Anushay Hossain is a writer and a feminist policy analyst focusing on women’s health legislation. She is a regular on-air guest at CNN, MSNBC, and PBS, and her writing on politics, gender, and race has been published in Forbes, CNN, USA TODAY, The Daily Beast, and Medium. Hossain is also the host of the Spilling Chai podcast.
Below, Anushay shares 5 key insights from The Pain Gap: How Sexism and Racism in Healthcare Kill Women. Listen to the audio version—read by Anushay herself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. There’s no such thing as the perfect patient, so stop trying to be one.
Women are taught—by society, our families, and the patriarchy—to try to be perfect at all times: the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect patient. This is dangerous because it puts the onus on women, and it makes them feel responsible when they have problematic, near fatal, racist, or misogynistic experiences within the American healthcare system. When something goes wrong with their healthcare, or when they have a negative experience within the healthcare system, women need to stop thinking that it’s their fault.
2. Approach your healthcare as a team effort, and the most important member of that team is you—not the doctor.
When I was growing up in Bangladesh, my parents always respected and listened to the doctor, and treated his word as almost the word of God. But throughout the course of my research, there was such an emphasis on how much women know, and how right we are about our own bodies. So the most important member of your healthcare team is not your doctor—it’s you. There’s no bigger expert on your body, your symptoms, and what you have experienced than you.
And along with that, women forget that we have choices. If you don’t like your healthcare provider, you can always change, even if it takes some time and research. If you feel like your voice isn’t being respected or what you’re saying is being dismissed, you can always get another provider.
“There’s no bigger expert on your body, your symptoms, and what you have experienced than you.”
3. Your stories are your power.
Women are taught to be dismissive of ourselves, and we’re often told that it’s all in our heads. In fact, while writing this book, I spoke with countless women who started their stories off with, “Well, I don’t know if I’m crazy,” or “I don’t know if I’m imagining this…” But every woman has a story of medical misogyny and being dismissed by their doctors.
So we have to not only speak up, but also share those stories. We are not crazy. We are not imagining these things. And when women share our stories, we realize how widespread a problem this really is. I sat on my own story for so long—almost dying in childbirth in the richest country in the world—for almost a decade, and look how powerful that story is. So imagine how powerful your story can be. We need to stop being dismissive of our experiences—and allowing others to be dismissive of our truth—because our stories are our power.
4. Believe women of color.
A big idea of the Me Too movement is to believe women, because our default is to not believe women. And in particular, we need to believe women of color. In my research for this book, I have found that if something is not good for white women, it is pretty bad for brown women, but it is always the worst for Black women. It’s so important that we believe women of color, as we are a litmus test for how well a healthcare system is functioning as a whole.
5. It’s racism, not race, that is killing women of color in American healthcare.
People of color and Black people have higher rates of death and health problems than white people. We used to blame this phenomenon on racist stereotypes—that it was a socioeconomic issue, or Black people don’t take care of themselves, or people of color just don’t work as hard, or they don’t have insurance. But now we know that it is racism. Just look at the numbers: Black women in America are 243 percent more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. The fact that America has such a high maternal mortality number—a number that is rising, the highest amongst industrialized, rich nations—tells us that we have a big problem. Our healthcare system is misogynistic and dismissive of women in general, and it’s racist toward women of color.
To listen to the audio version read by author Anushay Hossain, download the Next Big Idea App today: