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Learning More About Sex & Gender on International Women’s Day

Given the increased attention on women’s equality over the last year, the 2018 Sex & Gender Research Forum provided a fascinating deep dive into topics including weight stigma, maternal mental health, women’s risk of drug overdose, how social media impacts young women, and much more. Here are four learnings.

Posted on March 13, 2018
Sex and Gender Research Forum 2018

Left: Helen I. Moorehead-Laurencin, MD, after whom the Sex & Gender Research Forum is named; Right: Two of Dr. Laurencin's children (left and second from right) with Janine Clayton from the National Institutes of Health, Lynn Yeakel and Dr. Pam Geller.

By Lynn Yeakel, Director of Drexel University College of Medicine's Institute for Women's Health and Leadership and Founder & President of Vision 2020

On International Women’s Day, Drexel University's Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership – the home of Vision 2020 – hosted the Sex & Gender Research Forum, an interactive, university-wide symposium featuring interdisciplinary research focused on sex and gender in a local, national and global context.

Given the increased attention on women’s equality over the last year, the 2018 Forum provided a fascinating deep dive into topics ranging from weight stigma to maternal mental health and women’s risk of drug overdose to how social media impacts young women, and much more.

Here is a sampling of four learnings from the 2018 Sex & Gender Research Forum:

1. Dr. Laurencin’s legacy lives on. The Sex & Gender Research Forum is named after Helen I. Moorehead-Laurencin, MD, who practiced medicine from offices on the ground floor of her North Philadelphia row home for almost 45 years. In speaking about her legacy, Dr. Laurencin’s son, Cato Laurencin, MD, PhD, reminded us all to “Be intellectually rigorous and unfailingly compassionate with a deep sense of who we are and where we must go.” Now those are words to live by!

2. American women scientists working abroad deal with sexism less than they do at home. In her keynote talk about women in global science, Kathrin Zippel, PhD, an associate professor of sociology at Northeastern University, shared findings from her work. Two concepts that struck me were as follows:

  • The “.edu bonus” – “.edu” as a web and email address extension is exclusive to American academic institutions, which are admired worldwide as the gold standard in science. Women in science whose email addresses end in “.edu” experience what Zippel calls the “.edu bonus”; their association with an American university and the high prestige that comes with that often overshadows their sex as women. When collaborating with researchers overseas, they often feel more valued and respected than they do at home. Because of this, they sometimes feel more “freedom as foreigners” than they do in the U.S. where sexism unfortunately plays a larger role in their day-to-day lives.
  • “Glass fences” – We all are familiar with the term “glass ceiling,” but Zippel’s talk was the first time I heard the term “glass fences.” By this, she means that although women scientists often want to collaborate internationally and work with research teams overseas, the structural and cultural obstacles of caregiving, safety, time and funding often make them less likely to feel able to take international assignments when compared to male scientists.

3. We must do more with what we already know. Janine Austin Clayton, MD, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), highlighted the importance of drilling down into gender when gathering data. Diseases and symptoms affect women and men differently, yet many health studies only use male animals or do not differentiate between sexes in their analyses. When we look at the way we do things through the lens of gender, we may realize there is information right under our noses that we hadn’t seen before. I think this applies to society in areas far beyond medical research!

4. We have come a long way, but our fight for gender equality is far from over. This year is the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership’s 25th anniversary. Looking back to the Institute’s early days, Anita Hill was still a constant figure in the news, having sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace in 1991. Now, a quarter century later, she is back in the news but in the context of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Progress is being made and the historically glacial pace has picked up for the moment. Now we must seize that moment and complete the unfinished business of women's equality. That seems to me to be the message of #pushforprogress, the 2018 theme of International Women’s Day.

If you would like to watch the 2018 Sex & Gender Research Forum, you may find a recording of all presentations and talks here: