Male sex hormones can be hazardous to men's health and estrogen is a fine credential for the working world, according to a Georgetown University Medical School professor.
"Now I like testosterone. Every home should have some," says Dr. Estelle R. Ramey, professor of physiology and biophysics. "But it becomes damaging as a man gets older."
Feminist, scientist, wife, mother and raconteur, Ramey's stand-up comic delivery was not lost on the National Association of Women Business Owners last week when she followed the mousse Marriott with a talk entitled, "Sex Hormones and Business Ability."
Women are biologic marvels, she said. If women exercise, don't smoke and eat right, they won't deteriorate as quickly as men. "A woman throws away her evolutionary aces if she smokes." The aces, Ramey said, are estrogen and the double-X chromosome.
Ramey's sex and money topics, "the burning issues for either gender," drew some 80 business-suited, briefcased and name-tagged NAWBO members.
Testosterone, a male steroid at one time dubbed the "take-charge hormone," was mocked. ("If it's testosterone the public wants in a president, as an endocrinologist I can't recommend a 70-year-old man in the White House. They should get a 16-year-old boy instead. It seems the only thing the public doesn't want to see in a president is estrogen.") ome of the evidence in her argument: Women live longer than men. Women have a double chance for immunity to diseases because of their two X chromosomes (roughly 70 percent of congenital anomalies are seen in boys). The high ratio of testosterone to estrogen is a disadvantage in terms of the male's cardiovascular system.
But there's hope for men, as an aspirin a day seems to counteract some of the negative effects of testosterone.
Given this data, oversimplified for laymen but easier to take that way, Ramey made her political points. She questions the "double set of bookkeeping" by which females are seen either as fragile flowers with delicate sensibilities, or as women of iron descended from pioneer mothers, rewarded with jobs only when their men die. In general, Ramey observes, "women are regarded as very attractive pinheads."
Her more specific question is, why don't scientists study the biologic strengths of women rather than the biochemical weaknesses of men?
"If you wanted to set up a successful business, you'd study business success stories, right?" Ironically, she says, to work toward solutions to the high incidence of male heart attacks, NIH chose to study 600 men (and later added seven women.)
Ramey's barbs are rooted in statistics, scientific research and personal experience with discrimination. At the University of Tennessee early in her career, she was offered a job at one-quarter the salary of her chemist-predecessor. "Then I actually worked with rats--the four-legged kind--and the females always outlived the males, particularly under conditions of stress."
Her studies of lab rats have sorted a maze of questions pertaining to stress management differences between the sexes. When turned end-over-end in a vat, for example, female lab rats lasted half again as many turns as males before they went into shock. When tested under stressful forced-swimming conditions, male rats consistently sank to the bottom of the tank while female rats would paddle around for 12 days. "The one under the most stress was me."
As for the notion that female over-achievers may suffer the same stress-related illnesses prevalent in career-climbing men, she calls the idea "wishful thinking" on the part of male chauvinists.