Women hold up more than half the sky

Dear President Trump,

It’s entirely possible that I’m missing relevant counter examples due to my own biases, but it sure seems to me that most of the non-politician people speaking out about your administration’s bungling of the covid-19 situation are women. For example, the women who lead the national nurses and flight attendants’ unions have issued scathing complaints about your lack of transparency, unsound policies, egregious mismanagement, and unwillingness to put adequate resources in place for testing and worker protections. I’ve not heard anything (yet) from teachers’ unions or service workers, but you can bet they are also frustrated and concerned for their workers and those they serve.

Yesterday Laura came upon South Korea’s covid-19 website (check it out: https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a30402000000&bid=0030). It is stunningly thorough and it is updated every single day. It also shows that over 178,000 people there have been tested out of a population of 51.47 million as compared with about 1600 people as of this morning here in the US where our population is about 331 million. And yes, I get that South Korea is much closer to China and that they were seeing the virus much earlier than we were, but our testing numbers are criminally low – we have no f*cking idea how many people have this thing and are spreading it.

Both by its very existence and by the information it’s conveying, the South Korean website is starkly showing up the current US response. What’s more, it also provides interesting and potentially very important information about who is at greater risk of contracting the disease and to die from it. We all know that older aged people and those with underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk, but other demographic characteristics haven’t gotten as much attention. The South Korean stats show that the fatality rate is worse for men than women (1.1% vs. .4%, respectively), but they also show that of their 6,284 confirmed cases, 63% are women, strongly suggesting that women are at much greater risk of getting covid-19 even if we are somehow better able to withstand it (there doesn’t yet seem to be global information available by gender on illness rates).

The “Worldometer” website also shows that men are much more likely to die from covid-19, whether among confirmed cases (men: 4.7%, women: 2.8%) or likely cases (men: 2.8%, women: 1.7%). Most of the news outlets paying attention to this fatality pattern hypothesize that it’s driven by older Chinese men because so many of them smoke while very few Chinese women smoke.

The South Korean figure indicating that nearly two-thirds of the cases there are women, ties in with the issue I was getting at in the opening paragraph of today’s letter – women are on the frontline of hands on caretaking and therefore are more vulnerable to contracting the disease. If the South Korean gender ratio regarding who is most likely to get the disease holds up in the rest of the world, we all better hope that women’s fatality rates stay relatively low. As it is, with so many women sickened, there will be (and already are in South Korea and likely China, Iran, and Italy) a lot of critical job classifications that will be hit hard, which is going to make for some tough, come-to-Jesus ripple effects that will impact the whole system quite badly.

Like the women of Mexico showed their country today, the world cannot take women and our work for granted – we hold up more than half the sky.

May we all be safe from viruses and gendered risks.
May we in the US be willing to get real about this disease.
May we not disincentivize people taking care of themselves and their families.
May we not make peace with shitty federal disaster responses.

Tracy Simpson

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