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Hysterical About Hysteria

by Philippa Wimbledon (she/her)

Image Description: the image is an infographic, with a light blue background and two darker blue swirls. The text in the top right hand corner says “women’s month 2020 @LUNA”. There are two photos of Philippa, who is smiling. The text between them says “Hysterical about hysteria” by Philippa Wimbledon”

The concept of a gap between genders is a greatly debated topic. Whether it’s the gender pay gap or more of social one such as men having fewer parental rights – there’s a lot to unpack. A painfully obvious difference between genders however is there access to healthcare and medical treatments. Medical misogyny as it’s more commonly know is the belief that people are treated differently due to the prejudices of healthcare professionals.

Since the beginning of time, those who identify as female have always been treated differently than men, especially within healthcare. Whether that be Victorian doctors diagnosing women as being “hysterical” to more modern-day failings such as women still not being diagnosed with conditions at the rate of their male counterparts.

It’s a well-known fact that women often go undiagnosed for many conditions due to medical misogyny. A big part of this could be that there’s still a gender gap when it comes to the healthcare profession. Research by the UK government shows that in 2019 “Women are not yet represented in equal proportions in senior medical grades.” Unless people feel represented within their healthcare settings, they are less likely to have frank conversations with doctors and nurses.

There’s also this belief that women are more “difficult” and that they have a lower pain threshold then males so they must be being overdramatic. There’s lots of misleading research available to the public as well that doesn’t help. A study was conducted in 2013 that showed women aged 16-44 “are twice as likely as men of the same age to have visited their GP in the previous 12 months.” However, research into the difference in care between men and women experiencing heart problems found “Men and women with no chest pain and with feminine gender identity were at increased risk of poor access to care.” Perhaps research like this explains why women are twice as likely to go to a GP as it takes twice as long to get the care they deserve.

In my own experiences with being diagnosed with Endometriosis (a condition that proportionately affects females more than males) medical misogyny is very real. A condition that affects 1 in 10 women yet it takes an average of 8+ years to get a diagnosis. The condition is incurable and can lead to life-changing surgery in order to live with the symptoms. Despite all of this, doctors very rarely take it seriously.

In 2013, a study was conducted looking at the “attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis.” In this study women who had the condition were rated on their attractiveness by males and females and the rates of their endometriosis. After many criticisms and backlash – the study was removed and an apology issued however the damage had already been done.

Examples of this kind of behaviour can be seen across a whole spectrum of disabilities. It’s more obvious in conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS and others that affect the reproductive system – but it’s everywhere. For example, research has shown that females are less likely to be diagnosed with Autism than males. Research by has shown the several women they’ve spoken to were with either diagnosed late or had lots of difficulty in getting the support they need.

Positive steps are being made to tackle the topic of medical misogyny. The UK media have played a big part in shining a light why this is happening with various conditions. However, the biggest change we need to make is opening up the lines of communication with each other. We at The Luna Project want to make sure that every female whether young or old knows that they have a right to equal healthcare and that it’s ok to push for a second opinion.

(Originally published 27/12/20)

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