It’s A We Thing: Pop Culture, Labeling, & Women’s Health

Patriarchy.
Judgment.
The Crazy Woman Archetype.
Women remain silent in fear of being labeled as such.

Equality.
Openness.
Women are dynamic and can’t really be defined by one-dimensional archetypes.
Women express themselves.
We all know the labels are BS.

It’s funny because as a woman, I don’t classify male colleagues and friends into types – it’s just Mike or Tom or Fred, not the father, the nerdy guy, or the cute one. They’re all too dynamic to do so. It would be unfair of me to label them in all their layered uniqueness. I respect and admire these people.

One begins to realize the labels fed to us in media through the lifespan are so often superficial, and consequently, they permeate our every day interactions. Woman as crazy girl, bitch, slut, a “goodie two-shoes”, Pollyanna, smart one, the mother-type, the hot chic, the funny chic, the chubby gal, the geek. Journalism at large is a riddled with these subtleties as woman as characters. Sadly, many women’s print magazines across genres play into the stereotypes. (I know, I once read them. Nary a mention of inner strength, knowledge, flaws as beauty in many of them.)

I don’t know any woman that is only one of these characteristics. All of my ladyfriends are all and none of these things on any given day (even our bodies change a bit with hormonal fluctuations – so yeah, mid-month one of us may be a little chubbier.) In reality, those labels flip, less as caricatures of a person, more as human qualities. The “bitch” is actually a confident woman. The “slut” is just comfortable with her sexuality. The “mother-type” is a nurturer who is actually childfree. The “hot chic” is someone who decided to put on make-up and go out for the night. The “goth girl” might have an affinity for dark music, but she volunteers at a pet shelter and is coping with a breast cancer diagnosis. The Pollyanna is an introvert, not meek and virtuous. Permanence is fictional in humanity, as are the fantasy of labels. Don’t box us in.

I write this because it’s very important in healthcare as women begin to share who they are when it hasn’t been very “proper” to do so in society, that we learn to yield (listen and respond with engaged interest and empathy). This approach sends a message that openness about depression, sexuality, body image issues, abuse, loss, grief, self-awareness, and challenges in professional growth as a woman makes us powerful, creative, and genuine, not weak, crazy, or complicated. Classifying people on superficial characteristics in greater society hurts. The arrogant physician can change, as can the bullying nurse. The noncompliant patient just might not be heard by her clinicians on why she can’t afford her medication. For if we label them as such forever, that is what they shall be. So be it the anxious woman who isn’t crazy, she’s in pain.

That’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t have opinions of people – we can’t like everyone. Labels aren’t about “liking”, they’re about pre-judgment and the communication obstacles they upheld. And yes, there’s a lot of absurdity in media that feeds off the ability to create characters out of people: queue all of reality television and soundbite news. That’s exactly what they want to do! It’s (bad) entertainment, but the bad entertainment could trickle into assumptions about genders & cultures. My point is dig deeper. Think to the top of your intelligence about human interactions. Don’t go for the easy joke…it’s too lazy. This goes beyond a private chuckle between friends.

Back to feminism. Yes, I suspect an initial labeling of a collective female voice in all its idiosyncrasies as “whining” & “complaining” (even by some women). Old habits die hard; but alas, with gender parity may also come communication parity, and for that, we should be grateful for technology. Women with men can finally speak in support of one another. Same for various races and socioeconomic groups. Storytelling can’t be stopped.

It’s not an us and them thing, folks.
It’s a we thing.

Are you ready?

Get out of your comfort zone, or at the very least just be open minded and aware that a shift is happening and how you feel about it. This has everything to do with healthcare through the lifespan and the holistic clinician, and pop culture has everything to do about healthcare too – it’s influenced you whether you admit or not.

Gender bias in research, communication styles in pt-provider relationships, healthcare hierarchy, leadership representation.

For even healthcare was built on patriarchy and as uncomfortable as the realization of that may be to many, the more we can work together to welcome in new patterns of doing, the stronger we will be at healing (note: not cure, heal) more people – man, woman, and child alike.

The holistic clinician with cultural and gender competence will be the leaders we need in healthcare.

Never fear dialogue.

Be cool.

Addendum – May 28, 2013 – just today I’ve come across a few other articles with similar themes. We’re not alone.

Stupid Things Doctors Say To Female Heart Patients

An article on Gender Bias in Healthcare Research

Successful, Female, and a Little Scary? Let Me Translate That For You, It’s Pronounced “Crazy”.

A Message To A Woman From A Man, You Are Not “Crazy”

5 Comments

  1. Larry Mayer says:

    May 27, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Take into consideration this, my POV, regarding a generally applied whining/complaining archetype. Men have been running the show for some time and if it results in so much of this, it is perhaps a reflection on the job we men are doing esp. as it relates to it’s impact on women. It is, after all, an ego booster for ruling men to tamp down these female utterances of disapproval and blame it on their lack of understanding or “hysteria” or other such female “afflictions.” Its evident in all areas of world societies as well as all religions. Maybe if we do better, we’d get more props over more bops.

    But as a gender male Nurse, I have my serious concerns for how women both manage and depict nursing as a profession to the public. I hear it is about 6% and still only slowly creeping upwards. My theory is that nursing is projected as this caring and joyful, warm and cuddly experience for patients and we professional care givers. Its soft and wonderful and meaningful and rewarding and maybe at times it is. But men will not migrate towards this field because of that perception. Certainly I did not enter into this career because of that benefit derived in its practice. Primarily, I did it out of an insight that if I do my job well, even half well, I could have a job for life. Tough to get fired or laid off in a field for which there is a dearth of practitioners. (Of course there were other factors involved.)

    We don’t call doctors care givers, only nurses and family members, etc., who assist in the care of the patient.

    Women are the more thoughtful and considerate and emotionally accessible as culturally defined here and I suspect in most countries where they have a voice. This lends these descriptives to women in general and within the nursing profession. Archetypes and stereotypes are not in and of themselves something to be considered as negative or dismissed as unnecessary as you have suggested. They have a role in clarifying differences in gender which I believe may be inherently unavoidable. We are as different as we are in these respects as we are as sexual beings (in the procreative sense.) How can we not be as different in disposition as we are in constitution?

  2. says:

    May 28, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Hi Amy and thanks so much for including links to two – count ‘em TWO! – of my blog posts in today’s addendum (‘Stupid Things’ + ‘Gender Bias’)

    I appreciate you reminding us that when it comes to our own health care, this isn’t an “us and them” thing, but a “we” thing.

    Really interesting study reported in the journal Health Affairs last year on our common dread of being labelled a “difficult patient” – these findings true even among the “wealthy, educated” study subjects recruited in Palo Alto – the very people you’d think would not be as cowed by the ‘patriarchal’ hierarchy endemic in health care as the rest of us lowly types might be. And this group included both men and women who equally expressed reluctance to be labelled “difficult” by their physicians. The hierarchy is alive and well!

    Thanks again for this – beautifully written.
    regards,
    C.

  3. Creative_RN says:

    May 29, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you Larry & Carolyn for your comments.

    Larry – you bring up an interesting point about nursing. I point to one of our pioneers, Florence Nightingale, who advocated for equal parts science, data, stats and art in nursing. We are all kinds of nurses, as it should be – but caring seems to be what patients want and many male nurses exemplify that quality as well.
    Maybe that’s the point – no one can be defined as one label ever, we’re all too dynamic, but what would nursing or healthcare be without compassion? Isn’t that part of the problem now – the assembly line mentality of patient care in hospitals and other patient care settings?

    Interestingly, I went into nursing as a young woman for the very reasons you mention – it was introduced to me in a science class as a science discipline with great opportunities for professional growth, job stability, and independence.

    And men at large are not lacking thoughtfulness – proud to say I know many who exude such qualities – but patriarchy at large diminishes how essential thoughtfulness or even empathy is in society is an assumed way of being. Balance is good, as you referenced.

    Thanks, Carolyn! It all boils down to open dialogue and not minimizing interactions. Unfortunately, as we’ve discussed, at the heart of these issues, could be burnout, staffing, assumptions.

  4. Larry says:

    May 31, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks Amy. I really appreciate your thoughtful response. However, I might like to add in addition to what patients want from nurses, caring in the compassionate sense, recent evidence also suggests that they want, as a primary source of concern, a nurse who has great technical abilities. Skills, chops if you will. This stems from the nature of care required at home these days with fast turnaround and discharge of patients with highly complex care requirements. I guess paired in with caring, is the idea that patients also want as a priority a nurse who will listen to them.

  5. Creative_RN says:

    May 31, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Larry – we agree again! A caring nurse without competence is not safe, or “caring” at all. We can’t be nurses without the science.

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