Let us talk about the wide spectrum regarding marginalized health care in the United States.
I feel like most people can find their gynecologist a comforting, sacred place in which they can confide most of their personal physical and emotional pains with. The first time I visited my gynecologist, the same lady who birthed me, made me feel as if I was a happy kid dancing in a colorful garden. She taught me about my “flower”. I left her office feeling like a woman who MATTERED, more in touch with my female parts than ever. Not only did she respectfully resolve my issues, cure my pain, make me feel relaxed, but she also gave me motherly input in terms of sexual health and reassured me it is OK for a woman to be sexually active. She emphasized the power of our lady parts and how beautiful the cycle of life we carry truly is.
Amazing right?? It made me almost think all Gynos are feminists…..Unfortunately, this is not the case. On the polar opposite side of this spectrum, close your eyes, imagine you are a young immigrant female who has just moved to the U.S. Hesitantly, make an appointment with a random gynecologist. You go alone, feeling scared. It turns out to be a male. He makes sexual comments at you and shoves a vaginal speculum in you without your permission.
You is my aunt. She recently told me the story of her first ever visit with the Gyno. Not only did she shed a great amount of embarrassment and fear, but aching memories of marginalized behavior from a doctor that will impact her for the rest of her life. My aunt was very young, maybe 21 or 22. She had just moved to the United States from Kabul, Afghanistan. She was not very familiar with her lady parts. Back home it was sort of “shameful” to discuss women’s health or a lady growing up. She was shocked to receive her first period as no one ever told her a change like that would occur in her body. No SEX-ed, nothing like that….so this was her first ever experience with women’s health.
One day, she starts having non-stop aching pains in her female reproductive glands. Her bladder, uterus, all of the above. She decides to make an appointment, without knowing any better, with a random neighborhood doctor before looking into his practice and ratings.
My aunt shows up, nervous and her heart racing. The doctor calls her in. He is a middle-aged, white male. He starts off the appointment on a rather off-topic and insulting note. No hi, no how are you, but rather, “Wow, I hear you have a thick accent. Where are you from, you look exotic?”. He proceeds to make uncomfortable comments at my young aunt about her appearance and ethnic background.
She tells him she has pain while peeing, pain in the bladder, etc. He ignores her comments, tells her to take off her pants and sit on the cold, uncomfortable table. Remember, this is a girl who had no idea she would ever receive a period. She has never touched a boy, let alone take off her pants in front of one. Especially not a middle-aged man who already making her uncomfortable. Being too frightened to stand up for herself, she takes off her pants and lies down. Without any warning, he shoves a vaginal speculum into her vagina to hold the walls apart and to see the cervix. She immediately starts crying, in pain and discomfort. Being a virgin, nothing had ever entered her before, and coming from a religious background, it made the whole process more degrading and uncomfortable.
Turns out all my aunt had was a UTI. There were definitely other ways of diagnosing and treating her, none of which included a vaginal speculum. And if they did, at least a warning would’ve been nice. To top it off, his creepy and insulting comments were no help either. My aunt was traumatized to get checked again for years.
I think that within the few years, since her visit, our country has evolved, with several influential women speaking out regarding sexualized health care. But, it is disheartening to know that racist, sexist doctors still exist out there in our country, and in the world.
How do we, as feminists, try to change this everlasting sexist stigma that surround those who work in the medical field? Especially towards women’s health.