Image Courtesy of Marcelo Leal at unsplash.com
Julia Neves, Queen’s University
Edited by Brendan Sheppard
When I was 9 years old I vividly remember causing a scene in the doctor’s office that consisted of screaming, crying, and fighting while three nurses held me down. While this sounds like grounds for a lawsuit I’ll be the first to admit that in fact, I was being a nuisance. The sole reason why I acted like that was because I was getting three shots and had a fear of needles. My poor mother, mortified over my reaction, kept telling me it’s for my own good and that I should not fear as the doctor only had my best interest at heart. Looking back on it now, my mindset on vaccines has changed, because when I got all three of my COVID-19 shots I had a large grin on my face. Both the passing of time and the onset of the pandemic has taught me that I had one of the most valuable things in the world: Health. Although I am so thankful to all the medical professionals who are working so hard during the pandemic, there is still room for improvement. One specific area in the field of medicine that is still lacking in women’s health.
The medical field is lacking in women’s health because for decades, research was solely conducted and tested on males. Patriarchy and misogyny penetrate not just the social aspects of life, but all aspects, including the medical. Therefore, the only research that was conducted was on male subjects, with the findings then applied toward women. It may seem sufficient to study only one sex of a species, but that is not the case: the female body reacts differently to illnesses or remedies than the male body. One example of this is with Coronavirus, in which researchers found that men and women have caught the virus at similar rates, but men seemed to have more instances of severe cases. Men were also almost two-and-a-half times more likely to die, even after considering other factors like age and pre-existing health conditions. This shows that each sex reacts differently than the other when it comes to illnesses and therefore should be studied separately. An even more appalling example is the evaluation of women and pain in comparison to their male counterparts. Due to gender biases, it was found that women are more likely to be prescribed sedatives rather than pain medication. Also, a study observed that women are seven times more likely to receive a misdiagnosis during a heart attack and be discharged. This is because the symptoms of a heart attack differ for women, and since the protocol is based on males, these people are discharged and consequently pass away. These statistics and research findings exemplify how the field of medicine continues to fail women’s health. The root of this problem lies in the sexism and oppression that has seeped its way into medicine through the basing of medical practices and procedures off of males in earlier centuries, and how it continues to pervade modern-day society.
Another way the medical field has impacted women’s health is the mistreatment of women by medical officials. A fun fact that I like to tell people is that my birthday is one day after Billie Eilish, and when I mentioned it to my mother she revealed that it was supposed to be mine as well. My mother had issues with her water breaking naturally with my older sister, and with me, it was no different. She arrived at the hospital and they began the process of getting her ready to give birth, but she was informed that the doctor she wanted was not available and that another doctor was going to fill in for her. This would have been fine in my mother’s eyes, however, her close friend had an appointment with this doctor which ended with her in tears. This promptly sent my mom into a frenzy as tears poured down her face, begging for someone else to deliver her baby. A nurse consoled my mother and told her not to worry, assuring her that they would handle it. Although there was no mistreatment toward my mother, the past behavior toward her friend made her feel unsafe to deliver me with this doctor. This incidence is minuscule in comparison to what happens to other women in hospitals. An example in Canada was with Joyce Echaquan, who was berated by hospital staff and ended up passing away. It’s mostly just perceived as a racial attack, but some sexism is definitely involved. The staff was recorded on the live stream saying that she was stupid and was only good for sex. Another instance that occurred more recently happened in Brazil, in which a doctor was recorded saying vulgar and horrible things to their patient. Shantal Verdelho, a Brazilian influencer, was giving birth when the doctor was first recorded berating her for not pushing hard enough and calling her ‘Viadinha’ – which roughly translates to ‘bitch’. Then he calls her husband over to see her intimate parts and says, “Look here, she’s all ripped. I will have to give her a bunch of stitches in her vagina” and “Look there, where you have sex, it is all fucked up.” Imagine going through the excruciatingly hard process of childbirth with a supposedly trained medical official that speaks to you in such a way through this process. It is instances like those mentioned above, that instill fear in women when it comes to receiving medical care.
The field of medicine is one that has helped us live for longer and protects one of the most valuable things in life – which is health. However, change must occur in its research and treatment in order to properly address women’s health. The statistics, stories, and mistreatment toward women in healthcare systems have always existed, but up until now, it has just been disregarded. What is even sadder, is seeing how this can have an added dimension when applied to race, since this becomes an even bigger issue when seen through an intersectional lens. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the hard work and dedication of medical staff – but we’re also seeing the flaws in the system, along with the work that still needs to be done to preserve everyone’s health within it. The reason this is brought to light is to correct the system moving forward to ensure that women feel safe and properly taken care of by medical officials. That is why now at 20-years-old, I no longer need nurses to hold me down for vaccines because I trust these officials with my health. I want this feeling to be shared by everyone because after all, health is priceless.
Godin, Mélissa. “Canada Outraged by Death of Indigenous Woman Joyce Echaquan.” Time, 9 Oct. 2020, https://time.com/5898422/joyce-echaquan-indigenous-protests-canada/.
Karina Davidson, PhD. “Women Have Been Overlooked in Medical Research for Years.” Katz Institute for Women’s Health, https://www.northwell.edu/katz-institute-for-womens-health/articles/women-overlooked-in-medical-research.
Kiesel, Laura. “Women and Pain: Disparities in Experience and Treatment.” Harvard Health, 9 Oct. 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/women-and-pain-disparities-in-experience-and-treatment-2017100912562.
Nabel, Elizabeth G., et al. “Coronary Heart Disease in Women – an Ounce of Prevention: Nejm.” New England Journal of Medicine, 24 Aug. 2000, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200008243430809.
“’Olha Aqui, Toda Arrebentada’: Influencer Shantal Diz Que Foi Vítima De Violência Obstétrica De Médico Durante Parto Em SP.” G1, 12 Dec. 2021, https://g1.globo.com/sp/sao-paulo/noticia/2021/12/12/olha-aqui-toda-arrebentada-influencer-shantal-diz-que-foi-vitima-de-violencia-obstetrica-de-medico-durante-parto-em-sp.ghtml.