When it comes to health and wellness, there are a lot of challenges that women face but men don’t. This isn’t just about the complications around menstruation, childbirth and breast cancer, which affect women far more than they affect men. It’s also about the deeper, systemic societal issues that disproportionately affect women’s health.
Because specific issues of women’s health have been used by both sides of party politics as a political football, all areas of women’s health have suffered. If it is difficult to get an abortion in Iowa, then it is likely just as difficult to get a pap smear. When one issue of women’s health becomes a matter of politics, then all clinics that offer health services to women become vulnerable to defunding campaigns, protests and unnecessary red tape. The end result is women suffering needlessly, whether they’re getting an abortion or not.
Research into women’s health also suffers from the politicization of women’s health issues. However, there are more deeply rooted issues in research into women’s health. Most historical data, both statistical and describing symptoms, is based on the symptoms as they present in men. Heart attacks are a classic example here. The commonly known symptoms of a heart attack are based on the symptoms that men experience. As a result, women’s heart attacks are often overlooked or misdiagnosed. Researchers need to continue to broaden their study sizes and doctors need to recognize that the so-called facts in their textbooks may only be true for half their patients.
Women also face bias from their doctors as well as society and the body of research. Doctors tend to dismiss women’s pain as unimportant and don’t always take their female patients at their words. This is true of both male and female doctors; it isn’t a gender bias but a professional one. It must be noted that, bad as this is for women in general, the burden falls most heavily on women of color. Women of color routinely face medical bias, unwanted invasive procedures and an overall lower standard of care than their white women counterparts.
Cost is always a factor in health care, especially in the United States. Consequently, it is very relevant that women make less money than men, overall. This simple fact creates an inherent bias against women in medicine. Added to this is the fact that women often work in lower-paid, public-facing jobs. Receptionists, teachers and childcare workers, for example, are overwhelmingly female and incidentally have jobs that expose them to more transmissible diseases, like influenza or coronavirus. Many of these kinds of jobs are also low-paying and may not have health insurance as part of the benefits package.
Many of these issues are peculiar to the American health system, but not all. Women make up at least half the population of the planet, and yet they often find their good health coming second to men’s wellness. If we want equal treatment under the stethoscope, we need to address these four concerns, among others.