ifeminists.com: A central gathering place and information center for individualist feminists.   -- explore the new feminism --
introduction | interaction | information

ifeminists.com > introduction > editorials

The Fallacy of Female Biological Advantage
May 13, 2003
by Carey Roberts

Public health programs have long taken a ho-hum attitude towards the problem of excess male mortality. But the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health sounds a wake-up call to health workers arouind the globe.

The May theme issue highlights the fact that men have higher death rates than women for each of the 10 leading causes of death. In North America, men die about 5 years sooner than women. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russian men were dying as much as 15 years sooner than their female counterparts.

One of the anachronistic arguments that has been used to justify the neglect of men's health is the claim that women are biologically superior to men. This is how a recent World Health Organization report on "Gender and Health" puts it: "Part of women's advantage in relation to life expectancy is biological in origin....as many societies have undergone economic and industrial development, a variety of social and cultural factors have combined to allow women's inherent biological advantage to emerge."

This pseudo-scientific statement is like saying that since women are biologically predisposed to a variety of medical problems such as osteoporosis and autoimmune disorders, this "proves" that women are genetically inferior to men.

It's like arguing that since men are able to procreate many more offspring than women, and for years after women of the same age reach menopause, that men have an innate biologic advantage.

Indeed, the very notion of biological advantage is faulty, because the concept is meaningful only in reference to a person's particular environment. For example, men run faster than women. In a world populated by predatory felines, running ability clearly favors men. This fact does not mean that men are biologically superior; it only reveals that in this environment, men have a survival advantage over women.

Finally, the WHO statement does not account for men's traditional role as primary family breadwinner. This breadwinner role has required that men take on life-threatening roles, including hunting wild game, defending the tribe, and working in mines and factories. Even in modern society, many men work overtime or are employed at two jobs in order to support their families.

Indeed, the narrowing of the lifespan gender gap in the United States in the past three decades may be a direct consequence of women entering the workforce in large numbers, thus exposing them to the same occupational stresses and strains that men have tolerated for ages.

Discussions of biological advantage, with their myriad scientific and logical flaws, only serve to justify the status quo which accepts shorter male lifespans as "natural."

In the past, arguments of biological superiority have been applied to racial and ethnic minorities such as African-Americans, indigenous groups, and Jews.

Surely, enlightened persons who believe in gender equality would not want to be associated with repugnant concepts that are tainted with historical connotations of intolerance and bigotry.

In a bygone era, arguments about the genetic superiority of racial groups appeared in the publications of extremist groups with a dubious political agenda. Now in 2003, claims of sex-based biological advantage are being promoted by the World Health Organization.

ifeminists.com > home | introduction | interaction | information | about

ifeminists.com is edited by Wendy McElroy; it is made possible by support from The Independent Institute and members like you.