I was sent links by my nhs provided (outsourced to private) physio after a call diagnosing a frozen shoulder. On the PhysiApp I was told to download Pure Physiotherapy had a variety of exercises all by the same woman in short shorts and a tiny crop top. I have no problem with women and do not want what they wear to be policed, but it made me uncomfortable that someone had told this person to wear this outfit and my first thought was that they wanted it to encourage injured men to do their exercises regularly by exploiting a woman and objectifying her.
My (male) doctor told me that his favorite part of doing my yearly physical was the pelvic exam. (The female nurse and I looked at each other with horror.) It was ten years before I went another pelvic exam.
About half a year ago I had a very strong migraine attack that lasted throughout the night, so I hardly slept. In the morning I called my usual clinic, but they were fully booked and I badly needed a painkiller shot, so I had to visit a local practitioner I’ve never been to before. The moment I entered his office, he asked whether I had children, and immediately declared that my migraines were surely caused by a hormonal disfunction caused by not having any yet at 33 (he’s not seen any of my medical documentation). After I told him I’ve been having them for years and I’m not on birth control, he gave me the painkiller, but when I asked for a doctor’s leave for the day, which is something he should have advised himself (we don’t have sick days in my country, you need to get doctor’s recommendation), he faked being surprised that I work and started a mini-lecture on how I should quit my job right away, and use my womanly charms to have my husband work harder and make more money, because working is for men, and women are meant to be loved, stay at home and make the world prettier. I was too weak, tired and dumbfounded to respond, so I just smiled and left when he was done. I’ll never go to him again.
Things healthcare professionals asked me after I was raped at age 16: – If I had been drinking – If he “jumped from the bushes” (direct quote) – What I was wearing – If I said no – If I physically fought back Not that any of this matters, because victim-blaming is never okay, my story doesn’t include most of the usual stereotypes. I was stone-cold sober, in a jumper and jeans, and he was someone I knew very well. It happened at a private space behind closed doors, so I wasn’t “out too late”. But the real problem is when professionals in our healthcare system, the very people who are supposed to take care of you, perpetuate these stereotypes. 90% of people are raped by someone they know, often a family member or a friend. Healthcare professionals meet vulnerable people as a part of their job. Communicating with someone in the right way about such a difficult topic is important, as the way you are made feel by someone you trust can shape your perception of what happened, your responsibility and worth. In my case, a doctor made a teenager feel ashamed and responsible for what happened.
When interviewing a potential new (*male*) surgeon for my Stage IV endometriosis/adenomyosis, he responded to my questions about hysterectomy by telling me I needed to go home and have a serious conversation with my husband before we could discuss it.
Earlier this month I went to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. I was looking forward to accessing healthcare at a clinic that tailors to women’s health concerns. I felt safe. The doctor I saw was a man, and I didn’t think anything of it. I figured he was well-versed in treating his patients with respect. I was bloated. I wanted him to address the issue. He asked if he could feel my stomach. I had a brief moment where I worried he would take advantage of me – it happens, after all. But I told myself I was being paranoid. “Let it go, Caro.” It was fine. He sent me to the lab to do some tests. I felt vulnerable. Scared. When I returned to his office with the test results – as instructed – he simply looked at them and laughed. Laughing at someone’s test results is not exactly the path to rapport-building. Finally, he looked up at me with a sardonic smile. “Everything’s fine.” Now, how much longer are you in Kenya for?” 2 months. “Does that mean I won’t be able to take you out for dinner or a coffee?” I wanted to spit in his face. To tell him he was being unprofessional. To storm out. But I froze. He was about to fill out a prescription for me and I worried that if I told him to fuck off, he would prescribe me something else – something completely useless, or harmful. Paranoid, perhaps. But you never know. Finally, I spoke. “I’m in a relationship.” “That doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’re a very beautiful women. It only makes sense that I would ask you.” I felt like puking. Just an hour earlier I had gone to this women’s clinic, excited to be in a place that purportedly caters to its patients needs, that respects them. This was clearly not the case. Had I known that he was so unprofessional, I wouldn’t have let him touch my stomach. I wouldn’t have even shaken his hand. I told the only woman staff member I saw on the way out. She said “I’m sorry.” I’m looking into who I can report this to.
Since becoming a mother I have experienced so much sexism that it would take me an essay to write it all down fully! I really wish that everyone talked more openly and honestly to girls, and boys, about the reality of parenthood particularly for women. I think that parents are pretty good at doing that amongst themselves, but I wish so much that I had been told about the realities before I took the decision to have a child. I love my son and wouldn’t change him for the world, but I just wasn’t properly informed or prepared. And the change to a woman’s life is so massive. The biology of parenthood is not fair on women, but neither is the way that mothers are treated and the things expected of them. I believe that we are not told the truth because if we were, it would put us off becoming mothers. To start at the start of the process, I now find the term ‘morning sickness’ hugely problematic. It should be called ‘pregnancy sickness’ because it lasts all day. It is like having norovirus for weeks without a break – I am not exaggerating at all as I have experienced both. It is horrible and utterly exhausting. And yet we minimize it, don’t treat it (I know that there are good reasons for not trying new medications here, but there really is no help available). And it’s not generally considered something you can take time off work for. Labour is obviously massively painful and physically destructive to the mother, that is just how it is. But I’ve come to notice now how women in labour are often a subject for humour in television and film, and our wider culture. It makes me think, when is it ok to laugh at somebody in agony and distress? And the answer is, when it’s a woman. Postnatal care is below the standard needed for new mothers to maintain decent mental health. This was my experience and there are many articles online documenting this. After 40+hrs of labour, during which I had been physically unable to sleep or eat, I was left in sole care of a newborn baby (who wakes up at least every 3 hrs for a feed) for the first time. This is also when I was expected to learn to breastfeed, which despite being a very natural thing does take some practice to get right. This is the norm, but how is that sensible, for the best care of the baby or the mother? Women, including myself, are put on wards where people come and go, babies and women cry all day and night. I ended up going home with a newborn having lost two nights’ sleep. When this is the way that new motherhood begins – and there is no break from that crying, waking baby once you get home, 24/7 – I feel it is no wonder that postnatal depression rates are so high. I believe that things could be done differently too, it is just a question of money and resources. My grandmother spent a week in hospital after the births of her children, my mother several nights, and for both, the baby was cared for by midwives who woke the mothers only for feeds so that they could rest and recover. That was the norm then. But providing that care costs money, I guess, and women’s mental health is no longer a priority here. I could go on, about postnatal discrimination in the workplace, unequal burdens of childcare and housecare, the different standards expected of parents’ bodies (‘dad bod’ made me so mad – fathers’ bodies have done no work in the process of childbearing yet are allowed to stop caring for their bodies, while mothers are expected to ‘get their body back’ after pregnancy and labour). But I don’t have all night!
I have had an eating disorder for years. It has fortunately been mild for most of my life, but the worst period was during a summer when I was in college. I lost 30 pounds in 2 months and became underweight. I was in denial about my eating disorder then, and told everyone I was experiencing stomach pains that kept me from eating. (I WAS experiencing stomach pains, but they stemmed from not eating, not the other way around.) When I went to the doctor for my alleged stomach issue, the first thing he said in response to me explaining my pains was “Well you look good.” I had JUST begun to eat normal amounts again, and this incident makes me angry to this day.
I have had a number of my elderly female patients ask me if I was gay ( I am not and am perfectly fine with any one who is gay, transgendered or of other gender identity).The first couple of times I just kind of shrugged it off, but after 5-6 inquiries began to wonder what might give them that impression. The best I could tell was that by not demonstrating behaviors that they had come to believe as common, but inappropriate behaviors of men through out their lives perhaps I simply wasn’t interested in women. Now of course as an Occupational Therapist there are many ethical and legal reasons, but I would be genuinely horrified by any professional that involved themselves with a patient. But that wasn’t really the point. They were making an observation based upon decades of experience with men in various settings, educational and professional levels, military service or any other variable. In a way I felt relieved that they didn’t identify me as a man who treated women as little more than sex objects if they bothered to consider them at all. But I also have felt a little sick and sad about it ever since. Progress has been made, but not nearly enough.
My (male) family doctor did not listen to me when I complained about symptoms and finally I changed doctors. I needed my thyroid medication decreased and I feel much better now. The reason I believe that my doctor’s attitude was due to gender was that when my husband has on occasion come with me to see him, he listens more to me and he certainly listens more to my husband. Also when we were out at a music show one evening I ran into my family doctor and his wife and friend. He introduced me by name and then qualified who I was by stating that I am married to a Marine Biologist. He did not mention what I do for a living. The last time I saw him and complained of not feeling well, he labelled it as needing to meditate and told me I might as well think of retiring now, (I am only 61) and all of the symptoms that I told him about could be attributed to being hyperthyroid. I believe that this is everyday sexism that could seriously impact my health.