Cover image for Just like a woman : how gender science is redefining what makes us female
Just like a woman : how gender science is redefining what makes us female
Hales, Dianne R., 1950-
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New York : Bantam Books, 1999.
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xv, 398 pages ; 25 cm
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HQ1206 .H2325 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Throw out the Stereotypes! Just like a woman! The very phrase is a put-down, echoing the long-entrenched stereotypes of what it means to be female.  From earliest recorded history, women have been cast in terms of males: lesser versions that are frailer, smaller, dimmer, less competent, defective.  Never again.  This lively, meticulously documented book turns the dismissive old catchphrase inside out. It is only in the past few years that researchers in many fields have actively focused on what being female really means.  Their startling conclusion: almost every assumption made about women--physical, medical, historical, psychological--turns out to be untested, unproven, or untrue.  Rather than classifying women only by their biology (as the medical establishment has), or denying they are biological creatures (as some feminists have),Just Like a Womanpresents the cutting-edge findings in anthropology, physiology, psychology, neuroscience, endocrinology, and medicine that are redefining what a woman is. These findings reveal the complex interconnections between all aspects of a woman's life from infancy to old age.  Gender science is confirming that the female of the species is not the second sex but the separate sex.  She is as powerful as the male but with different strengths: intuitiveness, adaptability, durability, sensitivity, sensuality.  Her brain is smaller but more densely packed with neurons, her senses of smell and hearing more acute, her core body temperature higher.  She processes emotions and perceives pain differently; she sleeps more lightly; she is more vulnerable to certain mental disorders and more resistant to others; her body reacts differently from a man's to many medications; and the rhythms of her monthly cycles shape not only her fertility but her mood, her creativity, and her resilience.  These are only some of the special aspects spelled out in this book, and all of them are crucial to a woman's understanding of her body, her mind, her spirit, and her relationships with those she loves.  From conception on, she is female to the core. This stereotype-shattering book lays out what it means to live in a woman's body, think with a woman's brain, drink in the world with a woman's senses, and react with a woman's sensibility to the stresses and elations of her multiple roles.  Refreshingly free of ideology,Just Like a Womanoffers a stunningly liberating message that expands our concept of human potential and will forever change the way every woman views herself.

Author Notes

Dianne Hales is one of the country's most widely published authors of books & articles on health subjects. Her husband, Robert E. Hales, M.D., is a nationally renowned psychiatrist. He is professor & chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, & the author of more than 125 scientific publications. Together, they are also the co-authors of the definitive, award-winning reference work "Caring for the Mind: The Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health."

(Publisher Provided) Dianne Hales is a widely published, award-winning freelance journalist. She has served as a contributing editor for many prestigious and wide-ranging journals.

Dianne's trade books include La Bella Lingua, which is a New York Times 2016 bestseller, Think Thin, Be Thin, Just Like a Woman, Caring for the Mind and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered. She also is the author of the best-selling college health textbook, An Invitation to Health, and coauthor of An Invitation to Personal Change.

Dianne has received writing awards from the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and other professional associations for health reporting.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Most libraries have patrons who will be interested in one or more of these books--a wide-ranging survey of what science is learning about women's bodies and minds; biographies of two of the most important (and controversial) definers of second-stage feminism; and a year in the life of three women too young to remember women's lib. Hales is a medical journalist who has written books about depression and other forms of mental illness and about high-risk pregnancies. Here, she summarizes the results to date of research on gender, devoting full chapters in part 1 to animal behavior studies, anthropology, genetics and endocrinology, and clinical medicine. Part 2 examines women's life stages from menarche through menopause, and part 3 assesses gender aspects of women's brains, emotions, psychiatric vulnerability, sexuality, and spirituality. Although some of those areas are potentially controversial, Hales' straightforward discussions of research and conflicting theories allow readers to draw their own conclusions while learning a good deal of relatively new information. Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer both wrote seminal feminist works, and both have alienated past colleagues, in part, at least, because they've bad-mouthed so many of them. And Greer is angry about Wallace's biography: she objects to literary biography, especially of living authors, and she responded to publication of this one by calling Wallace "a dung beetle" and "flesh-eating bacteria." The reaction seems excessive: although Wallace certainly criticizes Greer and traces elements of her character to her dysfunctional family (as Greer herself has done), the biographer, who lives in Greer's native Australia, gives her subject full credit for the life-changing shock of recognition many women felt when they read The Female Eunuch. Hennessee had a more collaborative relationship with Friedan. When another author's planned biography fell through, Friedan met with Hennessee several times, and the author also interviewed members of Friedan's family and dozens of past and present friends and colleagues. Briefly stated, Hennessee's "fix" on Friedan is that she is "a woman of profound contradictions," committed to lofty goals but often prickly, dogmatic, even vengeful regarding those who disagreed with her or valued her less highly than she felt she deserved. Readers will not always like Betty Friedan in this involving narrative, but they can hardly fail to marvel at what she has accomplished over the years. The women Roth met and talked with over the course of a year are two generations younger than Friedan: a single, 29-year-old Hollywood film producer; a San Francisco ad exec who's 31 and divorced just long enough to be getting used to it; and a single, 33-year-old New Yorker who handles publicity for rock bands. From one vernal equinox to the next, Roth's informants let her in on their lives: interesting but not always satisfying jobs; family and friends; love interests of one degree of seriousness or another. These are the women who are said to be hearing their biological clocks, and all three do wonder whether marriage and kids are in their future. But they're also involved in other aspects of their lives and seem to have learned an essential truth: being alone has its own joys. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

As Hales (Caring for the Mind) argues on the one hand against old stereotypes of women as inferior and, on the other hand, against those feminists who insist on no difference between men and women, she finds that fundamental differences between the sexes exist and are cause for celebration. In three sections, she gathers a vast amount of biological and physiological research on animal behavior, genetics, hormones, women's health; findings on the female life cycle from girlhood through menstruation, pregnancy, infertility and menopause; and investigations into the mind, from the brain to emotions, mental disorders, sexuality and spirituality. The first two sections offer a heavy-handed determinism: in the way female seals jockey for choice rock positions and entice male seals to fight each other, Hales sees the evolutionary roots of the differing competitive styles of corporate men and women. More interesting are the crucial medical discoveries she reveals, especially concerning heart disease: the traditional test for detecting heart disease in men is far less reliable for women, whose heart attacks often don't show the same symptoms as men's. While Hales claims to steer clear of ideology, her choice of facts reinforces the idea that the differences between men and women are what matters most about who we are; often she replaces a disparaging set of stereotypes with a valorizing one. Only in the chapters on the brain and emotions does she suggest that men and women may be as similar as they are different or that the differences may be caused by social rather than biological factors. As absorbing as it is contradictory, her book will be welcomed by readers who want to know why women are different from men but will be frustrating to those more interested in the significance of those differences. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Hales considers how recent research has overturned stereotypes about women. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Unasked Questions Not long ago, Marianne Legato recalls, a scientist reported his preliminary findings from tests of a new compound on laboratory rats--all male.  "What happens in females?" she asked. "The same," he replied. "How do you know?" she inquired. "Because females respond just like males," he answered. "But how can you be sure if you haven't tested females?" she pressed.  Flustered, he insisted that he "just knew." "I couldn't understand how he could possibly be so sure," Legato says.  "Then, finally, it dawned on me: Dolly the sheep wasn't the first clone, Eve was.  This man still assumed that women are essentially small men." (No one ever thinks of the converse: men as large women.) A lack of actual proof for their premises has never gotten in the way of medical experts' assumption that they "just know" the way women are.  Aristotle "just knew" that women nursed their babies with blanched menstrual blood stored in their breasts.  Medical illustrators in the Middle Ages "just knew" that women were duplicates of men with an inside-out penis for a vagina, an inverted scrotum for a womb, and testicles for ovaries.  Voltaire "just knew" that "the delicacy of women's limbs render them ill-suited to any type of labor or occupation that requires strength or endurance." Physicians of the late nineteenth century "just knew" that removal of a woman's ovaries was the best way to "repair" mental disorders--the reason, according to an 1889 report from the U.S.  Surgeon General, for 51 percent of such operations. Even today doctors routinely perform tests, prescribe drugs, and recommend treatments on the assumption that they will be as effective and beneficial for women as for men.  How do they know? The truth is they often don't.  From 1977 to 1993 the FDA banned women of childbearing potential from participating in the safety tests of new drugs to prevent possible damage to their unborn children and reproductive capacity.  To scientists, this offered an advantage: They did not have to take into account such messy variables as women's fluctuating hormones or monthly cycles.  As exclusion of women from all sorts of medical testing became common, this ban extended even to women who'd undergone sterilization or were past reproductive age.  In a further attempt to keep the science "clean," laboratory researchers experimented only on male animals.  As a result, in the landmark studies that shaped many modern medical practices, females were written out--and off. The landmark Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trials (known, aptly enough, as Mr.  Fit), which studied vulnerability to heart disease, the number-one killer of both sexes, included 12,000 to 15,000 men--and no women.  The Physician's Health Study of the potential benefits of taking an aspirin a day to lower the risk of heart attack looked at 22,071 physicians--none of them women.  A major evaluation of coffee intake and its impact on stroke and heart attack studied 45,589 men--and no women.  Only in 1998 did researchers discover that HIV tests misstate a woman's need for treatment.  Even when a woman and a man have the same amount of virus in their blood, the woman is at a more advanced state of infection and at much greater risk of developing AIDS.  Incredibly, even a study of the impact of obesity on the risk of breast and endometrial cancer--female diseases--extrapolated from only male subjects. Aging--something women do better, or at least longer--has been primarily studied in men.  In 1958 the federally sponsored researchers who launched what was to become the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging decided not to include women, even though they make up two thirds of the elderly and more than 70 percent of the old old (those over age eighty-five).  The reason was what former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, one of the first champions of women's health research, dubbed "the rest room excuse." At the time, the investigators had to work out of a single room at the city hospital.  The study participants had access to only one rest room, which they had to share with elderly male patients in an adjacent hospital ward.  Rather than ask women subjects to use this facility during overnight evaluations, the scientists excluded them altogether.  As the budget for this high-profile project grew, the researchers acquired more space--and more rest rooms.  However, for twenty years their studies included no women--an omission that did not keep the scientists from entitling their initial four-hundred-page report Normal Human Aging . The very fact that research never took women's menstrual cycling into account has created a black hole in scientific understanding of femaleness.  We know that women's bodies work differently at various times of the month, that temperature fluctuates, that fluid volume and weight increase, and that food moves through the digestive system at different rates.  But only recently have physicians realized that various diagnostic tests, including cholesterol and blood fat measurements, yield different results at different times of the month and that the timing of medical treatments during a woman's cycle can affect their efficacy--sometimes with life-or-death implications. According to an intriguing report at an American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, women who undergo breast cancer surgery during the second half, or luteal phase, of their monthly cycles (days 14 to 28) are twice as likely to suffer a recurrence as those who are operated on earlier in their cycles.  Recent research suggests that women with insulin-dependent diabetes may have higher blood sugar levels during the luteal phase of their cycles because fluctuations in sex hormones affect insulin blood levels. Many medications also have stronger or weaker effects at different times in a woman's cycle and may require adjustments in dosage.  However, the doses of most medications--along with their safety and efficacy--have never been tested in women or studied across the menstrual cycle.  This may account for the fact that adverse drug reactions, including ones as serious as seizures, are reported twice as often in women. "More than half of the drugs prescribed today have been tested only in men," says psychiatrist Steven Dubofsky, of the University of Colorado in Boulder, who notes that because of differences in size, absorption, metabolism, and liver function, "there can be tremendous gender differences in both beneficial and adverse effects in women." Yet when Dubofsky tested an experimental medication for Alzheimer's disease, the research review committee banned female participants.  "The reason was that women might become pregnant--although the average age in my study was eighty-two." Even treatments for problems that are more common in women have rarely been tested in them.  Research on aspirin's usefulness in preventing migraine headaches, which strike far more women, included only men.  Appetite suppressants and diet drugs--used far more often by women--have been tested almost exclusively in men.  Men traditionally were the sole subjects of tests of drugs to treat depression, a disorder that affects twice as many women. The relatively few studies that have been done on pharmacokinetics (how a drug is absorbed) in women have identified potentially significant gender differences.  Women metabolize propranolol, a medication used to treat cardiac arrhythmias, more slowly than men.  Blood levels of Inderal, used for migraines or high blood pressure, rise higher in women.  Other drugs, including acetaminophen and aspirin, several benzodiazepines (antianxiety agents), and lidocaine (a topical anesthetic and a treatment for certain arrhythmias), take longer to clear a woman's body. Many medications also interact in ways that have a unique impact on women.  Oral contraceptives--used by one in five American women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four--can raise blood levels of some psychiatric drugs so high that a woman on the pill may require only a fraction of the standard dose.  Other medications, such as the antiseizure drugs carbamazepine and phenytoin, may decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills and increase the chance of an unwanted pregnancy. When scientists do study the effects of drugs or other treatments on women, they often learn much that can benefit both sexes.  Consider the most significant exception to the no-females-allowed approach to health research, the Harvard Nurses' Health Study, which has followed 121,000 women for more than twenty years.  Its participants, who have filled out questionnaires and sent in blood samples and even toenail clippings over all these years, have taught us much about many common health threats--some exclusively female, such as the risk of breast cancer from birth control pills (which seems minimal), and some universal, such as the most effective means of preventing colon cancer. Yet any research investigation that excludes half the human race--female or male--shortchanges both genders.  Learning about human health and longevity by looking only at men, one biologist points out, is like trying to run a successful department store by studying only those that went bankrupt.  "More research on women is not a luxury to be indulged in only to pacify feminists, to secure the female vote, or to attract women to a hospital center," says Legato.  "Studying women is not so much a service we offer them as an opportunity they offer medical science to improve health care at all levels." Researchers aren't doing women a favor by including them in research protocols.  They're doing everyone a service. The Yentl Syndrome Felicia, an account manager at a New York advertising agency, worked like a man: Overstressed and underexercised, she put in long hours, smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day, and didn't pay much attention to what she ate.  At age thirty-four Felicia noticed a burning sensation in her chest when she walked more than a block or two.  "I stopped, and it stopped.  At first I didn't think it was anything serious.  I have a family history of high cholesterol, but I'd never even had a checkup." Since it was winter, the peak of flu season, Felicia assumed she kept feeling worse because she'd come down with a bug.  For ten days she shrugged off chest discomfort, breathlessness, and a throbbing headache.  Then one day she walked around a corner in her office and couldn't catch her breath.  That's when she got scared.  Felicia called her brother-in-law, an intern at a local hospital.  At his urging, she went to the emergency room.  At first no one suspected a heart attack.  "It wasn't like I clutched my chest and fell to the ground," she recalls. Few women do.  And because they don't get the classic symptoms of a heart attack, untold numbers of women complaining of breathlessness or vague pressure in their chest have been sent away from emergency rooms or told to stay home and lie down--advice that may have cost them their lives.  Unfortunately, in order to get medical attention, a woman--like Yentl, the girl in Isaac Bashevis Singer's story who had to dress like a boy to study the Torah--has often had to get sick just like a man. This false and dangerous assumption can occur with many illnesses, but the consequences may be most tragic with heart disease, which many still see as a "guy problem." It is not.  Even among women in their forties, heart disease claims more lives each year than breast cancer.  Yet a woman's heart, though vulnerable, usually doesn't ache or break like a man's. Men typically develop the first signs of a heart ailment a decade earlier than women--at thirty-five rather than forty-five.  Throughout the reproductive years, estrogen, indeed the best friend a woman's heart could have, prevents the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries, boosts levels of the beneficial form of cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and lowers heart-harming low-density lipoprotein (LDL). However, estrogen is not a magic potion that guarantees total protection.  As Felicia discovered, a woman who has a family history of cardiac disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol may develop serious problems even before she reaches menopause.  As their estrogen levels fall at midlife, the risk of heart disease rises for all women.  After age forty-five, one in nine women has some symptom of heart disease; by sixty-five, one in three does. "Only in the last eight to ten years have cardiologists realized that heart disease in women has been understudied, underrecognized, underdiagnosed, and undertreated," says Legato.  Since then, an explosion of new research has begun to unlock the secrets of a woman's heart.  We now know that the same risk factors--high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity--endanger both sexes, but they play out differently in women than men. A healthy norm for a woman's cholesterol is ten points higher than a man's--210 versus 200 milligrams per deciliter--but this figure matters less than her HDL levels.  And even then what's normal for a male may spell trouble for a female.  "We don't know why, but women with an HDL under 45 mg/dl are at greater risk, while men don't seem to be at risk unless their HDL dips below 35," says Legato. In women HDL is such a precise indicator of the heart's current and future health that some describe it as a cardiac crystal ball.  Total cholesterol, on the other hand, presents a murkier picture--made more complex by menstrual fluctuations.  LDL levels decline in the first half of a woman's monthly cycle.  In pregnancy, LDL levels increase and remain high until birth.  Oral contraceptives, even those with lower estrogen than the original formulations, raise LDL and lower HDL.  Menopause brings a rise in LDL and a small decline in HDL.  And after age fifty, other blood fats--the triglycerides--may be a more telling indicator of risk. Excerpted from Just Like a Woman: How Gender Science Is Redefining What Makes Us Female by Dianne Hales All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.