Good tidings from the BBC are sorely lacking, I have to say. And the news seems to be that, if you happen to have been assigned “woman” as your gender, no matter what you’re doing, UR DOIN IT RONG!!!

To start with, the happy happy news that:

Females are less physically active at both ends of life than their male counterparts, two studies suggest.

Joys. The article starts off (rather sensibly) by describing the study that focussed on 10-11 year old children. These would be the children in the last year of primary school, and here they find – shock horror! – justification for those tired old stereotypes about what boys and girls like doing. Aparently, it can be broken down into Girls=Talking; Boys=Football.

As an aside, my seven year old brother is actually quite aggrieved at the moment, because the girls in his school “get their own time in the football cage and the boys aren’t allowed in.”

I’m extrapolating wildly, of course, but could it possibly be that children of both genders generally make it socially unacceptable for the girls to play football when the boys are there? I know when I was in primary school (the same one, in fact), the entire class knew that there was only one girl who was “allowed” to play football with the boys. And that was only because she’d proved she was really, really good.

Back to the studies, and at the other end of the scale is the study that focusses on physical activity in the over-70s. Not surprisingly, nobody over 70 is particularly active, and in general, the women have been found to “do more lower intensity activity which probably represents daily tasks around the house.”

What can I say? Apart from the fact that, as always, I’m suspicious of any study that attempts to find differences between the genders, I have to say I feel like the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious has come calling.

To be fair to the researchers, their conclusions – that excercise tends to be good for you, and that no woman wants to get osteoporosis later in life – are fairly reasonable. You’d think that schools might have picked up on it already, like my brother’s school has, but never mind.

On the other hand, I’m not sure what the photograph of the woman in her fifties playing tennis is supposed to illustrate, given that she represents neither of the age groups studied. It wasn’t so long back, remember, that the BBC published an article about the invisibility of older women in the media…

The second story has already been covered by the good ladies of Shapely Prose, but have it again here. Oh, and before I wade in, congratulations to Kate Harding and Al, who got married in Vegas over Christmas – like you do!

Dieting at this time of year could impair your body’s ability to fight the flu virus, a study warns.

But! But but but!!! Don’t think that this means you can just go and eat! That would be silly!

In a rather wonderful example of Double-Think, we see that although the “research shows that having a body ready to fight a virus will lead to a faster recovery and less-severe effects than if it is calorically restricted”, “The study… should not be seen as a carte blanche to avoid dieting all year, but to reserve weight control to the eight months of the year when flu is not so virulent. “

I’ll say it again, but slower, and with less syllables. There is a binary system in place; either you have “a body ready to fight a virus”, or you have a body that is “calorically restricted” – i.e, a body that is not being given enough energy, since that is what a calorie (or rather a kilocalorie, since individual calories are actually mind-numbingly small measurements) is – a unit of energy.

Therefore, the implication given is that a body that is not being given enough energy is not a body ready to fight a virus.

However, this is only a problem for the four months of the year in which the flu viruses are prevalent. For all other months of the year, it is fine to have a body that is not ready to fight a virus.

For an extra bonus point, don’t you just love the way that “restricting calories” and “weight control” are conflated? Given that they’re really not the same thing at all?

Last things last, the cheerful headline “Period Problems Split Us Up“.

More joys. The story goes that Marie Seward had God-awful PMS for 17 years, didn’t realise that it was anything out of the ordinary (and don’t we all get it rammed down our throats that “the curse” is just something we have to Put Up And Shut Up about?) and so only started getting help after “her long suffering husband, John walked out after 17 years of marriage”.

Fucking hell. I’m sure it must be hard being the partner in that situation, but it wasn’t him that had the PMS, for fuck’s sake!

More to the point, it’s not as though doctors are always sympathetic or understanding. Take the other story that popped up on the subject – “I Pleaded To Have My Ovaries Removed“.

In that story, Ann Wilkinson had PMS so bad that she vomited each month because of it. She eventually had to have a hysterectomy privately.

“Her symptoms became so unbearable that at just 38, she took the decision to have her ovaries removed. Few doctors were willing to consider Ann’s surgery as she was deemed to be too young and had not had children.”

I wish I were more surprised by this.

I know our society has a special level of hell reserved for women that don’t breed, but can we put this into perspective here? My mother got pregnant aged 39, and her doctors were concerned that her age would make the pregnancy and birth more difficult and dangerous.

Ms. Wilkinson was 38. Not “just” 38. Actually 38. How exactly is that “too young” to decide that you don’t want to spawn? And how is that “too young” to make an informed decision to have a medical procedure that seems in this case to have vastly enhanced her quality of life. (I don’t tend to like the idea of hysterectomies. But I like the idea of vomiting for two weeks out of four even less, actually.)

Let this be a lesson to us all, that in our society’s eyes, we as women are never adult. Except when society requires us to be over the age of consent. And then puts us in school uniform.


There was some horrible stuff in news this week. But for the good of my sanity, I’m trying not to think about them too much. So, because I’m a coward, I’m heading back to the somewhat safer option of sarcastically commenting on articles involving “statistics”.

First things first, and the BBC, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail have all reported on the findings that “intelligent men have better sperm”. I would dearly love to see Ben Goldacre (he of Bad Science fame) covering this one, because it seems to me that a correlation described as “marginal” by the lead researcher should not be condensed down into “intelligent=virile”.

More interestingly, from my point of view, was the way that said researcher was described;

The BBC refer to her as “Lead researcher Dr Rosalind Arden”;

The Telegraph call her “Ms Rosalind Arden, lead author”;

and The Daily Mail? They describe her as “researcher Rosalind Arden” and thereafter use “Miss Arden” at all times.

Interestingly enough, all three articles mention another researcher, a man. And while they differ in their description of his research field (in the same order as above, he is either “an expert in fertility”, a “Senior Lecturer in Andrology” or “a male fertility expert”), they all three refer to him by title as “Dr Allan Pacey”.

If ever you needed a simple guide as to the politics and intelligence of a publication, it’s right there in the titles!

Moving on; my second story of the day is from The Guardian reporting on a statement from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious:

“Most slimming products are a con, claims nutrition expert”.

You think?!

But oh, the irony – the first link in the article takes you to the Guardian’s “Eat Right” homepage, which boasts “Thirteen personalised diet plans to choose from”. From the sentence that says that

“the only [slimming strategies] proven to work are low-calorie diets, exercise programmes, the drugs orlistat and sibutramine, and in some cases bariatric surgery.”

Seriously? The effectiveness of low-calorie diets as a weight-loss tool is “proven”? Well, maybe the Guardian journalists just don’t read the same articles that I do.

In the interests of research, I plugged in an approximation of my vital statistics. I say approximation because I don’t actually know how much I weigh, and until such time as I have to go to the doctors’, that’s how I will stay. But anyway, I plugged in my best guess, and hit the button that said “I wish to lose weight”.

So it came up with this:


A “calorie allowance” of 1400, and a “healthy weight” range that starts at 8st 12lbs? Frankly, I’m frightened by that. Since I haven’t weighed less than 10st since I was 16 (back when we still had scales in the house and I still weighed myself from time to time!).

I tried to see what fun and games they’d come up with for me, but sadly, the next page showed this:


This is where you can get, in two clicks of the mouse, from the article that starts

“Most slimming products are a con, claims nutrition expert”.

It’s definitely an eye-roll moment.

ETA: The day after writing this, what should drop into my spam folder but an email from the Guardian, with the delightful message that “your BMI was between 25 – 30 and this indicates that your health would benefit by losing some weight.”

Call me crazy, but the day before, they themselves told me that the “healthy range” for my height was between 8st 12lbs and 11st 1lb. It’s right there in the screenshot. I plugged in exactly 11st, which is, in fact, within the range that they gave me. This means that I am, by their standards, healthy. (Not forgetting that their standards have very little to do with reality, by the way!) But this means that they’re using scare tactics as well, because I didn’t pay for their product outright. “Healthy” the first time, and now, because I haven’t given them money, my ” health would benefit by losing some weight”. Charming.

So, remember, people: it’s all a con!