Stop calling women’s bodies mystery. Medical science just hasn’t paid enough attention to them


Present-day science looks at the male body as the norm—and the female body as a modified version of this norm. Cat Bohannon’s book, Eve, reshapes the narrative of human evolution. Bohannon, who has a PhD from Columbia University in the evolution of narrative and cognition, upends it by examining human evolution from the perspective of many Eves.

No woman can be said to have been a derivative of Adam’s rib. Bohannon’s narrative starts with an evocative story of the now-extinct Morganucodon—the earliest known animal to have produced milk. The Morganucodon is a genus of tiny mammals that lived 200 million years ago.


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The original Eves

From secretory glands, female mammals evolved to have breasts and nipples, but men have them too even though they perform no function in the male body. Evolutionarily, it was much easier to retain them in men than to rewire their entire system.

Bohannon traces the journey from Protungulatum donnae, the earliest mammal with a womb, to Australopithecus afarensis, known as ‘Lucy,’ who walked on two feet. She refers to these animals as the original Eves.

Through her writing, Bohannon looks at science and health from a perspective that does not leave one sex behind for the sake of the other. Different sexes have different but complementary evolutionary journeys.

It’s high time for medical science to move away from considering the male body as the default setting and become more gender-sensitive, giving the female body the attention it deserves.

Improving the understanding of the female body is not just a matter of intellectual quest – it has serious implications for half of the world’s population.

Several studies have shown that ignorance leads to bias in diagnosis and treatment. A 2018 study found that doctors perceive men with chronic pain as “brave” but view similarly afflicted women as “emotional”. Women’s bodies emerge faster from anesthesia, but, according to Bohannon, it was not until 1999 that doctors even began studying these differences.


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Burden of contraception

It’s only now that studies are trying to understand these differences. But still, most clinical studies are not designed to identify how a new drug or vaccine might affect women differently. It is only after the commercial release of the drug that these side-effects may be studied – that too if adverse events are seen in women.

Such ignorance also affects policy to a large extent. For decades, India has relied on female sterilisation as its primary contraceptive method, despite vasectomies being not only safer but also less invasive. Despite higher risk among women, there has been no effort to improve awareness around vasectomies. The burden of family planning falls squarely on women.

Views are personal. 

(Edited by Ratan Priya)



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