Dec 1, 2021
Content Warning: Misogyny
The USA… Supposedly the greatest country in the world, has a never ending breadth of crises occurring, many of which are unknown to those who have had the privilege not to have experienced them first hand. Medical Misogyny is a systemic issue that has been rampant in the United States since the dawn of medicine, and continues to affect women (especially women of color) in many different contexts.
One way we see this misogyny commonly manifest is through the menialization of women’s issues in a number of different medical settings, which is incredibly dangerous for women’s health. Women are less likely to be prioritized in an emergency situation and are also less likely to be prescribed pain medication despite conveying the same pain levels as their male counterparts. Not only is this dangerous because it means women are deprioritized in a health crisis, but it also reinforces already negative correlations women and POC may have with medical care and a hospital setting.1
The USA is still the only industrialized country in the world with a maternal mortality rate that has continued to rise, and we have an infant mortality rate 71% higher than other economically comparable countries.2 These rates are also more than double for black women compared to their white counterparts.3 For those with the ability to give birth, we often consider a hospital setting to be the safest place to do so because the media we consume reaffirms paternalistic rhetoric in both the profession and culture at large. Last spring, I read an illuminating article by Robbie E Davis Floyd (an American anthropologist known for her research in obstetrics and childbirth) that reframed the idea of American hospital birth and attempted to answer the question of why our mothers are dying at such high rates in the USA. The answer? Capitalism, of course.
The issue of medical misogyny is one that is deeply rooted in technocratic medicine, capitalism, and let’s not forget the patriarchy. Industrialized medicine is reliant on the technocratic model, for it restricts who is able to practice medical care. Only those with high levels of education and status/privilege are able to join the medical field, and during the rise of industrialized medicine the overwhelming majority of medical practitioners with that level of education and status were heterosexual white men. This meant that the white male perspective became not only the dominating force in medical practice but also the model for medical research.4 This model has historically used the white heterosexual male as the basis for all scientific research and advancement, resulting in severe underrepresentation of women and communities of color. Even now in 2021, in order to get into medical school, one must have the financial means as well as the ability to maintain high GPA levels. Access to higher education is elitist in that it is restricted to those who have access to a certain level of privilege thus preventing true diverse representation in the medical field which only further contributes to the misogyny already embedded into the industry.
The technocratic model of medicine, like many other systems of power in the US, is a byproduct of capitalism and the alienation it produces. The model (originally defined by Robbie E. Davis Floyd) hinges on mind-body separation and the idea that the universe is mechanistic, our bodies function as machines and women’s bodies in particular function as _defective _machines made to be fixed with medical technology. The mind-body separation allows for us to subconsciously develop the idea that our bodies are property of an institution, and are reliant on medical intervention for survival. This mind-body separation is the antithesis of the humanistic model typically employed by eastern medicine, wherein the mind and body are considered a holistic organism- treated as a singular entity, especially as it pertains to health and medicine. The mind-body separation and the belief that women’s bodies are inherently defective is the foundation of modern obstetrics and may be culpable for the comparably high maternal mortality rates in the United States.
Medical misogyny and the technocratic model are ideas that make perfect sense to women and POC who have experienced the symptoms of the phenomena firsthand, however many people I have spoken to on the subject who do not fall into those categories are completely oblivious to the blatant horrors that occur within medical facilities, and this is not surprising considering very few doctors face repercussions for their unethical behavior (including sexual assault) and the patients who suffer at their hands are dismissed in lieu of the “authority” figure (AKA the medical professional).5 One highly publicized example of this was by osteopathic physician Larry Nassar who sexually assaulted more than 265 young girls during his time as a doctor at USA gymnastics. Nassar went 18 years before finally being caught, which has always especially disturbed me considering we do not know how many other medical professionals there are out there engaging in similar behaviors who will never get caught. The unethical and nightmare inducing practices that have occurred within the medical industry will continue to occur indefinitely as long as the deep patriarchal roots embedded in technocratic medicine are dismantled and reformed.6
This simply scratches the surface of the medical inequalities that occur within the US, the atrocities that occur behind the doors of medical facilities are more vast than one could possibly fit into an article. While we strive to make progress at a systemic level, I also personally encourage anyone who has well placed mistrust in the modern American medical system to seek out a holistic approach to their healthcare that incorporates both preventative care and elements of modern medicine. We are indoctrinated by capitalism into thinking that the technocratic form of medicine is the only valid form, that we are dependent on technocratic institutions for survival, when in reality there are plenty of non-western forms of medicine that are equally valid and safer options in many cases. Modern medicine has provided us with many invaluable inventions and discoveries, but access to these discoveries must be universal, not restrictive.
Weisse, C., Sorum, P., Sanders, K., & Syat, B. (2001, April). Do gender and race affect decisions about pain management? Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1495199/ ↩︎
Cohen, J. (2021, August 01). U.S. maternal and infant mortality: More signs of public health neglect. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshuacohen/2021/08/01/us-maternal-and-infant-mortality-more-signs-of-public-health-neglect/?sh=4b3d35a83a50 ↩︎
Products - health e stats - maternal mortality rates in the United States, 2019. (2021, March 23). Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality-2021/maternal-mortality-2021.htm ↩︎
Wanted single, White Male for medical research - JSTOR. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3562720 ↩︎
AbuDagga, A., Carome, M., & Wolfe, S. (2019, July). Time to end physician sexual abuse of patients: Calling the U.S. medical community to action. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6614523/ ↩︎
How was Larry Nassar able to abuse so many gymnasts for so long? (2018, January 26). Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/jan/26/larry-nassar-abuse-gymnasts-scandal-culture ↩︎