No thinking person could deny that we live in a patriarchy. Men have been in charge of the world for pretty much all of recorded history, with a few fleeting exceptions where women held slightly more sway in a couple of countries for a short period of time and yes, all of those equivocations are necessary! A peer of the British realm named Lord Acton famously said in 1887,
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Individual men have been demonstrably corrupted by absolute power, and I would argue that so has their entire gender. Wars and oppression on both national and international stages largely result from men either pursuing what they want, or in reaction to having their desires thwarted. Abuse and violence occur on the personal level mostly for the same reasons. This sense of entitlement lives deep in the male psyche, and goes a long way towards explaining the patriarchal yolk we all live under. Men in power almost never have to deal with dissenting opinions or differing viewpoints. The system they have set up and and continue to perpetuate ensures that theirs are the only voices heard in rooms where major decisions are made. This has skewed virtually every profession and institution in society towards male priorities, leaving women almost completely out of the equation.
Take the auto industry, for example. Crash test dummies are modelled on a 5’9″ medium build white man. There are no dummies which approximate a woman’s body. When they want to run safety tests to determine crash outcomes for females, the mannikins they use are child sized, and they almost exclusively put them in the passenger seat. This smaller dummy is 4’11’ and 108 lbs, while the average North American woman is 5’3″ and 170 lbs. The lack of representation at the testing level has inevitably led to some horrible, although not surprising, statistics. Seat belts are not designed to protect the female anatomy and consequently women are 47% more likely than men to suffer injuries in accidents, particularly to their chests, spines and lower extremities. Women also sustain up to 73% more bodily harm in frontal crashes, and overall are 17% more likely to die in collisions. It would be such a simple fix to make dummies the size and weight of the average woman, and to sometimes crash the car with the female mannikin in the driver’s seat, but car manufacturers have yet to do either of these things.
The current crunch for PPE has brought to light another industry that makes its products based exclusively on male anatomy. Masks, gloves, goggles and gowns are designed to fit the average male build. Women make up 76% of frontline medical workers fighting the pandemic, but the protective medical equipment they are given simply doesn’t fit them and no one seems to care. I recently saw a female doctor on TV who explained that to be effective against the transmission of Covid-19, or any other airborne virus, masks and eye protection need to be completely snug to the face. In practice she has found that when her goggles are sealed around her eyes the mask doesn’t fit properly, and when the mask is tight the goggles won’t sit flush to her cheeks.
Every female medical worker with whom she’s spoken is encountering the same problem, meaning all of them are at an increased risk for contracting the disease. She consequently wrote the PPE manufacturer which supplies her hospital, laying out the difficulty and asking if they could possibly make the masks adjustable so women would be better protected. In reply the company sent her a single sheet of paper bearing illustrations of bearded men and instructions on how to safely wear masks over the various types of facial hair depicted. They didn’t even mention the problem women were having with their products let alone suggest any kind of solution. Traditionally manufacturers have offered a “pink it or shrink it” solution in response to complaints lodged by female customers about supposedly “unisex” products which are clearly designed for male bodies. In other words, they produce exactly the same item but in “feminine” colours, or they simply make it smaller without any thought for female anatomy (i.e. breasts and larger hips and buttocks) or facial bone structure.
Then there are CPR dolls, the most famous of which is called Resusci Annie. The face of this doll is undoubtedly female, but it is flat-chested – probably because people are relatively comfortable kissing women’s lips and touching men’s chests, but not vice versa. CPR trainees are never shown how to deal with breasts when learning and practicing this often lifesaving technique. The result is that women who need CPR in a public place are 27% less likely to receive it than men in similar situations, leading to many preventable deaths. A group of female paramedics recently designed the “breast vest” – a sleeveless upper-body wrap with foam breasts in the front and a velcro closure in the back. It is easy to put on and take off the CPR doll, and provides people the opportunity to practice on bodies with and without boobs. It took women to recognize the need for such a device, let alone design and manufacture it.
The medical establishment as a whole has been terribly remiss in considering female patients. I have written in the past about my extremely adverse reaction to Crestor, and through my research discovered that I was prescribed the same dosage as is recommended for a man 50 lbs heavier than me. This despite the medically proven (but largely ignored) facts that compared to men, women generally process drugs more slowly, experience more and worse side effects, and store them longer in the kidneys and liver. It doesn’t help that almost no testing of new pharmaceuticals is done on women because doctors fear, “…hormone cycles would skew test results.” In other words, women are left out of the studies because they could muddy the results. Add to this that the cells labs grow in petri dishes are always male as are virtually all of their test animals, and you have a drug development process in which females are completely overlooked from start to finish.
Obviously men and women are very different anatomically, but it has only been in the last five years or so that anyone has talked about how these differences manifest in various health problems, particularly those related to the heart. Somehow breast cancer has been painted as the most deadly female illness in existence, with huge, well-publicized events held yearly to raise money for research. Meanwhile cardiovascular disease has gone largely unnoticed, stealthily making its way through the female population and quietly killing seven to ten times more women annually than breast cancer. These numbers and other issues related to heart disease in women are just now coming to prominence, partly because more women are becoming cardiologists and raising the alarm. Also, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation published a widely read study in 2018 which, for the first time ever, focussed exclusively on heart health in women. The major finding of this report is summed up in its opening statement,
“Women in Canada are unnecessarily suffering and dying from heart disease because of inequities and biases that have resulted in a system that is ill-equipped to diagnose, treat and support them.”
“Inequities and biases” refers to women being completely omitted from studies related to heart disease prevention and treatment even though they are equally as likely as men to contract it. It’s also the case that women become 15% more likely to develop heart problems after pregnancy or breast cancer treatment. As I’ve already mentioned, women have also been excluded from the testing of medications to treat heart disease. Women under 55 are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed than men with the same condition, meaning they are often not given the lifesaving advice and medications they need.
Also, most health care professionals still don’t seem to know that heart attacks present differently in women than in men. This means paramedics often don’t practice the same lifesaving interventions on female patients as their male counterparts, and that early heart attack symptoms are missed in about 78% of women who seek professional medical care. There are scads of personal testimonials on the internet written by women who were sent home from the hospital or their doctor’s office while they were literally having a heart attack.
It makes sense that women are left out of decisions and regulations and laws and studies because we are not present in the bodies that create them or carry them out. Men overlook us not necessarily out of malice, but rather out of habit. I am heartened by the fact that more women than men are graduating from university in pretty well every developed country in the world. In time this should lead to a larger number of females occupying positions of authority in every profession whose judgments and actions impact society – from politics to banking, business to the law, and health to education. Men are never going to consider us unless we are in the room when important decisions are made. Here’s to all the female graduates who will one day (fingers crossed!) be in the room.