I was watching QI and they had a question on pain threshold men and women could stand. The panel went for women, as the most resilient to pain, when in fact researchers have found that men are supposed to be.
The research is, of course, as uninteresting as those that keep pretending women’s and men’s brains are different which is why women are emotional and men can do maths. We know it has nothing to do with physical predispositions or Nature seriously screwed up when she made Marie Curie’s genitals.
I have discovered, talking to countless women, that the reason why they don’t always cry a river everytime they are hurt and/or demand the world stop going round until they feel better, it’s mainly because they are constantly told that the most excruciating of the pains they feel are always “normal” so what talk about it? Why complain? Why even try to find a remedy?
“It hurts, deal with it!” This from a very young age.
I remember an amazing moment at school when I was 14. We were studying the reproductive system and how babies are made – so no Bible, sorry to disappoint the Americans – when our biology teacher broke her leg. She was off for two weeks so we had a young guy who came to cover for her. At some point, he explained the mechanism of periods to boys who suddenly realised what were the little things in shiny packaging that girls were passing stealthily to one another at break time.
He had this very line about periods.
“Women then experience pain, which is normal because there is bleeding involved.”
As a man, he has never experienced periods so he was just repeating what another man had taught him at med school or wherever.
The medicine seen by men is “when there is blood, there is pain”. Therefore the mantra is for women to get used to it because it’s not going away anytime soon. They’re wasting one’s time. Now, let’s talk about their husband’s pain, because – yes, they scream to death when there’s an eyelash in their eye…Ha. Ha. Ha. Still! There’s no bleeding so that must be cancer, which is a true disease – unlike your…foul p-word!
I recall a murmur of dissent from some girls but no more until our teacher came back. A girl stopped her short from starting the lesson and repeated what the cover teacher said. She was then worried that she never experienced any pain. She was not the only one and it turned out they all thought they were ‘not finished’, that their body still had to mature and it meant, eventually, pain for the rest of their life!
They had asked their mothers and had mixed responses. Some had always experienced painful periods, others had not. Why had the ones in pain never talked about it? They did but were told, like aforementioned, that it was normal.
The teacher answered that it was nonsense. Yes, their body and genitals would continue to develop but periods were not synonym of pain. Bleeding is not due to hurt but normal and peaceful removal of matter that was created to nestle the ovum. She said: “It’s not like someone is scrapping your insides. It’s like losing your milk teeth.” The girl insisted that it was just what the young guy had said and the teacher had this fantastic sentence.
“I don’t know about him, but personally, I am 45, I have been having my periods for 32 years and I have never been in pain. You can be more tired than usual because it is a big thing happening to your body, an important hormonal upheaval but the bleeding is not like when you cut your hand or have an open wound, it doesn’t hurt. And if it does, and everytime, you should see a specialist.”
Fast forward 15 years. Fifteen years of living with a mother who had always had painful and long periods. Until a couple of months ago, I actually was convinced periods always lasted up to three days and were painful until I talked about it openly with some friends who, like the mothers of my classmates, had very different experiences but mostly positive. As much positive as periods can be… It turns out periods last for one day, on average. Really?
That’s because I remember my mother complaining about stomach aches, headaches but mostly pain in the lower tummy for days. This every single month for more than a decade and just to be told by legions of male doctors that the pain is perfectly normal so there’s nothing to address.
Until the day my mother got fed up with these painful periods that had come to last for one, even two to three weeks sometimes and she demanded answers and change gynaecologist – for a young woman this time. A young female doctor who told her what my teacher said 15 years earlier: periods are not meant to be painful and their month-worth of bleeding is not “due to the menopause. There’s got to be something in there.”
It turns out she has been having a serious case of uterine myoma that had never been really detected because never taken and treated seriously, and this had been leading to basically constant haemorrhages. She was not having her periods, she was just, plainly bleeding.
The case is extreme, I thought, then I changed my mind after my cousin, my aunt, then a legion of female colleagues and friends told me about the struggle they have been facing trying to be taken seriously when it comes to the pain they are enduring. The world is changing as women enter the fields of science for good, wanting to answer questions that preoccupy them. Finally, we talk about endometriosis seriously as it turns out countless women are affected. Most of them previously and quickly dismissed since their early teens when complaining about days of pain before and after their periods.
Medicine has always ridiculed, minimalised women’s pain. Their pain has been reduced to the uterus, something men don’t have and only care for when it comes to sex and having descendants. All women’s pains and turmoil’s were put for millennia under the label of hysteria (derived from the word “uterus”). It also applies to pains like migraines, severe headaches, troubles keeping oneself warm, mood swings, psychological turmoil…The list goes on of pains that are “maladies de bonne femme” as the French spitefully say. A derogatory term coined to talk about a woman and the pains she and her kind experience. Women are hysterical, end of.
As a man, you should be careful when hurting and complaining about it. One doesn’t want to step in the world of “hysterical diseases”. I have had migraines and headaches for years but of course that is not taken seriously. Ophthalmic migraines that make me throw up (such a drama queen!), bring me to tears (hysterical!), make me punch my neck and forehead in search of relief (crazy hysterical!). I even considered cutting myself once hoping the blood flow would decrease in the arteries of my head (Well, that proves my point! Just pop an Advil next time so the doctor can move on to someone stable with real men issues…)
For women, the consequences go far beyond the simple words and refusal to treat it. Traditionally trusting of the doctor and drawing their longer life-expectancy from their regular visits they pay to them, they are drifting away more and more, I feel, from conventional medicine. This old trends are back.
Since the dawn of time, we have been talking about grandma’s remedies in France.
*If it hurts, boil the stones of some cherries, filter the water, drink and the headache will go away.
*Take some mint leaves and rub them against your lower tummy.
*Drench yourself in olive oil and the birth won’t hurt.
*Do a week-cleanse with your own urine.
*Starve yourself and applies some leeches.
It’s like reading medieval, medicinal books on how to cure what we now know to be cancers and I thought they were a thing of the past until I saw friends of mine, highly educated women who do go regularly to the doctors and yet, choose to cleanse before and during their period because I was told it reduces the pain and blood flow. Does it? Maybe not. Surely not, if I listen to science but who am I to judge?
The other day, colleagues experiencing menopause and/or endometriosis were swapping “fantastic” books about plant-healing and other unconventional remedies that have made their life easier, less painful and stressful: from sleeping better to avoid hot flushes, stomach aches and digestive troubles.
The men in the room were mocking them, of course. When one said that going glutten-free has actually stopped all uterine pains, he completely dismissed her as superstitious and pathetic, ready to believe anything. For him, a connoisseur and expert in the field, as most men are (NOT!), it was nothing but a placebo effect which proved even more how imaginary and hysterical women’s pains are.
In a world where science teaches girls that periods should be painful because there is bleeding and bleeding is always painful, one can’t be surprised women are looking to someone else to find release. When professionals tell women “It’s normal so shut it!”, of course they look away for answers and are drawn to things that, for men, are deemed even more ridiculous to them that their physical suffering.