Illustration for article titled Viagra Might Relieve Period Cramps, but Male Pharmaceutical Execs Dont Care
Image: Wellcome Collection

A new book called Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez explores all the hidden ways women are screwed over by the fact male bodies are considered standard in designing everything from seat belts to smartphone speakers.

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For example, a review of the book for The Times of London offers this interesting maddening tidbit about the history of Viagra:

When Viagra — sildenafil citrate — was tested initially as heart medication, its well-known properties for men were discovered. “Hallelujah,” said Big Pharma, and research ceased. However, in subsequent tests the same drug was found to offer total relief for serious period pain over four hours. This didn’t impress the male review panel, who refused further funding, remarking that cramps were not a public health priority.

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And these biases can be deadly, according to Criado Perez’s research. Female heart attacks don’t present like the “Hollywood heart attack” with a lot of chest clutching and sudden pain. Instead, women might have stomach aches and nausea along with fatigue and shortness of breath, which doctors often fail to recognize.

The perils of chemical exposure are also primarily tested on men without regards to the fact that women are, on average, smaller and weigh less with thinner skin and more body fat. Different hormones and immune systems also haven’t been considered in research, leading Criado Perez to liken female nail techs to “canaries in the mine.”

Another infuriating fact: forcing female members of the military to match men’s stride length actually broke their pelvises.

Until 2013 women in the British armed forces, who suffered ten times more hip and pelvic stress fractures than male colleagues, had to match men’s stride length on parade. Only court action forced change. A similar shortening of stride length in the Australian army decreased such fractures.

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And it would seem that technology is making gender biases worse instead of better, since Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly male. From algorithms that disregard resumes with female names to smart speakers that are designed to hear men’s voices, forcing women to lower their pitch in order to be understood, women apparently can’t even catch a break with robots.

I’m going to scream into the void now. Good thing Siri can’t hear me.

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DISCUSSION

I follow a bunch of science AND gender writers/tweeters/researchers on Twitter so this is All Over My Feed last two days and there are loads of absolutely terrible takes but definitely my least favourite is Economics Bro being like “uhhh this can’t be true because pharma companies want to make money? so obvs they wouldn’t do this, because it’s leaving women’s viagra money on the table and that’s not economically logical, so they can’t possibly be doing it, you’re just whiney and wrong, checkmate harpy bitch”. The ridiculous idea that economic actors are always logical (and, incidentally, that “logical” always means “make/save the most money”) is so fucking wrong and stupid.

(See also: “uhhh Hollywood isn’t sexist, they just don’t put women in movies bc they make more money that way bc men go to see more movies” NO THEY DON’T!!)

People can be greedy / out for profit AND sexist, fellas. And sometimes people’s biases influence them to bet on the wrong horse.