Theme #8 for Feminist Fact Friday
To date Feminist Fact Friday has covered everything from POLITICS, HEROES and MONEY, through to BEHAVIOUR, MEN and SPORT, finishing recently with one of the toughest topics yet: VIOLENCE. It feels quite natural to move from a topic were women’s bodies (and their minds) are so thoroughly damaged by violence, to an interlinked topic where women are taught to suffer in silence, that their experiences are imagined or trivial and that even when they’re believed, the evidence and research just isn’t there to help them.
One of the most surprising topics I read about in Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men arrived in chapters 10 and 11 on health. As Criado-Perez recounts in her book, women’s experiences are so often discounted (by doctors and the establishment) as to make them life-threatening:
The truth is that these are not isolated rogue doctors, bad apples who should be struck off. They are the product of the medical system which, from root to tip, is systematically discriminating against women, leaving them chronically misunderstood, mistreated, and misdiagnosed.
It begins with how doctors are trained. Historically, it’s been assumed that there wasn’t anything fundamentally different between male and female bodies other than size and reproductive function, and so for years medical education has been focused on a male ‘norm’, with everything that falls outside that designated ‘atypical’ or even ‘abnormal’. When women are mentioned, they are presented as if they are a variation on standard humanity. Students learn about physiology, and female physiology. Anatomy, and female anatomy. ‘The male body’, concluded social psychologist Carol Tavris in her 1992 book The mismeasure of Woman, ‘is anatomy itself.’Criado-Perez in Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men pages 196-197
In this month’s articles I’ll have a lot less to offer in terms of advice and ways we can combat this issue, but what I hope to do is make people more aware of the astounding gap in quality of care and attention that men’s and women’s bodies receive; there’s simply no explanation other than sexism. It’s time for us all to pay attention to this injustice and make plain that we want things to change.
Women’s lives shouldn’t be at risk purely because medical practice refuses to move with reality.
Gaps [in data] matter because contrary to what we’ve assumed for millennia, sex differences can be substantial. Researchers have found sex differences in every tissue and organ system in the human body, as well as in the ‘prevalence, course and severity’ of the majority of common human diseases. There are sex differences in the fundamental mechanical workings of the heart. There are sex differences in lung capacity.
There are still vast medical gender data gaps to be filled in, but the past twenty years have demonstrably proven that women are not just smaller men: male and female bodies differ down to a cellular level. So why aren’t we teaching this?Criado-Perez in Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men pages 198-199