Off the Pedestal and into the Arena: Toward Including Women in Experimental Protocols


Genesis’ concept of male as norm and female as derivative-as a lesser variation on the male-reverberates throughout American views of biological differences between men and women. The assumption that women’s physiology deviates from the norm has particularly damaging consequences in the field of medical research. This assumption regards dissemination of results reliable only for white men as scientifically acceptable, and therefore permits medical research which excludes women for the sake of “simplicity.” Researchers regularly regard female research subjects as more vulnerable than male research subjects, and assume that experimental treatments pose unique reproductive risks to all women. Frequently, pregnant women are presumed to be incapable of adequately balancing risks to their fetus with their own wellbeing, and are therefore denied the opportunity to choose to participate regardless of the level of actual risk.

Such categorical exclusion from medical research is not acceptable, because it causes significant harm to innumerable women. Exclusion from medical research denies women potentially lifesaving opportunities to participate in research trials of new technologies and drugs. In some cases, these research trials represent the only therapies available. Furthermore, the exclusion of women from testing procedures often results in the approval of drugs that were never tested on women. Consequently, drugs have been, and still are, prescribed to women by doctors who can only guess at the appropriate dosage, effectiveness, and side effects the drugs will have on women patients. The near absence of women participants in medical research has also resulted in a general dearth of information regarding women’s medical care. As a consequence, women are left without information vital to their health and wellbeing. These threats to women’s health mandate the inclusion of women in medical research protocols.

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Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with