On 19 April, MPs in the House of Commons spent two hours debating whether or not to ban vaginal mesh surgery. Vaginal mesh surgeries, for those of you not avidly following gynaecological health, are used to treat incontinence in women, which is most often caused by childbirth or menopause. Over the past year, women have begun suing their doctors over the use of vaginal mesh, as countless women have suffered horrific side effects, such as the mesh actually puncturing the walls of the vaginal canal.
One woman, who was embarrassed and horrified by the fact that her vaginal mesh surgery not only left her debilitated by pain, but also unable to have sex, was told by her doctor to try anal. Where is there a better place for anal based jokes than in the GP office? Hilarious. The fact that these surgeries are so harmful is one issue, the fact that women have been routinely ignored and infantilised when trying to get help is another.
The reason why this surgery has yet to be banned is because it takes so long for anyone to believe women about pretty much anything. I can’t actually believe that we are debating whether or not to ban the mesh, but what I can believe is that concerns about women’s health, especially gynaecological health, are often viewed through the warped prism of the patriarchal perspective.
Vaginas, uteruses and ovaries are all pretty complex. I didn’t fully understand the way my uterus worked until about two months ago; my friends had to draw me a diagram. I learnt a lot, and the fact that I’m still learning things about reproductive health at the ripe age of 22 is indicative of the ways that women’s health is talked about in the UK i.e. not at all.
I know people who get uncomfortable just saying the word vagina. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it’s no different than saying liver, or pancreas. If we can’t even talk about vaginas without getting embarrassed, how on earth can we discuss vaginal problems without melting into puddle of shame?
The vaginal mesh scandal takes its place in the long line of female health issues that are serious and simultaneously not taken seriously. Pain during sex is considered pretty normal for women, which is quite horrifying when you think about it. Endometriosis is often misdiagnosed and ignored, as is ovarian cancer, which is subsequently a particularly fatal kind of cancer. Not only are women not encouraged to discuss their reproductive health openly, they are not taken seriously when they finally muster up the courage to do so.
The patriarchy teaches us that vaginas and the fancy appendages that go with them are dirty, sinful and shameful. The patriarchy also teaches us that women overreact and exaggerate. The vaginal mesh scandal illustrates the horrific results of demonising the female body, and patronising the female mind.