“You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back –somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.”
Just as it was in 1892, when Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her inspired-by-actual-events short Gothic story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” so does modern healthcare refuse to acknowledge the real lives of women today. In the story, the hideous, choking pattern of the yellow wallpaper is an analogy for patriarchy.
“The front pattern does move—and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one…in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.
And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. They get through, and the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white! If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.”
Hospital ER visits are often gynecologically-related for women of childbearing age, yet most women anecdotally report being sent home for “stomach aches,” or “UTIs” (urinary tract infections), without ever having seen an OB/GYN or given an ultrasound. Many times the issue is terribly serious: ovarian cysts rupturing, painful fibroids, or endometriosis, yet she is sent home, only to require surgery mere hours or days later.
Chronic pain like fibromyalgia, neuorpathy (nerve pain), migraines, sickle cell anemia, back injuries, bad knees, and more are given little credence when reported by women. Rather, it is assumed ladies are hypochondriacs, melodramatically obsessing over every tiny thing. Batteries of standard tests are run, according to rule, that appear to show nothing, and the lady is sent home with antidepressants. She must be tired. It is all in her head.
“He says…I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away me.”
“You see he does not believe I am sick!”
From abortion to birth control, to childbirth and everything in between, everyone wants to tell women exactly how to live, what to put into their bodies, what to have taken out, which surgeries to have done, which medications to use, and which to avoid.
Childbirth in America now involves being a number on the table, forced to follow painful and frightening “protocols” without full information or recourse. Once the baby is born, mom is sent home in 2–3 days to try and figure out this whole “baby care” (and self-care) thing by herself within 6 weeks, since dear husband (if he exists) must fly back to work.
Through silencing tactics like demeaning, patronizing, ignoring, rebuking, and gaslighting, women are not allowed bodily autonomy; politicians, husbands, religious leaders, and doctors all get to make the decisions for her, instead. “Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?”
“I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia. But he said I wasn’t able to go, nor stand it after I got there, and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.”
“But now let’s improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!”
“He sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.”
The “husband and physician of good standing,” in the story calls his wife patronizingly, “little girl,” “a goose,” “imaginative,” and “foolish,” throughout. The good doctor constantly contradicts his wife’s assessments about her own body, including weight gain, appetite, and happiness- “Really dear, you are better!”-till, by the end, she insanely repeats those phrases herself:
“Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was…I’m feeling ever so much better! I don’t sleep much at night…but I sleep a good deal in the daytime” (my emphasis).
Neglected, oppressed, and repressed, mental health issues like depression and anxiety take over.
“At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the behind it is as plain as can be. By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still.”
“I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try. Besides I wouldn’t do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.”
“I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in the great room and creep around as I please!”
On top of all this are the social expectations: host parties, drink more/drink less, cook from scratch, raise your kids alone, volunteer in schools, have a garden, nurse babies until their five, care for aging parents, clean the house, read a book, take a walk, date your husband, be his “helpmeet”, hang with friends, take your pills, be a lifelong learner, be your own advocate in all things, have good credit, have a savings account, keep at least a part time job, go to church, lead a Bible study, don’t forget to travel because YOLO, and make sure to take time for yourself.
It’s enough to drive a gal…hysterical.
“‘For God’s sake, what are you doing!’ I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.
‘I’ve got out at last, said I, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him ever time!”
Ah, but, “Bless her little heart! She shall be as sick as she pleases!