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The Weaker Sex?

kelli korducki

It’s official, folks: males are the weaker sex.

Toronto-based physician Ken Walker—perhaps better known as nationally syndicated medical columnist Dr. Gifford-Jones—points out in a recent article that life’s cards are unfavourably stacked against those with a Y chromosome, and he attributes social conditioning to be a primary culprit.

Males live an average of 5.3 years less than females and are generally more likely to die from diseases. They are also three times more likely to be murdered and four times more likely to commit suicide. Walker attributes these figures to the dismissal of preventative medicine in favour of a John Wayne-swagger of macho immortality, combined with the emotional repression that comes along with such a demanding persona.

Walker does acknowledge the stats that can’t be explained by the “boys will be boys” hypothesis, such as the higher occurrences of infant mortality rates in prematurely born males, as well as the elevated rates of developmental disabilities, autism, and colour blindness. He fails, however, to suggest a possible cause. For that, we turn to the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community near Sarnia, Ontario.

Beginning in 1994, the percentage of male births in the community began to drop dramatically; between 1999 and 2003, males represented only 41.2 percent of births, compared to the roughly 51 percent global standard. Male fetuses are much more frequently, and inexplicably, snuffed out through miscarriages and stillbirths than their female counterparts. The environmental contamination of hormone-mimicking or “endocrine disrupting” chemicals is increasingly believed to be the culprit behind the community’s “disappearing males,” as the reserve sits in a polluted river valley immediately adjacent to several large chemical industrial plants.

Ever since last year’s shelf ban of bisphenol A-laden hard plastic water bottles, endocrine disrupting chemicals with futuristic-sounding monikers have attained an unprecedented level of notoriety. The long-term devastation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) is an undeniable truth nowadays, with multiple generations of usage beginning to show tangible, measurable effects. Males, it seems, are on the short end of that stick.

Aamjiwnaang girls play ball (photo courtesy of cbc.ca)

Aamjiwnaang girls play ball (photo courtesy of cbc.ca)

Now, a report published in today’s PLoS Genetics reveals that the Y chromosome itself is in danger, stating that: “[The] rapid evolution of the Y chromosome has led to a dramatic loss of genes on the Y chromosome at a rate that, if maintained, eventually could lead to the Y chromosome’s complete disappearance.” While the article assures readers that this occurrence will not necessarily be the end of males, but rather the catalyst for a new pair of sex chromosomes, the news is nonetheless difficult to digest.

The good news? Males, you’ve still got one sturdy X chromosome to rely upon.

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