Bad Science: how Feminists allied themselves with Big Pharma…and it could put women in danger.
“Outrage” has been incorporated. That is the takeaway by some rational feminists who have witnessed the successful astroturfing of call-out-culture identity politics by Big Pharma. And it worked amazingly well.
The FDA has recently approved Flibanserin lauded by its creators, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, as the female answer to Viagra.
This has been Sprout’s third attempt to seek FDA approval, which failed previously because the risks outweigh the rewards. Those rewards are minimal at best. In clinical trials, women on the pill experienced an “increase in pleasurable sex” by .08 more times a month over placebo.
Let that sink in for a moment: 0.8 more times a month over placebo. (I must admit it is pretty humorous to think of what 0.8 of a pleasurable sexual experience would look like, if manifested literally.)
Meanwhile, the list of side effects include your typical slew of defaults: dizziness, nausea, headaches, disorientation, fatigue (there was an increase in car accidents over placebo by 2x.) One potential side effect in particular is trouble for women specifically: a potential increase in breast cancer. The FDA balances these risks with the potential benefits of the drug, which is why effective medication gets approval. But the FDA saw the data here and denied its approval two times before.
What changed this time around? A political lobbying campaign asserting, of course, that the FDA is sexist. Sprout effectively changed the narrative, and created what essentially became the backlash to the FDA’s supposed War on Women. They financed the (astroturf) organization “Even the Score” which was tasked spread misinformation and spark outrage within women’s groups and feminist networks. Scarily, though predictably, the feminist blogosphere took the bait (most iconic of all: Jezebel.) Even NOW (the National Organization for Women) gave testimony in support for the drug. Documentary film maker Liz Canner, who has been following this approval process for years in her documentary Orgasm Inc., appeared on a recent Savage Love episode to give her take at the most recent FDA hearing. She described it as “like being at a football game, people were yelling, they were clapping and cheering….when I got up to give my [skeptical] perspective, I got hissed at.”
Not all feminists have bought into this “call to action.” But it does point to a troubling trend that pro-science progressive community have seen in social just activism: forsaking science for a more politically correct narrative. Idenity above data. Bioethicist, feminist and writer Alice Dreger took this issue on directly into this with her new book Gallileo’s Middle Finger, in which she makes the following plea to social justice activists: “If you want justice, support the search for truth. Engage in searches for truth. If you really want meaningful progress and not just temporary self-righteousness, carpe datum”
What should be particularly worrying to for the advancement of social justice is how effective the language of identity politics have been co-opted by big corporate interests. False equivalencies, such as pointing to the approval of Viagra and Cialis as proof de-facto sexism, have spread from the feminist blogosphere to the twitterati, creating exactly the kind of gendered umbrage that Sprout Pharmaceuticals paid for.
Here is a scientific truth: male and female bodies are different; the most essential difference, of course, is in sexual biology. The problem Flibanserin attempts to solve is not a mechanical problem (such as erectile dysfunction,) but low labido. Viagra and Cialis do not increase labido, and women do not get erectile dysfunction. As for a more accurate equivilency: perscription medications that provide increased lubrication for women do exist. But that is not what Sprout is selling. Low labido can really affect the happiness and satisfaction in someone’s life. This pill can’t fix it, nor is it a step towards gender equality.
Maybe it is time to defer to the pro-science community and take a step back from the unassailable wall of identity politics, but I will not hold my breath. This drug is almost useless and its dangers are unknown. This is what reasonable science and rationality has deduced. But that doesn’t matter, of course, because….sexism.