Women’s bodies have long been the subject of medical conjecture. Hysteria was a genuine medical condition until the 1950s, and once the go-to diagnosis for any woman with unexplained symptoms such as nervousness, weakness, irritability or sexual promiscuity which often resulted in admission to an asylum. Women were considered a sub-group to men in clinical trials for much of the twentieth century; and female-only conditions such as endometriosis (a chronic condition where uterus tissue grows externally) went largely ignored by researchers for decades.
Sadly, this gender bias is still costing lives. A recent Australian study found women are half as likely as men to receive life-saving treatment after a heart attack; while British research from 2015 showed women often have to wait longer than their male counterparts for a cancer diagnosis. Women of colour are at an even higher risk. Black women are twice as likely to have a stroke than white women, and have a higher chance of having their breast cancer symptoms missed. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women can also expect to live 17.2 years less than most Australian women, dying — on average — at just 64. Indeed, Swedish research shows women will often wait longer than men in emergency departments to be seen by a physician. They are also less likely to be considered an urgent case. A number of deaths, including that of a young French mother who suffered a stroke and multiple organ failure after having her acute pain dismissed by an emergency services operator, have been directly attributed to gender bias or sexism.
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