Making the case for the ‘why’ of women’s health research: NOT a feminist point of view.
Women’s health research is not a feminist issue… it’s a survival issue. We ARE different. Could it be that feminist phenomena and the breaking of several glass ceilings have led to the perception that men and women are equal? We ARE, but we are also different; which is NOT the same. We are not just small men. Women’s health is not a perception. We live under a hormonal dictatorship. We go through hell and back EVERY MONTH, except of course when we are pregnant, which is a whole new topic of conversation. And then there is menopause… as if having our periods wasn’t enough, at the end of our menstrual cycle’s life, we sweat like there is no tomorrow. It’s like the devil saying “this one got away… let us remind her of what the underworld is all about.” Now on the subject of pregnancy – yet another hormonal nightmare: we see our figures transform from somewhat decent to bumps and dents all over our bodies! Yet after our ‘joys’ are born, we pretty much hate everything around us. Once we are over post-partum depression, our lives as nannies, housekeepers, chauffeurs, psychologists, event organizers, nutritionists, chefs and administrators officially begins. Yei! We live longer than men. Or that’s what statistics show. We have five more years of the joys of being a woman. That’s what happens when men indulge in risky behaviors that are often attributed to testosterone, the expectations society has on men and the need for them to fix all problems EXCEPT taking care of their health. The phrase “an accident waiting to happen” suddenly comes to mind. We are just wired differently. While men figure out how to surround-sound their vehicles, we substitute our kids with dogs when we are faced with our empty-nester phase in life… nature vs. nurture, fight and flight vs. tend and befriend… Vive la difference! If we are CLEARLY different genetically, anatomically and psychologically, what leads many to believe that women and men should be diagnosed and treated the same when it comes to our health? The complexity of gender differences and the greater health incidences a women faces --especially in the latter years of her life-- make women’s health research even more necessary than ever. And by gender differences I mean going beyond the various roles ascribed to us because of our boobs and vaginas. As best described by Carol Vlassoff, “Gender refers to the array of socially constructed roles and relationships, personality traits, attitudes, behaviors, values, relative power and influence that society ascribes to the two sexes on a differential basis.” We do not have heart attacks the same way. We do not face stress the same way. We do not react to Ambien the same way. We don’t even get depressed the same way! But we all do have women in our lives. What are we doing to keep them healthy? As with most EVERYTHING in our lives, it does take an act of Congress to get things done. Seriously. Women’s activism was partly responsible for the National Institutes of Health’s Revitalization Act in 1993 that mandated –and ensured-- the inclusion of women in clinical trials. Problem is, it was TWENTY YEARS AGO! And still today, there continues to be a need for gender-specific research, not only at a social (gender) level, but at the physical (sex…no, not THAT one) level as well. The NIH has now extended its mandate of inclusion of women in clinical studies to the inclusion of male and female animals and male and female cells in basic research. So what can we do today to achieve women’s health? The answer should be simple: it starts with research and ends with education. Some examples? We ARE kicking breast cancer’s butt; however, we still need help with ovarian cancer research. When faced with either having a heart attack, or having night sweats, it DOES come to a point where we would rather die than continue living sleep deprived! Hormone therapy guidelines –specifically the prescription of estrogen between ages 50 and 60 - is becoming acceptable again. On behalf of men –and of course women all over the world, thank you!
New research on hormone therapy, just in the past year, has revealed that it is not as bad as it was once thought to be. Not to sound like chickens, but advancements in the process of freezing women’s eggs gives many facing cancer the possibility of enjoying motherhood. Go warriors! Women’s health, however, can’t just stop at the research level. Get and STAY informed! Women’s health depends on the knowledge about our own bodies. It’s about advocating for our own health by keeping up with the wonderful scientific advances that might affect us. So as to the ‘why’ we should care about women’s health: Women’s health is family health. Healthy women, happy family. Personalized medicine needs to consider gender and sex, which ultimately starts with research at its most basic: the cellular level. By understanding the physiological, psychological and social differences between men and women:
Researchers can keep discovering new cures for disease based on the differences between men and women.
Doctors can establish the necessary guidelines to treat illness specific to gender and sex –vs. a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The pharmaceutical industry can develop targeted medications that effectively treat and cure illness in a specific sex-specific manner.
Men and women can be informed and become advocates for their own health, and most importantly, their family’s health.
Understanding women’s health is a win-win for all of us, don’t you think?