The Coronavirus is Reminding us of Biological Differences Between Men and Women

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | April 21, 2020

Despite the tragedy and catastrophe brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is some good that might yet come from it. For starters, the pandemic has reminded us all of the precariousness of our human condition, and things that aren’t essential just don’t seem to matter so much anymore. Case in point, is the transgender issue.

A close family friend told me she was surprised at how the virus forced the mainstream media to suddenly drop its incessant drumbeat on transgender issues.

“When was the last time you heard that a 9-year-old girl can be a boy?” she asked.

Maybe the coronavirus will also help convince some of the bio-skeptics out there that the biological differences between men and women are in fact real and essential.

As I went through my daily NY Times briefing, I was amazed to read the following admission in a newsletter prepared by Francesca Donner, the NY Times’ Gender Director (I didn’t even know there was a Gender Director at the NY Times):

Around the world, men are dying from the coronavirus at higher rates than women even though infection rates for both men and women are more or less the same. While some have attributed this to behavioral factors — men have higher smoking rates than women in China, for example — biological differences are also very likely responsible: The male body and the female body respond to viruses differently.

We have seen this borne out again and again in influenza, H.I.V., Ebola, SARS. And we’re seeing it play out today with Covid-19.

Donner’s article focuses on the need to collect sex-disaggregated data to better understand the differences in how men and women respond differently to the virus. In places like Italy and Germany where sex-disaggregated data collection is taken more seriously, stark differences in the male and female responses to the virus have been revealed. According to Italy’s data, women accounted for less than 35% of the deaths caused by the virus.

Why this is happening is unclear.

As femminist Caroline Criado Perez told Donner:

We don’t know that much about the difference between male and female immune systems. And the reason we don’t know that much is that, historically, we’ve preferred to study the male body.

We do know the female immune system is more active than the male immune system. The hypothesis is that it’s because women give birth and the female immune system has evolved around that. That can be bad for women in that women make up 80 percent of those with autoimmune diseases. Women also tend to have more frequent and more adverse reactions to vaccines as a result of their more active immune systems. Actually, several researchers have been calling for male and female versions of the influenza vaccine as a result of this.

Biology matters. It sometimes takes feminists and viruses to remind us of it. But will the NY Times gender directorate remember this when the Coronavirus pandemic ends? Or will it go back to peddling bio-skeptic theories about little boys that really are little girls in little boy bodies?


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