Endometriosis and the Gendered Bias of Science
As a woman who suffers from endometriosis, and has watched family members suffer from a myriad of female sexual health issues, I’ve always had huge interest in the subject, and its place in the (masculine) medical curriculum.
Though alien to me, as an English Literature student, I recently picked up a medical textbook, out of curiosity, and turned to the page on Endometriosis. I say page, it was one roughly 100-word paragraph, within an enormous 1372-page medical encyclopaedia. Just for fun, I then looked up Erectile Dysfunction: 4 different pages featured rhetoric surrounding the illness. FOUR. He can’t get it up and there’s four pages about it, but I can’t go to school because of the crippling pain of endometrial tissue growing on my ovaries, my bladder, my bowel, and I get a paragraph? Really?
People try to tell you that there is absolutely no gendered bias in medicine, that I’m crazy, stupid, to think that science, almighty science, could ever be biased in any way; but how do you explain the discrepancies in research surrounding erectile dysfunction, vs that on endometriosis? You can’t explain that without factoring in gendered interest; it’s impossible. The patriarchy creates a shadow of shame, and embarrassment surrounding anything that relates to female sexuality - so what if your excessive menstruation heavily impacts your daily life? We don’t want to hear about periods, thank you very much. This shadow then reduces interest in education on the subject, it reduces deep research into it, it reduces funding for such research, thus reducing diagnoses, and more importantly, treatment.
The average time for a diagnosis of endometriosis is 7 years, and the only way to get an accurate diagnosis – though there may be nothing to be done by way of cure – is laparoscopic surgery. How does it take so long? Largely because it’s ignored, passed off as puberty, not only by medical professionals who don’t have specific knowledge of female sexual health, but by the women ourselves, who have never heard of endometriosis, and even if they have, don’t know what a ‘normal’ period is in the first place, to know if they should be worried about their own.
This is insanity. I should not have been sent to a gynaecologist at 17, after a seven-week long period, having never had a period in which I did not bleed through tampons within an hour, soak through clothing, bleed on public seats and feel humiliated, to be told that I’ll grow out of it - I’m only 17, after all. But I was only 17, and already such abnormal things were happening to my body. If I’d listened, if I’d ignored my instincts, paid attention to him and not gone to see other doctors, not pushed for a laparoscopy, not known in myself that my body was telling me that something was wrong, that this was not normal, where would I be at 24, seven years after first seeking medical attention, at the average time of diagnosis, instead of pushing for said diagnosis at 20?
That’s why proper period education is so vitally important for young girls. We should know what is and isn’t normal for our own bodies, but we also shouldn’t have to fight to get a doctor to believe us. Period education should be compulsory for all children – not just little girls, in order to reduce the taboo – from ages as young as 8. We should be prepared; we should know what’s happening to us when we spot that first bit of brown blood inside our pants and are terrified of what’s happening. Because some of us don’t have mums, or sisters, or aunties, or any older female influences to explain to us what’s going on, or how to deal with it. Because for some of us, that first drop of blood is the scariest thing imaginable.