A feminist analysis of women’s chronic pain experiences in Northwestern Ontario
This feminist research project explores women’s experiences with chronic pain in Thunder Bay, Northwestern Ontario. Through an intersectional feminist narrative approach, I examine how chronic pain impacts women’s sense of identity and explore their experiences in the health care system. In-depth interviews with eight women between the ages of 18-50, who self-identify as having chronic pain, were conducted to understand their chronic pain narratives. Findings suggest that women’s experiences with chronic pain are deeply connected to their identity. Participants’ gender, age, body size, ability, and the context of place, significantly influences their chronic pain experiences. Discourses surrounding normative ideals about femininity and bodies shape how participants experience their chronic pain, especially through their relationships, motherhood, employment, education, mobility, autonomy, and mental health. Their identities shift as they grapple with the physical limitations of chronic pain, and their taken-for-granted embodied ways of being in everyday life. Participants also struggle to navigate the health care system in Thunder Bay. They point to a lack of doctors to treat the population of Northwestern Ontario, leading to long wait times and a lack of access to specialized services. Significantly, participants’ identities as women created gendered experiences in the medical system, which intersected with age, place, and body size, to cause challenges with being diagnosed and believed by medical professionals. Although they are challenged by structural barriers and biases, participants developed a resistance toward the biomedical system and took their health into their own hands by advocating for themselves and doing their own research to find alternatives for treating their chronic pain.