a woman brings ill-health upon herself by denying her prescribed role; a woman’s pain is normal; a woman’s pain is not real;
a woman should be in pain; a woman does not own her pain;
a woman exaggerates her pain to gratify her neurotic desires;
a woman is in pain because she does not accept herself.
Sexist interpretations of why and how women experience pain have been around for centuries. In the 19th century, women were believed to get sick because of being unfeminine, intellectually ambitious and “defective in proper womanly submission and selflessness” (Douglas Wood, 1973).
In 2020, many women’s symptoms are still disbelieved - their pain continues to be dismissed, ignored and underresearched. My online exhibition, “Gendered Pain” aims to explore some of the narratives of women’s pain in relation to endometriosis. It is inspired by my personal experience of endometriosis as well as those of other #endowarriors who share their pain online (e.g. on Facebook support groups, Instagram).
Gendered Pain: why it matters
Entangled in the web of assumptions and pre-existing definitions of what female pain is about, many women have to navigate their menstrual pain realities in between three narratives:
(1) women are inherently sick because they are not men (e.g. “your pain is part of your nature”)
(2) [so, to get over the fact that they are not men] women tend to use hysteria - faking their pain to get extra attention (e.g. the amount that men get);
(3) [so] women should just shut the fuck up and keep their ‘lady problems’ to themselves. Their vaginas are scary and disgusting (unless they are in porn, where they belong, of course).
Women do not own their pain. Women's pain - alongside their expected roles - are socially constructed. Women's pain - or at least the narratives of their pain are affected by the way their social status, race, disability, physical appearance.
Women's pain is like a performance to be judged by those around her (e.g. employers, family, doctors):
Does she sound and look credible?
Does her story add up?
Blackledge, C. (2020). Raising the Skirt: The Unsung Power of the Vagina. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Dusenbery, M. (2018). Doing harm: The truth about how bad medicine and lazy science leave women dismissed, misdiagnosed, and sick. HarperCollins.
Perez, C. C. (2019). Invisible women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men. Random House.
Wood, A. D. (1973). " The Fashionable Diseases": Women's Complaints and Their Treatment in Nineteenth-Century America. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 4(1), 25-52.
endometriosis feminism online art exhibition