6 Absurd Ways Modern Medicine Fails Because Of Sexism

Except for the oddly joyous violence of childbirth, men and women tend to face the same health issues. As such, you probably have the reasonable expectation that all genders receive the same level of care during a doctor visit. Unfortunately, modern medicine firmly believes that all medical problems either affect everyone in exactly the same way or don't affect one gender at all -- neither of which is true, but both of which frequently lead to dangerous (if not outright fatal) mistreatment.

#6. Male Depression Isn't Taken Seriously, And Female Depression Is Overmedicated

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There are actually two separate medical classifications for "male" and "female" depression because of how different they are. Some might even argue that the "male" variant isn't really depression at all, as it's less prevalent than the "female" version and its symptoms include things like working late, feeling enraged, and engaging in physical activity or reckless behavior. We don't regard those things as symptoms of a mental health issue; those are symptoms of being Batman.

And that's the problem. Despite male depression being less common and having a list of symptoms that aren't considered serious by the average person, rates of male suicide are four times higher than female suicide. We simply don't allow for men to be depressed, unless they follow up their diagnoses by immediately painting a skull on their chests and murdering half of the criminal underworld.

Marvel Comics
"Don't worry. It's only a phase."

In a University of Westminster study, 1,200 participants read identical short stories about a person called either Kate or Jack. When they were asked if that person was depressed, the Jack group was far more likely to answer "no" than the Kate group, all because the person in question was a guy, and apparently guys don't get depressed. Or if they do, they do it in cool and badass ways that get them their own HBO series.

But it's not like women have it any better. It's true that women are much more likely to be diagnosed with depression, but once they are, they are also more likely to be stuffed with more drugs than a pinata at Walter White Jr.'s birthday party. Today's doctors gallantly sling prescriptions for abusable narcotics and anti-anxiety drugs to depressed women, which is arguably at least one reason female death from prescription overdose has gone up 400 percent since 1999.

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Just thinking about that number is enough to get you depress-- shit.

Part of the problem is that it can be difficult to know how certain medication is going to affect women. That's because ...

#5. Medical Studies Focus Almost Exclusively On Male Test Subjects

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Men and women have different reactions to prescription drugs, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone who grew up with that one uncle who liked to mix his vodka with more painkillers than your mom needed for the entirety of her recovery from shoulder surgery. Women tend to have a stronger response to painkillers than men, due to the fluctuating levels of estrogen in their system. However, they are also more likely to get addicted to the meds, and might need more time to flush them and other drugs, like sleeping pills, out of their systems.

That is all vital information which we are lucky to have, considering that the majority of medical/pharmaceutical research is being done on male bodies. When researchers from Northwestern University checked out 2,300 published medical studies, they found that 80 percent of them were performed on male test subjects, with zero attempts made to try and figure out how their results might change when applied to women. Until the 1990s, women were banned from clinical trials altogether, because it took decades of modern medicine for medical researchers to finally realize that there are some physiological differences between men and women that should probably be accounted for.

michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images
"If you look at this, you'll see that you're completely missing a penis;
which may account for your weird bulging pectoral muscles."

But how different can the male and female body be? We're all humans, right? Any differences should be relatively minor, but all the big, important stuff should be the same. For instance, heart attacks probably look pretty similar across the board, right? (With the possible exception that the female heart shows up in x-rays wearing a tiny bow, so you can tell it's a lady's.)

Well, the thing is that men and women have spectacularly different heart attacks, specifically because the physiological differences between the genders are so extreme. Men usually experience a sudden, crushing pain in their chests, while a female heart attack is slower, more subtle, and often accompanied by fatigue and nausea. Unfortunately, the male symptoms of a heart attack have been considered the baseline for so long that heart attacks are tough to spot in women, because their symptoms are considered "atypical" (a term here meaning "different from men's"). In fact, this is the case with many major afflictions. Which unfortunately means that ...

#4. Women Are More Likely To Be Told That Their Pain Is All In Their Heads

For 4,000 years, diagnosing women was the easiest job in the world. No matter what was wrong them -- be it depression, seizures, or gunshot wounds -- it was all chalked up to "hysteria." It was a catch-all mental disorder that basically meant that all of a woman's health issues were a product of her own daffy imagination.

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For which doctors would prescribe vibrators. A lot.

Of course, the medical world has changed drastically since then. Modern doctors use hysteria to explain way more female ailments that their old-timey counterparts could've ever even dreamed of. The only difference is that modern doctors have retired the word "hysteria" in favor of new phrases like "stress" or "psychosomatic symptoms," which have a vastly different number of syllables, but serve the same purpose of dismissing patients with legitimate health problems. These include but not limited to: Polycystic ovary syndrome (a serious hormonal disorder), Lupus (an autoimmune disease), and Fibromyalgia (a rheumatic condition that almost exclusively affects women who tend to be told that their chronic pain is all in their heads).

It's estimated that tens of millions of women in the U.S. are dealing with unnecessary pain because doctors assume that, even if there is something wrong with them, they're probably exaggerating their symptoms. Simply put, medicine doesn't trust women to be familiar with their own bodies.

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"Well I went to med school, and I say you did have an orgasm!"

As a result, legitimately sick people often tend to hide their health problems from their doctors out of fear of being accused of making shit up, even when they might be having a heart attack. Not that telling the doctor would have made a difference -- research found that 75 percent of doctors fail to properly diagnose female patients with cardiovascular diseases if they are also suffering from stress, because the stress gets blamed for all of their symptoms. It's not like a woman could be suffering from both stress and cardiovascular problems. The strain would crush them before they even made it out to the doctor's office.

Meanwhile, on the "males get screwed too" side of the equation ...

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