What the nipple piercing incident tells us about attitudes to women’s pain

// 31 March 2008

When 39-year old Mandi Hamlin set off the metal detectors at Lubbock airport, she probably didn’t imagine she’d end up using pliers to remove her nipple piercings while airport security snickered.

The Curvature has more about the incident, pointing out a notable detail which demonstrates that this was not motivated by any concern for exploding body mods: after removing the piercing and being scanned again, Hamlin was sent through onto the plane – without being asked to remove a belly button ring.

It takes a brave woman to come forward in this situation, and I praise Hamlin for refusing to take this shit laying down. It would be much easier to try to forget the whole thing. It would be even easier than that to not seek out publicity and show her face on television. She’s going to face ridicule — compounded, let’s face it, by the fact that she’s not a 20-year-old blond who wears a size 2 — and as she strikes me as an intelligent woman, I can only believe that she knew this. Reflecting on the officers who laughed at their abuse against her, she had to know that they weren’t the only horrible, entitled assholes who would find the whole thing to be fucking hilarious. Staying quiet is understandable, and the officers expect it — which is how the abuse continues.

Clearly, this was an abuse of power. However, Jennifer Bard at the Women’s Bioethics Project draws interesting connections between this incident and the undertreatment of women’s pain by doctors.

One interesting point she makes relates to the flurry of doctors and pharmacists withholding treatment from women (whether that be abortion, emergancy contraception, fertility services for lesbian women, etc):

Are there any doctors refusing, for religious reasons, to prescribe Viagra to unmarried men because they have religious objections to sex outside of marriage? How is this O.K.?

Another point: attitudes to women’s pain have not changed, despite the numbers of women going through medical school.

Well, first because it is beyond unfair into fanciful to expect that the existence of women doctors is enough to change the fundamental power structure of a profession or indeed a society. Second, people learn what they are taught. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for women doctors to absorb the same prejudices as men about their women patients’ accounts of pain.

Moreover, even if every woman doctor was committed to believing women, despite everything they learn through from their mentors, few are in any positions of power. 17 of the 129 Deans of Medical Schools in the United States are women.

(Via Feminist Law Professors)

Comments From You

lucy // Posted 31 March 2008 at 5:03 pm

If i am able to walk through metal detectors with four cartilage piercings, one lip piercing, two nipple, one belly and one genital without setting it off, it was unacceptable for them to ask her to remove them. Completely. Metal detectors only detect large amounts of condensed metal in a small area. If she was wearing a nipple shield then i’d understand but that would be easily removable.

The only conclusion possible is that this circumstance was created entirely by those observing to embarass the woman.


Shea // Posted 1 April 2008 at 12:12 am

Props to you for featuring this story. I have seen first hand that doctors are often indifferent to women’s pain. A patient of ours, an elderly woman dying from bowel cancer had run out of fentanyl. We rang the doctor on call to fax us another prescription so we could pick some up from the pharmacy. He refused to do so as it was out of hours and evidently didn’t feel it was worthy of his time. We eventually got one but this poor women went without adequate pain relief for twelve hours because of this asshole. I submitted a complaint about him, but I doubt anything happened. But really, how truly sad to let someone suffer that way, just because she was a woman.

Its that Victorian morality again, —women and children should be seen and not heard……Definitely NOT complain or be “awkward”! How utterly sickening.

Danielle // Posted 1 April 2008 at 4:42 pm

God, the stories I could tell about doctors not taking women’s pain seriously enough. My nan’s bowel cancer went undiagnosed for years because her poor excuse for a doctor just kept telling her it was “just old age” (= “just shut up and put up with it. Stop wasting my time.”)

sian // Posted 2 April 2008 at 1:14 pm

what’s interesting is the way women often internalise that prejudice, a sort of oh it’ll go away, i don’t want to be a bother. i think because women are always told that their pain isn’t that bad (example – a boss telling me to take some aspirin and get n with it when i had really bad period cramps), they feel like they can’t complain until it gets so bad that larger action has to be taken. which is so frustrating, but something i am sure must happen all the time.

Leigh Woosey // Posted 2 April 2008 at 2:33 pm

Some follow up on the TSA case can be read here . While TSA’s response was far less than it should have been I for one applaud Hamlin’s achievemnet in initiating change and exposing the inadequacy of a major company’s policies.

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