Illuminating Medical Herstory

Inequality and injustices within the healthcare system are no secret, and high-income countries are no exception. Individuals of colour, those of a lower financial or social status, and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are sometimes treated dismissively by healthcare practitioners. Research on the differential treatment by gender in medical settings is also a growing topic of discussion and has revealed that women’s medical concerns are still disregarded, resulting in insufficient care. Medical Herstory aims to fight this issue by offering an online space for women and femme-identifying individuals to share past, present, and ongoing experiences of being dismissed by clinicians while seeking healthcare. 

Individuals who present as female are often perceived as weak both in society at large and in the healthcare sector. Women are more likely to be told their pain is psychosomatic and are often criticized for being overly dramatic or emotional. Tori Ford (BA, ‘19), founder and editor-in-chief of Medical Herstory, started the website as a way to help women break the stigma surrounding the discussion of their bodies. After attending women’s health circles and sharing her own story of battling medical mistreatment, Ford was pleasantly surprised by the feedback that she received, specifically from those who began to share similar stories. In an email to The McGill Tribune, Ford described how this led her to start Medical Herstory. 

“[I created Medical Herstory as a response to] the feeling that women’s bodies are not allowed to be messy or leaky, and the consequences [that] we feel when our health doesn’t allow us to keep up appearances of being ladylike,” Ford wrote. 

Medical Herstory seeks to destigmatize conversations about female-presenting people’s experiences of seeking medical assistance. Research published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics suggests that women’s pain is often perceived as less severe compared to men’s. Through her time at McGill and her current academic work, Ford found a prominent overlap between structures of social inequality and health. 

“I learned the importance of power structures, positionality, and lived experience,” Ford wrote. “I wanted to create a platform to raise awareness on medical topics [that was] separate from sterile, academic, or scientific discussions that too often leave patient experiences on the margins.”  

Medical Herstory takes readers on a journey through a female patient’s perspective. The website seeks to captivate readers through honest stories accompanied by visuals created based on the author’s direction. 

“When designing this website, I was keenly aware of the fact that we would be sharing stories that were often heavy, raw, and difficult,” Ford wrote. “I wanted the aesthetic of the website to balance these emotions by offering bright, colourful, and welcoming images.”

With personal stories of seeking diagnoses, birth control, abortions, and other medical procedures, Medical Herstory hopes to help feminine-presenting individuals feel less alone when seeking medical assistance. From stories of being prescribed white panties for chronic yeast infections, to being provided with numbing cream after a painful first sexual encounter, and even having ovarian cancer dismissed as being indigestion, the writers for Medical Herstory speak openly and candidly to remind women and femmes that their pain is real and should not be ignored.

“My wish is that Medical Herstory can make illness less invisible and less isolating,” Ford wrote. “I hope our readers take away that many people [around them]  are suffering in silence [and] […] how gender expectations, sexism, and institutional inequality amplify this suffering.” 

Ford credits her time at McGill and working at the Office of Sexual Violence Response, Support, and Eduction (OSVRSE) and as an executive at the Women’s Health Advocacy Club, for teaching her the importance of handling other people’s stories with care. She hopes Medical Herstory inspires a call to action regarding womens’ medical health and wellbeing. 

“I hope our readers will use whatever positions or influence they occupy to push for healthcare that is comprehensive and compassionate for all,” Ford wrote. 

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