatsoever that the contents of the intravenous solution it offers promotes fertility. Sold by the company Get a Drip, the IV of vitamins and minerals was being offered in Westfield shopping centre, allowing women to pop to the shops, buy some food and maybe a Goop vaginal egg, and then have a fertility injection.
Another brilliant book for your Hysterical Women reading list. Hormonal: A Conversation About Women’s Bodies, Mental Health and Why We Need to Be Heard by Eleanor Morgan was published this week. I’m excited to say that we’ll be featuring Eleanor in this month’s Author Q&A post, due to be published in the next few days, but in the meantime here’s an interview she did with Vice’s Hannah Ewens:
“I had to really reassess what those experiences meant: the sadness, the anxiety, that all get worse during the second half of my cycle,” she told me of writing it. “What is and isn’t my biology? Can it really be that hormones equal sadness or bad mood? I had to work out why I find it so difficult to be anxious and sad, on a basic level. The torture comes with trying to maintain mental equilibrium all the time.” Periods and hormones have for centuries been used to symbolise moodiness in women (whose dad hasn’t pulled out that tired “that time of the month, eh!” joke?). In trying to combat that sexism, it’s possible that women have denied these fluctuations, a situation all the more confused when you consider that many women are generally unaffected by their hormonal cycle.