Even the Rats Were Male

Male rat

Once upon a time, a scientist discovered that the basic response of human beings to threats and stress was “fight or flight.” For the next eighty-five years, till 2000, that understanding was cemented by obtaining the same results from studies on animals.

You wouldn’t want to be standing up at an international conference on stress questioning something so firmly established as that!

Except there was one little glitch that no one had noticed till Dr. Taylor and some colleagues at UCLA noticed that the original research had been done predominantly on men. When they looked further into this it turns out that the laboratory studies on animals were also done on males.

Yes, even the rats were male!

Apparently, these scientists, who also it turned out were predominantly male, decided that pesky issues like female hormonal cycles and emotional reactions and who knows what could really mess with a man’s research.

As Dr. Taylor describes this discovery:

“An epiphany in science is fairly rare, but when it happens, there is no sensation like it.

“The sudden realization that all the classic theories of stress were based almost entirely on males was a stunning revelation.”

The papers on the animal research didn’t even mention that the rats were also male, which was she writes, “one of the reasons why the male bias was such a well-kept secret.”

Except you may also not have heard of this, even today, nearly 25 years later! Is this whole story another well-kept secret? – If so, we can’t blame the rats this time. Interestingly, there is no mention of male bias on the “Fight or Flight” page on Wikipedia today.

It turns out that the research on heart disease, related to stress, was similarly biased, which was especially weird when it was known that more women died of heart disease than men.

You could say perhaps that this research was of the men, by the men, for the men!

And still today, nearly twenty-five years since everyone got the heads up from Dr. Taylor, this is how The Guardian recently described the management of this number one killer of women in the US and UK: “Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, the medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Women are disadvantaged at so many stages in their heart journey – they are underdiagnosed, undertreated and underrepresented in research. There’s now an urgent need for more research to close this health gap in cardiovascular diseases seen in women across the UK and globally.’”

It turns out that it is not just the “heart journey” in which women are “disadvantaged” The full story of the disadvantages faced by women in their health journeys can be read in the Lancet’s “Advancing women in science, medicine, and global health.”

They reveal inequitable results of everything they measure: from treatment, staffing, income, research opportunities, research in general, leadership roles – you name it, and women are being shafted by the system.

Including some jaw-droppers like:

“A study investigating mortality of female patients with acute myocardial infarction found higher mortality in women treated by male doctors than in those treated by female doctors.” a

And another:

“A Canadian study found that patients of female primary care physicians had more consistently received recommended health screening and had fewer emergency department visits than those treated by male primary care physicians.” a

As they write:

“This level of sex blindness in educational materials and medical research has consequences for individuals and groups who do not conform to the norm and who might receive erroneous diagnoses, missed opportunities for intervention, or simply the wrong dose of the wrong drug.” b

The report continues:

“In The Lancet, Vincent Larivière and colleagues investigated the extent to which sex-related research and reporting occur in contemporary (1980–2016) scientific publications, spanning bench to bedside and policy research….

“With about 11.5 million papers included in their analysis, and recognising potential biases and limitations, their findings highlight that, in 2016, just 54% of public health studies reported both female and male populations, and only 43% of clinical medicine studies did. Biomedical (laboratory) research lags farther still behind, with only 30% of papers reporting on sex.”

In their conclusion they write:

“These findings of sex and gender blindness represent the continuation of centuries-old archetypes that see male sex as the norm, resulting in a unidimensional view of humanity. Larivière and colleagues have provided strong empirical evidence that change to two-dimensional vision is possible—and have shown that change happens when the people doing the research also change.” b

Even this radical exposé of this extraordinary tale of patriarchy at work, even among “scientists” it should be noted, being The Lancet they don’t even mention the ubiquitous ploy of medical gaslighting.

Another well-kept secret?

Talking about patriarchy, it just happens that the author can add a telling example. The dean of a major medical school, a corpulent man, is standing in the hospital ward conducting a teaching session with the medical students. He was questioned about the necessity of removing so many women’s breasts as a somewhat unproven treatment for cancer. He placed his arm around the student’s shoulders, and announced with this his very obvious lisp, “You know my boy, I like doing mathtectomieths.”

Back to fight and flight. It turns out that women are not biologically driven to either stand and fight or run like hell. There is the little issue of considering other people – starting with their children. Which may make fight or flight a really bad option.

Instead, women’s response to threats and danger, described by Dr. Taylor in her book, The Tending Instinct: Women Men and the Biology of our Relationships, includes the option of “Tend and Befriend.”

This makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective.

As she writes: “Females’ responses to stress would have evolved so as to include some measure of protection for their children. Otherwise, how could women have passed on their genes? If, as a mother, you flee from a menacing predator but leave your bewildered toddler unprotected, that child’s chances of survival are very poor. Consequently, responses to stress that favored both the mother’s and the child’s survival would most likely be passed on.”

She also explains:

“The dominant metaphor, ‘fight or flight,’ represents the threatening social landscape as a solitary kill-or-be-killed world. The human response to stress is characterized at least as much by tending to and befriending others, a pattern that is especially true of women.

“How others fare in times of stress – from how calm they are to their likelihood of becoming ill – depends on the quality of the tending they receive.”

Why is this difference between men and women?

Psychology Today describes, “A new study conducted in Australia suggests that the difference between men and women in their responses to stress may boil down to a single gene. The authors of this study argued that the SRY gene that men have on their Y chromosome—right between the gene for flipping through TV channels with the remote control and the gene for not putting the toilet seat down after peeing—causes their fight-or-flight response, while women use different genetic and physiological mechanisms to deal with stress.”

There is one thing the logical male mind cannot deny:

The male half of the species is largely responsible for the creation of the tragedy of the “kill-or-be-killed” culture that dominates so much of human affairs.

As Osho explains:

“If women had been respected in the past, humanity would not have been in such a mess as it is today – because women are half of humanity. Half of humanity has remained undignified, uneducated, deprived of all freedom, all movement. We have hampered, handicapped ourselves. We have destroyed half of ourselves, and if we are in misery then who is to be blamed?” 1

Even The Economist has to agree! As they point out. In “Societies that treat women badly are poorer and less stable,” they point out, “Oppressing women not only hurts women; it also hurts men.” The problem is we don’t realize that the human mind has a primative limitation. It tends to view everything as an “either / or” situation, so it is continually luring us into the trap of zero-sum games. Either you win or I win. Kill or be killed again. Yes, the human mind is a wonderful tool, but we allow it be our master at our peril!

As Osho puts it:

“The biggest tragedy of mankind is that until now men and women were not able to be in harmony, to be a melody. It will never be possible until we accept men and women’s co-existence, co-education, co-recreation – their growing, playing and developing together. We will never succeed in creating a harmonious and melodious relationship between men and women until we remove the distance between them.” 2


Gender equality in science, medicine, and global health: where are we at and why does it matter?
Measurement and meaning: reporting sex in health research

1 Osho, Socrates Poisoned Again after 25 Centuries, Talk #7 – Zorba Is My Past: Buddha Is My Present
2 Osho, Woman and Rebellion, Talk #1 – Woman: Proclaiming Her Strength

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