Back in 2012, an academic study was published under the following title: "Attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis: a case-control study." And yes, it is exactly as it sounds. Real researchers had decided to spend their time and money examining how attractive people with endometriosis are. What's even more shocking is that a well-respected scientific journal, Fertility and Sterility, had agreed to publish it.
Over the past few days, the study has come to Twitter's attention, scoring thousands of retweets and comments for its outright sexism. At the time of its publication, obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter Professors labelled its title as "obscene". Now, several more medical experts have fuelled the fire with their outrage. Not forgetting the sheer anger emanating from those who have the condition.
According to Endometriosis UK, 10 percent of women in the world have endometriosis. That's an estimated figure of 176 million people. There is no known cause or cure, and diagnosis takes an average of seven-and-a-half years (attributed to the fact that women's symptoms are still not listened to). Even the treatments available aren't always effective, leaving many in severe pain.
As journalist Lucy Pasha-Robinson wrote for HuffPost: "Sufferers like me are crying out for more research into this condition that affects one in 10, for better treatment options, for more funding and greater awareness." The majority of studies into endometriosis are appreciated by both the medical community and the average person. But one that analyses an unimportant factor like "attractiveness"? Clearly not necessary, nor welcome.
Carried out by academics at the University of Milan, the study evaluated physical attractiveness in 300 women; some with endometriosis and some without.
Four independent female and male observers are reported to have assessed the participants, concluding that women with rectovaginal endometriosis — the most severe form — were "more attractive" than those with peritoneal or ovarian endometriosis and those without the condition. Notably, the women in the first group were said to have a "leaner silhouette, larger breasts," and had first had sexual intercourse at an earlier age.
In a later article, researchers tried to defend their decision. They explained that female attractiveness could be linked to higher oestrogen levels, potentially meaning that women with "the most feminine phenotype" were more likely to develop "aggressive and infiltrating endometriotic lesions."
"By no means did we trivialise or disregard all the major problems associated with endometriosis," Paolo Vercellini, an associate professor at the university, said. "We understand very well the suffering of women afflicted by this disease and, as physicians, strive every day to alleviate their physical and psychological pain.
"For this reason we are eager to investigate new ideas that might help shed light on the still unclear causes of endometriosis. This is why we did this study and we hope our research can become another building block in our quest to understand why some women develop endometriosis — or even different types of endometriosis — and others don’t."
Although the study was published seven years ago, the issues it brings to the forefront sadly still exist. Women have been discriminated against in the healthcare realm for decades, notes the Guardian. Their concerns are routinely dismissed, research and funding into their health issues is still lacking, and they are inadequately treated by medical professionals. Statistics exist to back these points up, but you don't need them; all you need to hear are the anecdotes from millions of women across the world.
Sexist, classist, and even racist language has filled historical endometriosis texts, as recent commentary published in the BJOG journal states. Although less common today, the author explains how such views "may still consciously or unconsciously influence clinical care," leading to a more difficult diagnosis path for people of colour, for example.
It's time to stop tolerating healthcare inequity and start treating it for what it really is: complete and utter discrimination. Ensuring that a study like the one above is never published again is a small but steady step in the right direction.