The Myth of Male-evolent Medicine

By Michael Fumento

April 22, 1999
Copyright 1999 Michael Fumento

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(Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Just Forces to Achieve True Equality, by Cathy Young)


Are women in this country still discriminated against in some ways? You bet. Are men? You bet. It’s not a perfect world, and sadly some of the greatest imperfections come about when those seeking utopianism make the "fairness pendulum" swing too far in the opposite direction.

But if there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that when it comes to the medical establishment, women truly have been shortchanged, right? Wrong, says Cathy Young in her new book Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Just Forces to Achieve True Equality.

In a smoothly written, yet sharply argued tome that’s drawn heavy praise from both sides of the political aisle for putting hard facts and simple logic before emotion and name-calling, Young shows that in some areas women continue to have real gripes. Yet in many areas, including medicine, there’s simply no matching up the complaints and the realities.

For example, despite what radical feminists would have you think, women have gotten more than their fair slice of the medical research pie.

To my slight irritation, Young somehow missed the rallying cry of former Rep. Pat Schroeder that only 14 percent of National Institutes of Health (NIH) money is devoted to diseases that afflict exclusively or in the case of breast cancer) almost exclusively women.

Schroeder didn’t note that this was because 80 percent was going to diseases that strike bother the genders more or less equally. Simple subtraction reveals that exclusively male diseases were left with only 6 percent of the budget.

Author Cathy Young

But Young, a contributing editor to Reason magazine who also writes a weekly column on gender issues for several major newspapers, makes her case nicely even without this outrage.

Consider the breast cancer battleground.

Congress’s longtime feminist-in-chief Schroeder explained the disparity in funding of this almost exclusively female disease saying, "When you have a male-dominated group of researchers, they are more worried about prostate cancer than breast cancer." The predictable headlines popped up. "Women Smell a Rat in Medical Studies," read one. "Research That Ignores Females Is No Bargain," said another.

The problem is, the disparity goes radically in the opposite direction.

Young notes that in the decade before Schroeder made that comment in 1990, the National Cancer Institute National Cancer Institute (NCI) had spent $658 million on breast cancer research and $113 million on prostate cancer. Meanwhile, the computerized Medline database of medical journal articles had almost 18,000 English-language entries under "breast cancer" during the prior 15 years and merely a tenth that number for "prostate cancer."

By 1993, prostate cancer was receiving about $1,150 per death while breast cancer pulled in over $9,500 per fatality.

"There’s the feeling that if this were a man’s disease it would have been licked already," singer Carly Simon told a receptive media when she was battling breast cancer. One newspaper actually used the quote as a headline.

Perhaps Simon and those reporters are unaware that no form of cancer has been "licked," though one of the greatest cancer success stories is the stunning decline in the occurrence of cervical cancer and in the death rate of those who do still contract it. Try finding a male chauvinist pig with a cervix.

Many of the claims feminists like to call "medical mal(e)-practice" are simply bizarre.

Journalists Leslie Laurence and Beth Weinhouse, in their 1994 book Outrageous Practices, made the outrageous claim that endometriosis, a painful inflammation of the uterine lining, wasn’t even considered real until well into the 1980s. Rather, "most doctors assumed women’s excruciating pelvic pain was all in their heads," they railed. Actually, notes Young, "over four thousand articles on endometriosis appeared in medical journals from 1970 to 1990."

Former NIH Director Bernadine Healy told Ladies Home Journal "there may be no better example of gender bias" in medicine than the neglect of STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] in women." If that’s the best example, she’s proved Young’s point several times over. From 1966 to 1990, 12 percent of the articles on Medline concerning STDs dealt only with men while 20 percent dealt only with women. Thus 88 percent dealt exclusively or jointly with females.

Other allegations of "medical mal(e)-practice" go from patronizing treatment to unnecessary surgery. According to Outrageous Practices, "20 to 90 percent" of hysterectomies performed in the U.S. are "medically unjustified." Now there’s a useful statistic.

Meanwhile, Young shows it may be American men who are most subject to "slash and burn" surgery. One survey found nearly 80 percent of American urologists but only 4 percent of British ones would recommend a radical prostatectomy — often resulting in permanent incontinence and impotence — for a man in his sixties with the cancer nonetheless confined to the gland.

The problem with all this nonsense is that it isn’t just nonsense, but rather has serious repercussions. Research funds are misallocated. Women may avoid necessary surgery because they’ve been convinced doctors see them as playthings — not for sex but for cutting and sewing!

And ultimately, in a world where animosity is never in short supply, this imaginary inequity merely stirs up suspicion, fear, anger, and hatred. Young’s book — perhaps epitomized by her brilliant chapter title, "Men Are from Earth, Women Are From Earth" is powerful medicine to combat these diseases.


Read an excerpt or order a copy of Cathy Young’s book, Ceasefire!.

Read additional book reviews by Michael Fumento.