We Need To Talk About Medical Misogyny

As toxic as apps like Twitter and Instagram can be, I am ironically grateful to them for giving me work opportunities that may not have come to me. In addition, I am grateful to them too for exposing me to individuals and behaviours that I won’t have known existed as normal in the same country I lived in.

One of such behaviours is the normalisation of casual misogyny from Nigerian male doctors and health care workers. Don’t get me wrong. It is not that I didn’t know that male doctors could be sexist. However, I didn’t know that they could be that sexist.

For the longest time, I considered medicine to be a profession guided by values like compassion and care for people. I often till now think of doctors as people who must have a deep reserve of kindness because their job requires a certain level of selflessness that I am yet to see in any other profession.

Imagine my shock as a 19 year old in 2018, when I began to see tweets and statements from Twitter male doctors that were anything but compassionate.

For one, I would see Nigerian male doctors on Twitter denigrate the female patients they had seen that day. I also observed the heavy slut shaming that they used to describe women who were sexually active and needed help.

There were two areas of online medical misogyny that I considered absolutely absurd and creepy. The first was the delight that male gynaecologists in Nigeria used in talking about how they examined vaginas and essentially loved their jobs because of the access it gave them to women’s bodies. I have not been able to forget some of those posts because I keep imagining the dangers of young women being in the same space as doctors who look forward to the manner in which their job enables them to live out their fantasies of paedophilia and sexual assault.

While there are kind and good male gynaecologists, I totally understand the women who advocate for only women to be gynaecologists and doctors who treat women.

The second example of online medical misogyny is the audacity of male doctors when talking about pregnancy and menstruation. Yes, I understand that they are doctors but still, experiencing something and being trained to birth babies are two different things.

One would even expect these doctors to be compassionate seeing as they see first hand the pain pregnant women encounter. 

However, they are dismissive of the pain and often imply in disrespectful tones that it is a fault on the part of the pregnant woman that she cannot give birth vaginally and has to use aid.

The effects of medical misogyny are harmful and far reaching.

For some women, the dismissive attitude of male and even female doctors in issues like sexual health has led to feelings of shame and the desire never to test for STDs like HIV. For some other women, they encounter problems with diagnosing menstrual disorders like PCOS and endometriosis because they are told to simply lose weight and told that the pain is something all women have to bear.

Yet again, some women encounter medical misogyny in the form of doctors not respecting their wishes. This can come in the form of doctors refusing to remove their wombs because they feel an imaginary future husband may want children.

Speaking with Kemi, a student, she explained that she has experienced misogyny in the hands of doctors while seeking care.

In her words: “I still feel my blood boil whenever I remember the conversation I had with a certain doctor at my school clinic (PS: I am a student).

During the strike last year, I found out that I had tooth issues and needed extraction but I was busy and also sort of low on cash. It was impromptu and I didn’t have the money for my treatment down, so I was still saving for it. 

Anyway, the strike was called off and we resumed. I knew the semester was going to be choking so it’s either I get it done at resumption or manage the pain.

Anyway someone told me to go to the clinic and get a referral/help for our teaching hospital (my health insurance was as a student). 

The first thing the doctor at the clinic said to me was: ‘Can you cook soup that can make me leave my wife and follow you?’.”

Kemi went on to say: “He spoke about how the hole in my tooth is as a result of eating spaghetti/noodles and not eating correct food(swallow). 

Also how his wife knows better and can’t cook the rubbish we children of now our days eat because he won’t eat it from her. Also about love that has finished guys and that’s why they eat our nonsense we call food. 

This guy nearly called me thief because to him I waited till resumption to treat myself. And I sat there quietly because I needed him to sign my referral form. At the end of the day he wrote nonsense and I couldn’t use it. I resulted in paying for every thing.”

The solution to medical misogyny can only come when there are stronger laws and policies that guide against such actions.

Medical misogyny is also a reflection of the wider hate of women in Nigerian society. If the hatred of women is seen as normal, then it is just to be expected that misogyny would occur in medicine.

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