Jen Brea, creator of the M.E. docu-film Unrest, had an article published in the Boston Globe recently which talked about the bias women face in the health-care system. About how auto-immune diseases, which predominantly (but not exclusively) affect women, attract the least funding of virtually any illness on the planet and about how women are much more likely to be told their symptoms are ‘all in their head’ compared to men.
Her article was shared on Facebook and attracted comments which said she was “dividing the M.E. community” to weaken our collective voice, that it is not a men v women issue and that such rhetoric isolates men. These comments miss the point entirely.
Jen is not saying that M.E. doesn’t affect men, or that men are never told their symptoms are psychological, but the truth is that around 80% of M.E. sufferers (and auto-immune diseases in general) are women and that women are historically less likely than men to be taken seriously within the health care system. It’s just a fact, like the sky is blue, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.
Funnily enough, I was talking to my Mum yesterday before I read Jen’s article about the different way she is treated compared to my Dad. Last year they were both asked for routine urine samples and both contained blood. My Dad was immediately put on antibiotics. My Mum received no treatment whatsoever. What the hell is that all about?!
My Mum has severe and progressive COPD, is missing half a lung and has Emphysemia yet was dismissed from the lung clinic 4 years ago. They were so gobsmacked about that when she was in hospital recently with her Guillain Barre the consultant immediately re-admitted her to the lung clinic so that her lungs could be monitored. My Dad, OTOH, who has never spent a single day in hospital in his entire life and who is fit as a Mally Bull has recently had some moderate leg pain and weakness. Within a month he’d had a Doppler scan, an MRI scan, a full blood work up which is being repeated in 3 months time and already has an appointment for physiotherapy and a referral to the spinal team. Which is great, but it’s not like he’s going to die from a bad back…….unlike my Mum who is absolutely dying from heart failure, kidney failure and lung disease yet is not even being monitored let alone treated.
Baldness in men receives six times more research funding than M.E.. The fact that vain men are losing their hair and might not look at pretty as they did in the twenties is six times more important to our health authorities than the fact that millions of (predominantly) women all over the world are bedridden or in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. Are we not even supposed to discuss this? And if not, why not?
When I’ve discussed the inequality of women here on my blog I’ve had comments from other women saying it’s not as bad as I make it out to be because they haven’t experienced it. Good for them that they are middle class, educated and living in America. Not poor and living in the Yemen or Saudi Arabia, or having their clitoris cut off because of their religious beliefs, or working in the same job as a man at the BBC yet being paid 1/3 less than him, or being raped because they want to work in the film industry, or being paid 7 years less health insurance because they were born with a vagina and not a penis.
That anyone would criticize Jen for merely stating a fact gobsmacks me. That the criticism would come from women appalls me. Jen is not denigrating men or dismissing their experience, she is standing up for women and she should. We all should.