Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Women's Health

I have talked a bit on this blog about health in general, and women's health in particular.  The latter was discussed in my post about Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  A recent experience of someone close to me has inspired me to expand on that post.

Toward the close of my BCAM post I made the following statement:

Nowhere in these "women's health" and breast cancer awareness campaigns is any attention paid to whether or not women have equal access to healthcare; whether they receive the same treatment/respect by health professionals (in terms of their personal ability to act and make decisions; the assignment of moral culpability; the risks that are taken; and the expectations as to their ability to cope and recover); or how social norms and gender stereotypes may affect women's attitudes toward their own bodies and health. 

And here is the perfect example. A woman I know very well went to the doctor recently.  She was in physical therapy, and as a result of some conversations with her therapist, she was interested in having some imaging done to try to isolate a root cause of her injury.  The doctor told her, "There is no root cause.  You're a woman.  You're designed to push out babies.  You're going to have hip pain from time to time.  Your ligaments are overly stretchy because you need to get a baby through the small birth canal."  Now, the woman in question does NOT have stretchy ligaments (in fact, she's extremely tight), and seeing as to how she is not and has never been pregnant, she could not push out a baby right now if her life depended on it.  The doctor was apparently unaware that pregnancy hormones are responsible for all the increased elasticity at the time of childbirth.  He thought women are just like that all the time.  So he refused to help this woman.

This example illustrates the way in which "women's health issues," while commonly perceived to be a function of the female body itself, are often generated by social/political factors like institutionalized gender stereotypes and the false assumptions of medical practitioners.  People are all caught up with breasts and whatever else constitutes "women's health," but I would think the fact that a woman can be denied diagnostic imaging simply due to the fact that she is a woman - that is a real women's health issue, and one that no one is likely to talk about.

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