As far as I can make out, the default body for medicine, is male. I’ve never seen a model of the human internal organs and digestive system that included a womb. Womb diagrams are separate. I have no idea how my body differs from the obviously male default. But that’s not the whole of it. Things that the female body does, in its natural, normal working form, are treated as problems to be solved. Symptoms that must be treated to get our aberrant bodies back in line with the normal (male) body.
Menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, and everything that happens around them, are talked about in terms of symptoms, and symptom control. Morning sickness and the desire to control it, led us to drugs that damaged babies not so very far back in human history. I found my queasiness really helpful, I must note. I followed and trusted my nose, ate nothing that my face reacted badly to, and never threw up until just before I went into labour. Not a bad track record!
Of course this is related to the way in which women as contributors are traditionally judged on male terms. To get into education, workplaces, equal rights, we’ve largely had to agree to fit in with male standards. Those ‘male standards’ are all about being able to work all day, without distractions of body, children, emotion, or other commitments. There’s a lot of men this won’t suit either – anyone physically or cognitively different from the narrow bandwidth of acceptability. It boils down to being good little cogs in the machine, working to make money for others.
I can’t speak to the male experience, but I know with certainty that a biologically female body is not designed to be a good little cog in the machine. Every month I go through a period of radical bullshit intolerance (aka pmt). When I bleed, anything that isn’t right becomes obvious. My willingness to tolerate stupid, pointless, tedious things, unreasonable people and unfair conditions goes straight out the window. It’s a monthly reality check that I have come to value and take seriously.
Alongside this, there are plenty of stats out there to show that when the inherently aberrant female body rocks up with a problem, it’s less likely to be taken seriously. Women reporting abdominal pain aren’t treated the same way as men (I don’t have the stats to hand, but they’re out there, the internet is your friend). The female heart attack does not involve exactly the same symptom set as the male heart attack. One is widely known, the other is not. The standard perception of autism spectrum, behaviours is the male experience. Female autistic experience is different and again not widely known. Over and over again, the female experience of things is largely ignored while the male experience becomes the pattern for what’s normal, and when you are sick and no one takes your symptoms seriously, that’s a very, very serious problem.
Psychologically, we pathologies the female (I did this one at uni, again, the information is out there and I don’t have details to hand). Get people to list male and female traits in columns. Then get them to list healthy and unhealthy adult traits in columns. The correlation of male/strong/resilient/logical/rational/healthy and female/neurotic/weak/irrational/unhealthy will emerge. Not because it’s true, but because it’s what we believe.
Measuring female bodies by male standards can only ever make female bodies look like deviations from the norm. This needs to change.
More heart attack info here – http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/02February/Pages/heart-attack-symptoms-gender.aspx