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Pain and Prejudice: A call to arms for women and their bodies

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'Women are in pain, all through their bodies; they're in pain with their periods, and while having sex; they have pelvic pain, migraine, headaches, joint aches, painful bladders, irritable bowels, sore lower backs, muscle pain, vulval pain, vaginal pain, jaw pain, muscle aches. And many are so, so tired ... But women's pain is all too often dismissed, their illnesses 'Women are in pain, all through their bodies; they're in pain with their periods, and while having sex; they have pelvic pain, migraine, headaches, joint aches, painful bladders, irritable bowels, sore lower backs, muscle pain, vulval pain, vaginal pain, jaw pain, muscle aches. And many are so, so tired ... But women's pain is all too often dismissed, their illnesses misdiagnosed or ignored. In medicine, man is the default human being. Any deviation is atypical, abnormal, deficient.' Fourteen years after being diagnosed with endometriosis, Gabrielle Jackson couldn't believe how little had changed in the treatment and knowledge of the disease. In 2015, her personal story kick-started a worldwide investigation into the disease by The Guardian; thousands of women got in touch to tell their own stories and many more read and shared the material. What began as one issue led Jackson to explore how women - historically and through to the present day - are under-served by the systems that should keep them happy, healthy and informed about their bodies. Pain and Prejudice is a vital testament to how social taboos and medical ignorance keep women sick and in anguish. The stark reality is that women's pain is not taken as seriously as men's. Women are more likely to be disbelieved and denied treatment than men, even though women are far more likely to be suffering from chronic pain. In a potent blend of personal memoir and polemic, Jackson confronts the private concerns and questions women face regarding their health and medical treatment. Pain & Prejudice, finally, explains how we got here, and where we need to go next. 'A major contribution to feminist writing of the 21st century' Caroline de Costa, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, James Cook University 'Gabrielle Jackson deploys facts to tear away the destructive myths that surround women's health' Lenore Taylor, Editor, Guardian Australia 'This book could not be more timely or important.' Katharine Viner, Editor, The Guardian


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'Women are in pain, all through their bodies; they're in pain with their periods, and while having sex; they have pelvic pain, migraine, headaches, joint aches, painful bladders, irritable bowels, sore lower backs, muscle pain, vulval pain, vaginal pain, jaw pain, muscle aches. And many are so, so tired ... But women's pain is all too often dismissed, their illnesses 'Women are in pain, all through their bodies; they're in pain with their periods, and while having sex; they have pelvic pain, migraine, headaches, joint aches, painful bladders, irritable bowels, sore lower backs, muscle pain, vulval pain, vaginal pain, jaw pain, muscle aches. And many are so, so tired ... But women's pain is all too often dismissed, their illnesses misdiagnosed or ignored. In medicine, man is the default human being. Any deviation is atypical, abnormal, deficient.' Fourteen years after being diagnosed with endometriosis, Gabrielle Jackson couldn't believe how little had changed in the treatment and knowledge of the disease. In 2015, her personal story kick-started a worldwide investigation into the disease by The Guardian; thousands of women got in touch to tell their own stories and many more read and shared the material. What began as one issue led Jackson to explore how women - historically and through to the present day - are under-served by the systems that should keep them happy, healthy and informed about their bodies. Pain and Prejudice is a vital testament to how social taboos and medical ignorance keep women sick and in anguish. The stark reality is that women's pain is not taken as seriously as men's. Women are more likely to be disbelieved and denied treatment than men, even though women are far more likely to be suffering from chronic pain. In a potent blend of personal memoir and polemic, Jackson confronts the private concerns and questions women face regarding their health and medical treatment. Pain & Prejudice, finally, explains how we got here, and where we need to go next. 'A major contribution to feminist writing of the 21st century' Caroline de Costa, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, James Cook University 'Gabrielle Jackson deploys facts to tear away the destructive myths that surround women's health' Lenore Taylor, Editor, Guardian Australia 'This book could not be more timely or important.' Katharine Viner, Editor, The Guardian

30 review for Pain and Prejudice: A call to arms for women and their bodies

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cass Moriarty

    Journalist Gabrielle Jackson was first diagnosed with endometriosis in 2001 and after writing about her experiences in The Guardian in 2015, and subsequently being overwhelmed with emails from other women who had suffered similar experiences, she focussed her interest on how women’s pain is treated in our modern healthcare systems. The result is her non-fiction book Pain and Prejudice (Allen and Unwin 2019), a brilliant and powerful examination of how the pain and suffering of women are treated Journalist Gabrielle Jackson was first diagnosed with endometriosis in 2001 and after writing about her experiences in The Guardian in 2015, and subsequently being overwhelmed with emails from other women who had suffered similar experiences, she focussed her interest on how women’s pain is treated in our modern healthcare systems. The result is her non-fiction book Pain and Prejudice (Allen and Unwin 2019), a brilliant and powerful examination of how the pain and suffering of women are treated in our own culture and around the world, how little is known about ‘women’s illnesses’, the bias towards male-centred medical research, and the continuing myth of ‘hysterical’ women labelled as such because their symptoms and pain cannot be explained. In a seamless blend of memoir and investigative journalism, Jackson confronts this issue from the historical to the modern, with a rigorous and intellectual interrogation of medical culture and practice, peppered with plenty of real-life anecdotes and examples from her own experience and from women she has met in the course of her work. Labelled ‘the silent disease’ because nobody knows how to talk about it, or wants to talk about it, endometriosis is only the tip of the iceberg. Jackson explores the ten chronic pain conditions that most specifically or often affect women, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Migraine, Chronic Tension-Type Headache, Interstitial Cystitis, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Vulvodynia, Temporo-mandibular Disorders, Chronic Low Back Pain and Endometriosis, and investigates how these debilitating conditions frequently overlap and are often misdiagnosed or even ignored. She discusses the lost opportunities, lost employment or school days, the failed relationships and general ill health suffered by women as a result of this failure to recognise and effectively treat women’s health. She argues that ‘for most of human history, the widespread idea that a woman is inherently irrational and brimming with uncontrollable emotions and bodily functions has justified her subordination’ and she laments the lack of knowledge around female body parts and their functions, even the incorrect language commonly used – often by women themselves! She reveals numerous examples of how women’s pain – throughout history – has been minimalised, trivialised, ignored or mistreated. Covering everything from Aboriginal women’s health to the #MeToo movement, Jackson talks about how ‘racism, poverty, violence, trauma, abuse and stress all contribute to poor health, and women suffer disproportionately in many of these areas’, and discusses the links between anxiety and depression and poor physical health. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Jackson summarises her investigation by exploring the advances made in women’s health, and highlights some of the promising research and funding opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, Pain and Prejudice opens a frank and open discourse about women and their bodies, and urges everyone – men, women and medical professionals – to have informed conversations with each other and to vigilantly pursue improved women’s health.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    This should be a high school text book and compulsory reading for all doctors.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Krista McCracken

    Fantastic read that I recommend to any folks living with chronic pain, pelvic pain, or who have overlapping pain conditions. A broad look at the medical field's failure to research, listen, and treat pain in women and gender non conforming folks.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Armelle Davies

    Every woman and person with female sex organs should read this book. Every medical professional should read this book. Hell, every man should read this book so they can understand how utterly woefully the medical establishment has treated women in real and debilitating pain. Jackson takes us through the history of how medicine has reacted to women’s bodies and pain, from thinking all women’s health problems came from a ‘wandering uterus’ or hysteria, and more recently from hormones or mental Every woman and person with female sex organs should read this book. Every medical professional should read this book. Hell, every man should read this book so they can understand how utterly woefully the medical establishment has treated women in real and debilitating pain. Jackson takes us through the history of how medicine has reacted to women’s bodies and pain, from thinking all women’s health problems came from a ‘wandering uterus’ or hysteria, and more recently from hormones or mental health issues, illuminating the ways that these ideas have been used to control women, keeping them sexually repressed, home-bound, focused on reproduction, submissive to their husbands and ignorant of the normal functioning of their own bodies. The 10 interrelated conditions the book focuses on are endometriosis, vulvodynia, irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic migraine and chronic tension-type headache, chronic low back pain and temporo-mandibular disorders. How many of these have you heard of? How many have you heard talked about as if they’re not real conditions, but things that people make up to get out of things or get sympathy? And on top of these conditions, woman are also affected differently by things like heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis and often have to wait longer for diagnosis and pain medication because they are not believed, sometimes leading to life-threatening consequences. It makes me so angry how much of a catch 22 chronic pain is for women (as well as health issues generally) and I found myself scoffing out loud at some of the ridiculous attitudes of the (mostly male) doctors and researchers Jackson talks about. Firstly, Western medical knowledge is based on the male body (most medicines were not even tested on women until the 90s, can you believe??), so there are huge gaps in research on conditions that only affect women or that affect women differently to men, with the exceptions being anything that affects women’s reproductive capabilities. Secondly, women struggle to articulate a lot of their pain because of stigmas around female sex organs and because a lot of these conditions are not widely known or understood. Thirdly, even when women manage to ask for help, their doctors are trained to be mistrustful of anything that doesn’t fit what they have been taught about medicine, and so on top of misogynist attitudes, this leads to women not being believed about the severity of their pain and huge delays in diagnosis (the average time for an endometriosis diagnosis is 7–10 years). Fourthly, even when women are believed, there are huge barriers to getting effective treatment because of the lack of funding and research for these conditions, and because the medical system is not set up to treat chronic conditions that require a multi-specialist approach. There’s plenty more interesting (and horrifying) detail in the book about things like the practical ways the health system is set up to disadvantage women’s chronic pain, how chronic pain (and not being believed) affect women’s mental health and ability to participate fully in life, new research about why women experience more autoimmune conditions and so much more, so seriously read the whole thing! Although the book is largely an overview of the history of women’s pain, it seems like it could be an excellent starting point for conversations about women’s chronic pain to reach those who need to hear it most – women in pain and those who treat them. I’m very lucky that I don’t have any chronic pain issues (yet), but I know several people who do who have struggled to get diagnoses, let alone effective treatments, and I’m sure there are several more who are suffering and thinking they are being over-sensitive or that their pain is just regular period pain or similar. I hope this book is a catalyst for women to recognise that their pain is not normal and to fight for the treatment they deserve, for governments to invest more money in pain conditions that affect the same number of women than cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined, and for doctors to treat women with empathy and actually LISTEN to them and BELIEVE them.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    It took me awhile to get into this book, I found the colloquial and casual language jarring but I realised that it is one of the benefits of this book: it’s accessible. It presents a broad discussion of women’s bodies (with inclusive language which was much appreciated and will hopefully become the norm in future books discussing pelvic and reproductive health problem). It’s presented as a book about endometriosis but it’s the overall picture that is actually the focus of the book so if you have It took me awhile to get into this book, I found the colloquial and casual language jarring but I realised that it is one of the benefits of this book: it’s accessible. It presents a broad discussion of women’s bodies (with inclusive language which was much appreciated and will hopefully become the norm in future books discussing pelvic and reproductive health problem). It’s presented as a book about endometriosis but it’s the overall picture that is actually the focus of the book so if you have endo and are searching for more information on this disease specifically, I would look elsewhere. In saying that, I feel more familiar and knowledgeable about my body as a result of reading this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    SHR

    3.5 Easy to read and interesting. Based on research, interviews and personal experience. It explores the way women's pain is perceived and treated differently to men's pain. It rates a little lower for me because it became repetitive. Having said that it is a worthwhile read on an important topic.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    From the age of 12, I saw probably over 100 doctors, specialists, surgeons, physios, and alternative medicine practitioners. I wish just one of them had read this book so that it hadn't taken more than 20 years for me to get a diagnosis.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Scoots

    A must-read for all women and allies.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Megan De

    This book is a must read - not just for those interested in women’s health but for anyone who is a woman or knows a woman!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Holly

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jane

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bronwyn

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle Clements

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

  15. 5 out of 5

    Penny

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hadassah

  17. 4 out of 5

    Pam Power

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  19. 5 out of 5

    Roxy

  20. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Black

  21. 4 out of 5

    Izabela

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emma

  23. 5 out of 5

    Emma

  24. 4 out of 5

    Candice Mclean

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scarlett Harris

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lozzahh

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  29. 4 out of 5

    K

  30. 5 out of 5

    Krista

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