Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why My Chronic Illness Demands Feminism

1. My pain is not taken as seriously as a man's pain.

     Women are generally viewed by society as weaker and less "tough" than men. This is absolutely detrimental to chronically ill women. I am by no means the toughest person in the world, but I am tough. When I say that I am in pain, I mean it, and I need to be taken seriously, because half of the battle of living with an invisible illness is just being believed. Doctors are more likely to assume that women are exaggerating their pain, or that they are simply responding more dramatically than is appropriate. Because autoimmune diseases affect more women than men, drilling in the message that women are capable of knowing when the pain is too much is critical to my overall health and wellbeing. When I need pain medication, I need pain medication, and I should not have to prove that I am "as tough as a man" to request this, because my strength is not something that is up for debate or comparison. I should not have to force myself to hold back tears in the rheumatology clinic out of the very real fear of not being taken seriously by medical professionals due to the femininity attached to crying. On the other end, men should not have to hold back tears in rheumatology clinics or in front of friends out of fear of being accused of lacking masculinity. Tears are a signal of pain, and a natural result of pain, and they need not be attributed to particular genders. Everyone deserves to have their pain taken seriously. My chronic illness demands feminism because if my pain is not taken seriously, then my treatments will always be inadequate and I will lose a crucial pillar of support.

      For more information, read: How Doctors Take Women's Pain Less Seriously from The Atlantic. It's a long article, but the woman discussed is named Rachel, so it is meant to be. Also, it uses a lot of statistical information and cites relevant, dependable sources.

2. My healthcare is in jeopardy. 

     With the United States Senate recently voting to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, it is painfully obviously that the health of women is not a priority for our legislators. The reality is that one in five American women will visit a Planned Parenthood clinic at some point in her life, and there is no reason that I could not end up in that twenty percent, for a variety of reasons. Planned Parenthood provides a plethora of important health services for women, from contraception to STD testing to abortion. The fact that our government has claimed the right to limit the healthcare options of women is appalling to me, and I am tired of fighting for my right to make decisions about my body.

     Additionally, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is the primary reason that I will be able to have health insurance as an adult. When I am no longer eligible for insurance under my parents, I will be able to get my own health insurance due to Obamacare's elimination of discrimination against patients with preexisting conditions. I am currently on a $24,000/yr medication, so there is no way that a health insurance agency would ever have accepted me and covered my needs prior to this mandate. I am thankful for the peace of mind I have knowing that I will be able to receive the treatment that I need. My support of the Affordable Care Act is not only political, it is deeply personal. My chronic illness demands feminism because nondiscriminatory health insurance is the only way for me to receive the medical treatment I need. 

3. Society assumes that I am not capable of making medical decisions for myself. 

Amelia & I wearing Planned
Parenthood and gender equality shirts
     Going along with my support of Planned Parenthood, I find it to be utterly ridiculous that so many people think that I am incapable of making a reproductive health decision for myself. If I am incapable of decisions like these, how could I be capable of making decisions about biologics, or DMARDs, or any other rheumatoid arthritis treatments?  I am a woman, I am competent, and I need feminism to drill this point in. My chronic illness demands feminism because if I am not treated as someone who can fully understand the implications of my decisions then my opinions about what is and is not working for my body will be disregarded by medical professionals and the people around me.

4. Autoimmune illness clinical trials are often male-dominated, even though most autoimmune patients are female. 

      The information written below was taught to me by my dear friend Amelia. Despite the fact I stated earlier, that rheumatoid arthritis/autoimmune diseases affect more women than men, most of the clinical trials that evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs are male-dominated. We can do better than this. Including women in clinical trials is crucial, because the drugs will be given primarily to women once they are approved. Sometimes women's bodies react differently to drugs than men's bodies, therefore testing medications on women as well is an important step in discerning these differences and evaluating the effectiveness of the drug on a population that is representative of the patients to which the drug will most often be administered in a prescription setting. Additionally, the cells used to develop the drugs in the first place are almost always biologically male cells, because female hormones make for more complex research. In my view, women are worth it. My chronic illness demands feminism because I need medicine that is catered to and works for women.

5. Women with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic abuse. 

     Women with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be abused by a spouse or partner as healthy women. Of course, one in four healthy women has experienced abuse perpetrated by their spouse or partner, so both of these levels are ridiculously high and must be addressed immediately. Women with disabilities are often less able to respond both physically and verbally to abuse due to their health conditions, and women's shelters and other resources for women escaping abusive relationships are often not properly equipped to take in women with disabilities. Women who depend on their partners to administer crucial medications sometimes experience the withholding of these drugs as a form of abuse, and sexual assault occurs frequently.

     Women with disabilities are also less likely to be believed when they report abusive partners. Their partners are seen as sacrificial for "giving up" part of their lives to care for their disabled loved one, and so this abuse is often assumed to be whining on the part of the woman rather than a dangerous relationship. Additionally, women with disabilities, even those that are purely physical, are generally viewed as less mentally competent and are often assumed to be hypochondriacs. When they speak out about abuse, doctors and friends frequently assume that they are being dramatic about minor conflicts rather than being vulnerably honest about a harmful situation. Feminism demands that women be believed when they report abuse and that they be provided with the proper resources before, during, and after abuse occurs. Feminism also demands that men treat women like human beings, which seems to be an incomprehensible concept for many. My chronic illness demands feminism because abuse should not be a part of any relationship I am in.

6. LGBTQIA+ women have a harder time finding medical professionals to treat their conditions. 

     As an intersectional feminist, I support all women. No woman experiencing an autoimmune condition should have to worry about what any medical professional thinks about her identity or relationships. She is entitled to doctors who treat her equally and hold absolutely no bias against her. Women have the right to be called the pronoun of their choice. Every woman has the right to bring her partner of any gender identity to appointments for support without having to worry about her doctor judging her, treating her differently, or condemning her, either silently or vocally. Additionally, no one should have to hide a part of who they are in order to receive comprehensive treatment for autoimmune conditions or for any other illnesses. My chronic illness demands feminism because everyone deserves to feel as comfortable as I, someone who identifies as a heterosexual, cisgender woman, do telling their doctor who they are and who they love.

1 comment:

  1. If I could share this a million times I would

    I have Crohn's Disease and being a woman impacts my health too. Hoping for the best for all women and all patients

    - Louisa

    ReplyDelete

I love receiving your comments and do my best to respond to them in a timely manner! If you would like to share something more personal, you are welcome to email me at rksauls@live.unc.edu.