News roundup for January 2003

Sexes ‘feel pain differently’

BBC Report

Men may be better at withstanding pain than women because of a key protein, scientists have alleged. Tests on mice led Californian researchers to conclude that a protein, GIRK2, plays a gender specific role in transmitting pain signals. However, British experts were quick to point out that it will be a long time before ‘his and hers’ pain relief becomes a reality. David Rowbotham, Professor of Pain Management and Anaesthesia at the University of Leicester, said pain varies widely depending on the physical cause, and also has an emotional context that cannot be measured. “It’s a gross oversimplification to say there’s a gender difference in response to pain,” he said. “Pain is a multi-dimensional thing and it depends on the context you’re looking at.”

Violent fathers awarded contact with children

Observer Report

Over 60 per cent of fathers seeking access to their children have had allegations of domestic abuse made against them and could be a risk, a recent study found. The study will come as a blow to campaigning groups that claim the family court system unfairly favours women when it comes to visiting rights. While child safety campaigners, who have documented many cases of abusive fathers who are awarded contact going on to injure or kill family members, called for a government inquiry into this violence, fathers’ rights activist groups cautioned that domestic abuse allegations were often invented in court by lawyers wanting to score points against fathers.

Technological improvements in cancer screening

BBC Report

Following on from last month’s stories of women having healthy breasts removed and undergoing needless radiotherapy comes reassurance that technological advances will make breast and cervical screening more accurate. Breast scans will be stored as computer images rather than on photographic film, vastly improving their quality. There will also be changes to the way cervical cells are taken and processed. While we are a long way from leaving all the checking to machines, “computer-assisted” assessment, where computers mark a cross on areas that might be cancerous, has shown some increases in cancer detection.

Many parents would choose baby’s gender

BBC Report

A third of prospective parents would use ‘sex selection’ to decide their baby’s gender, a US survey revealed. The news comes as the UK fertility watchdog surveys public opinion to see if there is backing for gender selection on social rather than medical grounds, such as for “family balancing” where families with children of one gender would select a child of the opposite sex. There are concerns that ethnic minority groups could use the technique to reject girl children for cultural reasons, but focus groups of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs expressed the same diversity of opinion as others.

Boy, 11, sent home alone from family holiday

Independent Report

An 11-year-old boy was sent home from Manchester airport when his family discovered he had no passport. Rather than forgo Christmas abroad, his mother put him was put in a taxi home with the house keys and told him there was plenty to eat while they were away. So far, so irresponsible. But why no mention of the father? The boy’s mother was interviewed by police on her arrival home while his father (and younger brother) remained in Spain. We’d hope he too was questioned on suspicion of abandoning his child when he bothered to get a flight home.

Neighbours must report domestic abuse

BBC Report

“A man who beats his wife is a violent criminal – he’s not a perfectly upstanding citizen who happens to beat his wife,” warned Harriet Harman QC as she called for a change to the attitude towards domestic violence. She said it was vital for the community not to turn a blind eye to women’s suffering, despite the awkwardness they may feel. The government is set to unveil fresh plans for tackling domestic violence in the spring.

Fewer women dying from lung cancer

BBC Report

Lung cancer deaths in women under 70 are at their lowest levels for 30 years. A similar trend has already been seen among men. Experts say the fall is largely due to a reduction in the amount of women who smoke. Dr Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK described the news as “very promising”, saying it suggested that lung cancer in women will continue to decline over the next decade. The increase in the amount of over-70s dying from the disease was put down to the women’s smoking boom after World War II.

Drug companies invented female sexual problem

Guardian Report

Drug companies have been accused of creating a disorder, female sexual dysfunction, in order to sell impotence drugs such as Viagra to the female market as well as the male one. A paper in the British Medical Journal expressed concern that women experiencing sexual problems would be given drugs for non-existent medical conditions when they were actually experiencing emotional difficulties. Journalist Ray Moynihan also warned that it was researchers with close ties to drug companies who were defining the disorder.

Call for equal media treatment for all murder victims

Natasha Walter in the Independent

Following the very different coverage of the women gunned down in Birmingham (‘Innocents’) and the women whose body parts were found in Camden Town (‘Hooker’, ‘Vice girl’, ‘High-class tart’) comes this Independent feature article. The three women found dismembered in London were prostitutes and so, Natasha Walter contends, not seen as wholly innocent – and if not really innocent, can they really be victims? No victims means no national tragedy and so no more media coverage. Prostitutes are seen as acceptable targets of male violence, as in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto where the player can increase his score by picking up virtual prostitutes and then killing them with his weapon of choice.

Rape trials still hit by ‘she asked for it’ culture

Independent Report

The old cultural myth that victims of sexual assault must have led the man on is still affecting prosecutions of rape, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Sir David Calvert-Smith QC urged the Government and the Crown Prosecution Service to do more to quash this belief to enable more rapists to be brought to trial. He and Harriet Harman QC are asking the public, including rape victims, for their views on how to improve the investigation and prosecution of rape. Calvert-Smith said: “Thirty years ago, I heard practitioners saying no woman need be raped if she didn’t really want to. There are still residues of that in the British consciousness. That’s one of the things we are looking to break down.”

Rape accused faces more charges

BBC Report

A man accused of nine rapes across the south of England has been charged with yet more sex offences. Antony Imiela from Kent was changed with the kidnap, indecent assult and attempted rape of a 10-year-old girl at an appearance before Greenwich Magistrates’ Court. He has been remanded in custody since 30 December.

Why sickle cell disease is worse for men

BBC Report

Scientists have pinpointed a reason why sickle cell disease hits men harder than women. Sickle cell disease occurs when the body produces deformed red blood cells which cannot carry oxygen around the body as effectively as normal ones, and which clog up blood vessels. Men with the disease tend to experience more of these blockages after puberty and also die earlier than women with it. US scientists believe this could be due to a gender difference in the production of nitric oxide. This chemical helps to reduce the risk of blockages by dilating the blood vessels and reducing clotting. The researchers found that nitric oxide is up to two times more available in women than men with the disorder.

Breastfeeding is best form of pain relief for babies

BBC Report

Breastfeeding reduces the pain experienced by babies being given medical treatment, new research has found. Researchers looked at how babies coped with the pain of having blood taken while either being breastfed, held in their mothers’ arms without being fed or being given a dummy. They found that over a third of the breastfeeding babies showed no sign of even being aware of the medical procedure. Heather Welford, a breastfeeding counsellor and tutor for the National Childbirth Trust, said the research was further evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding, adding, “This has put something under the scientific microscope that mothers have known for quite a long time.”

Senior Tory calls for positive discrimination over selecting women

Independent Report
John Bercow comment in the Independent

Conservative Party chair Theresa May faces pressure from both sides of the divided Tory party over her decision to back action forcing activists in winnable seats to choose more women. Allies of Iain Duncan Smith have vowed to protest against such “politically correct” moves, claiming it could cause “considerable difficulties” among constituencies. However, former Shadow Cabinet minister John Bercow has called it an “excellent idea”, saying international experience has shown positive discrimination to be “the only really effective means by which to increase the number of women selected.” May admitted last month that she had made only limited progress in trying to persuade constituencies to select more women.

More news this month in brief…

  • Tampax ad where a man mistakes one for a sweet is named second most irritating commercial (only beaten by Billy Connolly’s “Live A Lotto” ones).
  • Sex and the City to end on a ratings high after its sixth series.
  • HRT ‘does not protect against heart attacks’ – BBC Report
  • As many as a third of men experience menopausal symptoms. – BBC Report
  • Singer Ms Dynamite attacks politicians as “middle-class, rich white men that don’t give a damn.” – BBC Report
  • Diabetic dads ‘have smaller babies’ – BBC Report
  • Roger Moore blasts new format Blind Date: . “Now they have ‘ditch’ – a poor girl comes up and if you don’t like her face, get rid of her. I think it’s absolutely terrible. It’s appalling. It’s humiliating.”
  • Kate Winslet questions the cultural attitude that equates thinness with beauty – in magazine article accompanied with air-brushed photos. – Media Guardian Report, Media Guardian Comment, BBC Report
  • The Sun appoints first female editor, Rebekah Wade – Media Guardian Report
  • Amicus, one of the UK’s largest trade unions, asks men to strike in protest at the pay gap – BBC Report