Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes
Simultaneously having a vagina and working for a company that spotlights the all-but-ignored aspects of women’s health, I’ve inevitably come to appreciate the importance for more than just the conversation about lady science, but the action behind it, too. Even though we learned this week that it wasn’t a technical success, the first ever U.S.-based uterine transplant that was executed by Cleveland doctors a few weeks ago still represents the potential for an ideological shift wherein we begin to value women’s health, medicine, and science on par culturally with men’s health, medicine, and science--which is a BFD (big fallopian deal, duh). A symptom of institutionalized sexism, we too often see patterns of silence and inactivity regarding topics of women’s health (except for the campaigns to take it away, of course), and, despite its outcome, this transplant procedure has the potential to help us brush off the cobwebs and embrace a vivacious new frontier of cutting edge women’s health, medicine, and science. Let’s look at some aspects of women’s health that would benefit from a rejuvenated approach to lady science:
Periods have their own unique and messy history of shame, stigma, misinformation, and lack of attention; and THINX, as a company that fundamentally flips a lot of those characterizations on their tushes, has indeed made progress here. It’s no secret that, since its onset, many of the most profitable positions in the menstrual hygiene industry have been dominated by non-menstruating dudes who have less interest in women’s health and safety and more interest in our wallets. There haven’t even been all that many successful or widely-used vagina-majigs invented to manage periods until rather recently--the first tampon (invented by a man) was filed for patent in 1931. I mean, if a natural, monthly occurrence that affects almost half of the population can’t even get significant attention from scientists, doctors, and inventors, are we really *that* surprised that aspects of women’s health that are less sweepingly common (but still plentiful!) are often relegated to the back bunsen burner? And don’t even get me started on the inequality between female and male scientists like this, this, and this. Folks: this systematic lack of attention and support in the labs translates to disadvantages outside of them, too.
There are a whole bunch of relatively common conditions that women experience that are, like, never discussed on a public level. Considering the shame associated with being seen as unclean, few women are encouraged to speak about vaginal complications that affect almost all of us who menstruate and/or are sexually active at one point or another--the list of conditions could go on forever. Additionally, easily-treatable cases can often turn into medical nightmares because of a lack of differentiation between certain medicines. Because we thrive on TMI moments at THINX, I’ll share one of my own: I recently had a urinary tract infection (UTI) that persisted for THREE FREAKING MONTHS (0/10, would not recommend) and, at month two, conveniently tag-teamed with a bout of bacterial vaginosis. For those three months, I was in and out of doctor’s offices almost as much as I was in and out of bathrooms and juice aisles (Trader Joe’s 100% cranberry juice--you cruel, tart mistress). The kicker here? The infection only lasted as long as it did because I was given the wrong antibiotics, and a whole lot of misinformation. At first, I was prescribed a pill that straight up did nothing to relieve symptoms; then I was prescribed a pill and, only after picking it up, was told it would not help the UTI; then I was prescribed a different medicine for the BV; then, already months later, I was told to take the second pill because it actually would help the UTI after all. In the meantime, I spent a solid three months feeling like a dirty failure, afraid to talk to other women who were likely to have experienced something similar: 3 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with UTIs per year! And in case you’re wondering, after some counseling, my bladder and I have a much healthier relationship now.
Whether it’s the uterine factor infertility (UFI) that led Lindsey to seek the first uterine transplant in U.S. history, the endometriosis that affects over 200,000 women in the U.S. yearly, the UTIs that affect 3 million, or any number of medical complications that almost exclusively affect women, it’s clear that we need to do more to make scientific industries accessible to women in every possible way. Lindsey’s uterine transplant--though it didn’t work in quite the ways she, her doctors, and her husband had hoped for--still opened up a world of conversation about what still needs to be addressed in order to achieve gender parity in medicine and science. You(terus) can call that a success.