The Misperception of Women and Pain

We are in a period of time in health care where objective evidence is the predominant method of diagnosis. Both men and women are viewed based on what can be physically seen over what is being expressed. Basically, if the problem is not immediately visible, it’s not completely real. This in itself is a terrible injustice of the medical practice. Why would anyone ever rule out the experiential evidence when trying to diagnose a problem.

The injustice gets even deeper when the social norms and studies that challenge those norms are examined. On the surface one would think that men and women are treated equally, but they aren’t. Studies have proven that men are more likely to be taken seriously when reporting pain. But why are women being dismissed. A research paper from University of Maryland, School of Law – The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain, pulls together some compelling studies and the results are shocking.

1. It is a social misperception that women are more tolerant of pain. This is given credence by an urban myth that says women give birth and menstruate so they must be biologically suited to managing pain more effectively. The reality here is that women have simply had to sort out the difference between normal biological pain and other pain, therefore making them acutely more aware of extraordinary pain.

2. The study uses guidelines developed by the World Health Organization as a baseline to examine the difference in treatment between men and women. It points to one source where 42% of women were inadequately treated for pain. While in another source they suggest that women are often perceived as anxious (not in pain) and given a sedative instead of a pain killer.

3. As women are more aware of the abnormal pain they report it more frequently. On the other hand, men tend to wait and suffer till the pain is unbearable. Fact of the matter is that women are reporting it and are taken less seriously than men. They reference a source by McCaffery and Ferrell of 362 nurses and the view of patient pain.

4. The better looking the patient is, the less likely they are going to be viewed as being in pain. This means that because women are generally socialized to care for their appearance, they are more likely to have health care providers view them as not in pain.

Based on this study and the exhaustive list of references, I’m convinced that greater awareness among health care providers of the gender biases needs to be made.

Featured Image Credit: Harald


  1. University of Maryland, School of Law – The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain

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