To a woman with a hammer

….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;

  1. Mendacity by the medical profession including, one assumes, the many female research professionals, and/or
  2. Negligent or sloppy thinking by the researchers, and/or
  3. 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;

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Bill’s Opinion

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 man woman to understand something, when his her salary depends on his her 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.

13 Replies to “To a woman with a hammer”

  1. Being the subject of medical research sounds like there is some danger involved. But are men risking their health to protect others, including the vulnerable? No-oo-oo… they want favourable medical outcomes to be skewed in favour of men. And, incidentally, they’re grabbing all the kudos. You know those ticker-tape parades for survivors of medical research? TV interviews and being showered with gratitude? Free stays at the Hilton of your choice? A lifetime supply of all the Jack you can drink? Selfish bloody men, hogging it all for themselves.

    Disclosure: the only reason I’m alive is that when the doctors told my mother that she had a heart problem and she should abort, she said fuck off, I’m having my child even if it kills me. Child-birth and -bearing is so incredibly heroic that I struggle to understand it. A toast to all mothers.

    1. “Selfish bloody men, hogging it all for themselves.”

      I’m pretty sure bullets and shells are tested on men more often than women too. Lucky us.

      Childbirth looked pretty easy when my missus did it. But then she did arrive at the ward with the words, “and I’m today’s epidural”.

  2. An iPhone 6 is too small for her hand? I find that very hard to believe.

    I also find it hard to believe that Apple is discriminating against women, even unintentionally. From what we know of the woke culture in Silicon Valley, discrimination in the other direction is far more likely.

      1. In fact, after having read the article, one doesn’t even have to respond – Ms Criado-Perez does all the unpaid labor herself:

        [when asked about new breast-feeding “pods” that are installed in airports] “[I] wonder why we have to lock women up in pods to feed their children.”

        Question asked. Four sentences later…

        “I know obviously some women would want to use them”

        Question answered. I give her full marks for such a concise reply to herself.

        1. What a brilliant idea for a career; have a conversation with yourself in public about how people that look like you are oppressed in minor ways compared your ancestors or people living in 80% of the world.

  3. Re: the passing reference to the Holocaust, Dr. Sir Sidney Smith (vastly experienced Home Office pathologist) testified at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial and mentioned in his memoirs that the Nazi doctors conducting “experiments” had not discovered a single medically useful bit of information. Considering that these doctors had discarded all ethical and moral restraints on their “research”, Smith found this lack of any actually useful information a singular outcome. Interesting observation. Smith’s memoirs are fascinating, by the by.

    1. Thats not strictly true – while most of the research was junk, being based on ‘proving’ Nazi crackpot ideas, some did provide data that is still of use today, mainly the stuff designed to assist the military. Experiments on the effects of being immersed in cold water, of drinking sea water for long periods of time and the effects of high altitude on the human body were all carried out a very well documented leaving data that in many cases is still unique today.

      An interesting article on the subject here:
      https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-ethics-of-using-medical-data-from-nazi-experiments#analysis

    2. Yeah that’s not really true. There is an famous (in the surgical world anyway) anatomy textbook that consists of drawings of Nazi prisoner cadavers.

      CCP is an idiot. It’s well-known that women are used less in medical research because of the complications of pregnancy and the hormone cycles in general. It causes problems both for the studies and potentially for health as well.

      Gynaecological conditions receive way more funding in screening and research than male conditions (although to be fair ‘more’ can go wrong with women, so I’m not saying that’s a problem). cf. breast cancer vs. Testicular or prostate cancer. Or even cancer vs cardiology IIRC.

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