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The Gender Pain Gap is Real and It’s Time We Talk About It

We have to talk about something that few people believe in or know about: the gender pain gap. Yes, pain not pay (even though that exists too!). When a woman goes to the doctor or the hospital, her pain is not taken seriously. She is written off because of the stereotype that women are naturally overemotional. Doctors believe her pain is not real so they do not give her adequate care or treatment. Instead, doctors dismiss the women and tell her that whatever she is feeling is psychosomatic and is probably ‘just stress.’ This is not okay.

When a doctor tells a woman that her pain is simply ‘all in her head’, the doctor is not following the oath they swore to when they became a doctor. Doctors are supposed to “do no harm” but this treatment of women is doing irreparable damage.

Photo credit: Buzzfeed

Your sex will define how you are treated at the hospital. If a man goes to the hospital, he will wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated. If a woman goes to the hospital, she will wait an average of 65 minutes before being treated—keep in mind that both people showed the same severity of pain. While those sixteen minutes may not seem like a big deal, every second is precious when dealing with a life-threatening issue (which cannot be diagnosed if women are not treated).

Besides the differing wait-times, there are other ways women are harmed solely because of their sex. Women are more likely to misdiagnosed and mistreated by medical professionals.

Photo credit: Buzzfeed

One woman in 2018 called emergency services because she was in so much pain that she thought she was “going to die.” After the dispatcher said that “everyone was going to die someday” and being taken to the hospital five hours later, the woman had a stroke and died. The disregard for this woman’s pain resulted in her death.

Unfortunately, this case is not the first of its kind. Women are seven times more likely than men to be misdiagnosed and discharged in the middle of having a heart attack, according to a 2017 study from Harvard Medical School.

The misdiagnosis of women has gone on for far too long and it is because of a few reasons. First, women are still believed to be the ‘weak, emotional, dramatic’ sex that cannot even handle a paper cut. I cannot believe we are still even discussing this stereotype. Who goes through excruciating pain for a week (at least) every single month? Not men. Who brings life into the world by pushing a human out of them? Not men. So, can we please get rid of the stereotype already?

Anyway, the other reason the gender pain gap exists is because of the lack of understanding of the female body. Most medical studies are done on male humans or male mice. Doctors will give the same diagnosis to a woman that he would give to a man simply because the doctors do not know any better. This practice can have fatal consequences.

Women are not just men with boobs and tubes!

Female patients have a higher chance of having a bad reaction to drugs and twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and depression. If women are treated the same as men, then the basis on which doctors are treating patients will be how a man usually acts. When a man is having a heart attack, he experiences chest pain but when a woman has a heart attack, she has more flu-like symptoms. The lack of knowledge of the female body and her physiology prevents doctors from knowing about symptoms that only females might have. Because of this, a doctor dismisses the woman and does not treat her in the correct way.

Photo credit: Buzzfeed

Besides the specific diagnoses, women are given different treatments because of their sex. While women are more likely to be given sedatives, men receive pain-relieving drugs. Women receive sedatives so that they are ‘calmer’ which will obviously then cure their ailment immediately. Who needs pain-relievers when your ovarian cyst ruptures?

While I do not pretend to be a medical professional and I am not trying to do the doctor’s job, I am acknowledging that this sexist treatment of women establishes a precedent. When women are dismissed and consistently written off, they stop going to their doctor. When they are in tremendous amounts of pain, they themselves dismiss it and instead just deal with it. Women should not and cannot live with chronic pain anymore. We must do better.

Photo credit: Buzzfeed

First, we all must check our biases. If you are in pain and you do not visit the doctor, is it because you do not want to seem weak or is it because the pain is simply discomforting? If it is the former, go to the doctor. All pain is worthy of being treated. For doctors, are you actually listening to your patients and focusing on their symptoms as it relates to their sex?

Second, we must expand our knowledge. Too many scientific and medical studies are done on just men. When you leave out half the population, you have the potential to misdiagnose half the population. We have to learn more about how the female body reacts to certain drugs, treatments, and how it medically acts differently.

If we can do those two things and get rid of those awful stereotypes, then we can close the gender pain gap. Women’s pain will finally be taken seriously.  


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Peyton is a sophomore at Boston University majoring in journalism in the College of Communication and minoring in Women, Gender and Sexuality. Besides writing for Her Campus, Peyton also writes for the Daily Free Press and is a member of Students for Reproductive Freedom. In her free time, she tries to find the best places for dessert in Boston and reads along with Emma Watson's book club "Our Shared Shelf."
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