The XX Factor: When gender differences are ignored in health studies, it’s women who pay the price
The insistence that gender differences were and are immaterial to the proper functioning of a free society has been a feature of our common conversation since the 1970s. It was the key to “second-wave feminism,” the political and social movement that took women’s liberation beyond issues of suffrage and wages and employment to the question of how a just society orders itself.
By the close of the 20th century, however, the insistence that gender differences be treated as inconsequential had ossified into orthodoxy precisely at the moment when the biological sciences were uncovering differences between the sexes that had hitherto been unknown. An ongoing tug-of-war has resulted between scientists who investigate sex differences and activists who oppose such research. This battle over theory has had horrific real-world consequences. The minimizing of sex differences in areas of health and medicine in particular has led to sweepingly harmful and often fatal results, especially for women.
Consider the following fiasco. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration announced it was slashing the recommended dosage of the sleeping pill Ambien in half—but only for women. The FDA had known for 20 years that women metabolized the active ingredient, zolpidem, more slowly than men, but the dosage for men and women had been exactly the same since the drug had been on the market. In 2014, neuroscientist Larry Cahill told 60 Minutes:
It appears to say that they found a significant difference in how this drug is being processed in the body. And then the question is, “What did they do with that?” and the answer appears to be, “Eh.” They rationalized it away...
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