5 Things Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Women’s Health

According to myth and legend, women are inherently mysterious. This is, of course, untrue; women are no more mysterious than men – but women’s health, on the other hand? Well, that’s seemingly just about as mysterious as it gets. The general knowledge around women’s health is frighteningly unclear, and often suffers from a number of myths and misconceptions that cause real problems for women striving to be as healthy as possible.

Pop culture is by far the biggest transgressor in this regard, taking myths about women’s health and stating them as if they are fact. In an effort to provide some clarity to the situation, below is a guide to five things that pop culture has a tendency to repeat – all of which are completely untrue.

#1 – Every breast lump is bad news

If a woman in a TV show or movie finds a breast lump, it’s cancer. Every single time, without fail.

In some ways, this myth – or how it’s used in drama – is somewhat understandable. A plotline of “woman finds lump, gets it checked out, turns out that it’s completely fine and there’s no reason to worry” isn’t the best fodder for fiction, but the immediate lump/cancer connection does create a lot of unnecessary fear for women who do find lumps.

So, let’s make it clear: a breast lump does not mean that a woman has cancer. There are countless different causes of breast lumps and, in fact, some lumps aren’t really lumps – they’re just part of the natural changes a woman experiences during her cycle.

Of course, that’s not say it’s pointless to be aware of changes to your breast tissue – you should pay attention, and the tips below are useful for that:

Additionally, if you do find a lump, you absolutely should seek further medical advice. However, it is important to know that lumps do not definitely equal cancer, and 80% of lumps that are biopsied are completely benign, so try not to worry unduly.

#2 – Women get PMS during their period

This is such a strange myth, given that the clue is in the name, but it arises time and again, across TV shows, movies, and books. Here’s how it goes:

  • Woman displays the signs of PMS; most commonly, they become overemotional
  • Everyone around woman in TV show says that the woman must be on her period

The problem with this is that the majority of the emotional disturbances, and other PMS symptoms, occur the week prior to a woman’s period starting. Like we said, the clue is quite literally in the name: pre-menstrual syndrome. If a woman is showing signs of PMS, it means her period is imminent, not that it’s already begun – in fact, many women report that the first day of their period sees an immediate cessation in all PMS symptoms so, really, this myth literally couldn’t be more baffling.

Some people have defended this myth by saying that it’s effectively attempting to lampshade the issue, and male characters are the ones who draw the conclusion that PMS = woman is on her period. This, however, is still not particularly helpful, especially when it’s rarely made clear that the male character is incorrect in their conclusions.

In addition, it’s also worth drawing attention to the fact that the only PMS symptom ever portrayed in fiction is a tendency to be overly emotional. While this is a PMS symptom, it’s far from the only one; it’s difficult not to conclude that this being seen as the only sign of PMS is related to the old misogynistic myth that women are just too emotional anyway. A depiction of a woman experiencing brain fog or being excessively tired due to PMS would be nice to see in future!

#3 – The morning after pill is an “abortion pill”

Charlie Brooker’s beloved TV series, Black Mirror, found itself in the eye of the storm when its episode ‘Arkangel’ featured a plotline where it suggested the morning after pill is an abortion pill.

Unfortunately, Black Mirror was just the latest TV show to rely on this old claim; The Walking Dead featured a similar plotline in series two, and there are plenty of other examples that rely on the same idea. This is a particularly worrying trend, given that the insistence that the morning after pill is an abortion pill is often used by those seeking to deny women the right to contraceptive services, so there’s serious real-world implications with this myth.

So, let’s keep it simple: the morning after pill is not an abortion pill. In fact, its entire point is to prevent pregnancy from developing in the first place. The morning after pill is an essential emergency contraceptive that millions of women rely on for a variety of reasons; it isn’t, and cannot be, a form of abortion.

#4 – There is always a reason for infertility

TV shows, movie, books, and all forms of media like cause and effect. They like the idea that if there is a problem, it can be identified, and ideally, it can be solved. This is exemplified by discussions related to infertility: a problem is discovered, there’s a cause for it, and it can either be remedied or the couple immediately consider abortion.

It would be nice if real life were always so straightforward but, unfortunately, this just isn’t the case. Unexplained infertility is incredibly common; this happens when both people in the couple are in fine health and show no signs of underlying issues, but they cannot conceive. Unexplained infertility is just that, unexplained, and can cause a huge amount of distress for a couple – without a problem to remedy, their quest for parenthood can be extremely difficult to process.

While infertility can be caused by a range of health conditions, the human body doesn’t always provide simple answers, and pop culture could do with being more aware that sometimes there just isn’t an obvious reason why a couple can’t conceive. This change wouldn’t even impact storylines – couples who experience unexplained fertility will usually then proceed to IVF and similar options anyway – so there’s really no reason to stick to the old cause and effect explanation.

#5 – A hysterectomy will cure endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common condition that impacts millions of women. It is best described as a condition that causes the womb lining, the endometrium, to grow outside of the womb.

The natural solution to this problem seems to be a hysterectomy, and far too many books, magazines, and TV shows that really should know better suggest this as a viable treatment for endometriosis. In some ways, it’s good that endometriosis is even being discussed – the condition has benefited from awareness campaigns in recent years, and a number of celebrities have discussed their own experiences with the disease – but the suggestion of a hysterectomy as a solution just isn’t based in medical fact. A hysterectomy is not a cure for endometriosis; the condition can recur even after the procedure, and the procedure itself has a number of complications in and of itself.

Worryingly, the suggestion that a hysterectomy can cure endometriosis is even misunderstood in the medical profession, as this Tweet mentions:

In some ways, the confusion makes sense: it seems natural to suggest that removing the womb removes the womb lining, and thus the problem is solved – but this simply isn’t true. It’s wonderful that endometriosis is now being discussed openly, but the suggestion that there’s a “cure” is distressing for women who have been diagnosed with the condition, and needs to be eradicated from the general discourse.

In conclusion

Women’s health is a subject that is confusing – even for women themselves! – but pop culture and its continual repetition of a number of myths are certainly not helping anyone swim against the tide of confusion. Hopefully, as more and more women join the staff for TV shows, movies, and newspapers, the myths above will gradually fade from view, replaced by sound, reliable advice and understanding that benefits everyone.

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