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December 12, 2006

The Weaker Sex

An Ann Arbor News article reprinted from the New York Times revealed on Sunday that men are actually the weaker sex. Apparently, the male life expectancy is five years shorter than the female life expectancy for white men and over ten years shorter for black men. Men also suffer from higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The article quotes Dr. Demetrius J. Porche of the Louisiana State University School of Nursing, who states that "we've got men dying at higher rates of just about every disease, and we don't know why," but the author of the article makes the why pretty clear: men don't take care of themselves as well as women do. Graphs in the article show that men have higher rates of smoking, drinking, and obesity. The three diseases -- heart disease, diabetes, and cancer -- are all linked to diet and exercise, and it does seem that men don't do as much cardiovascular exercise as women do and that they consume much less healthy diets. Men tend to eat more meat than women do (as meat has been associated with masculinity ever since hunter-gatherer days), particularly red meat, which has more saturated fat than chicken or fish. Women also eat more fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants that protect against cancer. Diabetes is related to obesity, which is much more socially acceptable for men than for women.

The charts also show that women are more likely than men to seek medical attention, to follow doctors' orders, and to take preventative health measures (such as getting a flu shot). Perhaps it is more socially acceptable for women to go to the doctor because we have always been considered the weaker sex, the ones more in need of medical attention. After all, it isn't manly to seek help.

While the article points out that men are more likely to suffer from these diseases than are women, it doesn't delve into the rates of death, aside from noting that "more women die of breast cancer than men do of prostate cancer." I have also heard anecdotally that, while men are more likely to have heart disease, women are more likely to die from it because they are less likely to know that they have it and get it treated. Because more men than women have heart disease, it has long been considered a male disease, even though it is the number-one killer of women. Furthermore, men and women experience heart attacks differently: men feel pain in their left arm while women are more likely to feel it in their back. But it is the male symptoms that get publicized, which means that a woman who is having a heart attack might not even realize it until it is too late. Furthermore, because medical research was, for a long time, carried out only on male subjects, treatments for these diseases may not be as effective for women as they are for men.

All this being said, I will admit that there is still an element of mystery. The article points out that male fetuses are at greater risk of stillbirth and miscarriage, and that male babies suffer higher rates of infant mortality. These deaths obviously can't be explained by lifestyle or socialization. Perhaps women are just stronger. That would explain why men have felt the need to opress us for so long!

Posted by eklanche at December 12, 2006 08:25 AM

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