• The Low Down

Fair is fair

By Paul Hetzler


At least since Shakespeare’s time, men have used the phrase “the fair (or fairer) sex” to refer to women. This is greatly ironic, given that men have treated women unfairly from ancient times to the present. Women are also sometimes characterized – by men, of course – as the more delicate or weaker sex. Ironically, women are better than men at fighting off diseases like COVID-19 and coping with stress.


Scientists have found that testosterone makes it easier for males to be physically stronger than females. This is believed to be an evolutionary adaptation that enables males to protect females – who are more essential than men in terms of species survival – as well as babies in their care. I find it heartbreaking that while nature (or God, if you like) designed men to safeguard women, too many men pervert the intended order of things by committing violence against women.


When it comes to surviving pandemics, however, women are two times as strong as men. According to an April 18, 2020 article in The Guardian, twice as many men as women have died from COVID-19 in Spain. The article also recounts that in Italy the case fatality rate is 10.6 per cent for men and 6.0 per cent for women, and that early data from China revealed a death rate of 2.8 and 1.7 per cent respectively. Even after correcting for lifestyle influences, such as that more men than women smoke, the disparity is substantial.


In Quebec, women have perished at a higher rate. This may be a demographics issue. The Montréal Gazette reports that 80 per cent of Quebec health-care workers are female and women comprise 85 per cent of those in nursing homes, which have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. Regardless of Quebec’s exception, Global Health 50/50, a group tracking worldwide cases, states that the clear trend globally is that more men are succumbing to the virus.


In his book “The Better Half”, physician Sharon Moalem explains that most genes, which regulate the immune system, are located on the X chromosome. As we learned in basic biology, men have an XY chromosome pair while women have an XX complement. Women have twice as many X chromosomes in every cell and, according to Moalem, potentially twice the immune response.


Apparently COVID-19 “unlocks” a receptor protein called ACE-2, thereby obtaining carte blanche to run amok inside us, and ACE-2 depends on a set of genes on the X-chromosome. When COVID-19 circumvents this protein in males, it can then infect all their cells. With females, the virus must unlock two separate ACE-2 proteins related to two X chromosomes, which makes infection more difficult.


Moreover, it has long been known that female lab animals recover from stress faster than males. In the human realm, a study done at the University of California-Los Angeles in 2000 found women handle chronic stress better than guys.


Principal author Shelley E. Taylor wrote that, while the “fight or flight” response is well-documented, females have an additional reaction: a “tend and befriend” response. She says women’s proclivity to create and maintain social bonds helps them weather difficulties: “…oxytocin, in conjunction with female reproductive hormones… may be at its core.” Since 2000, this female “tend and befriend” phenomenon has been further researched and validated.


Seems the fair sex has some pretty fair benefits related to surviving pandemics and other adversities.


Paul Hetzler is a former Cornell University extension service educator and a resident of Val-des-Monts.


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