gender pain gap, history of women in pain

The Gender Pain Gap Series: At What Point in History Did Women in Pain Start Getting Ignored?

Women in pain often aren’t taken seriously, but how far back does the history of doctors dismissing women’s pain start? To understand the origin of the gender pain gap, we need to examine how and why women in pain have been treated differently compared to men in pain. 


Plus, find out how untreated pain led to a fight to help improve health care for women, and how AIMA is committed to closing the pain gap by addressing period pain.


Women in Pain in the Past: When it All Started


How the gender pain gap came to be is a matter of speculation since data related to this issue has only started to be collected relatively recently. However, the different ways in which women in pain are perceived compared to men in pain are likely rooted in a historical tendency to view the female physical form as inferior to that of men.


As far back as ancient Greece, women were not seen as equals to men. In his work On the Generation of Animals, Aristotle stated that a woman is essentially a deformed male, and that menstrual discharge is semen in an impure form and lacks a soul. He also purported that women would always be subservient to men due to their inability to control themselves using reason the way men could (Huber, 2015).


Stereotypes like these have been reinforced and propagated throughout the centuries, and the pain tolerance of males vs. females has been viewed through this lens by society at large. In modern times, a 1977 FDA ban on the participation of women in clinical research studies created a gap in medical knowledge about how women react to medicines or experience pain (Liu and Mager, 2016).


Reasons Why Women’s Pain Has Been Dismissed


Why have women in pain had such a hard time being believed throughout history? Misogyny has been ingrained in many cultures for as long as we can remember, and there are a variety of possible explanations for untreated pain. Here are a few possible (but unjustified) explanations for doctors dismissing women’s pain.

 

women in pain

Women in Pain Are Viewed as Emotional or Irrational


Women in pain are less likely to be believed than men in pain due to sexist stereotypes about women being hysterical or overly emotional. The tendency for medical professionals to perceive the cause of women’s pain as psychological rather than physical has been documented in several studies (Samulowitz et al., 2018). Men are more likely to be prescribed pain medication compared to women, who are more likely to be referred for psychotherapy when complaining of pain (Zhang et al. 2021).


Women Are Believed to Have a Higher Pain Tolerance


Do women have a higher pain tolerance than men? According to the evidence, they do not. Unfortunately, pain is normalized in women since they go through childbirth and experience period pain (or at the very least, period discomfort), perpetuating the belief that they are somehow able to tolerate more pain.


Pain is subjective and difficult to measure, but when it comes to what gender has a higher pain tolerance, there is no conclusive evidence that women can tolerate pain better. In fact, some studies indicate that women have a lower tolerance for pain than men (Wood and Bourke, 2020).


The Woman’s Body Was Studied by Males


Like most research areas, medical science has long been male-dominated, so it’s no surprise that women’s health issues (such as period pain) are neglected. The gender disparity in health research is pretty stark when you consider that most clinical studies have been based on men and that there are five times more studies about erectile dysfunction than there are on premenstrual syndrome


Untreated Pain Leads to Fight


When it comes to access to education, participation in the labour force, and voting, women have never had their rights handed to them – they’ve had to fight for equality every step of the way. It’s no different in the health sector, where women’s health research remains underfunded compared with issues affecting men.


The fight for reproductive rights is perhaps the most notable women’s health issue that led to a widespread movement. Slowly but surely, public awareness about the gender pain gap is growing. As recently as 2015, the National Institutes of Health in the US introduced a policy requiring medical studies to include sex as a biological variable. 


There’s a long way to go to ensure women in pain get equal treatment to men in pain. In the meantime, women’s organizations are at the forefront of educating women to trust their bodies and advocate for themselves to ensure their pain doesn’t go untreated.


AIMA is in the Fight for Women’s Rights to Learn From the Past and Build a Better Future


Menstruators deal with many types of intense pain, including extremely painful periods, ovarian pain, and discomfort in the lower abdomen. When doctors downplay women’s health concerns, it leads to misdiagnoses, prolonged suffering, and inadequate treatment.


AIMA is committed to making untreated period pain a thing of the past by offering an innovative, evidence-based solution that puts women in control of their own pain relief. OVY allows you to personalize your dosage and enjoy localized relief for period discomfort.


Our work is rooted in our values of transparency, accountability, scientific evidence, and person-centric focus. Join us in the fight to close the gender pain gap by sharing your story. Email us, and let’s raise awareness (#myperiodstory)!

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