Sunday, February 16, 2014

Feminism and Endometriosis

Some people think that feminism and endometriosis have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Others think that the two subjects are impossible to separate, having a cyclical nature of profound effects and response. More likely, you might not have contemplated the relationship between the two. Personally, I just want to put out some of my thoughts on the matter because it is driving me crazy how endometriosis is negatively affected by gender inequality and I want to clarify why.

First though, what do I define as feminism? Do I define it as a misandristic paradise with men as the prime target for subjugation? A movement that died out in the 70's? Or something relegated to women's studies in college? I prefer to see feminism as synonymous with the equalist movement. An effort towards gender equality in all things possible. Most socialism definitions recognize that third-wave (read, non-radical) feminism has moved past being an only-female focused movement, moving towards equality in general. I recognize valuable differences and contributions each gender makes towards to society and simply want to fix inequalities in areas where they have no business being, in which they artificially reduce our potential as a society (such as in the work place, the home, and many other opportunities).

The nice thing about the change in third-wave feminism is that it aims to benefit both women and men. By reducing the burdens of unhealthy archetype for masculinity, it helps men of all kinds explore their potential in a safer environment than fifty years ago. And being a feminist does not mean I disparage any sort of preferred lifestyle or choices. If a woman wants to be a stay at home mom, more power to her, and if a guy is chivalrous, I take it as a complement. Honestly, I'm a better cook than my boyfriend, so I tend to cook dinners for him, and once in a while he takes me out on a nice date where he holds doors open for me and pays for the meal (sometimes he'll let me pay for him though!). We both work, we live separately, and we each bring our own talents to the relationship. We have a mutual respect for one another. That's what I think feminism is--respecting and refusing to limit a gender based on false short comings.

Forgive the explanatory tangent, but it was necessary for understanding my viewpoint on this next part. How does this tie into endometriosis? If you have read my other posts, I am not an individual that purposely seeks out controversial subjects to stir up interest. I do not inject political agenda into my posts. So why now? The truth is, I am tired of seeing the relationship between sexism and endometriosis glossed over, and I want to verbalize my own perspectives so maybe others can acknowledge their own on the matter.

Current research indicates that the prevalence of Endometriosis ranks at around 10% of women, in forms ranging from mild to severe. That's 5% of the population. For some perspective, 2.8% of the global population has diabetes, 8.4% prevalence of asthma in the USA, and less than 1% for autism spectrum disorder. In the USA, if you consider both diabetes types together, up until age 50 the prevalence is still about 3.7%. Multiple Sclerosis is at 0.085%. 3% (by age 80) will receive a diagnosis of epilepsy by age 80.

The point of these statistics is not me trying to downplay any of these other diseases. I have asthma, and it's landed me in the ER several times. I feel major sympathy for those whose lives are stalled by a diagnosis of MS. The point of stating these statistics is that these diseases/disorders are regularly tested for when the symptoms present. These are diseases that everyone has heard of. Yet 5% of the population has Endometriosis, and no one but those effected by it have even heard of it. And it takes an median of 9 years for a woman presenting symptoms to be tested for Endometriosis by her doctor.

For example, even when my sibling had already been diagnosed with Endometriosis and I had been showing symptoms from my first menstrual cycle, none of my doctors would even consider checking for it until I was 21. And even then it was accidental, during a surgery for cyst removal and appendicitis. Yes, I had a cyst the size of an orange and they still were dismissing my suspicions. I was spoken to as a hypochondriac and belittled by any doctor I suggested the possibility to.

Ok, but just because Endometriosis is not as well known as it should be, does not mean it is tied into gender inequality, right? I mean, look at Breast Cancer--the disease's current status a great example of a successful campaign to raise awareness about a serious, primarily female disease. So I cannot just use lack of awareness as support for my argument. And I won't.

Gender inequality in medicine is a huge problem, and it affects both sexes. In regards to men, they are often denied needed treatment for mental disorders (such as depression) because of societal, toxic pressures to 'be a man' and not let emotions get in the way of things. When facing mood disorders, men feel disproportionate pressure and shame to shake off their struggles and move on. This often leads to alcohol abuse, as a way of coping and self medicating, and can consequently lead to alcoholism and the physical complications of long term alcohol poisoning.

The female effects of gender inequality in medicine are even more damaging. Women, in particular, are not taken seriously or respected when they communicate the experience of severe pain. In fact, they are often ignored. Women are less likely to be given pain killers for the same pain indications as men, primarily because they are simply regarded as likely to exaggerate, having a low pain tolerance, or just seen as 'whiney'. So when you have a female disease that is largely indicated by severe pain, it is likely to be ignored, unconsidered, and brushed aside.

In our medical world, no woman, no person, should have to go through 9 years of severe symptom presentation before they are diagnosed. Breast cancer incidence is less than 0.1%, yet women are constantly screened and educated. I am not dismissing the consequence of untreated breast cancer being death, and I recognize the health industry has a clear motivation for encouraging this education. Just last year, my mother had a double mastectomy from breast cancer, I am not trying to belittle it or say, 'no big deal'. But when you look at the emotional, physical, financial, and overall quality of life toll of endometriosis, where 1/10 women are affected, you have to scratch your head and wonder, "Why doesn't my doctor warn me about this? Why doesn't my doctor know more about it?".

I had to change gynecologists about 10 times before I found one who finally knew more about endometriosis than I did, and he is a national specialist. That is absurd--I am not a doctor and I do not pretend to be, I should not know more than one. My GP doctors often have to educated about basic aspects of it, and sometimes they have attempted to prescribe me medication that has been proven to intensify the complications of Endometriosis. With it being such a common affliction, it should be in the basic database of most practitioners. Even if the majority afflicted are likely to 'only experience worsened cramping and bleeding', they have a right to know the cause and how to approach treatment. Dismissing the pain and recommending a bottle of advil does not point a patient in the direction of actual relief. It's masking a symptom one cannot be bothered to investigate, leaving the woman vulnerable to further complications down the road.

The lack of initiative on the medical side fuels the lack of awareness in the general population. When you have so many with Endometriosis undiagnosed, it is less likely for people and family/friends to even know that they are directly affected by it. How is a campaign for awareness supposed to work when the doctors do not even care about efficient diagnosis? And campaigns for female-only afflictions are usually hampered to begin with, so where to even start? There are a few large endometriosis organizations, but they barely have enough funds to fund research, and awareness is non-existent.

As a last parting, I am going to narrate my own experiences of direct, unfiltered experience of sexism as an aware, educated endometriosis patient. I went to an old GP and asked for an ultrasound, as I was in an area where I had not yet found an OB/GYN and had felt another, large cyst growing. His response? "Cysts are a common problem in women, you need to learn how to handle and get over your female problems" and he denied me a referral for an ultrasound. He laughed when I said I had Endometriosis and said it was not a big deal. I wish I was exaggerating. I was too young and naive to realize how awful he was. Another doctor, a female OB/GYN was seen because I has having extreme cervical pain and nonstop bleeding, and I was worried my cervix was adhered or scarred or something of that nature, trying to find out what I could do to be in less pain. A summation of the experience: Her: "You have an STD", Mine: "but I'm a virgin, with Endometriosis," Her: "No, you have an STD." She refused to change my hormone medications, tested me for STDs, which were of course negative. She then talked about hypersensitivity and how I was mentally causing the pain. I did not return to her for the consult about the new hormones. Half my doctors told me I was exaggerating my pain, the other half regarded me as a hypochondriac. I work in medical research, I know what I deserve as a patient. I know every patient, male and female, receives some degree of belittlement from the health industry. But I also know when I was receiving less than acceptable care because of my gender. Oh, and let's not forget the refusal to consider a hysterectomy because I needed to have my own babies to be a whole woman (one doctor even laughed and said I did not know what I wanted because I was too young to have 'baby fever').

Endometriosis has a lot of problems, like lack of awareness and difficulty to detect/treat. But these problems and those specifically related to gender inequality would improve, if the sexism would in regards to treatment was addressed and improved (and maybe someday fixed).

I know I need to cite many of these stats/claims, and I will. Most are directly from studies or articles discussing them, but I am very sick and tired today so I just don't have the energy. The rage and frustration I felt just from writing this drained what little energy I have. For now, please just think about it, challenge what you see as questionable (I recommend Google Scholar for searches). You do not have to agree with my opinions, but I hope you will consider them.


  1. Gosh, I have SO many things to say to this! I am in agreement with your perspective here. I too have endometriosis and you're right about the lack of awareness. I was often told, "Oh, just have a baby and it will go away." Awful! I have even more chronic pain from a back injury that was caused by severe child abuse (and I can promise you that a lower back injury and endometriosis are a hellish combination). The minute doctors learn that you were sexually abused as a child, they think everything you experience is psychosomatic, from endometriosis and back pain, to mono or a cold. That's where I often notice discrimination, even more often than sexism, but I don't doubt for a second that sexism is behind the lack of interest in and awareness of endometriosis .

    You know why breast cancer gets so much attention? It's simple: men like boobs. I think it's as simple as that and as sexist as that.

    I'm 43, too young to have been a 70s feminist, but I must assert that feminism has always been about benefiting men and women both.That's the only place where you and I disagree, but it's a little quibble only.

  2. Thank you for an excellent article. I've been stewing for a couple of years now over the behavior of one doctor and I finally had the thought to search on Endometriosis and Feminism. That's how I found you. So thank you again.

    1. Thank you for the comment! I can certainly empathize with poor doctor experiences :(. I hope you have been able to find one that is better addressing your needs, and maybe even helping you feel healthier. I am working on more articles as well, including one specifically regarding pain and female discrimination, so I hope you see it when it goes online! I know this article needs to be properly edited, yet I am still proud to have so many visitors on the page. I hope you found it comforting. Thank you for your support :).


  3. I am continually amazed by the amount of information available on this subject. What you presented was well researched and well worded in order to get your stand on this across to all your readers.


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About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

Thank you for stopping by, I wish you strength in your health and happiness.