1. Be your own advocateAs women, we are socialised to be less willing to challenge authority and question their opinion. That’s a tricky behaviour to unlearn but it’s important to remember that even if you’re not a medical expert, you are an expert on your own body. It’s okay to be pushy to get the right treatment for you or make sure your concerns or experience is listened to.
A good place to start can be knowing the often multiple ways the game can be stacked against you. Fat women (and men) are frequently told that their illnesses or issues are all because of their weight, regardless of how healthy they are otherwise. Black women are five times more likely than white women to die in childbirth in the UK, at least in part because they are less likely to be listened to by their doctor. It obviously shouldn’t be your burden to fight for systemic change, but knowing the ways you might get dismissed can help you to navigate your care more effectively and have confidence that it’s not a problem with you – it’s a problem with the system, and you deserve to be heard.
2. Hack their biases
Biases exist, and if you can’t stop them happening, you might as well see if you can get them to work for you. One study found that doctors seem to respond better to the ways men typically describe pain. Women tend to talk more about the context of their pain, for example how it is impacting their ability to socialise or the way they look after their children. Men tend to use more clinical terms and physical descriptions and emphasise how it’s impacting their work, so if you feel like you’re not getting through, as frustrating as it may seem, maybe try changing the language you’re using to get your message across.
Another study found that doctors take the pain of women they find attractive less seriously than women they find unattractive. Personally, I would have thought that me talking at length about the weird pus coming from my eye would make me pretty unattractive regardless of my other features, but hey ho, I guess everyone’s got their kink. I’m not sure there’s much in terms of practical steps to take from this one, but maybe if you feel you aren’t being listened to by your doctor, take the opportunity to lean across the desk and say “Look, I know I’m pretty stunning, but seriously I’m in a lot of pain and need a solution.”
3. If you need to, change your GP
Much like with boyfriends (or significant others generally), there’s no point sticking with a GP who isn’t giving you what you need. Dump. Their. Ass. Don’t be afraid to play the field, until you find one who’s right for you. Of course, having a good GP doesn’t mean one who’s a total pushover – but you deserve to feel like your’re really being listened to and that you can tell them your concerns and ask questions.
4. Get the word out
The more people know about the pain gap, the more of us who can push for fair treatment, and there’s so many ways you can spread the word. Share one of our instagram posts about the pain gap! Send a friend a friend a link to one of our blogs, or one of these great articles from the BBC, Guardian, Vox or Marie Claire! Send an email to your MP or MSP telling them how mad you are about this and asking what they are doing about it! Write to your local medical school and ask how they are trying to train the next generation of nurses and doctors to be less susceptible to these biases than the last!
It’s also important to think about your own privilege and whether there are stories you could be helping share of women who are less likely to listened to, because of their race, body-shape, sexuality or any other reason.
5. Learn about your body and talk about your body
The education we get about our bodies in school is super limited, but there are so many great resources now, whether books, podcasts, influencers or YouTubers. Find ones that work for you! Our friends can also be a fantastic resource and it can be really helpful to normalise talking openly and honestly about your body with your friends. Sharing your experiences, your worries, as well as what you love and cherish about your body can be a massive help in gaining confidence in your own body and what a healthy body looks and feels like. Knowledge is power.