My Heart belongs to Daddy
By Marleen M. Quint
Women’s Health and Environmental Advocate
They say the heart of a woman is a mystery.
Unfortunately, this is true in medicine as well as in romantic folklore. It seems the medical system is still getting the two confused. Too often physicians treat women as underdeveloped men or overdeveloped children rather than as adult humans who happen to be female. This twisted view of women in the field of medicine has retarded research in diseases affecting women and contributed to the overall morbidity of women. Heart disease ranks number one on the list of such diseases.
If we examine society’s general view of women it might help us understand the colored lens in which the medical system views women. This is reflected in our use of language and the art we create. There’s a very old song written by Cole Porter called, My Heart Belongs To Daddy. Daddy refers to a lover or husband, not a biological father. The patriarchal reference is obvious. Many years later, we still use the phrase, "Whose your daddy?" in very much the same way.
Male dominant societies have been around for thousands of years but medicine hasn't always been so patriarchal. Did you know at one time women were highly empowered as healers in European communities ? Did you also know between the years 1350 and 1750 there was a female holocaust generated by the Christian church and influential politicians which systematically murdered around 9 million women as witches, most of whom were midwives or lay healers? It was at this point in European, and later in American history, that affluent, well educated, male physicians (many having little experience with patients) replaced the hands on tradition of female healers, thereby, all but wiping out a healing art that had been passed down from generation to generation. To this very day, it is more important to be an educated physician than to be a practiced one.
Okay, I admit some of the witch burning numbers and other specifics are highly controversial, but, at the very least, most historians do agree that there was a systematic elimination of women over a four hundred year period in Europe which coincided with the emergence of male physicians who eventually replaced midwives and lay healers. Four hundred years is a long time to systematically torture and murder women just because a few pagan women got a little uppity. When the dust settled, the only area of medicine left to women was the subservient role of nursing. All you have to do is look at today’s healthcare system to see the repercussions of this takeover.
I present this piece of controversial history as an aid in understanding the politics affecting the field of medicine today. It is difficult to overlook the misogynistic takeover of the healing arts by wealthy university trained men and not make a direct connection with the constant struggle for power and control over women and their bodies both in medicine and in politics. This struggle continues to this very day and is the key reason women continue to be systematically overlooked and undeserved as citizens and as medical patients.
The heart of a woman truly is a mystery. To begin with, most coronary heart disease studies, until very recently, were performed almost exclusively on men. Profiles on heart disease patients have been male, surgical instruments calibrated to the male body and early coronary screenings have been disproportionately performed on men. These biases still exist today despite the fact that we now know more women die of heart disease than men.
HEART DISEASE STATISTICS
* Although breast cancer may be the leading killer of women between the ages of 35 and 55, heart disease is the leading killer of women over 55.
* Nearly 500,000 women in America die each year of heart disease.
* 60,000 more women than men die from heart disease each year.
* A woman has a reduced rate of heart disease before menopause compared with men her own age. After menopause, a woman’s rate of heart disease increases. By age 65, her risk equals her male peers.
* Women who undergo heart surgery have a 50% greater risk of dying than their male counterparts.
* 40% of women do not survive their first heart attack.
* Women’s hearts and arteries are smaller than men’s.
DISPARITY IN SCREENING AND TREATMENT BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
* Women’s complaints are more than twice as likely as men’s to be dismissed as psychosomatic.
* Women are under-represented in health care research.
* Women who have suffered a heart attack may be less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
* Female heart attack victims are more apt to have "non-traditional" symptoms such as back pain, nausea and fainting. Traditional symptoms such as chest pain are based on male studies.
* Women with signs of heart disease often receive second-rate and delayed treatment compared to their male counterparts.
* Male heart attack patients tend to be healthier, are significantly younger, and fewer have a medical history compared with female patients.
* Women are less apt to receive aggressive heart attack care.
* Women who have emergency room visits complaining of chest pain are much less likely to receive an electrocardiogram.
* Women who have heart attacks are less likely than men to be prescribed potentially life-saving clot-busting drugs such as aspirin.
* 36.7% of women versus 48.3 % of men received cardiac catheterization after suffering a heart attack.
* In spite of studies to the contrary, physicians tend to hold onto outdated images of the older male heart attack victim.
RESEARCH AND PUBLIC POLICY
Research and public policy continues to be filtered through a patriarchal system, doctors continue to practice biased medicine, and women continue to die unnecessarily. All the money and technology in the world will not cure that kind of malignancy.
What are we left with? As is too often the case, we are left to our own devices. Women have to figure out what works through trial and error like we did hundreds of years ago. We have to somehow tap into the healing knowledge locked somewhere in our DNA that has been suppressed yet not destroyed. We have to acknowledge and then reverse the black karma of our fore sisters that still haunts us today. Women also need direction and leadership. Until we learn to find this leadership within ourselves and within our communities, females will continue to be victimized as women, minorities, children and among the ranks of the poor.
Perhaps you think the female holocaust is long past. I happen not to agree. Half-a-million women die each year not just because of heart disease alone, but, in part, due to ignorance and the lust for political power. Sound familiar? This same political steamroller needlessly takes the lives of millions of men, women and children each year through other diseases in very much the same way.
But hey, this is just the opinion of an "uppity" woman on the fringes of the healing arts, challenging the axiom, "Father knows best."; one of those women who is actively seeking the empowerment of true healing -- and history has taught us where that road leads. Maybe this time we can change the outcome; tap into the power that already exists within each of us. Maybe this time we can carve a new path and create herstory.
If you have any comments or experiences that you would like to relate to us regarding this subject, please contact Marleen at MQhealthpge@aol.com
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
The Coalition for Women with Heart Disease www.womanheart.org
The Society for Women’s Health Research
Sex Discrimination in the Intensive Care Unit?
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston
Heart Disease: Differences Between Men and Women By Hope Ricciotti, MD
Gender Differences and Health - Male and Female Differences www.amazoncastle.com/feminism/health.shtml
The Canadian Women’s Health Network Menopause and Heart Disease www.cwhn.ca
Eating for Health Facts About Women and Heart Disease www.mealsmatter.org/EatingForHealth/Topics/article.aspx?articleId=9
The Burning Times: The extermination of Witches and other heretics www.religioustolerance.org/wic_burn.htm
Example of Important Women’s Health Issues Center for Reproductive health Policy Research, IHPS, UCSF, 1995
Witches, Midwives, and Nurses A History of Women Healers.
Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
The Feminist Press
DR.EDDY'S CLINIC & AYURVEDA SCHOOL - Integrated Medical Clinic & Ayurveda School is a unique healthcare facility, combining the strengths and knowledge of both traditional western and alternative medicine in a holistic manner.
Marleen M. Quint
Originally from Hawaii, Marleen was also raised in Japan and Guam. Her background is extremely eclectic and ranges from working in the field of cartography to performing as a singer, dancer and actress.
In 1990, Marleen was diagnosed with thyroid disease followed by breast cancer less than two years later. She lost both breasts and her thyroid with no family history that would predispose her to either disease. After much research, Marleen is convinced that environmental pollution played a significant role in the development of her life-threatening diseases.
Since 1995, Marleen has dedicated herself as a women's health advocate. She has served as a consultant for several health organizations including the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC and UCSF Mt. Zion Cancer Center in San Francisco.
Marleen has combined her skills to develop a women's health presentation which delves into the connections between the politics of gender bias and the level of morbidity suffered by women. Marleen is an active speaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.