Younger women feel less shame in "coming out" about
a whole range of medical problems. Starting out life with a higher status in
society than our mothers, and not feeling as obligated to "prove
ourselves" as equals to men, we are more willing to discuss
"weaknesses." For a generation that has come of age with women
speaking out about sexual abuse and assault, sexual preference, and (previously
stigmatized) breast cancer, speaking out about chronic pain seems only natural.
Politically speaking, we are also more secure than past
generations to discuss these issues because of less of a risk of damaging the
women's movement. In the 1970s, the women's health movement mainly focused
on women's physical strengths, at a time when they had to prove them as
"equals" to men, such as with promoting women's sports and stressing
the "truth" of the women's bodies (when doctors were treating
natural experiences like menopause and childbirth as "diseases"
needing heavy medication and dangerous procedures).
In the past several years, we have seen this beginning
trickle of women "coming out" about stigmatized invisible health
issues of all kinds:
Jane Pauley discussing her bipolar disorder in a new book.
Susanna Kaysen (author of Girl, Interrupted) talking about
vaginal pain in the memoir, The Camera My Mother Gave Me.
Celebrities such as Cybill Shepherd talking about irritable bowel
Memoirists on depression, such as Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac
Laura Hillenbrand, bestsellling author of Seabiscuit,
coming out in a New Yorker essay with chronic fatigue syndrome,
only officially classified as a disease since 1988.
A New Activist Movement (Depression's Stepchild) (chapter
Reflecting a general social movement to begin to address such
problems, Congress has declared 2000-2010 "The Decade of Pain Control and
Awareness." This enhanced social focus on chronic pain follows a general
period of growing awareness on a related issue: depression. Like with depression
in the 1990s, campaigns are now beginning to take hold that portray the problem
as a neurological illness, and not as a moral failing or metaphor for a
The source list at the end of the book includes a growing
number of pain-advocacy groups. Some of the leading ones are the American
Chronic Pain Foundation (theacpa.org) and the American Pain Foundation (painfoundation.org).
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