Health-care sexism

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.

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11 thoughts on “Health-care sexism

    1. Jak Post author

      I know it is Linda and I wasn’t trying to dismiss women’s experience in the States, just that comments I’ve received in the past saying that the situation isn’t that bad have all been from women who are priviledged and living in the west who have seemed to have an “I’m all right Jack” perspective x

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  1. Helen

    Many moons ago I read about an experiment whereby 7 men and 7 women were sent to their doctors, and told to present with the symptoms of a heart attack.

    Without fail the men were properly treated, and all the women were told they were stressed and offered anti-depressants.

    Even my own mother died of the illness (Lupus, yes, another autoimmune illness) that the doctor told her was ‘all in her mind’ as she presented with a myriad of symptoms including great big swollen ankles.

    I gave up going to the doctors years ago and just try to treat myself as best I can with stuff I buy from all corners of the world. I’m probably doing myself harm along the way, but figured I’d rather have some quality of (a possibly shorter) life than be patronised, disbelieved and let down at every turn by the (misogynistic?) NHS attitude to women.

    I’d be bitter and angry about it, but I haven’t got the energy…. ; )

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    1. Jak Post author

      I hear you Helen and feel the same way! It’s very rare I go to the doctors for anything – you get so fed up and trying to justify your situation x

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  2. Glo

    Yes it is as bad in America unless you’re rich. Not only is it biased against women but also age. As I’ve gotten older I get comments from doctors such as you’re just getting older. Well certainly I am. We all are. This doesn’t mean it’s now ok to do nothing because I’m just going to drop dead soon anyways. I have to argue or find my own solutions. Frustrating. I can also say that I noticed this with my parents before their deaths. Dad had lots of good medical care and follow ups. Mom they just sort of did the well you’re old thing. There are doctors out there who do the right thing but you are lucky when you find them. My sister has an excellent doctor. She also has top of the line health insurance and way more money than I do. 🤔

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      1. Linda N

        Yes they do. I am an older women and doctors treat me like I know absolutely (even though I am quite well trained in Clinical Nutrition and Nutrigenomics and more), and the “you are going to drop dead soon anyway so why bother” attitude is downright criminally sickening. I rarely do to doctors also as a result, but when I do, I am at the point where they had better look out because I have no problem letting them have it in spades anymore. Especially since I can prove my genetic snps.

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  3. Livvy Woodburn

    I just had a rather disgusting and upsetting neurosurgery appointment with 2 male surgeons telling me they believed my symptoms and videos of such but that they were being caused by my mind focusing on illnesses and they offered me psychotherapy. Despite me calmly arguing if I had listened to non specialist doctors before I would still be being told I had stress depression ibs and anxiety and eczema, not EDS, PoTS and MCAD… now this will go on my records, despite me saying very reasonably that just because you cannot see what is wrong on my scan doesn’t mean you jump to the conclusion it’s caused by a mental illness! It becomes even more impossible to argue your needs for Rare illness Care when doctors even though not specialists in your condition write these things on your records. It is even harder then when your poor and cannot pay for second opinions. I really do wonder if I was male if I would have been treated in such a way. When I came out the appointment all I could think was, he didn’t even shake my hand… very sad. I love being female and we definitely can stand up for equal rights and talk about it without alienating or reducing men down.

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    1. Jak Post author

      I’m so sorry to hear of your experience Livvy. I honestly don’t think a man would be treated the same way in most instances 😦 My health care files are full of psychological diagnoses dating back to my childhood. When I started having back pain at the age of 11 but the x-ray looked normal I was told I was attention seeking :-/ Of course by the time I was 16 CT scans had been developed and it turned out my pain was due to congenital spinal stenosis for which I needed urgent surgery or I might have ended up paralysed. I’ve never trusted doctors since to be honest x

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