While the fact that women are less likely than men to receive CPR— and less likely to survive when they need it— is making headlines, it may just be revealing a much larger sexism problem in the medical field. Because whether it’s chronic illnesses, acute emergencies, or general ailments, there is a big problem with how women are perceived. Research has shown that women are more likely to be viewed as hysterical in their complaints, while men are viewed as stoic— which makes them more likely to get treatment. It’s a horrifying disparity, based on sexist, old-fashioned assumptions. And, in another throwback, women are more likely to be sedated than treated— showing an emphasis on stopping them from complaining about pain, rather than actually healing it.
“In 2001, University of Maryland academics Diane Hoffman and Anita Tarzian published The Girl Who Cried Pain, an analysis of the ways gender bias plays out in clinical pain management,” the Guardian explains. “They examined several previous studies, including one that indicated women are more likely to be given sedatives for their pain and men given pain medication, and concluded that women were more likely to be inadequately treated by healthcare providers. Several authors attribute this to ‘a long history within our culture of regarding women’s reasoning capacity as limited’, the paper noted.”
It seems like something we would have read about ‘mother’s little helper’ in the 1950s, rather than an established university’s findings in the 21st century. There is no reason to belive that women would complain more about health problems or that they would be more likely to exaggerate their symptoms. Not treating real medical conditions because of prejudice based on gender can have real, life-or-death consequences.
You would think that would be obvious, but looking at one condition in particular shows just how far we are from medical equality. Endometriosis, a painful syndrome that affects up to one in 10 women, takes on average 6-7 years to diagnose. That’s on average. Think about that for a moment. It’s such a common condition and one that is incredibly painful, but it can take years and years to even get a correct diagnoses, let alone begin to treat the problem and give these millions of women some relief. If it affected men and caused them an unbearable amount of pain every month, I’m pretty damn sure you’d be able to treat it at a drive-thru window by now.
Some of the most damaging, pervasive sexism doesn’t come from obvious hostility or anger, it comes from deeply entrenched prejudices. Viewing women as more likely to complain and men more likely to remain stoic and, therefore, deserve treatment when they seek it is one of the most dangerous forms of sexism out there.
“People are dying because they are female and doctors are blinded by their gender,” Julia Buckley, a freelance journalist, who says she was misdiagnosed and gaslighted for years, tells the Guardian. “Don’t assume that women are hysterical. That’s quite basic. Treat everyone as a person.” It’s amazing that we’re not there yet.