Surely it shouldn’t take this long to get a diagnosis for endometriosis? It’s 2023 and we have come so far, right? Wrong. I’m sorry to say, but we haven’t come as far as we like to think. Yes, we don’t have to have permission from a man to open a bank account anymore, but women are still being told by doctors to go and have a baby to sort out period problems.
Having worked in the health sector my entire working life, I am appalled at the misogynistic underbelly of women’s health. Menstrual health is still very much seen as something that is dangerous, to be managed and given the severe lack of research it still remains a mystery within the health service. Most medical research has and continues to be done on men, which is absurd. Our bodies will and do react differently because they ARE different. Instead of celebrating and learning about this difference though, it is often silenced or ignored completely.
Even talking about periods can still make the front headlines. In 2016, Fu Yuanhui, the Chinese swimmer, discussed having her period while competing in the Olympics, breaking a taboo. Fast forward a few years, and Dina Asher Smith was still breaking taboos in 2022 when she did the same thing at the European championships. It’s the same bloody taboo that was skulking around back in the 5th century!
It started way back, when Hippocrates was the face of medicine in the 5th century. That’s where we get the Hippocratic oath, “First, do no harm.” He wrote a whole book on women’s health and gynaecology, drawing on information and teachings of his forefathers, and therein lie the beginnings of gendered medicine practices that are still prevalent today. Why? Because women were thought to be late to the species party, a separate race entirely. Their wombs were thought to wander around their bodies causing all their woes.
Of course, things have moved on from the 5th century, and we now know wombs don’t wander around the body. Yet the advice to ‘just go and have a baby’ as a way to cure any period problems is still very much alive and kicking. I hear it from women all the time, that their doctor suggested they have a baby and that doing so would sort out their hormones.
This brings me onto another thing, the fact that women’s health has been simplified down to our ability to bear. Let me be VERY clear about this: Reproduction isn’t the ONLY reason we have hormones. To boil hormones down to whether or not we pop out a tiny human from our loins does a massive disservice to our rather wonderful bodies. And by the way, men have hormones too.
Why is all this important? Because women are told repeatedly that their period problems are normal, that the pain, the heavy bleeding, lack of periods, the wide- and far-reaching symptoms that we can have are all just part and parcel of being a woman and we need to suck it up. Because these thousand-year-old narratives are horrifyingly out of date and they hinder the process of actually getting a diagnosis for actual gynaecological conditions. The normalisation of period pain and the taboo around periods means it is an all too common occurrence for women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or Endometriosis or Adenomyosis to wait at least 10 years before they are diagnosed. This simply isn’t good enough.
Our language and how we approach our own periods and hormones also plays into this narrative. We aren’t crazy and emotional when we get our period, we are likely exhausted. We aren’t pretending to be in pain or over-exagerating. We shouldn’t need to suck it up simply because pain in periods has been normalised in our culture. There is so much information we don’t know about women’s bodies, because men deemed it unnecessary throughout the history of medicine.
A large part of my work is talking about all this and educating others so that women are able to practice advocating for themselves. I teach a lot about advocacy because we are still facing this outdated, misogynistic belief system in our health service today. I think this is a global problem, one that we see in varying degrees depending on where you are in the world. You scratch the surface of it and think a little harder about your experiences, and you suddenly realise you have experienced it all first-hand. I’m here to tell you that it’s not all in your head. Your period pain is exactly as painful as you feel it, and all those other symptoms matter. It all matters.
If you are struggling to get help with your periods and hormones then please contact me. There are a number of ways we can work together and I am here to help.
Me & my views…
As an intersectional feminist and a white middle class cis gendered woman the topics I have talked about here affect me but they affect women of colour and those in the LGBTQ+ community more. The patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy are weaved through the fabric of our culture and their threads are very present in everything I talk about. If you don’t think that is true then we probably shouldn’t hang out anymore.