In Reporting Pain, Men Are the Norm

The title of a recent New York Times blog post reads “In Reporting Pain, Women the More Sensitive Sex”. The article discusses the results of a Stanford University study that were published this week, comparing women’s and men’s reports of pain for identical medical ailments. What is mysteriously absent from the article in all of its hand wringing about women reporting “more pain” is a very obvious answer for the discrepancy: men simply underreport pain.

The entire article frames the issue as stemming from women, and that it is women who are differing from the default persons, males.

Do women feel more pain than men? […]

Over all, [women’s] pain levels were about 20 percent higher than men’s.

[…] why women report higher pain levels.

[…] why women’s brains process pain differently than men.

There is no reason to posit the topic this way, unless you think women are the anomaly and that women must be investigated for this differential. The headlines of many other publications talking about this research used similar formulas, considering male experience the baseline human experience. San Francisco Chronicle, “Women found to report much more pain than men” . . . Wall Street Journal blog, “Is Pain More Painful for Women?”. . . CBS News, “Women feel more pain than men, study finds.” You get the picture.

This particular study is not evidence that women and men’s brains do process pain differently, yet it is presumed that they do and that this is solely due to ‘nature’ of some sort. The lead author of the study, a professor at Stanford’s medical school, Dr. Atul Butte, swiftly dismisses the idea that men’s social conditioning has anything to do with their underreporting of pain:

“While you can imagine such a bias,” he said, “across studies, across thousands of patients, it’s hard to believe men are like this. You have to think about biological causes for the difference.”

Nope, it can’t be due to gender socialization that tells men that they must not be “weak”, i.e. “like a woman”. It must be biology! Because the good doctor says so. (And what a succinct example of patriarchal reasoning there too: “You’re imagining it. Men aren’t like that, but if they are it isn’t their fault.”)

Besides this glaring omission in interpreting the results, many other potential explanations are left out. Might women feel compelled to report more pain because doctors won’t take them seriously unless they do so? In the NYT comment section alone, two women wrote that their doctors didn’t take their menstrual pain seriously until they mentioned how they had actually passed out from the pain.

Perhaps women are better (or more honest) in communicating?

What about the role of mental health and the physical manifestations certain disorders take on (e.g. depression and pain)? Could a preexisting chronic pain disorder amplify other pain that a woman experiences? All of the stress and trauma experienced by females add up to a whole lot of “unexplained” physical ailments, which are likely to be the physical symptoms of PTSD or anxiety disorders brought about by male violence. Besides women having made this connection for themselves, there’s also a good deal of research connecting trauma and chronic pain. Last month, the CDC released results of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

[The] findings indicate female victims of violence had a significantly higher prevalence of long-term health problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, frequent headaches, chronic pain, and difficulty sleeping. And nearly twice as many women who were victims of violence reported having asthma, compared to women who did not report violence victimization.

Even the New York Times post began to allude to sex specificity and chronic pain, before backing off and resorting to other potential causes for sex differences:

And chronic pain after childbirth is surprisingly common; the Institute of Medicine recently found that 18 percent of women who have Caesarean deliveries and 10 percent who have vaginal deliveries report still being in pain a year later.

Nah, but I’m sure it’s just that women are more whiny and like to complain. Because biology. Yup, that’s it.

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19 comments
  1. FCM said:

    i think since men are necrophiliacs at heart, and they want to die and they want everyone else to die, that they just dont care about pain, being that its a warning signal that somethings wrong. they hope its true, and that if they ignore it long enough maybe they’ll die from it. its also well known that men wont go to a doctor without a woman nagging them to do so. its unfortunate in probably thousands of ways that women and children are dependent financially and in other ways upon men, who dont simply “not care” care if ANYONE lives or dies, including themselves, but they seem to actively work to bring that about.

    and yes, women live with more chronic pain than men do, because of what men do to women and the trauma we experience, including trauma from childbirth. this needs to be explored in depth, but it probably wont be. they will just continue denying womens histories, and making up names for various “unexplained” pain disorders that only women have (that men cause), and being ineffectual and malefactant in treating pain and chronic pain which is notoriously “difficult to treat.” in fact, being that chronic pain *is* basically untreatable, i think thats another excellent reason to stay away from men who would harm us, to the extent thats possible. i mean really. they cant even treat the damage they do to women. or, you know, they wont.

  2. FCM said:

    honestly, i suspect its entirely boner-inducing in men to know that women and children are dependent on them, while they arent taking care of themselves and are setting themselves up for an early death. i think the thought of their wives and children out on the street is pleasurable and a power-trip for them, and they love it.

  3. yttik said:

    I read this study and laughed because it’s common wisdom among many women that men are definitely the “sensitive sex.” Sure they probably under-report their pain to the medical establishment, but they absolutely make up for it in other places. Male whining about pain is legendary. A paper cut, a head cold, can send a dozen women scurrying about for chicken soup and morphine…. for weeks! Seriously, it can be so ridiculous, many of my women friends have joked about now believing in assisted suicide. A guy I know cut his finger recently and got two stitches. He’s all very macho and tough about it in public, but his poor wife has been practically packing a diaper bag full of ice packs and pain meds and following him around 24/7 because every time nobody is looking he whines about how much it hurts and practically accuses her of causing it.

    Women also barely get to OWN their own pain. We are the ones who actually feel childbirth, but often it is perceived as really men’s pain, they have to be catered to and cared for so they don’t pass out or crash the car or something. Birth is tough on men. Menstrual cramps are actually felt by the woman, but of course men are perceived as doing all the suffering from them. So men not only wallow in their own pain, they wallow in ours, too.

  4. ibleedpurple said:

    This is so funny!

    Taking off from what yttik said I just recently watched a show in which a doctor explained that men supposedly experience pain to be more intense because women are better at getting used to it. They did a little experiment in which they poked both men and women repeatedly with a piece of wire: women were asked about what they felt and quickly adapated to the new sensation while men where still complaining about discomfort long after being poked for the first time. The good doctor opined that women were better at handling it because of monthly menstrual pain.

    From what I can tell men underreporting pain levels is quite well-known (at least in the presence of a doctor) and I am angry that blatant biological determinism is being paraded around. It actually seems to be getting worse. Makes me wonder if I have to open the newspaper some day and happen upon a scientist claiming that the size of my liver destines me to be more stupid than a man.

  5. FCM said:

    yes it is funny, and the whining and crying at trivial medical problems like paper cuts and headcolds reveals that men can be necrophiliacs while *still* being gynergy-sucking vampires. who knew!? these things are not inconsistent, and are in fact completely consistent with virulent misogyny. forcing women to “nag” them to go to the doctor for preventative medicine or treatment of serious or potentially serious ailments is also gynergy-sucking. this is completely their MO in every context.

    Married men live longer ‘as wives nag them to visit their GP’

    Married men may have longer lives because their wives nag them to see their doctor, research shows. And both men and women in committed relationships are more likely to do regular exercise, adding years to their life, researchers say.

    The study, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Surrey, sheds new light on the benefits of marriage.

    Social scientists found married men were 6 per cent more likely to go to the doctor than single men who had no one to tell them they needed a check-up.

    They found women were 34 per cent more likely to keep fit through regular exercise in a relationship, and men were 20 per cent more likely to go out for a run once a week if they were married.

    But women were just as likely to go to the doctor if they were single or married. Researchers argue that the findings suggest health authorities should target campaigns towards single men aiming at getting them to visit their GP.

    Hendrik Schmitz, of Germany’s Ruhr Graduate School in Economics, who conducted the study, said the findings showed the wide range of benefits of being in a long-term relationship.

    Mr Schmitz said: ‘If a woman goes to the doctor, the likelihood of her partner also visiting the doctor increases by 6 percentage points.

    ‘But if the man visits the doctor, this does not seem to affect the woman’s behaviour. An individual who is in a relationship usually wants the partner in good health because they care for them.’

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1262179/Married-men-live-longer-wives-nag-visit-GP.html

    The Nagging Effect: Better Health for Married Men

    Relationship researchers have long known that marriage is associated with better health, particularly for men. One reason is that wives often take on the role of caregiver, setting up doctor appointments and reminding, even nagging, their husbands to go.

    The notion that a nagging effect leads to better health for men is bolstered by new research showing that among heart attack victims, married men arrive at the hospital soonest.

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/the-nagging-effect-better-health-for-married-men/

  6. Isis said:

    “And chronic pain after childbirth is surprisingly common; the Institute of Medicine recently found that 18 percent of women who have Caesarean deliveries and 10 percent who have vaginal deliveries report still being in pain a year later.

    Nah, but I’m sure it’s just that women are more whiny and like to complain. Because biology. Yup, that’s it.”

    I, for one, do NOT think menstruation or childbirth is naturally as painful or as much of a “hassle” as the male-dominated medical industry thinks it is, and has caused it to be. Is there any necessary male function that is supposed to be painful?

    It’s also because these asshole male doctors have encountered “annoying” feminists in the past who complain about women’s rights and women always being hurt, so they take it out on the next woman they see, which happens to be his patient, even if she isn’t a feminist or isnt’ complaining about women in specific.

  7. I notice four contradictory tendencies with men here regarding pain, from what you’ve been saying:
    a) men underreport pain in front of other men, people, male authorities, to show they’re not “wimps”, they’e “macho”, etc. to maintain the illusion they’re stronger than women.
    b) men disregard any sign of pain (would it be in themselves, with women, animals or the environment) beacuse taking the pain signs seriously would mean stop using the tools for which they retain control over women and the world. They don’t want to stop ruling women and the world through distruction, so they keep ignoring pain signs.
    c) men are crybabies whenever it means being a parasitic vampire to a women, preferrably the women they “own” > this way it reinforces her servility, keeps her mind and body occupied by him.
    d) however, sometimes it also womes in handy to say that women feel less pain because they’re more used to it: this makes it ok to inflict more pain on women or ignore when they are actually in pain. (the fact is that women having their bodies constantly invaded, prodded, attacked etc, are usually more prone to dissociate from their bodies).

    In fact, this shows me that men do and say whatever they damn want, because they can but also because they’ll invent anything and go to any extent to justify and reinforce their control of women.

  8. FCM said:

    chronic pain after childbirth is SURPRISINGLY common, ay? surprising to who, exactly? im sure that finding wouldnt come as a “surprise” to one of the hundreds of thousands (millions) of women across time and place who have experienced it firsthand.

  9. Mocha Erinys said:

    Awe, the dudebro media, academia and medical industry are at it again. Peer review?…just an euphemism for circle-jerk, misogynistic bullshit, passing itself off as an “intellectual truth”. This is how Patriarchy maintains its monopoly over the cultural–and “scientific” and “medical”–narrative, which becomes propaganda of course. As witchwind said above, men will say and do anything to reaffirm their sado-parasitic dominance over womankind in all sectors of life, and they’ll use their industries, media outlets, government and so on to serve that purpose. How interesting that men can change their stories and be obnoxiously and willfully inconsistent, and yet retain their default credibility status. Sociopathy anyone?

  10. Excellent post, Lishra, thanks. How do professional medical researchers miss the one thing that would be obvious to even a budding anthropologist: The doctors themselves determined the likely outcome of the self-reporting. The results were going to be skewed just based on how badly the experimental conditions were. And those conditions also vary too widely for the study author to account for. But whattya know, when mildly called one alternative explanation, he just pulled something out of his butt, dismissed the obvious problem, and went on right ahead getting quoted in the national media.

  11. This reveals the complete imposture of male scientists in general, how fake it all is. It’s all a façade they set up (like everything else) to legitimate their power – their sadopropaganda they then use to “enseminate” and occupy women’s minds. The status, money and prestige they get for blabbing out such piss-poor findings that even a 2 year-old could spot the inconsisties is just laughable.

    Male science is the new modern patriarchal religion: a patriarchal self-fulfiling prophecy, where a bunch of inner circle jocks get to decide what is scientific, what’s not, and therefore what’s true and what’s not, what counts as knowledge and what not. And the male scientific dogma is a simple continuation of religious dogma: they got rid of this pretend male father and decided that all men are gods after all, so whatever they say is true as gold. They said fuck religion, they found this male god too constraining, they decided they were the gods, they were the ones who should rule women and the world, and they should be deciding what’s true and what’s not. Really, that’s the history of science. Bacon, Newton, Compte, Descartes and all the industrial sciencey anti-religion revolutionaries were very explicit about it.

  12. Mocha Erinys: YES. Sociopathy. In spades.

  13. karmarad said:

    The androcentrism of science is one area in which feminists in academia have rejected the postmodernist paradigm and are making some fundamental observations about the masculinist roots of scientific research. Elizabeth Anderson’s “Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense” (Anderson, 1995) discusses four ways that feminist critiques can correct the distorted lenses of masculinist science: through identifying and critiquing gendered structures in the social organization of science, through analyzing gendered symbols in scientific models, through exposing sexism in scientific practices and focuses, and through revealing androcentrism in scientific concepts and theories.

    This particular mix of science and androcentrism seems to need all four kinds of critique.

  14. This study is so very typical in that it is male biased because they are measuring the results against a male baseline, instead of a neutral one. How utterly ridiculous–but typical. I’ve had several men in particular who have gotten pissed off at me because I said that everything that has been created out of patriarchy is male biased, including science. The men claim that this is not the case because the “scientific method” was created to make sure biases do not occur. This study is a very good example of the male bias I was talking about. If we are always measuring everything against the male default gender, everything that is measured from this male baseline is biased and consequently, the results are worthless. This particular study is no exception. This type of biased research IS THE NORM IN PATRIARCHY. And this is why we cannot trust any of the results that come out of this type of bias. We have to remember that a lot of our assumptions, beliefs and/ or knowledge on what human nature is comes from male biased science and studies. For example, we believe that violence and war is human nature, that human beings are violent and warlike by nature. This however is only true for the male human being, not the female so if we use this same logic, wouldn’t it also be true to say that violence and war is NOT human nature, that human beings are not violent and warlike by nature because females are not violent and warlike? War and violence is the lowest form of problem solving, the least evolved and yet war has been the main problem solving tool used by men the entire patriarchal history.

    The same goes for females reporting pain more often than men. Couldn’t it also be true that men are not normal in regards to reporting pain because they don’t report it enough and females do? If we apply the same reasoning that they applied in this study and make the baseline “female” then the results would be turned on its head. The same goes for every study that has come out of patriarchy. Everything that we believe is absolutely male biased—except of course for the studies that take this male bias into consideration and account for it as a part of the study. Unfortunately, females are taught since birth that there is something wrong with them physically and emotionally, just because they are female and not male; therefore, perhaps because they have been taught to not trust their own instincts about their bodies and their psyches, they seek professional help — outside of themselves — because they have been taught to not listen to their authentic self. Females are literally indoctrinated into a system that needs them to be dependent on men. Females are broken and force fed a male prescribed female self that they have to adopt to survive. This male prescribed female self is by design, flawed, dependent, needy, weak and easier to control. She is also relegated to being non human– something other. She is not a whole human being unless she is with a man–he completes her. Therefore, she has an emptiness inside of her where her authentic self should be and this in and of itself would drive anyone to seek external help. Of course then when we also talk about the constant violence, oppression, misogyny & sexism against females that is the norm in our society how can we even question why a female has pain? To me it would make more sense to question how she could not have pain? Or even how could she survive this and still be sane?

    It is extremely frustrating to see this type of bias everywhere and at the same time it is also invisible due to this same bias being an integral part of our social system. This practice of using a male baseline is the norm in patriarchy and yet I am supposed to believe that science isn’t male biased? Really? Even if you use the scientific method, if your study has a male foundation, the study is biased prior to using the scientific method. I have tried and tried and tried to communicate to people, even feminists that we need to understand that we all have male biased thinking due to our indoctrination into patriarchy and that patriarchal ways of doing things is only one way, the male way. I’ve tried and tried and tried to communicate to people that the female way, the authentic female way at least in the past 4 or 5 thousand years, has been buried and forgotten however nevertheless–it could be the better way. If we were to just for one minute look at the fact that we base everything we know using a male baseline, that our very foundation is male, and the female is hidden, obscured within the male (a rib comes to mind here) and if we take this fact into consideration and then account for it by separating and liberating the female human being and her attributes, her history, her behaviors, from the male human being, we would then finally see that our planet would be better off if female ideals were the norm. The difficulty here is that the female human being is non existent in our society because she is not autonomous from the male human being. She is not separate and whole but a part of the male. This is why we can’t just look at the female and see how different she is. We can’t see how much more evolved she is because the male human being is standing in front of her, obscuring her. She is a part of him therefore she is guilty by association for his deeds including his violent and warlike history.

    This example of male biased research where they use the male gender as the baseline to measure the female gender is a mirror image of how patriarchy is used as the baseline to measure all societies. That patriarchy is the norm and anything that is different is not normal. This kind of mentality is what is keeping patriarchy steadfast. We need to realize that patriarchy is not the norm, but only our most recent social system that was put in place by men to control women. We need to realize that patriarchy is a baby compared to the matriarchies that existed in our ancient past for 10 to 100 thousand years and similarly we need to understand that females on their own would make better stewards of our planet because females independent of males are more evolved, more peaceful, more cooperative more resilient, more tenacious and more strong willed. I can say this with authority because females have survived against all odds the male human being, the most dangerous enemy to exist on our planet, and she did this without violence and without war.

  15. karmarad said:

    Yes, as Michele points out above, use of the female as the “norm” in many many respects would lengthen lifespans and happiness on our planet. That’s true of so many social norms.

    But here’s a thought about the hard sciences. If there is an “objective” reality out there, we need eventually to know and understand and carefully set aside both male and female norms somehow. I’m thinking about the long long search, during the development of quantum mechanics in the early part of the 20th century, for ways to conceptualize the look and operations of the atom. Of course there were almost no women involved as scientists. Progress kept getting derailed because the model just didn’t work. One famous mathematician said the atom was like a volcano, a big hot phallus with magma shooting out! For decades this idea that when a photon collided with an atom, particles “shot out” prevailed. The scientists finally accepted that the atom is like a droplet of water that “evaporates” its particles. They didn’t like this picture, though, you can tell. Kind of a girly thing, that atom! I have to laugh, thinking that if women were the scientists, using “our” norms, what would we have made of the atom?

    In an even deeper derailment, the men for decades had a terrible time because they couldn’t force certain subatomic particles to choose to be either waves or particles. The ambiguity was killing them! It seems to have derailed quantum mechanics for about twenty years. I have to think, if women had been part of this, they would not have had as hard a time accepting that sometimes a thing can be in two states of mind at once!

    So these problems go very deep in science. Some women philosophers have taken the view that it goes so deep the very concept of objectivity is hopelessly contaminated by masculinist norms. The deepest problem is that when thinking theoretically, even a mathematician ends up becoming a poet, i.e., dreaming up metaphors and analogies to conceptualize the math. But those concepts drift up through a male psychology.

    We don’t have to worry yet about female psychology leading to a lack of objectivity, of course, since women aren’t a strong enough force in the hard sciences yet. Also, we don’t have any way yet of knowing what female psychology actually is, that is, what we are really like, underneath the conflicts caused by our conditioning and training in male paradigms.

    So for now, the best we can do is point out how male psychology, which we all know all too well, frequently deforms the conceptualization of the study, the methodology of the study, and the analysis and conclusions of the study. Like we’re doing with this pain study. And the false conclusions can hurt a lot of people, so it really isn’t funny after all.

  16. Rubbish. If men had to give birth, they would kill themselves. Lol. And actually, what I learned years ago is that women do report higher levels of acute pain but lower levels of pain over the long haul, which means that we’re better at tolerating pain for a prolonged period of time. But again, all of this is what people REPORT. There’s no way to measure what anyone is actually feeling.

  17. lishra said:

    Thanks for that, Ugsome. I love her stuff. Alot 😉

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