There’s a lot of infuriating stories floating around on the internet, women sharing their myriad negative experiences with medical professionals, settings, and prescriptions.
Why do so many women have so many terrible experiences with doctors and medicines?
Jennifer Block set out to answer this question, and more, in her monograph Everything Below the Waist: Why Healthcare Needs a Feminist Revolution. She writes in her introduction:
“Today, overtreatment and mistreatment flourish in the absence of a strong watchdog apparatus, revealing a medical system that has not fully overcome its patriarchal, paternalistic origins. But is something even deeper going on? If women and our providers have at all internalized the view that our biology is the source of social inequality, and there is evidence that we have, how might that be affecting women’s participation in this system? Does regarding our bodies as oppressive render us more vulnerable to the overuse of medical technology? Are we relying on medicine as a workaround for social change?”
To be clear, although the intended audience is people with uteruses, this isn’t a book just for people with uteruses, not to me. Reproductive health is a matter for all genders: reproductive health is health. Ignorance in this area—from medical professionals, legislators, husbands, fathers, brothers, sons—can literally be a matter of life and death. (Is it too much to ask for some basic, minimal literacy in female organs and their functions?) There’s nothing about the female reproductive system to be afraid of, unless you’re a twelve year old boy, or the source of all evil—or both.
Block does a great deal of methodological research in writing this book: histories, intersectionality of experiences, causes and effects of medical [mal]practices, and descriptions of diseases and procedures abound.
She discusses the problem with medicine as empowerment, the methods, dangers, and traumas of childbirth and abortion, and the history of birth control, among other hard-hitting topics. One salient excerpt reads,
“Hysterectomy is the second most common surgery in the United States, after the cesarean section, and like C-sections, rates vary widely depending on where a woman lives and the color of her skin, and how many procedures are necessary is a point of controversy. Women in the southeast and black women across the country are much more likely to have a hysterectomy, and it’s not because they have more risk factors: a large study that controlled for such things as fibroids and obesity still found black women were 3.5 times more likely to have the surgery. Fibroids are the number one reason for the operation, but with a skilled surgeon these can almost always be removed—the procedure is called myomectomy—and there are non-surgical ways to shrink them.”
It’s not culture if it’s ignorance and eugenics.
My general takeaway, copy + pasted with light edits from my Goodreads review:
Everything Below the Waist is an informative and comprehensive call to action, with well-researched history and medicine. Block is not advocating an “all-natural” approach to women’s health; she advocates that we understand women’s bodies more and find better and more effective alternatives to current medical practices, which often to lead to overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and overall more health risks. She presents a multifaceted issue in colloquial language so readers and consumers can make more informed decisions about their bodies.