Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Politics of Women's Health

If the implications weren't so frightening studying the politics of women's health would be fun, in a slightly sinister way. First there is the whole school of thought which equates women's health with gynecological and obstetrical health; as if women were walking containers for their wombs only. Then there are all those little articles finding weaknesses specific to women, and these articles are grabbed eagerly by the anti-feminists (to prove that nature or god didn't mean women to work/play sports/study/be equal). It is as if these people find it impossible to fathom a world in which the sexes can differ in a few of their biological needs yet be treated equally.

Weakness is also traditionally associated with femininity, at least if by "traditionally" we mean since the Victorian era. Women are supposed to be weak, and perhaps this is why we all eagerly snatch the studies that proves them so. At the same time, women's specific needs have not been well addressed in the past, and feminists also demand special attention to them. This is understandable, but can be used in the political arena for something that is not good for women. Or men, come to that. Just think how prostate cancer awareness is only now rising. Surely part of the reason is that men are not supposed to complain about illness, are not supposed to fall victim to something, are not supposed to need help. The gender roles sometimes hurt all of us.

A recent study on the effects of alcoholism argues that women suffer from negative brain effects earlier than men and after less consumption. I haven't had time to look at the study itself, but I did see an anti-feminist rant about its findings. The gist of these is that feminism is to blame for women's alcoholism, because it has made women think that they can do anything men can do. Which is a really stupid argument but not that different from many others I've read about the horrible consequences of feminism. Feminism does horrible things to women: it makes them convinced that they can stand peeing up and see what happens then! Disaster, that's what happens then.

But the high point of the anti-feminist's rant is surely this:

According to work carried out at the University of Heidelberg by Professor Karl Mann, the effects of drinking on the brain occur earlier in women than in men, even when women are significantly less exposed to alcohol.

This follows on from research which suggests that women drinkers are likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver earlier and more easily than men.

Evidence from Denmark suggests that women's fertility is compromised more readily by alcohol than men's. Women drinking more than three glasses of wine a day have a threefold increase in their risk of developing breast cancer. Just two units of alcohol a day - a pint of beer or a medium glass of wine - and women's health starts to be compromised.

Statistics, like tequila, should be taken with a pinch of salt, but there is now enough evidence to suggest that Mother Nature is no feminist.

Well, no, Mother Nature is no feminist. After all, women live considerably longer than men on average in all the Western countries. But this is a fact conveniently forgotten in the politics of women health.