When I was 16, I was tested so I could have extended time accommodations at my high school. I have a diagnosed speech processing delay that slows my ability to send and receive communication. I grew up going to speech therapy every week, working on tactics to help me communicate effectively. It isn’t that noticeable now after all my training (and you probably wouldn’t know I have one). However, the male specialist testing me doubted my need for extended time when interviewing my mother.
My mother spent so much time and effort helping me access the therapy I needed. She went to every appointment and monitored my improvement. However, my father was not able to go to my sessions. This was no fault of his own; he couldn’t come due to the extensive hours that his job requires. He used the same concepts as my mother when sharing his experiences with the specialist. The specialist began nodding his head accordingly. I attained the accommodations I needed because of my father. The specialist doubted my mother and affirmed my father whole-heartedly.
He believed my father because he is a man.
My story shows how common it is to experience questioning as a woman. You learn to brush it off as time goes on. Even still, I cannot become accustomed to the poignant sting of doubt. Healthcare is a place where this form of sexism thrives.
“Healthcare gaslighting” is when medical employees doubt an individual for their experience. This happens in anything from a yearly checkup to medical emergencies. Being questioned for our beliefs and ability happens too often as women. However, forms of doubt in the medical world hold a fatal outcome.
The Atlantic writer Joe Fassler shared his wife Rachel’s harrowing gaslighting experience. She woke up in the night with unbearable pain. After riding in an ambulance together, they waited for two hours to hear that she had “kidney stones” with no medical exam. They could not get a higher dosage of painkillers after begging with her male doctor. Once a female doctor took his place after his shift, she discovered a mass in her ovaries. Rushing to the ultrasound room before it closed, they discovered that she had an ovarian torsion. This is when an ovarian cyst forces the ovary to twist. The ovary begins to die, and most of these cases are fatal. She went to surgery to remove the ovary “14 and a half hours” after her pain began.
They heard phrases like, “You’re just feeling a little pain, honey,” and “Lots of patients to get to.” Her experience is called “Yentl syndrome.” By definition, it is when women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the healthcare system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients.’”
“It’s all in your head”
‘Toughing it out’ seems to be the solution the healthcare system can offer women. Besides the insurmountable debt from poor health insurance, there is no validation in both pain and the diagnosis itself. I cannot bear the agony when I hear individuals talk about women as ‘weak’ or ‘fragile.’ We have gone through extensive suffering including childbirth and “healthcare gaslighting” without adequate advocacy.
The Atlantic cited from previous research that healthcare providers give women “less pain medication” than men for the same procedures. A hospital told Molly Schultz just that. They gave her ibuprofen after the natural birth of her fifth child. Weeks later, her husband had a vasectomy at the same hospital. His doctor prescribed him “10 narcotics“ and a weekend of rest. In a similar light, Lena Dunham suffered from endometriosis for ten years before a doctor gave that diagnosis during her hysterectomy. They confirmed that her uterus was “worse than anyone could have imagined.”
It is impossible not to recognize the maltreatment at play here.
No more doubt
There are so many areas where we need to address gender-based gaslighting. The medical world should be the first one on the list. The quality of care should not have to be questioned when paying thousands more than other countries for the same procedures. This is one of the reasons why I search out doctors who are women. Some might view this as overbearing or exaggerated thinking, but at least we come from a similar perspective.
My needs should not be second to a man’s, but equal to. Severe reform is not just wanted, but vital to securing the safety of female patients. Healthcare currently benefits a man’s world; it cannot stay that way.