When Rowman & Littlefield executive editor Suzanne Staszak-Silva first saw health journalist Emily Dwass’s proposal for Diagnosis Female: How Medical Bias Endangers Women’s Health (Oct.), it struck a personal chord. Her sister-in-law had died of a heart attack at age 53, after, Staszak-Silva says, she had been misdiagnosed twice. Such errors are all too common, Dwass’s book shows, and have affected the author, too: she’s written extensively about her experience navigating symptoms and cycling through doctors before learning that she had a nonmalignant brain tumor.
“It’s not just misdiagnosis but medical bias—women’s heart attacks, for instance, look different than men’s,” Staszak-Silva says, adding that her sister-in-law’s death inspired her to take a more proactive approach to her own health, and to encourage other women to do the same. “What I love about Diagnosis Female is that it highlights medical bias from training to the exam room,” she says. “Dwass looks at where the bias is and how it begins, and then takes the story through, so that readers can see what the outcomes were, and what [could have been done].”
The next few months bring several books that use a history of gender bias, from research inequities to marketing tactics, to frame a conversation about how women can better advocate for their own health. These include ob-gyn Jen Gunter’s The Vagina Bible, which Citadel will publish in June, as well as the Avery title This Is Your Brain on Birth Control (Oct.) by research psychologist Sarah Hill, who argues for a wider understanding of how the Pill affects women’s health. She connects birth control drugs to changes in cognition and mood, which in turn impact relationships and other aspects of a woman’s life. The book, she writes on her website, “serves as a rallying cry for women to demand more information from science about how their bodies and brains work and to advocate for better research.”
In July, St. Martin’s will publish Everything Below the Waist: Why Health Care Needs a Feminist Revolution by Jennifer Block, a journalist and former editor at Ms. magazine. Block is the author of 2007’s Pushed, which examines the public health consequences and personal costs of America’s high rates of medical interventions during labor and delivery.
“That book wound up leading to change and growth and awareness,” says St. Martin’s executive editor Elisabeth Dyssegaard. “It encouraged women to say, ‘I need to understand what’s going on, and when I make decisions, I need to be in charge of those decisions.’ ” Below the Waist “is the next step in the conversation,” she says, “as [high interventions are] not just happening in pregnancy and birth.”
Dyssegaard cites as an example the debate over about the utility of an annual pelvic exam, once considered necessary preventative care for women. (Critics of the practice argue that it may cause unnecessary discomfort and even needless surgeries.) She also mentions massive litigation—involving tens of thousands of women and as much as $8 billion in damages—around the complications from transvaginal mesh, a surgical implant designed to help support a woman’s pelvic floor.
Below the Waist arrives at a moment when women are feeling more emboldened to speak out and advocate for change, Dyssegaard says. “We still have a long way to go, as research into women’s health continues to lag behind,” she notes. “This book encourages us to say, ‘Wait a second—we can’t afford to leave this up to the experts.’ ”