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You are here: MEDICA Portal. Part III: Gender in Medicine. Health Care Politics.

The Slight Difference (Part 2)

The Slight Difference (Part 2)

Part 2: Gender Always Takes Part

It is not sufficient though to only look at the biological differences between men and women. It is at least as important to consider gender in the treatment of patients. The differences between men and women that are determined by society allocating certain roles to the sexes in turn creating stereotypes. „These are flexible and changing over time but in western society they are still quite rigid and fixed“, Ineke Klinge explains. This starts with pink and blue baby clothes. „This results in boys feeling strange when to put on a pink shirt“, the Dutch professor for for Gender Medicine of Maastricht University, Research School Caphri says. This kind of behaviour can influence health, too. The stereotypical man is strong, brave, risky and does not show weakness. Therefore, he does not like talking about health problems and is prone to ignore symptoms that may be caused by a disease. „ Many men go too late to see a doctor and damage their personal health.“

Stereotypical health behaviour has been investigated in adolescents coping with asthma and diabetes . A study has shown that girls incorporate their illness into their personality giving self-injections at school time. Boys keep their disease outside their identity and do not inject in the presence of their peers. That does damage to their health. The conclusion could be that a change in stereotypical behaviour could do good to health. „This is not easy to change because gender roles are so pervasive in our society. Many men and women have internalized these stereotypes. They have been so long with us that they are hard to change.“

The heart attack is not a male condition

As a result, particular diseases have been classified as a condition affecting either male or female individuals. Heart attack is being regarded by society as being a "male" disease, the same is true for strokes. The conseuences are that women are often misdiagnosed in symptoms that actually imply a heart problem - precious time is being wasted. „That behaviour can cost many unnecessary deaths“, according to Klinge. In Berlin, for example, the risk of dying of a heart attack is twice as high for women than for men. Even more interesting the fact that even in medical school the differences between men and women are not a topic. Klinge states: „There is sex and gender and both of them need to be regarded in health care.“

Gender plays another role, too, by influencing communication: Men and women differ in the way of story-telling. A man will tell his doctor: „I have a heart attack!“ A woman on the other side would say: „When visiting my friend's party, I had a sudden pain.“ The different communication patterns are also a reason why women are more often misdiagnosed. „That is why doctors need to learn about the different modes of communication“, Klinge adds. That has been recognised by the EU: In future, education and studies will need to consider sex as well as gender – an innovative way that will lead to a better care for all patients.

Wiebke Heiss

- Part 1: The Slight Difference
- Part 2: Gender Always Takes Part


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