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Genetic Superiority of Women - Sharon Moalem

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OhHolyJesus Fri 13-Mar-20 11:53:31

Just got this from my digital subscription to the Times.

The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women by Sharon Moalem is published on April 7 (Allen Lane £20)

1.7% of women and 2.8% of men who caught coronavirus in the first six weeks died
Men are about 20% more likely to get cancer and are 40% more likely to die from it than women.

From The Sunday Times:

Coronavirus is killing more men than women. In its first six weeks almost equal numbers of males and females were infected with the disease, but only 1.7% of the women went on to die, compared with 2.8% of the men. Scientists think they know why: women’s immune systems are stronger than men’s. They’re built that way.

Dr Sharon Moalem, a Canadian-born physician, rare disease specialist and author, has a theory that women are genetically tougher than men. In 2016 Moalem and his wife, Anna, were driving in Toronto. A car ran through a red light and smashed into them. “We rolled,” he recalls. “The cabin, the roof, totally caved in. We were very lucky to be alive. If we hadn’t ducked down, we would probably have been decapitated.”

They were hospitalised for more than a month with very similar injuries. But here’s the strange thing: Anna was released two weeks earlier than Sharon. “What was really noticeable was the healing time,” he says. “The superficial cuts, for example -- her healing time was faster. I got more infections than she did, my infections didn’t clear as fast and I just didn’t get back on my feet to the same degree.”

His delayed recovery and the resilience of his wife did not surprise him. To him it was more proof that women are genetically superior to men. After the crash, he decided to write a book about it-- The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women.

The evidence is strong. Women on average live longer than men. More men are born than women -- 105 to every 100-- but, by the age of 40, the numbers are equal and, by 100, 80% of the survivors are female. Women suffer fewer congenital birth abnormalities -- tongue-tie, webbed toes and so on-- than men. Men are about 20% more likely to get cancer and 40% more likely to die from it. Male children are twice as likely to suffer developmental disabilities such as ADHD, autism, learning problems and stammering. Women tend to have better colour vision than men and some are tetrachromatic, which means they may see up to 100 million colours, not the one million most men struggle by on.

Ah, you say, but men are physically stronger than women. Well, no, not in terms of survival. When Stalin’s policies in Soviet Ukraine starved millions, more women than men survived. Men are certainly more muscular and better than women at most sports requiring power. No female sprinter is going to beat Usain Bolt, and men still dominate at marathons. But men are not so good when it comes to extreme endurance contests such as ultramarathons.

Jasmin Paris with her daughter, Rowan
“The further the race, the more difficult the conditions and that’s when men start dropping off,” Moalem says. The point was dramatically made last year when Jasmin Paris, a 35-year-old vet and mother, won the 268-mile Montane Spine Race along the Pennine Way up to Scotland. “She broke the course record by 12 hours. At the rest stations along the way, she was pumping breast milk for her baby while the men were flat out on the floor.”

Moalem also cites the Transcontinental cycle race, a pedal across Europe of about 2,500 miles. Last year that was also won by a woman, Fiona Kolbinger, a 24-year-old medical student from Germany. This is happening because, increasingly, women are taking part in events once thought too difficult for them.

In fact, they’re easier for women than men. Why?

“We think it is twofold,” Moalem says. “One reason is that women have a lower resting metabolic rate, so they don’t exhaust themselves as easily. The other piece of this puzzle that I looked at was famine survival, for which women have an immense advantage. I think that’s where the ultra-endurance performance comes from.”

He does not mention the rigours of pregnancy, once compared to running a marathon daily. Surely this is the ultimate proof of his theory? Moalem is too much of a scientist to go there.

“Suffice to say that a mammalian pregnancy requires a staggering biological response and adaptation. Yet until we manage to get an XY male pregnant, there’s really no way for us to make that comparison and know for certain. But I would say that far more impressive even than a genetic female’s capacity to support a pregnancy to term is their ability to make it across the supercentenarian finish line. There’s really nothing biologically harder for a human to pull off then making it to 110 years of age and beyond.”

Moalem is equally careful not to draw too many conclusions about coronavirus -- yet. “Yes, so far it seems that more men are unfortunately succumbing to Covid-19, [but] we will only know for certain a few years after the pandemic if more males were affected. That being said, Mers, another related coronavirus that we do have more experience with and more epidemiological data, does in fact kill more males.”

Somehow, for millennia, science and society have managed to overlook all of this. We have preferred the strong-man myth. “As a physician and scientist, the schooling that I got was that men are stronger”-- meaning not just more muscular but all-round more robust -- “It took me 20 years to deconstruct that paradigm.”

Moalem knows there is going to be resistance to his theory. “I thought a lot about that while I was considering whether to write this book. It’s a dangerous idea and it’s going to upset a lot of people. It probably has already. Whenever you’re swapping paradigms, there’s a lot of resistance. But it’s such a fundamental rule of biology that ignoring it is to our detriment when it comes to the medical applications. That’s what gave me the impetus and the courage to say, you know, it’s time now for us to make a change.”

One way in which it has been to our detriment is in drug prescriptions. Bizarrely, Moalem says, scientists prefer to use male mice to test drugs. “To this day, preclinical research does not require you to use both female and male mice,” he says.

Of course, there are studies that use female mice, but scientists often veer towards using males because they are less hormonal than females, which, they say, makes for clearer data. But there’s a drawback, says Moalem: as a result, doctors find that women report more side effects from drugs than men. This is not because they are weaker, but because they are being overdosed on the basis of tests performed on male mice. Women’s bodies hold on to drugs, including alcohol, longer, so the effects and the side effects are intensified.

For Moalem, the central truth underlying his thesis is that women are better built. The reason fewer female babies are born than male is that the construction process is more tricky, so slightly more female embryos and foetuses are rejected before birth. “Building a woman is an immensely complicated process. It has to go perfectly. If it doesn’t, then everything is lost.”

Moalem believes that the reason for all this lies deep within women’s cells. Humans normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes-- gene-bearing coils of DNA -- in each of our cells. But one of these pairs-- the sex chromosomes -- differs in men and women. In women, it consists of two so-called X chromosomes-- one from her mother and one from her father; in men, it consists of an X from the mother and a Y from the father. The Y chromosome’s primary function is to produce testes and sperm, and is relatively poor in genetic information compared with the X chromosome.

For years it was believed that one of the two X chromosomes in women was effectively silenced. This fed straight into the “men are stronger” mythology. There was even a set of novels and a TV series -- The XYY Man-- which suggested having two Ys made you stronger, inclined to criminality. This is nonsense.

In reality, about a quarter of the genes on the “silenced” X chromosome are still active and accessible to female cells. So she has two possible sources of genetic information to fight disease, hunger or exhaustion. Men only have one. So having two Xs is, in Moalem’s view, the source of female superiority.

“We now know why it’s so important, because so many of the genes that are used to make the brain are on the X chromosome. And so many of the genes that are involved in the immune function are on the X. It’s like having 23 volumes of instruction manuals for your house.

“But the one that is the most crucial for humans is the one about the brain and immunity. Without immunity, we’re not going to be around much.”

Moalem is an energetic polymath. He was born in Montreal and now works and practises in New York, where he has become something of a media star. In 2007 his bestselling book Survival of the Sickest made the case that some diseases helped us live longer. His next bestseller, in 2009, was How Sex Works, which ran through all the latest material on sexuality and why people find each other attractive.

“I’m always driven by very simple questions or just a string of questions that eventually ends up with one question, which I then can’t get any satisfactory answer for. And if I get blank stares or laughter, I know I’m onto something interesting.”

So he goes for the big, hidden ideas and he sells them with fierce energy. He is 43 and has a taut, slightly corporate air, dressed in a bright blue suit and light brown wingtip shoes. He has an instinct for seeking out what others miss, oddities that point to a deeper, less familiar truth. The resilience of women, for example, was buried not just by mythology but also by misguided theory. He noticed this while still a student.

“Someone would say, well, why were most medical studies done using men? And they’d say, well, they’re stronger. We don’t want to take the risk of using a woman, who is the weaker sex; we may harm her. Men are made of stronger stuff and they can take it. That’s what was implanted in me and my colleagues. For me, everything I was seeing was telling me the opposite. We confused the idea of being able to throw a spear farther than a woman and being able to run faster and lift more things that are heavy with an organismal strength.”

Greater female longevity used to be explained by the fact that men behaved badly -- they took more risks, went to war, smoked more, drank more, got into fights more and so on. But this did not explain male weaknesses that were clearly inborn.

“Besides the developmental errors that seem to happen more in males, the other thing I kept seeing was a survival advantage in neonatal intensive care units, with very young, very small children,” Moalem says. “When I would speak to the nurses, they were wells of wisdom because they’d been doing this same job for 30 years. They’d say, we’ve been telling physicians this for the longest time. Whenever we see a boy and a girl in similar circumstances, we’re more concerned for the boys. So if we’re seeing a survival advantage there, then it’s not behavioural.”

For women, there is a downside to all this. There’s a perceived paradox about female longevity: although they live longer than men, they also tend to suffer more illnesses in their lives. This was a puzzle, but now, Moalem says, we may have solved it. “It’s not that women get more ill, it’s that men get ill and die. So the fact is, it’s not a paradox. The answer for it is simple-- women are just not dying.”

There is one type of illness that women suffer from more than men. The second X chromosome gives them the benefit of a more effective immune system, but it may also mean they are more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases in which the body attacks itself. These include rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and more than 100 others. As with cancer, men are more likely to die from such diseases, but, unlike cancer, women are more likely to be afflicted in the first place.

So, will the world change when news of women’s genetic superiority sinks in? “When any paradigm changes there are definitely societal changes associated with it. But the resistance that I’m getting when I say that women are biologically stronger than men is telling me that the opposite idea is still dominant right now. So many of the decisions we make in areas such as employment are affected by this. It’s like with the ultramarathons. Women were discouraged from doing these ultra-events because they are so arduous. They thought there was no way that a woman could even do it. Then they allowed women to compete with men and then the women started beating the men. A woman can’t win any race unless she runs it.”

He thinks there may be a “reimagination” of what it means to be strong. “In the past, strength meant protecting yourself and your family, your tribe and your group. That relied on physical strength. But we have evolved as a society and now machines and technology provide more strength than a human is able to produce.”

There’s a danger here of new forms of anti-male prejudice and discrimination. But such attitudes are nowhere to be found in the science. The subtitle of Moalem’s book is On the Genetic Superiority of Women. The keyword is “genetic”. Genes don’t make anybody “better” than anybody else, they just make them different.

Nature has made men and women fit for purpose -- the first for physical strength, the second for the resilience to, in Moalem’s words, “survive long enough to ensure the survival of our offspring-- which in turn means the survival of us all”.

We are, in short, all in this survival game together, all essential and all equal.

OP’s posts: |
PlanDeRaccordement Fri 13-Mar-20 12:42:32

“Genetic Superiority” founded the Eugenics movement. And we all know what extremes the Nazis took that to.
I don’t believe any sex (or race) is genetically superior to another.

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 12:46:04

the word "superiority" is an issue.

But I've been mulling over similar for a while; I teach in an sen school. Mix of moderate learning difficulties, global delays, fine motor difficulties, autism, adhd etc.

The majority of pupils are male. Est 90%. I asked an OT once if she saw a sex difference across her case loads and she said yes, mostly male. Same from SALT.

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 12:47:51

And it's well known in schools that a summer born boy, esp if premature, is a potential risk for needing extra input. Not all by any means but enough to be noticeable.

Mockerswithnoknockers Fri 13-Mar-20 12:58:05

A brother and his sister have essentially the same genes.

It is the case that there is a biological imperative for females to survive outbreaks of infectious disease. The more breeding-age females you have, the more you can repopulate.

n00bMaster69 Fri 13-Mar-20 13:02:01

Reminds me of The descent of woman.

PlanDeRaccordement Fri 13-Mar-20 13:03:51

On SEN, but isn’t it also true that girls are under-diagnosed for SEN because the conditions are all based on how they manifest in boys who are socialised differently?

RoyalCorgi Fri 13-Mar-20 13:06:54

It's very interesting, but I'm curious about this bit:

'For years it was believed that one of the two X chromosomes in women was effectively silenced. This fed straight into the “men are stronger” mythology. There was even a set of novels and a TV series -- The XYY Man-- which suggested having two Ys made you stronger, inclined to criminality. This is nonsense.'

I find this really surprising because I remember reading years and years ago - I mean, we're talking 30 years, probably - that the two X chromosomes gave women an advantage. It's because certain conditions (colour-blindness is one example) are carried on the X chromosome, so because a man inherits just the one X chromosome he will definitely have the disease, but because a woman has two, the "good" X chromosome will cancel out the bad one. This is why men are 16 times more likely to be colour-blind than women.

Dervel Fri 13-Mar-20 13:09:33

Whilst I’d agree in principle that the word superior is an issue, I’d generally welcome anything that pushes back on the lie that women are weak and inferior.

Danceswithwarthogs Fri 13-Mar-20 13:21:24

I think we see this too in animal disease, but don’t ask me for the studies grin

koshkatt Fri 13-Mar-20 13:21:31

*But I've been mulling over similar for a while; I teach in an sen school. Mix of moderate learning difficulties, global delays, fine motor difficulties, autism, adhd etc.
The majority of pupils are male. Est 90%. I asked an OT once if she saw a sex difference across her case loads and she said yes, mostly male. Same from SALT*

As a teacher you ought to know that girls are woefully underdiagnosed in this area for the reasons pointed out above. It is a feminist issue imo (teacher).

koshkatt Fri 13-Mar-20 13:21:46

Sorry - bold fail.

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 14:04:45

They are, yes I fully agree. And have written a lot here about that. But the additional learning difficulties we see and adhd is not as common in girls. Not absent, but not as common. Even in the classes where pupils are non or have very low verbal and communication skills with significant autism and learning delay the ratios are usually 7:1 male:female. Those girls wouldn't be 'missed' in mainstream, they simply couldn't be there at all.

I'm actually talking about those children in mainstream schools too, not asd, who often need more SALT and OT input.

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 14:08:20

On SEN, but isn’t it also true that girls are under-diagnosed for SEN because the conditions are all based on how they manifest in boys who are socialised differently?

I believe this is a big factor too. But it cannot account for the sex ratios at a particular level of difficulty. Where those pupils are in a way more unaware or influenced by social conditioning.

Fine motor skill difficulties are particularly something that the OT I spoke to about this mentioned as being a noticeable difference between sexes in pupil referrals to her.

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 14:13:39

I've spent a long time trying to challenge my assumptions that there's a difference between the sexes and applying theories of stereotyping being a factor in non diagnosis as well as how pupils present and are assessed (for many conditions) which is definitely a large part of it, but there's still a significant number of pupils where there seems to be an impact of sex.

Gronky Fri 13-Mar-20 14:49:26

I don’t believe any sex (or race) is genetically superior to another.

Perhaps 'better adapted to long term survival' which, while wordy, is more accurate, similar to how it would be enormously better to describe a Caucasian as 'better adapted to life at higher latitudes' than 'genetically superior' because they're less at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 14:56:53

The thing is, women suffer from more autoimmune issues etc so superior is the wrong word.

We are biologically different and how those differences are accommodated is important, stereotypes do not help. But awareness of stereotypes does help as can counter poor diagnosis or treatment based on those stereotypes. Eg a girl with adhd may get negative stereotyped attitude towards her. A boy might get missed in reception as "oh that's what boys are like," (I've seen this happen.)

Women have a 'gender pain gap' due to lack of awareness of their needs and research in the area.

koshkatt Fri 13-Mar-20 15:04:56

Thank you for your helpful replies Neurotrash. I bow to your expertise on this.

RoyalCorgi Fri 13-Mar-20 15:09:57

I don't think we should get hung up on the word "superior", which is clearly there to be eye-catching. The real point is whether there are genuine biological differences between men and women at the genetic level that equip women with an advantage - at least more so than was previously thought? Don't forget that for most of the past several thousand years it has been believed that men had a strong biological advantage over women.

DuchessDumbarton Fri 13-Mar-20 16:02:10


Dont like the notion that genetic differences, that emerged to provide the maximum survival strategies for us as a species mean that either sex is "superior".
That's a dangerous notion, whichever way the pendulum swings.
Different, yes. Equal, yes. Same? no.

Secondly, re SEN rates.
Girls are woefully under diagnosed for dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, ASD etc.
They have to display much worse difficulty before they are referred to services.
The standardised assessment are tilted toward male norms.
And, re the likelihood of being referred to be assessed by those assessments;
you (girl) are likely to have "masked" your issues or being dismissed as "attention seeking" before you are taken seriously enough to be sent for referral.
So clinical caseloads are 90% male, but the 10% who are female tend to have more significant difficulties and be referred later (personal observations, not research based.)

SonicVersusGynaephobia Fri 13-Mar-20 16:20:41

That is so fascinating. Thanks for posting it OP

Imnobody4 Fri 13-Mar-20 16:33:21

Surely recognising differences doesn't mean cementing them. It enables us to take developmental differences into account, including special support etc.
Video of boys and girls marching

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 16:41:27

I imagine that's sarky kosh, I'm repeating observations from others in the field I've worked with for 30 years.

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 13-Mar-20 16:49:23

*Secondly, re SEN rates.
Girls are woefully under diagnosed for dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, ASD etc.
They have to display much worse difficulty before they are referred to services.*

Yes I agree, especially in mainstream.

I do see a sex gap in those pupils who've been identified from nursery age or younger as those make up the majority of pupils I've worked with. These are massive generalisations by me and by including all difficulties in this discussion as there will be so many variables for each type of issue.

definitelygc Fri 13-Mar-20 17:15:27

I read that another reason women do well in ultra-marathons is that they are better at coping with pain. I have a tattoo artist friend who will attest to this. It makes sense that this would have evolved as a way to cope with childbirth I guess.

I agree that "superior" is an unhelpful term. I think it's really important that we continue to reiterate that men and women are biologically different but that women are not just men minus the testosterone.

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