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Hillary Clinton’s hormones have nothing to do with her qualifications to be President

Time magazine published this article about why Hillary Clinton is the perfect age to run for president.

clinton

The author, Dr. Holland who is a psychiatrist, chose not to focus on Ms. Clinton’s vast political experience or her education but rather on Ms. Clinton’s menopausal status.

Yes, you read that right, when it comes to qualifications for President of the United States menopause trumps a Yale law degree, eight years as a senator from New York, and four years as Secretary of State.

While it is fair to write about a candidates health, it is nothing short of a twisted combination of misogyny, a desire to plug an upcoming book, and a misunderstanding of the endocrine system (i.e. hormones)  to write and publish such an article.

No one ever writes about manopause and politicians

First of all, and I can’t say this loudly enough, no one EVER writes articles about the testosterone levels of Jeb Bush or Rand Paul or any male politician, so the fact that this article even exists is repulsive to me both as a woman and as a physician. To write such and article implies that tying a woman’s competence to her hormones is a valid construct, and it isn’t.

The gist of the article is because Ms. Clinton is post menopause she is somehow primed to do great things because after perimenopause “there is a hormonal ebbing that creates a moment of great possibility.”

Apparently we women are in such a hormonal induced fugue during perimenopause that we can’t function or have “great possibility?” As a perimenopausal surgeon I call bullshit. When I have a hot flash I don’t fall apart I think, “Ugh, it sucks to be so hot.” If I’m operating I don’t notice them. Does Dr. Holland think that during perimenopause a woman is also less able to pilot an aircraft or do surgery or negotiate a business deal or drive a car? I don’t. The skill sets I have acquired from practicing medicine for 25 years have nothing to do with my hormones and everything to do with practicing medicine for 25 years.

I’m all for the idea of redefining ourselves as we age. Years of experience do give clarity and perspective, but according to Dr. Holland, “a woman emerging from the transition of perimenopause blossoms.” So it’s the settling of our hormones that gives us clarity and not our intellect, education, and life experience?  Good to know that my mind is really at the ever changing whims of my aging ovaries. Ovaries, the last undiscovered bastion of the patriarchy!

Endocrinology 101 

Dr. Holland also gets the endocrinology wrong (hope she’s got it right in her book) when she refers to estrogen a “stress hormone that helps a woman be resilient during her fertile years.”

Stress hormones are part of the “flight or fight” response and the major stress hormones include cortisol and epinephrine. Stress hormones can be released rapidly by the body in response to a threat of some kind (running the gamut from a broken toe to reading an article on how hormones make or break a woman’s ability to be President). This is not estrogen. Estrogen thickens the lining of the uterus, affects breast tissue, and of course (like most hormones) has a multitude of effects everywhere in the body. It is not, however, a stress hormone. It may be able to counteract oxidative stress in some tissues, but that doesn’t make it a stress hormone).

The major source of estrogen before menopause is the developing egg and how far the egg is in the cycle is what governs the release of estrogen, not stress. The female endocrine system is just not built to churn out large amounts of estrogen in response to stress. Also, girls don’t have estrogen before puberty so it would be a pretty poor evolutionary design for a stress hormones to only kick in at puberty. Bad luck if you get chased by a saber-toothed tiger at the age of eight!

The whole “stress hormone” narrative further falls apart when applied to Ms. Clinton, because now that she is menopausal as Dr. Holland intimates she has less, and yet goes on to write,

“Biologically speaking, postmenopausal women are ideal candidates for leadership. They are primed to handle stress well, and there is, of course, no more stressful job than the presidency.”

But wouldn’t more stress hormones (i.e. estrogen) be good for you if you hope to handle the stress of the Presidency?

Postmenopausal woman are not biologically primed to handle stress any more or less than premenopausal women. Hillary Clinton’s hormones have nothing to do with her qualifications and I find any connection between the two, whether well-intentioned or simply a book plug, an insult.

To say a woman’s hormones are in someway related to her fitness to be President then also means at some time you think she is less fit to be president. You can’t have it both ways.

There is no wisdom in menopause. There is wisdom and then there is menopause. All I care about is Ms. Clinton’s wisdom and that’s all you should care about too.

Discussion

23 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton’s hormones have nothing to do with her qualifications to be President

  1. When Mrs. Clinton becomes our first woman president, you should apply to be Surgeon General. I would sleep better at night knowing that our first woman president had you on her side.

    Posted by Erin Bliss | April 13, 2015, 8:50 am
  2. I agree with Erin. Thanks for this post, Jen.

    Posted by bethhavey | April 13, 2015, 9:19 am
  3. Thank you, Dr. Gunter, for your cogent reply to this asinine article in Time magazine.

    Posted by bri65 | April 13, 2015, 2:06 pm
  4. Reblogged this on splitmom.

    Posted by splitmom | April 13, 2015, 3:12 pm
  5. Unfortunately for some of us menopause really is a major problem. Without supplemental estrogen my brain doesn’t work to the extent of becoming dyslexic and my short term memory is almost non-existent. Hot flashes are not just an inconvenience, they are utterly debilitating. Night sweats mean that I am woken repeatedly during the night soaked in sweat, and suffer sleep deprivation as a result. I lost my job because I was no longer competent. When I started taking estrogen I realised that a collection of other things were being affected too, including my spatial awareness, dexterity (anyone for a clumsy surgeon?) and sense of balance. I have no intention of stopping taking HRT because I do not function without, to the extent that my life is literally not worth living. Dismissing the problems that some of us experience does not do anyone any good.

    Posted by Jane Cobb | April 14, 2015, 5:41 am
    • Hey, I hear you loud and clear! It’s too bad menopause symptoms are invalidated and denied by many women because of it’s association with being weak or aging. I’ve never had a hot flash, but I have had insomnia, fatigue, mood swings and depression. There are numerous articles in pub med and other medical journals that back up the association of fluctuating hormones in peri menopause as the cause of my symptoms. How many women have had to leave their jobs or have had other life altering consequences due to meno? The lack of adequate healthcare for serious meno symptoms is mostly due to the denial or lack of knowledge. The U.S. has one of the worst healthcare systems in the civilized world. Pretending that women are the same as men is not helping. We are equal to men despite our differences.

      We need non profit healthcare that is decoupled from employment. Bernie Sanders for president 2016!

      Posted by lou | May 8, 2015, 9:19 am
  6. I can’t believe Time magazine published this nonsense! You need to take them on Oh Mighty Toronto Star Slaying Dr. Gunter!!!

    Posted by Cara | April 14, 2015, 3:39 pm
  7. First, no two women are the same, some women have higher levels of estrogen and some are highly sensitive to estrogen fluctuation and all the interconnected hormones throughout the endocrine system. You might have a rudimentary understanding of stress hormones, but not how fluctuating estrogen levels affect these stress hormones. While you might be a good strong Feminist role model and be able to soldier through perimenopause, some of us, approximately 15-20% have debilitating, life changing symptoms. Although I consider myself liberal on most issues, Patronizing Feminists like you make me apathetic about supporting women’s issues.

    Posted by Marlo | May 7, 2015, 8:03 am
    • Saying the competence of women is not tied to their hormones is the opposite of being patronizing.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | May 7, 2015, 1:33 pm
      • What’s patronizing is the invalidation of individual women’s reaction to stress. Menopause can be stressful because fluctuating estrogen throws the entire endocrine system off balance stimulating the stress reaction thus raising cortisol levels. Not all women are healthy enough to sail through menopause.

        The article by Dr. Holland was trying to point out the positive side of being an older woman in a youth obsessed, corporate controlled society that discards women over 50 like worthless garbage. The Feminist movement has been hijacked by this same corporate culture whose main focus is on highly educated young elte women trying to get a place on corporate boards. Google “Capitalism and Feminism”.

        Posted by Marlo | May 7, 2015, 5:46 pm
      • Dr. Holland’s argument was insulting. No one writes about male hormones and fitness for office. Her medicine was also incorrect. Estrogen is not a stress hormone and estrogen levels are not linked to fitness for a job. Experience and training are.

        If the idea was to point out she brings wisdom the estrogen comments were not needed, unless the point of the exercise was to plug a book. Like I said, hope the endocrinology is more accurate in the book.

        Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | May 7, 2015, 9:25 pm
      • Study finds women going through menopause need to be better supported at work
        All women go through the menopause, and most women work, so how does the menopause affect women at work? This is the question asked by a group of researchers at La Trobe University and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Their results indicate that many women need more managerial support going through the menopause; otherwise their experience could be lost to the workforce. Their findings are reported at the World Congress on the Menopause, taking place in Cancùn, Mexico.

        Posted by Marlo | May 8, 2015, 10:09 am
  8. Worldwide epidemiological studies report that the prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD) among women is 1.5 to 3 times higher than in men (8). For women, data suggest that estrogen, or lack thereof, is strongly implicated in the regulation of mood and behavior, as well as in the pathobiology of mood disorders (9)
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753111/#!po=5.68182

    Posted by Marlo | May 7, 2015, 8:52 am
  9. Because of female reproductive cyclicity, the hormonal physiology is more complex in women than in men (Erickson 1995). Although the products of the go- nads are essential to reproduction, testosterone, estrogen, and proges- terone, like the glucocorticoids, all have actions throughout the body. In addition, gonadal hormones are im- portant mediators of the central ner- vous system and play a role in the immune system. A disturbance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis thus can result not only in altered fertility but also in problems such as osteoporosis, muscle weakness, and impaired immune function. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh21-1/53.pdf

    Denial of Science is shared with extremists on the right as well as those on the left.

    Posted by Marlo | May 7, 2015, 9:13 am
  10. According to research conducted by Karen Oerter Klein and colleagues, published in “The Journal of Clinical Investigation,” prepubescent girls produce a higher level of estrogen than prepubescent boys. It has been noted that this higher level of estrogen leads to girls going through puberty earlier than boys.

    Posted by Marlo | May 7, 2015, 4:58 pm
    • There are differences between men and women. Men have a higher rate of suicide, alcoholism and violent crimes. Whether hormones are responsible is irrelevant when it comes to evaluating someone’s fitness for a job. What matters is their fitness, as demonstrated by their education, experience and actions.
      Banging on about estrogen just demonstrates your prejudice.

      Posted by TBruce | May 13, 2015, 7:03 pm
  11. Thank you for this post Dr. Gunter. I agree this sort of assessment in the Times is a total insult to women. It reeks of excuses used in the past as to why women are “too emotional” for leadership roles. It also reminds of the talk about Ms Clinton’s age being too old for office, while sparing her male counterparts the same discussion. The double standard needs to stop.
    Also, telling to see that the majority of comments disagreeing with your post are by the same user.

    Posted by Cam | July 6, 2015, 6:04 am
    • I’m not disagreeing with the assessment of Ms. Clinton’s competence in this post, I’m pointing out the medical misinformation posted by a Medical Professional to promote a politicall agenda. All I’m doing is practicing critical thinking and not being a passively programmed robot. Real feminists analyze info and think for themselves.

      Posted by Marlo | July 18, 2015, 7:25 am

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