Renee Browne is a long time advocate of silent illnesses and mental health. Using her
singing, spoken word and her writing, she spreads her message of awareness and
understanding. If you would like to know more, please find her articles online or
support her through her handmade merchant store where every design is created by
her, the artist!
Articles: Silent No More by Lady Sophystra
Store: Products & Art by Lady Sophystra
FB page: @Lady Sophystra
“No More Being Ignored”
Women’s healthcare is a world apart from what men experience. My first experience with women’s healthcare was when I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disorder, at twelve years old. It attacked my joints and exhausted my strength. The disease forced me to change the course of my life. During my younger years my mother advocated for me in the hospital. As a nurse, she was able to help me navigate the medical jargon and protect me from being backed into a medical decision I didn’t want. As I got older and went to my doctor appointments alone I began to realize the vast world that my mother was filtering me from. Women’s health suffers from ignorance, neglect and stigma. Due to age-old stereotypes and lack of scientific data women suffer uniquely in being both misunderstood by medical professionals as well as heavily ignored. In fact, in our society women are often taught to ignore themselves. However, being ignored in healthcare is dangerous. It allows for elimination of rights, such as access to birth control and abortion. It allows for cruelties such as child marriage and the misdiagnosis (or late diagnosis) of thousands of women per year. Not only that within women’s healthcare there are the marginalized groups of transwomen, Black/POC women, the disabled and non-neurotypicals that need to be addressed. Understanding the nature of what is lacking in women’s healthcare will help change how women are treated within the system. It’s imperative that we start during this pandemic because access to healthcare is even more limited. We need to enter into a stable society with equal access to healthcare for all.
What we have now for women’s healthcare in America is a step above archaic. This is large in part to how the medical world regards women, which is to say scarcely at all. Medical journals and a vast majority of studies performed by scientists and doctors exclude gendered data. This means that when they perform a study, male or female, they do not record which. Physiologically this is detrimental to women’s health because differences in symptoms, differences in medication doses and other factors are not recorded. “Women have different ways of having a heart attack than men, so when traditional tests — based on men’s bodies — show everything is “normal,” female heart patients are often told it must be reflux or anxiety: Women are stigmatized as being anxious…in reality, doctors don’t have the diagnostic tests yet to uncover heart problems more common in women, like microvascular disease and spontaneous coronary artery dissections” (Pawlowski, 2019). When symptoms like this are ignored countless women lose their lives. In mental health women face the same lack of data. Due to this women tend to be prescribed more psychotropic drugs rather than properly diagnosed. Imagine being a young woman with an undiagnosed mental difference in high school and having to make these adjustments without being aware that you have different needs or that there are others like you experiencing similar differences. After high school, I started seeing a new doctor about my disease, a male. It was my first experience with a male doctor and I wasn’t aware that there would be a difference. I took what he said to heart, as I did with my female doctor. When I was sleeping over twelve hours a day, feeling pain in my joints and he told me I wasn’t getting enough rest, for a while I believed him. Women must ask questions. If there is nothing gleaned from this article I hope that this is what is taken away. Ask as many questions as possible when going to a doctor’s appointment. Have a list ready. Check message boards online from people experiencing similar symptoms and see what they’ve already learned and take this information with you. Lastly, if you still feel as if your doctor isn’t addressing your needs, get another doctor’s opinion. I didn’t know to do this and for months lived in worsening pain. Finally, after discussing my symptoms with my mother we pursued a female doctor with another practice. She ran tests and afterward explained that my lupus levels were so high it was a wonder I was still attending college and working. All it took was her listening to me, running further tests to properly diagnose and treat me. This is a scenario countless women experience.
The discussion of being ignored bleeds into the other major issue women have in healthcare, autonomy. Men have more autonomy within the healthcare system. When discussing their needs with a doctor, a doctor will never tell them that their spouse or future spouse has to weigh on their medical decision. They aren’t denied the care that they asked for and told to come back in five years. They aren’t turned away completely because the doctor’s religious beliefs don’t support their needs. Women are denied care in these outrageous ways and told that it’s legal to do so. Due to these extenuating lack of protections for women, acts such as child marriage are allowed even within the United States. “Approximately 90% of births to girls aged 15-19 in developing countries occur within early marriage where there is often an imbalance of power, no access to contraception and pressure on girls to prove their fertility (Sexual Health and Rights).” This can result in outcomes such as pregnancy complications or even death. Laws come to pass that allow for continuous abuse, laws which completely negate a child’s ability to say no and often lead to sexual, physical and psychological trauma. By allowing women to be legally repressed, by allowing biases and stigma to dictate medical practice we continue to cost lives and put countless others at risk.
Ways our government can address the needs of women:
- It starts with changing the law surrounding women’s autonomy. Vote for candidates that support women’s autonomy and access to preventative healthcare measures. Contact your senator, your congressman and demand equality. Even using measures such as Facebook groups, socially distanced public demonstrations or petitions can help with this cause.
- “Nearly 50 percent of people in the United States receive their health care coverage through an employer (Allsbrook, 2020).” Therefore, many will lose their health insurance coverage when they lose their job this needs to be addressed within the healthcare system. At its heart, this allowance creates high-risk individuals, especially during a pandemic. Certain medications and medical needs should be socialized to benefit all, rather than the few. Just as all American citizens have access to mail and firefighting services, birth control and abortion access should be granted.
- “Child Marriage is currently legal in 46 states (only Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have set the minimum age at 18 and eliminated all exceptions), and 20 U.S. states do not require any minimum age for marriage, with parental or judicial waiver (Learn More: Child Marriage in the U.S.).” If you weren’t aware of this, it’s not surprising. It is not a touted fact but one that has to be looked up to be discovered. This is something else that needs to be addressed with our government, something that needs to be dismantled for the safety and protection of all children.
- Protections for minority groups should be expanded upon in Medicaid and within healthcare overall. Black/POC, transwomen, the non-neurotypicals and disabled need to have their needs addressed in law and protected. This means having panels, polls, and accessible means through city council through which each group can make their needs heard.
At the end of the day, dismissing women can no longer be an option. We are in the 21st century and need laws updated to reflect that. Women can no longer be ignored and should not have been ignored for so long. During my younger years I wish I had been aware, as an adult I understand the benefit in sharing this information. Not all women know how to put themselves first when dealing with doctors. By making ourselves aware of the truth, aware of our current laws we can begin to make the right changes.
See References Below Interview
3 Questions I asked Renee …
1. How has quarantine changed your life?
In a lot of ways it has made my life more accessible as a person living with a disability. It sounds strange to say. I was able to rest my body more and my friends from all over had time for me online. Yet, I miss hugs, crowded restaurants with laughter. Watching movies now, I feel like I’m in a movie.
2. What artist is currently on your playlist that the whole world needs to know?
This year I fell in love with two black female artists. The first artist’s name is FKA Twigs. I’d say start with her songs Cellophane and Pendulum. Second artist is Connie Mitchell of the band Sneaky Sound System, everything by her is disco. And the entire album Mali Music (2002), it’s a whole journey.
3. What advice would you give to someone who needs to approach a tough conversation?
Make a list of pros and cons to the conversation you might have. Write what you would like to say in some general points that can assist the conversation. If the person you’re having a tough conversation has a presence that affects your ability to have a conversation, find a mediator that you both can trust or suggest a virtual meeting instead.
Allsbrook, J. F. (2020, April 23). The Coronavirus Crisis Confirms That the U.S.
Health Care System Fails Women. Center for American Progress. Retrieved
December 12, 2020, from Link
Learn More: Child Marriage in the U.S. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2020, from Link
Pawlowski, A. (2019, April 26). Dismissed: The health risk of being a woman.
Retrieved December 14, 2020, from Link