Misogyny in healthcare is a real problem. But it doesn’t stop there.
A new mother contacted me in my office a few days ago.
I spoke with this pleasant young woman in person for nearly a half hour, far beyond the free 10 minute consults I usually do.
Women’s pain and suffering is LARGELY not ACKNOWLEDGED or well cared for in healthcare. And worse, often the women who seek help and relief are belittled, shamed, marginalized, or flat out turned away.
This woman’s story was no different. She has been suffering for some time, has seen MANY PT’s and MD’s, and isn’t getting clear answers or help. The thing is, there are TOO many women with this story. And many of them end up in my office in tears, beyond coping, with nowhere else to turn.
And that fires me up. It should fire everyone up.
I would also be amiss if I didn’t mention another obvious fact: black women get a double dose of bad medicine. They not only suffer because of sexism, they also suffer because of racism.
Mounting evidence has long warned us that black mothers are dying at higher rates in childbirth in the US and around the world. Read The Common Wealth Fund report and this from the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Misogyny is Pervasive
Do a quick search on Google and you’ll find MORE than enough evidence that documents how women’s health is ignored and how women are far more likely to be harassed or abused.
Read statistics like this – Close to two-thirds of women journalists report experiencing threats, sexist abuse, intimidation, threats and harassment in the course of doing their work.
If the majority of women experience harassment or verbal abuse in the workplace, we cannot expect our daughters to thrive in leadership positions, or even to want to ascend to or aspire to leadership.
We must end the exhausting uphill battle women are fighting – just for equality and wellness as a human being. Just let us lead. When we do, we excel.
When we are allowed to lead, countries thrive. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is a stellar example. The first world leader to give birth in office (and oh by the way to also successfully fight a pandemic at the same time).
From Serena Williams’s harrowing postpartum experience ( to the everyday mom who contacts me in pain saying, “The doctors I’ve seen (and even some PT’s!) have told me this is just an emotional issue (aka it’s all in your head).”
They tell me it’s all in my head. My ob/gyn told me, after I confided in her that attempted intercourse was unbearably painful, which took me a lot of courage to share, “Have a glass of wine and relax.” ~ANONYMOUS PATIENT
I’ve been a women’s health and orthopedic PT and licensed athletic trainer for 25 years y’all, and I’m sick to death of the misogyny that persists in healthcare. But it isn’t just in healthcare, sometime the misogyny comes from inside your OWN family. I’ve had partners of patients who don’t believe their wife or spouse is in pain. I’ve had those partners tell their spouse, “Well, all our friends who had babies just bounced back. Why can’t you?”
Misogyny and its verbal abuse in women’s health doesn’t only come from healthcare providers, sometimes it comes from your own family members, or worse, from your partner.
More than Just One Type of Misogyny
We’ve all heard the misogyny in the recent AOC story. If you didn’t know, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was called a f****** b**** on the US House floor by a fellow representative, Ted Yoho.
Now, no matter what side of the political fence we reside, we all know that sexism in the workplace (or anywhere) is inappropriate. We all know that violence against women (whether verbal or physical) should NEVER be tolerated. It must ALWAYS be called out. And yet, quite often, it doesn’t, which is why AOC’s statement on the floor of Congress made such headlines.
I too experienced many sexist and misogynistic comments when I ran for public office. Though I did not win my race, I am *still* left with the trauma of both men and women lobbing sexist (sometimes packaged in what they thought were socially acceptable “well-meaning” comments about my age or how I looked) comments at me.
Those hurtful and demeaning comments stung. They made me feel “less than” on a regular basis. A campaign is hard enough to run WITHOUT being harassed and called out just because I am a woman.
But to have to put up with that AND run a campaign at the same time I kept my fulltime job as an educator and therapist AND raised my 3 boys is beyond exhausting. I know now why more women don’t run.
I also won’t forget what it says about our political and social landscape.
We, as a society, still do NOT clearly take a stand for women’s rights or equality. If we did, then comments like the one AOC got and the ones I received, and so many other women get every single day, would be considered UNACCEPTABLE and be instantly condemned. But more often than not, sexist comments are given a pass, and women are accused of being too sensitive if they call them out. It rarely bodes well for a woman to call out harassment of abuse in public. This must change.
Here are a few more resources on how society and the healthcare profession takes women’s pain and health less seriously:
- 🚨Learn how doctors take women’s pain less seriously – This story is about sexism in the ER, and let me tell you I have experienced it first hand, with my husband there to witness it.
- 🚨Women get prescribed less pain medication than men after identical procedures (controlling for body size) – Enough said.
- 🚨Read Lena Dunham’s heartbreaking story of dealing with endometriosis, and finally getting someone to believe her pain –
- 🚨Finally, this. Gaslighting in Women’s Healthcare – The article starts out with “take a Tylenol” and “it’s all in your head.”
And one more: If you think being interrupted as a woman is an isolated issue, here’s a grand example of how basic manners often aren’t extended to women by men – Female Supreme Court Justices Are Interrupted More by Male Justices and Advocates
Not Uncommon and Not Acceptable
I’ve heard these stories from patients, from colleagues, from female friends, again and again, of being treated differently because of their gender. And yes, I have plenty of my own stories to shared.
It both breaks my heart and appropriately enrages me every time. Side note: There’s probably a misogynist waiting to pounce and call me just another angry, hysterical, hypersensitive woman because I used the word “enrage” to describe my feelings. Women aren’t allowed to be assertive or angry (yet).
My message for the misogynists out there is this: we don’t want superiority, we just want equality. Let us lead, pay us equal for equal work, respect us at work and at home, and we will all benefit. The old cliche’ is very true: If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. If half the sky gets held back, then we also lose half of our prosperity potential.
Last evening’s call with this young woman, in addition to reading about the AOC’s commendable response to verbal abuse slung at her, brought back a flood of memories of my own experience with gaslighting and neglect in seeking my own healthcare, and in my past experiences as a women at work.
So I just want all women out there to know – not ALL healthcare providers gaslight and marginalize or ignore your pain. There are a LOT of good apples out there who can help you. So please persist.
And when you see misogyny in any form in healthcare or otherwise, please speak up. You aren’t alone.
Empowered women empower women. ~UNKNOWN
If you have pelvic or other type of pain, there are ways to find a good therapist to help you. Here’s a great start:
- Find an Integrative trained Doctor/Therapist – Living Well Institute
- Find an Integrative trained Women’s Health Coach – Integrative Women’s Health Institute
- Find a Pelvic PT – Pelvic Guru
- Find a Pelvic PT – American Physical Therapy Association Academy of Pelvic Health
Can’t find what you need? Don’t hesitate to reach out.