by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters
Regular readers already know how in love I am with the “Just a Little Heart Attack” film from the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women heart health campaign this year. In three short minutes, this film manages to do what countless other heart disease awareness campaigns I’ve seen fail to pull off: to be both hilarious and frightening, packed with life-saving education on common heart attack symptoms in women. The actress Elizabeth Banks – who also directed this short film, and whose real-life mother and sister have heart issues – plays a harried, multi-tasking mother trying desperately to get her family up, dressed, fed and ready to head out the door on time, all while completely ignoring her own worsening heart attack symptoms.
Elizabeth gets every small detail of this scenario pitch-perfect, including:
- her “I’m fine!” reassurances as she reels with nausea, chest pressure, dizziness, jaw pain, neck pain, arm pain, weakness and profuse sweating
- her apology to the 911 phone dispatcher for being a bother
- and (my favourite scene!) her abject dismay at surveying the messy kitchen, knowing the ambulance is already en route and she won’t have time to tidy up before it arrives!
Women who have actually lived through this will probably recognize every excruciatingly familiar moment of what it’s like to experience a heart attack.
But noted health journalism watchdog Gary Schwitzer over at Health News Review felt otherwise about this film, which he criticized in a post called Disease-Mongering Du Jour: Heart Disease in Young Women.
The reason Gary targeted the film as an example of “disease mongering” (defined as promoting public awareness of illnesses in order to expand the markets for those who sell or deliver treatments) was because Elizabeth Banks is just 37 years old. This age, says Gary, is far too young to be representative of most real-life heart patients. He also implied that the film’s true purpose is actually to get more of us to shop at Macy’s, a sponsor of Go Red for Women, and to convince younger women (of Elizabeth’s age) to suddenly start taking heart drugs made by Merck, another sponsor.
I and a number of other concerned heart attack survivors immediately submitted varied responses to this post, trying to explain to Gary how important such life-saving public awareness of women’s heart attack symptoms actually is to women in this target audience.
Some pointed out that women’s well-documented reluctance to seek immediate help, even in the face of significant symptoms, is an extremely serious problem leading to deadlier outcomes for women heart patients compared to their male counterparts. One reader even reminded Gary that the heart attack risk of a 37-year old woman is still more than four times greater than the risk of the average 37-year old woman having breast cancer.
But Gary’s responses to our facts, figures, stats – not to mention some personal real-life experiences of heart attack survivors about the same youthful age as Elizabeth Banks’ character – seemed increasingly exasperated as he kept repeating his original objections, while pointing out that we were likely too emotionally close to this subject and thus not fully able to comprehend – until four days later, when he decided to close the post to comments entirely.
And that’s when I learned the word mansplaining. Continue reading