Episode 44 Deep in Our Bones: History of the Gender Pain Gap

“Sticks and stones may break my bones…” but thinking about women’s pain is easier said than done, it seems. The gender pain gap is the idea that women in pain are taken and treated less seriously than men in pain. Though this concept has been coming up more in the news, social media and more, it is less acknowledged than other gender gaps. In this episode, we explore the history of the gender pain gap, exploring some familiar and some new concepts, as well as discuss the negative impact that this gap has on women of color, particularly Black women. Join us for this final episode of the season as we unpack women’s pain, its longstanding history, and the contradictions women face around it.

Feminist Corner:

  • What has been your experience with pain? How would you describe your pain tolerance and what specifically about how we socially construct pain makes you say that?
  • What are 2 tangible things you are going to do from here to better check yourself when addressing women’s pain?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

The concept of the “gender pain gap” coined in 2001 in a landmark study, the idea is that women in pain are taken and treated less seriously than men in pain. This especially applies to women of color, particularly black women. 

In 2100-1900 BCE, the Egyptian Kahun Gynecological papyrus documented the first cases of dysmenorrhea 

In Ancient Greece, Hippocrates popularized the idea of the wandering womb which is the belief that diseases that women had were caused by her uterus dislodging itself and traveling wherever in the body the pain or disease was. 

The basic idea of hysteria is that if women weren’t having kids, because that’s what they were biologically destined to do, they were sick because if you weren’t pregnant, the uterus wasn’t being used for what it was meant to, carrying a baby, so it wandered around. 

The Rest Cure, the idea that to cure the hysteria affecting women’s bodies and minds that made them sick, they needed to be bedbound for months.

In the 1800s, medicine embodied more “objective” assessments of symptoms. That became a problem because pain can’t be measured or quantified objectively. 

The inherent contradiction of the gender pain gap, where there was a shift at some point from women particularly white women, being viewed as meek and weak, needing bed rest o now where pain is underestimated, and women are seen as in many cases, stronger and able to withstand MORE pain than they may be able to. Just because women COULD withstand the pain or were more mentally tough but that does not mean that they should be required to be all the time. 

Women overall also experience very high rates of chronic pain.  70% of chronic pain is experienced by women.


Like the episode? Send us your thoughts and questions!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s