Words and Artwork: Tess Hardy (she/her )
What are girls made of? Hormones, Hysteria And everything nice…
Embarking on the journey through the man-made medical maze is a daunting challenge for many women; there is an undeniable history of perpetual misunderstanding, mystification, and misdiagnosis of women’s health issues. Harking back to the wandering womb in ancient greek medical texts, the Salem witch trials, and the days of “feminine hysteria”, and now to menopause, endometriosis, and postpartum depression. The etymology of “hysteria” is derived from the Greek word ‘hystera’, literally translating to uterus, reinforcing the misogynistic reduction of women and their wellbeing to their reproductive organs. There is a medical orthodoxy masking a horde of misdiagnosis and misconduct cases from male physicians and psychiatrists, creating a vast gender-based disparity in health research and treatment affecting millions of women across the world.
The UK is thought to have the largest female health gap of all G20 countries with millions of women falling through it annually. According to the new digital healthcare service Livi, ‘over half of UK women fear they’ve been misdiagnosed at least once in their lives, with a quarter believing this is due to ‘simply being a woman’. The knowledge surrounding the differing effects of illness in men and women are unknown. The symptoms of a heart attack or stroke appear differently in women than they do men. The main conditions with severe, prolonged and debilitating symptoms such as PCOS, chronic pain, and endometriosis are woefully under-researched. But what we do know is that women are experiencing institutional scale medical misogyny.
PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, affects roughly 10% of women at reproductive age in the UK and causes fertility issues nationally. It can take up to 8 years to receive a diagnosis of endometriosis, a devastatingly haunting statistic, actively discouraging me from exploring the condition myself. Endometriosis is a chronic gynological disease where tissue similar to womb tissue grows around the body causing severe symptoms: infertility, fatigue, and period, pelvic and chronic pain. Endometriosis occurs in 4 stages, as it worsens it increases the difficulty to treat; this impact cannot be understated.
The organisation Chronic Illness Inclusion represents disabled women, like myself, who report recounts of ‘gaslighting’ and ‘accusations of hysteria’ by medical professionals in examples of gender and disability prejudice. They’ve received more than 800 complaints of negative healthcare experiences of disabled women with energy-limiting chronic illness and pain. Chronic pain is prevalent in 34% of the population, but reportedly significantly higher in women. For these cases of chronic pain, the most common treatment is prescription opioids which are disproportionately prescribed to men not women. So women must turn to over the counter medication.
Let’s take Feminax, a period painkiller, 1 pack includes 16 tablets at £5.49. With severe pain, one may need to take up to 2 tablets every 4 hours, totalling at 12 tablets every 24 hours. For a whole week, the average cycle of a period, that’s nearly 6 packets costing around £33. Annually, this totals at £400 to medicate just one week, every month. Not accounting for any muscular, neurological, or other illness. To self-medicate period pain for 10 years you could find yourself spending over £4,000 just to get through one week of the month. Issues like the pink tax don’t help this issue and create comercial economic misogyny. Feminax is 346 mg of Ibuprofen Lysine and targets women with its little pink box. However, migraine relief is the same medication sold for a fraction of the price at £2.15. Women are continually misled with this information, encouraging them to spend thousands of pounds on, essentially, a pharmaceutical scam.
All these symptoms of misinformation, negligence and simple misogyny lead to a bleak and horrific terminal diagnosis. I myself can, reliably, diagnose the UK with a callous case of terminal gender healthcare disparity. The NHS is infected. But this isn’t new. It traces back to Aristotle’s distinction between the superior male “form” and inferior female “matter”. Even Aristotle’s argument is fundamentally wrong and has been heavily disproven. The significance of this idea catalysed centuries of suffering for millions of women.
I must admit, while writing this I’m boiling with rage, frantically typing while listening to A Pearl by Mitski on a meticulously curated ‘female rage playlist’.
Consider my fuse blisteringly burning…
But the truth I must sadly reveal to you is, I don’t have the answers; the miracle antidote to fix this festering and violent cancer that has infected our healthcare system to the core. But that shouldn’t be my responsibility. Healthcare is a basic human right that I shouldn’t fear or doubt. I want to be heard and respected. I’m not being a bitch, I’m being a fucking person. Women are people. And I will scream, shout, yell, and belt until you hear me and help us.