I took one day off of high school after having major back surgery and being incapacitated for five days. I went to work when I threw up an hour before. I sat through a class in excruciating pain from a chemical burn in my eye. This narrative is alike many women who work through pain and illness to fight to gain the same respect as their male counterparts.
Every month for five days, women have their periods and learn to deal with the pain. They were taught early on that their pain and side effects from their periods was not to be taken seriously. Conditions associated with reproductive health have had their validity questioned by republicans. Some conditions such as endometriosis are seen as myths by some men. Birth control pills used to treat these conditions are still not universally covered by insurance in the US, while Viagra has is covered.
After going through puberty, girls are still expected to be in school, or else they would fall behind. They grin and bare through period pain without little sympathy. And they do it willingly because girls want to learn and be successful.
The playing ground is uneven in the workforce. Women get paid less than men for the same job. Women are in less managerial positions than men. Men with a high school degree are paid more than women with a college degree. Men are encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology while women are expected to take on social sciences jobs that historically pay less. Women are aware of this and feel reverberations of sexism in the workplace. That is why women work so hard to be taken seriously and ignore physical and mental health issues.
Women take more sick days than men, but it is typically to watch over their sick children. There are times when we should be able to take a sick day when we are actually ill without feeling we will fall behind our male counterparts or else we will fall to exhaustion.
That is why I am not at all surprised that Hillary Clinton has pneumonia. It is not because of the conspiracy theory that her health is failing, it’s because she has to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, at the expense of her health.
This does not mean that she unfit to serve as president or that any woman is unfit to be president for that matter. It means that we have to put less pressure on women to be perfect. The workplace has to be evened so women will allow self care into their lives, just as men do. Other men have been in Hillary’s position and faced far less questioning when they were ill. Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer’s while serving as president.
The narrative of women being “too weak” to serve in a leadership role needs to disintegrate.