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It’s a Fem-ergency: Deep Talk on Disparities in Women’s Healthcare

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

My mom likes to tell the story of when I was a kid, and I used to tell everyone I wanted big boobs and long armpit hair. Don’t ask me why that was my life’s aspiration. Since then, I have acquired one of the two. It hasn’t been all I hoped. When I was 14, I finally grew into a B-cup bra; since then, I have struggled with severe chronic breast pain that has gotten worse over time. It’s the type of pain that has me doubling over crying in the bathroom at least once a month. Oftentimes I can’t feel it, but at its worst, it can only compare to what I imagine it feels like to be stabbed.

I have seen at least six different doctors on many different occasions searching for any treatment. Between general practitioners, gynecologists and even dermatologists, I have received an overwhelming sentiment that I am just a woman, and pain is to be expected. Every time I heard this, I would hang my head low and just believe it. I left doctors’ offices thinking I was stupid for even bringing it up, until the next year when I once again could not take the pain and forced myself back in a new doctor’s office to beg them to consider that something was truly wrong with me.

Finally, after six years of doctors blowing me off, I was diagnosed: Fibrocystic breast disease. I was so happy to have a name. Now people would take me seriously. Finally, I would get a cure!

But that wasn’t the case.

“How can I treat fibrocystic breast disease?” I asked my new doctor.

“Well, we don’t really know why it happens or what it is,” she told me. “Breasts are kind of mysterious. Nobody knows why a lot of stuff happens in the breast, so we don’t know how to treat it.”

What the hell? Breasts aren’t mysterious, bigfoot is mysterious. There is no reason that we should be able to treat exotic rare diseases and strange cancers, but doctors don’t even know the basics of breasts.

But there is a reason. The reason is that women have been unequally studied and belittled in the medical field for far too long. Historically, many studies have considered women little versions of men. So, they only study men, worrying that female hormones will “interfere” with results, and women are left with results that in no way represent their lives.

For example, women were completely left out of heart disease research until the 1980s. To this day, women’s heart attack symptoms are often completely overlooked and misdiagnosed by doctors, leading to fatal consequences.

Symptoms for serious conditions, like ovarian cysts and endometriosis, are often blown off as normal period pain. And this isn’t some kind of abnormality. I can name at least five women in my close circles struggling with this. Talk to the women in your life, and you will quickly find out, as I have, that we are constantly overlooked like this in healthcare.

This problem dates back thousands of years. The word “hysteria,” originally meaning uterus, was defined by Hippocrates to describe disease as a byproduct of the uterus. So, from the damn dawn of time, we have been making false connections between actual diseases and symptoms of womanhood.

It’s infuriating and stupid and we need to be better. It’s not just men being the issue either. Though that is where it may have started, every medical provider to blow me off was a woman. And the women if my life did the same. So, it’s not a men versus women issue, rather it’s a pervasive cultural problem.

I don’t like to leave people on a bad note. This is an issue that threatens lives, but it’s one that we can all do our part to change. I’m not a researcher, and you probably aren’t either. If you happen to be, please value equity in your work. If you are not, then take women seriously. Encourage your mother, your friends and even yourself to take concerns seriously and visit a medical provider. The number of women who overlook their own symptoms is so scary. And when there, encourage them to truly advocate for themselves and seek second opinions when appropriate.

This mindset gets to all of us. I know it certainly affects me. So, the next time you’d like to blow something off as period pain or assume women are suffering more greatly because of hormones and not because of a lack of appropriate research, please reconsider.

Ginger is a third-year Journalism major with a minor and specialty in Theories and politics of Sexuality. Ginger is passionate about fun and honest sex education and hopes to spread sex positivity via mass media. In her free time, Ginger runs a nail art account @ginger_does_nails and is always trying something new with her sorority sisters!