A new research study confirms what so many women have innately known: that even as children, our pain is not taken as seriously.
According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology this month, adults buy into gender stereotypes–that girls are emotional and boys are not—which leads to biases against how we perceive pain among children. What a lovely reminder that sexism is deeply entrenched and operational in every single part of our lives.
Building off of a 2014 study, researchers at Yale and Georgia State Universities showed 264 adults videos of a doctor administering a finger-prick test to a child. Based on the child’s reaction, adults then rated the pain on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 100 (a shit ton of pain). While all adults saw the same video, however, one group was told the child was “Samuel,” a boy, and the other half believed the child was “Samantha,” a girl. Adults rated Samuel’s pain at 50.42, and Samantha’s pain rated 45.90.
When the study controlled for explicit gender stereotypes, however, the gap disappeared. The study concluded: “Explicit gender stereotypes—for example, that boys are more stoic or girls are more emotive—may bias adult assessment of children’s pain.”
There’s a cruel twist, though—women were more likely than men to take the girls’s pain less seriously. “This is a big mystery,” lead author Brian D. Earp told the Washington Post. “We’re spitballing to come up with a reason.”
Cornell University philosophy professor Kate Manne, author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, speculated that this might be another manifestation of sexism: because women are conditioned to treat their pain as less severe, they may treat other female pain less seriously, too. “Since there’s more pressure on women to be appropriately sympathetic to pain, and since we’re biased in the direction of taking male pain more seriously, it makes sense that women are at least as bad if not worse,” she told the Post.
Earp plans to continue researching biases towards pain in children, this time looking at both race and gender, which I expect will yield similarly familiar and depressing results.