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Monday, July 04, 2005

Feminism in Medicine

The fact is that migraines are still considered a "woman's" problem. This brings me back to a topic near and dear to my heart, (since it was my minor), feminism. Women's "problems", historically, have always take a back seat to men's. You would think we were more enlightened in these modern times, but the "old school" is still in charge of the regime and, let's face it, it's still an ol' boy's club.

When a woman has migraines it's labeled as "hormonal", "mental disorder", "laziness" or "an excuse to get out of doing stuff", "hysteria" (I really hate that one), "hypochondriacism", or "it's all in her head". When will we break down the barriers in medicine? We've broken down barriers in the work field, in education, and recently, in ministry, but the fact is that the medical profession continues to remain seemingly untouched and unchanged. Shouldn't the same rules of equality apply here?

When we go to see a doctor, the first thing I've noticed, (especially if it's a man), that seems to enter their subconscious is that we're victims or we're just looking for attention, and, subconsciously or consciously, that's how we're treated. You get a sense of it from the eye-rolling, the sighs, the flat out refusal of any effective therapies. They tell us what to do, instead of advise. They keep us in the dark and it's very rare to find a doctor who'll actually teach you about what's going on in your own body. Hell, it's rare to find one that will even do their research to figure out what's wrong with you. We typically have to research that ourselves. There's very little power given us to make informed decisions, when we don't even understand what's happening to our own bodies. We're disbelieved and given business cards to psychologists offices. These attitudes and this conditioning fosters the disempowerment of women in our country.

No one knows your body like you do and it's been my experience that women listen to their bodies more intimately than men do. I mean, how many of us have to pull teeth to get our husband's into the doctor's office? We, women, have such an innate intuition regarding our bodies. I've heard, countless times, women who've said, "I just knew something was different" or "I just felt like something was wrong". I've heard so many women who've had cancer say that.

Usually, when we go to our doctors and tell him that we get, at the very least, a raised eyebrow, meaning, "You're wasting my time, because you feel off? Go take a pregnancy test." Am I right? I've had personal experience with this and it took me 9 months and somewhere between 6-8 doctors to finally get someone to listen to me, and he diagnosed me with Gall Bladder Failure after one test! But, I'd been telling my doctors that I thought I had gallstones or something was wrong with my gallbladder that entire time! I almost lost my life, because of the pervasiveness of these attitudes toward women and our health.

It's most fortunate that more and more women are entering the trenches of the medical field. It's not easy competing against men in medical school and takes a special brand of hutspah. I have a great deal of respect for these women, who,after twenty plus years are still pioneering in this career track. The professors are predisposed toward the men and women have to work twice as hard to gain the same grades, respect and footing as their male counterparts. I'm sure it's like wading through sludge to break down the gender-bias in that institution. Just as it was before, during, and even after the Civil Right's Movement for Blacks. Just like it is for women in any non-traditionally female oriented career field. (God, when are we ever going to get to the point where we earn just as much as a man does? When will the glass ceiling actually disappear? Just as a side note, did you know that women earn only $1 for every $3 that men earn? We earn 1/3 of what they earn! WTF is up with that?)

It's wonderful that women are really becoming a presence, finally, in the medical field. Now, if we can just get the women to get through their schooling without adopting the typical male authoritarian attitudes of their professors, and actually champion for better treatment, care, research, etc. for women, and the advancement of women's issues, then our empowerment would be quickly gained.

I'm not saying that there aren't any out there, trying to make a difference, because I think that that's at least a portion of why women choose to go into such a challenging profession, whether they admit it or not. It can be a strong forum to advocate for other women. I think that my doctor is one of those women who tries to advocate for women, and is compassionate toward her patients. It's just that I'd like to encourage more women to take an active role in creating change from within the establishment to bring about more effective care, better research for women's diseases, better strategies for empowering the patient and for patient education.

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