Covid19, the Cumberlege Review, and the future of Hysterical Women

Hysterical Women is relaunching in the autumn. Here’s how you can get involved

It’s probably an understatement to say it’s been a weird few months since I last posted way back in February. When Covid19 hit, I took the decision to put Hysterical Women on the back burner, partly to concentrate on  my (paid) freelance work, and partly for the sake of my own mental health – both of which have taken a significant hit. At the start of lockdown, it felt like there was really only going to be one health story anyone was talking about for months to come, and that’s certainly been the case for a long time.

But the combined effect of Covid19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the publication last week of the Cumberlege Review has been to powerfully highlight some of the stark health inequalities that I set out to tackle with Hysterical Women, and it has never felt more relevant or more important to keep shouting about them.

Covid19 has disproportionately killed BAME people in the UK. Not for any innate, biological reason, but because of prejudice, racial bias, and socioeconomic disadvantage. Black pregnant women – who are already five times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts – are eight times more likely than white women to be admitted to hospital with the virus, while Asian women are four times more likely.

There’s also evidence that, while men appear to be worst affected by Covid-19 itself, women will be worst hit by the long-term health and economic fallout of the pandemic, and routine healthcare services – including cervical screening and sexual health services – will clearly take some time to return to normal.

In the midst of all that, last week saw the publication of the long-awaited Cumberlege Review, entitled ‘First Do No Harm’, following a two year review of evidence on three women’s health scandals: birth defects caused by both the pregnancy test Primodos and epilepsy medication sodium valproate, and the chronic pain and complications caused by pelvic mesh implants. Publishing the report, Baroness Julia Cumberlege, Chair of the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, said:

“The first duty of any health system is to do no harm to those in its care; but I am sorry to say that in too many cases concerning Primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh, our system has failed in its responsibilities. We met with people, more often than not women, whose worlds have been turned upside down, their whole lives, and often their children’s lives, shaped by the pain, anguish and guilt they feel as the result of Primodos, sodium valproate or pelvic mesh. It has been a shocking and truly heart-rending experience. We owe it to the victims of these failings, and to thousands of future patients, to do better.”

The report and its recommendations mark a huge step in the fight for better women’s healthcare. But, as regular readers of Hysterical Women will be aware, these three scandals are just some of the more extreme symptoms of a much deeper-rooted sickness. Besides the victims of Primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh, many more women find themselves and their health sidelined and dismissed, and I’m determined to keep highlighting their voices and experiences. The question is how?

For a year and a half, since October 2018, I’ve been running Hysterical Women on a wing and a prayer – putting out submission calls to my own limited social networks, funding the costs out of my own pocket, and relying on voluntary guest post submissions from the women who happen to stumble across it. I’ve always said I want Hysterical Women to be as diverse and inclusive as possible, but I also haven’t had the time or resources to be proactive enough about making that happen.

The guest posts I’ve published in that time have, with a few exceptions, overwhelmingly been submitted by straight white women. Their stories are all shocking and vitally important, and I’m so proud of having given them a platform. But I’m also increasingly conscious that I’m just not reaching those women at the sharpest end of health bias and inequality – where sexism collides with racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, ageism and more – whose stories most urgently need to be heard.

I’ve spent a lot of time since lockdown reflecting on this, and the future of Hysterical Women, and I need some help to make sure I’m really achieving what I set out to achieve. I’m hoping to relaunch the blog properly in the autumn, and already have a handful of new guest post submissions ready to go, but if it’s going to be sustainable then Hysterical Women 2.0 needs to continually evolve into something bigger and better. If you’ve appreciated the blog and the newsletter over the last year and a half, here’s how you can help:

1. Donations

This is the big one, and I feel super uncomfortable asking for it, but Hysterical Women needs cash. There are so many brilliant women of colour, disabled and chronically ill women, LGBT women writers, illustrators and bloggers out there who I’d love to approach about contributing their experiences, perspectives and expertise to the blog. But, as a professional writer who’s been asked to work for free more times than I can count, I’ve never felt comfortable approaching these people without having a budget to pay them for their time.

With a bigger budget, I’d also like to invest in social media advertising and promotions to make sure I’m reaching a broader and more diverse audience.

If you see some value in the blog and would like to contribute personally, please consider donating at paypal.me/hystericalwomen. Every donation, whether it’s £1 or £100, will help me to do more with Hysterical Women. If you don’t want to donate but you’ve been considering buying a book by one of the authors I’ve featured, please do so using the links on Hysterical Women as I get a tiny amount of commission from each of those sales.

2. Sponsorship

I’m also in the process of approaching like-minded brands about sponsoring either one-off guest posts or series written by women from these more marginalised groups. If you work for a brand in the women’s health sector, get in touch by emailing hysterical@sarah-graham.co.uk.

3. Submissions

If you’re a woman who’s experienced the kinds of issues Hysterical Women looks at – being dismissed or misdiagnosed, not being taken seriously, medical gaslighting, sexism and other kinds of discrimination – and you have the time to submit a post on your experience voluntarily, please do. If you’d be interested in contributing but need to be paid for your time, please get in touch so I can let you know once I’ve got enough funding to do so.

There’s really no limit on these stories – if you’re a cis woman, a trans woman, or a gender non-conforming person who’s treated as AFAB in medical settings, I want to hear from you. It absolutely does not have to be about gynae or reproductive health, or hormones, although it’s fine if it is. But it might equally be about mental health, physical health, chronic pain/illness or disability.

I’m also not saying I don’t want any more submissions from straight white women, so please don’t be put off if that’s you! I just want to make sure I’m featuring as diverse and varied a range of voices as possible.

Read the submission guidelines here, and get in touch by email if you’ve got any questions: hysterical@sarah-graham.co.uk

4. Recommendations

Tell me about the diverse and marginalised voices you’d like to see on the blog. Who are your favourite women of colour, queer, trans, disabled, chronically ill, older, younger, or working class women talking about these issues both online and off? Whose work should I be following, promoting and engaging with on Instagram and Twitter? Whose books, support groups and campaigns haven’t I featured yet? Get in touch.

5. Sharing

This is the easiest and most important thing you can do. Please share this post, share your favourite guest posts from the past, and have conversations about the issues that Hysterical Women raises. If you have friends or relatives whose experiences would be relevant, please encourage them to get in touch and submit a guest post. Although many of our guest posts are published with the writer’s name and photo at the top, I’m just as happy to publish posts anonymously if that’s easier or more comfortable.

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