….the whole world looks like a nail.
For those who haven’t been exposed to the views and, such that it is, the career, of Caroline Criado-Perez before it might be worth a quick read of her Wikipedia page or a similar biography to form a view on her motivation. I won’t lead the witness by offering an opinion at this stage.
Caroline has written a book, Invisible Women, in which she details the myriad ways the world we find ourselves living in has been designed, not for women, but for men.
In an interview with Wired, she lays out some of the more egregious examples.
If we assumed she started the interview with the worst example, we will be unsurprised to learn it is in the serious area of medical treatment. Apparently, medical research has been traditionally performed on males far more frequently than females.
Around that same time I also found out that we don’t tend to involve female humans or animals or cells in medical trials, and the result of that is women have less effective treatment and more side effects.
I don’t have access to the data to confirm the underlying assertion of that paragraph but, for the purposes of today’s blog post, I don’t need to. I will accept it as fact; medical research has been performed far more frequently on males.
The question leaping to the front of curious minds then is, why?
Perhaps there are three categories of answer to that question;
- Mendacity by the medical profession including, one assumes, the many female research professionals, and/or
- Negligent or sloppy thinking by the researchers, and/or
- Some other more defensible reason.
We can all agree that, if category (1) and (2) were the most significant reasons medical research was carried out on males rather than females, there is a major scientific issue to be resolved.
However, before we start condemning as bad actors the thousands of medical researchers responsible for the huge positive health advances we have all benefited from over the last hundred years or so, let’s check whether there might not be some significant reasons behind Caroline’s discovery.
Without thinking too hard or long on the subject, I can think of the following possible reasons why males featured more frequently in medical research;
- From its commencement as a subject of study, medical research was performed on the cadavers of executed prisoners. Throughout human history, men have been executed at an incredibly greater rate than women. It’s still true today in countries where the death penalty exists, as this hilarious HuffPo article confirms (hilarious because it’s desperately trying to say women are less likely to be executed because of duh patriarchy).
- It’s an uncomfortable fact but we currently benefit from the findings of medical research of coerced and involuntary subjects. This includes prisoners who have agreed to the research but also awful and torturous research such as that on victims of the Holocaust. In the case of prisoners, as with the cadavers of executed prisoners, the demographics skew massively towards men.
- Until the 1960s, women could not control their menstruation cycle and had less reliable pregnancy testing facilities than today. They were therefore at far greater risk of being unknowingly pregnant during the early stages after conception. Unless the medical research is to be specifically on the effects on unborn children, many women would be excluded from participating.
Let’s assume Caroline is a good faith actor. She’s made a wonderful career from finding reasons to suggest women are victims in almost every aspect of modern life, generally to the benefit of men.
Incentives matter though. There is currently very little reason for Caroline to search for logical and sensible reasons for the outcomes she documents but, instead, leaps to the far easier conclusion of duh patriarchy.
As Upton Sinclair famously put it;
It is difficult to get a
manwoman to understand something, when hisher salary depends on hisher not understanding it.
Finally, just to confirm to us that the issues Caroline raises are grave and important, let her describe the awful problems women have experienced, by design, in the area of technology:
The category of smartphones is a massive bugbear of mine because I actually got RSI [repetitive strain injury] from an iPhone 6. And I now am stuck with an iPhone SE which I can’t upgrade. The only small phone they had, they discontinued, and it’s the only one that fits my hand. It’s incredibly frustrating. And then later when [Apple] introduced Siri, you could use it to find a viagra supplier but not an abortion clinic. So there’s all sorts of examples like that, where there’s not as much thought being put into, you know—female customers exist.
Caroline Criado-Perez truly is our generation’s Rosa Parks or Emily Davidson.