Let’s talk about pain

They think it’s in our heads and if it’s in our heads, they can dismiss us

Have you ever experienced pain during a procedure involving your uterus? I passed out once during a biopsy.

I remember the doctor warning me that it might be “slightly uncomfortable.”

And then passing out.

And then my (male) doctor telling me I had a “highly-developed vasovagal response,” which means not, “I pass out when I feel pain” but “I pass out easily.”

Turns out I am not the only one who finds “slightly uncomfortable” to be closer to “really painful.” Read Caroline Criado Perez’s brilliant newsletter about this issue.

… for many women, IUD insertion isn’t, as the NHS website says simply “uncomfortable,” and no, 400mg of ibuprofen isn’t cutting it. Several women who wrote to me compared it UNFAVOURABLY with the pain they experienced GIVING BIRTH WITHOUT PAIN RELIEF.

Starting when I was a teenager, I would get sinus headaches. I lived on aspirin and sudafed.

I was at my friend Heather’s one day and got a headache. No aspirin in my purse, so I asked Heather if she had any.

No. She had no aspirin. None.

“What do you do when you get a headache?” I asked her.

“I don’t get headaches,” she said.

That was the first time I had ever heard someone say that.

I thought getting headaches was normal.

I thought getting headaches all the time was normal.

Turns out it is not.

Even so, it still did not occur to me until years later to mention my headaches to a doctor. Who goes to a doctor for a headache?

And, possibly, I had internalized the idea that women’s pain does not matter – that we are to endure it. After all, nobody had ever really solved my menstrual cramps problem. One of the few outcomes from getting medication for cramps was that my insurance company, while I was in grad school and had to get individual health insurance, refused to cover me for any problems of the reproductive system.

And UTIs – again, who goes to the doc for that? And when we do, we’re told – well, we’re told to pee after sex and drink a lot of water.

(Turns out that’s BS as well: Read Jen Gunter‘s book, The Vagina Bible.)

Why is our pain ignored? (And the pain of Black women is discounted even more than the pain of white women.)

Because nobody – wait, NOBODY WITH POWER – believes it’s real.

Or, if they think it’s real, they don’t care.

Faherty and Grier studied the administration of pain medication after abdominal surgery and found that, controlling for patient weight, physicians prescribed less pain medication for women aged 55 and older than for men in the same age group…

Calderone found that male patients undergoing a coronary artery bypass graft received narcotics more often than female patients, although the female patients received sedative agents more often, suggesting that female patients were more often perceived as anxious rather than in pain.

Another study, comparing post-operative pain in children, found that significantly more codeine was given to boys than girls and that girls were more likely to be given acetaminophen.

The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain, Diane E. Hoffmann, Associate Dean & Professor, U. of Maryland School of Law, Anita J. Tarzian, Professor, U. of Maryland Baltimore County

But why?

Because they think we are making it up. Because they think it’s all in our heads. Because how can they study women’s bodies? Our hormones make it so hard!

perceivers judged female patients as relatively more likely to benefit from psychotherapy, whereas male patients were judged to benefit more from pain medicine.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33684539/

Women weren’t included in clinical trials until the 1990s. While we make up 70% of chronic pain patients, 80% of pain medication has been tested only on men. Even in preclinical trials with cell lines and rodents, males have been favoured over females. Researchers have justified this bias by claiming that oestrous cycles in female rodents – and menstrual cycles in human women – would potentially corrupt results. If that were so, wouldn’t it be quite important to find out before selling the drug to women?

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/02/why-dont-doctors-trust-women-because-they-dont-know-much-about-us

And let’s not forget the main reason: it’s more important to spend research money on erectile dysfunction, which, may I remind you again, DOES NOT CAUSE PAIN AND DOES NOT INHIBIT EVERYDAY LIFE, than it is to study and resolve women’s problems.

Five times as many clinical trials have been conducted on the topic of male sexual pleasure, such as for erectile dysfunction, as on female sexual pain….Pubmed, which publishes medical research studies and found 446 studies of dyspareunia, vaginismus, and vulvodynia, all highly painful conditions affecting women’s ability to have sex. Studies of erectile dysfunction? 1,954. As one doctor she quotes explains, women will silently provide sex “with their teeth tightly clenched.”

Rage Becomes Her, Soroya Chemaly

Once you’ve tasted freedom, it’s hard to go back

The siren call of semi-retirement

We have been renting the same cottage on Lake Superior for the past 13 summers. It’s the best place on earth.

I have been trying to quit my job.

“Trying?” you ask.

Yes. Trying.


When Mr T and I returned from vacation two weeks ago, I gave my two weeks’ notice.

I thought that would be it.

But my boss has been trying to figure out how to keep me.

Which is completely bizarre to me. It’s never happened before.


Not that there is anything that could have made me stay in some of my previous jobs. Except for quitting to go to grad school, I quit because I hated the situation (and the boss) and there is nothing – not even more money – that could have made me stay.

But this time, I am quitting because – this is not how I want to spend my remaining work years.

Last week, Mr T and I learned that a classmate has cancer and has less than six months to live.

The next day, I found out that a friend of mine from when we worked together in Austin had died of natural causes at 64. Sixty four is not that old, y’all.

And last year, a good friend of mine died after three years of cancer. Her husband had finally retired and they were going to Do All The Things – and she was diagnosed of cancer and they never did any of the things.

I spent all of 2020 unemployed. It was stressful not having an income, but we were still so lucky compared to other people. And outside the lack of income and a global pandemic, it was, oddly, a good year for me. I did all kinds of great volunteer projects that made me feel my time mattered: Mr T and I volunteered at the food bank, I managed a project to donate free face shields to health-care workers (Mr T delivered the shields and our house was the western pickup point), and I helped an anti-racism group define their messaging and develop a website.

Most importantly, I helped get rid of the former president by doing everything I could to make sure that eligible voters in Milwaukee, a swing city in a swing state, cast a ballot. I volunteered for two months at the election commission, processing voter registrations and absentee ballot applications, and Mr T and I volunteered as pollworkers on election day.


Last winter, I went back to work full time.

My boss is super nice. My co-workers are super nice. Everyone is really nice.

But – it’s a big company with lots of bureaucracy. I put together a monthly department newsletter with hard deadlines.

It’s hard. It’s hard to be on a deadline all the time and to be responsible for getting work and approvals from other people when you have no authority over them.

I was cranky all the time. I started taking migraine meds again. I woke up every morning dreading what might happen at work. (Not from my boss, but from others outside of the group.)

My boss was equally frustrated with the requests from outside our group, but, as he is also new, he does not have the political capital to stop those requests. One day, he lamented to me, “I just want to be a floor manager at Home Depot.”

I decided to quit. I decided to quit and look for something part time, just enough money to pay for our health insurance. With our remaining time, we would volunteer on causes we care about. Mr T is going to volunteer for his friend who is running against Ron Johnson (we have got to get rid of him) and I want to work on voting rights and systemic racism and prison reform.


After Mr T and I returned from vacation last month, I gave my notice.

That was a week ago and my boss has been brainstorming to figure out a way for me to stay: would I work part time? What if they got rid of all the work except the newsletter? Would I stay until the end of August to get the August issue out? Am I interested in being a contractor to work on projects?

I have to tell you, it’s really flattering to be wanted.

He’s talking to HR to figure out what these options would look like.

And I am thinking, “Maybe I don’t need to look for a part-time job that pays $15/hour and requires me to be onsite. Maybe I can work ten hours a week for my current pay and pay for health insurance and be liberated the rest of the time.”

So that’s where I am. I will let you know what happens.

Y’all, it’s a good market for job seekers right now. It’s bizarre.

Let’s make rich people richer!

UNION

I worked at an engineering company for five years. My first four years were wonderful: I had an amazing boss, whom we shall call Amazing Boss henceforth, and we had a great time working together.

Then the company was acquired.

And the new owners hired a bunch of people, including the new CEO, from GE.

If you know anything about how GE works, this is the part that should make you start to worry.

The new CEO started having quarterly town halls.

That part is fine.

But every town hall – indeed, every communication from him, was about the company goal: To earn $3 billion in revenue.

That was it: To Earn A Lot of Money.

Not to Make Great Products. Not to Be The Best in Our Field. Not to Make Customers Happy.

But to Earn A Lot of Money.

I tried to explain to my new boss, who also came from GE and who was in charge of internal communications, that perhaps engineers would relate more to a different goal – one that wasn’t, “Let’s make sure shareholders and executives get rich.”

I told her many many times that the CEO’s message was bad.

“This company leads our space in patents,” I said. “The engineers are super smart people who want to do cool things. That’s what motivates them – not making money for someone else.”

She ignored me and, in less than a year, she re-org’d me out of the company.


While Mr T and I were on vacation, my boss texted me with a question. I understand why he did it – my company is highly bureaucratic and there can be Drama.

It took me less than two minutes to answer the question and – done.

But it was the first time in my entire life that work has contacted me while I was on vacation.

I was not happy.

A dear friend told me that I don’t understand nature of work these days.

Maybe.

But I am not paid enough and I am really not important enough that I need to be available all the time.


A few years ago, as I sat next to a co-worker waiting for a meeting to start, I read that the Teamsters had led a successful initiative to cut executive pay at McKesson.

“Rock on, my union siblings!” I said as I summarized the story for my co-worker.

“They’re just jealous,” he said.

It wasn’t until I was about to fall asleep that night that I came up with the perfect answer, which was, “Oh? Do you think you’re management? Because you’re not. You and I? WE ARE LABOR.”

It took me a long time to reach that realization, but now?

I am labor. And I don’t really care if the execs get rich.

This is Wisconsin not New York here we get up early

Yeah I know it’s August and I’m closed but this is quick

It’s Sunday morning.

Unfortunately, I woke up a little after 7:00 instead of sleeping gloriously late.

When I got to my computer, I discovered messages from two of the people I am giving stuff to via my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing group.

They both want to come by before 10:00 a.m.

On a weekend.

Bless their hearts – who does chores early on a Sunday? (I mean, besides farmers?)

The European August

Ferme’ pour vacances

Mr T and me enjoying very expensive cane sugar Coke in Madrid, but the price did include sitting at a table in a beautiful park for as long as we wanted, so it was worth it.

To quote my friend Lisa at Privilege, I am “taking August off like I was European or something.”

I will be back in September.

(Everything’s fine. I’m just lazy.)

Engineers gonna engineer

“What ees ‘wee-jeet?'”

A few years ago, I went to a training about how to become a product manager. It was for engineers and I was one of the very few non-engineers in the room, but my boss wanted me to go because all the product managers I supported were going and he wanted me to speak their language.

We broke into teams to do an exercise – to take an assigned persona and figure out what she might care about and how to convert the product technical attributes into benefits that would appeal to her.

Our persona was John, a VP of sales.

(Yes I know I used “she” – I use “she” as my default pronoun these days.)

That was all the information we had. We were supposed to make up the rest.

Making stuff up is stressful for engineers, as it requires operating in ambiguity.

Most of the team wanted to figure out who John was and what John’s company made.

“College graduate?” they asked.

“Married?”

I nodded as I noted their comments, thinking to myself that none of that was really relevant. But when one is on a team and one is not the boss of the team, one tends to go along, especially when it’s a team of strangers.

“How old is he?” they asked.

We agreed that as a VP, he was at least in his early 40s.

Bob looked at his phone and said, “We have only ten minutes to finish.”

“Let’s figure out what John’s concerns are,” I suggested. “Sales pipeline? Conversion rates? Data quality? None of those have anything to do with the product.”

No! “What does the company make?” they wanted to know.

“I don’t think John’s product really matters,” I said.

Bob, the other non engineer on my team, nodded in agreement.

But another person on the team said, “iPhones!”

A second person said, “No, software!”

I tried again. “I don’t think it really matters! John’s concerns are about the process!”

Bob agreed. “It doesn’t matter what the company makes. All sales VPs have similar issues, regardless of what they are selling.”

The team fell silent.

Bob and I tried to explain about Big Picture Thinking to engineers.

No insult to engineers. Mr T is an engineer. His ability to focus on and resolve the tiny details means we almost never have to pay repairpeople, including the Microwave Replacement Project of July 2014 Over Which We Nearly Divorced.

If there is a discrepancy in a bill, he will find it and resolve it. He plans all of our amazing trips, including finding the best airline deals, finding the hotels and making reservations, planning the in-country transportation, and in general, doing every single bit of the kind of work I hate so that all I have to do is follow him on our adventures.

We have engineers to thank for airplanes that fly without crashing and for other machines that don’t kill us.

Engineers do great work!

But – the Big Picture – abstract thinking – is not their favorite thing.

Bob and I tried again to explain that no matter what John is selling, he faces issues common to all sales VPs. Things like, “Are my people seeing enough prospects? How many prospects turn into customers? What does my sales pipeline even look like? Do I have a clear view of who is in which stage? What is our online presence? Is it effective?”

We finally convinced them that we did not have to define the product to understand John’s concerns.

We finally convinced them that we did not have to nail down every single little detail to solve this problem.

We finally convinced them that we should be figuring out what John cares about as opposed to his background and the company’s products.

Exhale. Bob and I exhaled.

“But -” asked one engineer. “What do they make?”

Bob and I stared at him. Hadn’t we just gone through all this?

The engineer stared back.

“Widgets,” Bob answered wearily. “Widgets. They make widgets.”

The French Canadian on our team – the handsome guy with the two-day stubble and a light-blue scarf looped jauntily around his neck in that European way where you fold the scarf in half and then pull the two loose ends through the loop, the guy who spent every break standing just outside the doors smoking, leaned forward, frowned, and asked, “But – what ees ‘wee-jeet?'”

We – did not complete the exercise before time was up.

But then, neither did any of the other teams.

“Governing while female”

Madame senator/Dr inventor of something amazing/Ms CEO – How do you balance your career with your family responsibilities?

I have a college friend who is a state-level elected official.

She won’t join any groups on facebook because she knows she will be hassled by strangers.

She gets hate email to her work email address.

Lat month, she had to figure out how to tell the public about an accident her little girl had – the girl fell and broke her ankle. Most of us don’t need to share that kind of information with strangers, but if you’re a a woman in politics, it’s required.

When Jim Sensenbrenner’s wife had a stroke, I don’t think he made a public statement about it. Nobody asks the men what’s going on in their home lives.

But if a woman has any degree of distraction – well, she owes us an explanation!

Actually, it’s probably more preventive – if a woman is distracted, her opponents are going to tear her apart.

So my friend put out a statement about her kid, although she tried to be as vague as possible. It’s personal. It’s her child. Her child is not part of this.

But because my friend had to miss a public event – when your child has just broken her ankle, you are not going to leave her alone at home so you can cut a ribbon, she had to give a reason that would be good enough.

That’s not even the story I want to tell here. I don’t think any of you are surprised that the expectations of women are completely different from the expectations of men.

Here’s the real story:

My friend did all of this – and also made a speech on the floor of the legislature and walked in a 4th of July parade – while working in an emergency biopsy.

Yes.

She went for her regular mammogram and her doc was concerned enough that she said BIOPSY NOW TODAY THIS MINUTE.

She gave a speech while not only worrying about her little girl but also wondering if she had breast cancer.

I am going to say that again: She gave a speech on the floor of the legislature while she was waiting for the results of an emergency biopsy.

“Why didn’t she just tell people?” Mr T asked. “How could she do all of that without breaking down?”

He asked that sincerely.

Because if a man – an elected official – shared that kind of personal information, nobody would say, “See? That’s why men are unfit for public office! They get so distracted by family and personal issues!”

But if a woman shares that information – well, that’s why women aren’t fit to hold office. If a woman gets emotional – btw, anger is an emotion but when men express anger, they are “passionate,” not “too emotional” – then she is wrong. If a man shares intimate health information, he’s brave. If a woman does it, she’s oversharing and this is why women should not be in public office.

Midwestern nice

Sometimes a peach is just a peach

Is this just a midwestern thing? I find it – odd.

I have, more than once, given something – in this case, a dozen peaches from the case we bought from the Tree-Ripe folks – to a friend only to be asked how much they owe me.

Nothing! I answer.

No, really, they insist, how much?

It’s – a gift, I say, while thinking, Isn’t it obvious that an unprompted delivery of an item is not considered a shared expense but a gift?

I didn’t ask them beforehand if they wanted to split getting a case of peaches.

I didn’t ask, “Would you like to buy some peaches from me?”

I showed up at their front doors with a dozen peaches.

I had mentioned the peaches to them before, when I told them about the peach truck and how great the peaches were, and when Mr T got ours, we thought, That’s a lot of peaches we can share some.

So they asked me how much money they owed me and I said nothing no really I mean nothing.

I guess they wanted to be sure that they were not offending me and that they had not misunderstood the previous conversation – but here’s what I want to know: Has anyone ever answered, “That will be ten dollars” to a question like that?

Britney, I’m sorry

I’m ready to start taking names

When I first started writing this post, it was before all the news about Britney and her conservatorship.

All I can think of when I read those stories is how you don’t hear about men being treated that way and about how history doesn’t change.

Isn’t this how women – inconvenient women – have always been treated?

Witches. Whores. Crazy.

Whatever.

When women don’t agree with the men, the men need to get them in line.

When women challenge men, men need to get the women in line.

That, by the way, is what Mr T’s father told him to do to me when I challenged him once. I mostly kept my mouth shut around Mr T’s dad because he punished any challenge to his jerkiness by taking it out on Mr T’s mom, but one time, Father in Law, FIL for short because I don’t want to waste time thinking of a name for him (also – have you noticed how most of the women in the Bible don’t have names? Does that make you as angry as it makes me?)

Anyhow, FIL had said something to my lovely niece and FIL was wrong and I was tired of it and I challenged him and – well, it ended with FIL calling Mr T into his bedroom to tell Mr T to – yes – GET ME IN LINE.

Which Mr T laughed when he told me the story because Mr T and I?

We are aligned on the fact that his dad was a jerk. Now, six years after his parents’ death, we are even more aligned but WOW HAVE I GOTTEN OFF TOPIC.

Anyhow.

I apologize to Britney Spears.

To Monica Lewinsky.

To Jessica Simpson.

To Katherine Heigl.

To Shannon Dougherty.

To any woman who has been mocked and derided in public because she is “difficult.” Or doesn’t conform.

Or, like Britney, who was clearly troubled and needed help and we – I – I cannot speak for the rest of you, but I did this. I did this and I am ashamed. I laughed at her and I mocked her. I mocked her as she shaved her head, even though I knew that when women cut off their own hair, it’s a sign of distress.

I absorbed the story that these women were not doing it right and deserved the way they were being treated.

They were challenging the status quo!

And we can’t have that, can we?

I was going along with the story as I was seeing it instead of thinking for myself and wondering why Britney and Katherine and Shannon and Jessica and Monica and any disagreeable woman might be labeled as such.

If you stand up for yourself – if you counter the prevailing narrative, you will be shot down.

I am sorry that I didn’t defend my fellow women. But I will defend them now.