Channel 4’s Are Women The Fitter Sex? provides viewers with an in-depth look at the sex-based biases and gender data gaps which continue to dominate Western medicine – many of which lead to women being let down.
For way too long, strength has been defined in terms of male characteristics. Not only are men said to be mentally stronger than women (a stereotype which has harmed men’s mental health for generations), we’ve also been taught to believe that men are physically stronger too.
However, that isn’t necessarily the case. While men may be stronger than women in terms of their muscular build, when it comes to their ability to fight off illness, they don’t fare quite as well.
That’s the subject of the new Channel 4 documentary Are Women The Fitter Sex? from the A&E doctor and TV personality Dr Ronx, who takes a closer look at the disparities between men and women when it comes to disease outcomes. It may not sound that exciting, but in delving deeper into the world of gender and sex-based bias in medicine, Dr Ronx uncovers some incredibly eye-opening truths.
Take the difference in men and women’s responses to Covid-19, for an example. As Dr Ronx discovers in the documentary, men have a 40% higher chance of dying from coronavirus than women. Not only that, but double the amount of men than women are admitted to intensive care with the virus, despite data which shows that more women have tested positive for the virus.
And it’s not just during the coronavirus pandemic that this pattern has been evident. Through interviews with various different health professionals, Dr Ronx unveils a series of differences between the way men and women respond to diseases. Globally, men are not only more likely to develop diabetes, but they’re also 20% more likely to get cancer and 40% more likely to die from it – mainly because of the differences in X and Y chromosomes which determine sex.
However, as Dr Ronx highlights later on in the film, women’s heightened ability to fight illnesses doesn’t mean they come out on top. Indeed, many of the above revelations have taken decades to realise, simply because of the lack of data we have when it comes to women’s health. In turn, that gender data gap – which remains a problem to this day – has led to many women being let down by a medical system based on male bodies.
Dr Ronx explores examples of these failures throughout the documentary, from late autism diagnoses to doctors failing to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack in women (which tend to differ from those seen in men).
The film also took a closer look at sex-based bias when it comes to drug testing (where there is still no legal requirement to involve women in clinical trials), and how the failure to check whether the anti-epilepsy drug sodium valproate was safe for pregnant women led to many unborn babies being harmed.
Overall, then, Are Women The Fitter Sex? is an unflinching look at the bias which continues to dominate medicine to this day. Women may be better at fighting off illness, but, as Dr Ronx highlights, the medical system’s failure to recognise these differences – and adapt practice to better accommodate female bodies – remains an ongoing problem.
Images: Channel 4
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.