Monday, October 8, 2012

Moms - A Force to be Reckoned With?

Photo: Joy of Mom

This week, I feel truly blessed to be a part of a community of Moms, inspired by love, to use our talents to make the world a better place for our food allergy kiddos.  Food Allergy Sleuth is nominated as a Top 25 blog for food allergies by the Circle of Moms!  By the way, this will be my only attempt throughout the remainder of the blog post at "shameless" self promotion.  If you like what I do, follow the link and click the big yellow 'thumbs up' for Food Allergy Sleuth once every 24 hours until Oct 17  :).

Thanks to the community at Circle of Moms, my eyes have truly been opened to the number of Mom bloggers out there. It has been an absolute joy to read through so many other family's experiences in dealing with food allergies and to even connect with a few of the other Mom's individually!  I encourage you to take a gander at the excellent work of some of these amazing women.

Image source
Since this is a "science" blog and I am a scientist at heart, I can't help but notice one glaring trait of most food allergy bloggers - a distinct lack of male food allergy bloggers (not that I was expecting many men to show up in a top 25 list for Food Allergy Moms!).  In general, though, throughout my experiences becoming more entrenched in the food allergy community, I've noticed a distinct lack of men who are blogger-vocal about food allergies.  Or is it an overwhelming abundance of women?  Is the glass half empty or half full?  (Hint - judging by the cartoon at the side, I may fall into the "realist" camp!).

In a little "test" to explore this observation further, I opened Google and searched "food allergy blog" this morning.  My reasoning is that by searching "food allergy blog," Google should return hits regardless of whether they are authored by a Mom, a Dad, an allergy-sufferer, friend, foe, alien, one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. (You can thank me later for getting this song stuck in your head :).  I selected the first 25 "hits" that were personal blogs (e.g. not organizations like FAAN), visited their site, and determined whether they were male or female, a food allergy parent, and/or a food allergy sufferer (as self-reported, of course).  What I found was shocking!  In my sample of 25, only 8% of food allergy bloggers were men, which means 92% of food allergy bloggers were women!  84% were a parent to a food-allergic child, while 16% were food-allergic adults who did not specify if they also had a food allergic child.  Interestingly, 24% all bloggers were food allergy sufferers, meaning that there are a few food-allergic adult bloggers out there who are raising food-allergic children!  If I tease the data out of the two factors 1) gender and 2) whether the individual is a parent to a food-allergic child, 80% of food allergy bloggers are Moms to food-allergic children!
Of course, my little "study," is by no means scientifically rigorous (e.g. the error of the sample may be quite large and the google search method may be flawed - I'll explain later), but I think it starts to get at a couple of really interesting key points.  There are distinct biological differences between men and women (besides the obvious, folks!), and women just may be a social force to be reckoned with.

I am a neuroscientist (a scientist who studies the brain) by training.  Even though it is not my area of expertise, differences between the male and female brain is truly fascinating.  It is clear from many years of research that there are profound differences in how male and female brains are wired (for more information, see this excellent, relatively easy to understand summary by the Dana Foundation). So, what does this mean?

If women's brains are indeed wired differently, it means that women observe and engage with the world differently than men.  Something that has likely been obvious to most human-beings since Adam and Eve :).  For awhile, there has been a "movement" that women are essentially the same as men, mentally.  Scientific evidence suggests otherwise.  In fact, testosterone that is made by a male fetus (genetically X-Y) early in prenatal development (before birth ), appears to be critical in establishing male brain pathways.  Interestingly, once testosterone reaches the boy brain, it gets converted to estrogen (link to a review research article)!  Yes, this is not a typo.  In order for a little boy to be a little boy, he needs to have his testosterone converted to the "female" hormone, estrogen!  Now, who is the better sex? Is it evidence that our bodies convert the "toxin" also known as testosterone into a more manageable substance (Ha ha - I'm being humorous here.  No, I don't think testosterone is actually poison!). There is no way I'm weighing in which sex is the better sex, but I'll leave you with this little blast from the past from Annie Get Your Gun.

So if men and women truly are different from one another, perhaps my little "study" on the gender prevalence among food allergy bloggers reflects a much grander observation.  Perhaps women banding together may in fact truly be vehicles of social awareness and change.  I come full circle back to one possible flaw in my "study" using a Google search for the terms "food allergy blog."  You see, Google and search engines like Google, use mathematical algorithms (complex formulas) to return the most "relevant" items first.  How search engines define what is "relevant" to a human relies heavily on how well webpages are referenced by other webpages.  So let's say that women are indeed better than men at connecting with one another to deal with issues and promote social change simply because our brains our wired to do so.  This means women's blogs will tend to reference other women's blogs, and thus Google may inflate the percentage of food allergy bloggers who are women.  I would be interested to know if there is a different way to search for blogs that doesn't rely on the "relevancy" criteria and if the results would be different than the Google search.

Many examples from history suggest that women banding together are powerful forces for social awareness and change (think of the women's suffrage movement or even heaven forbid prohibition).  This is only anecdotal in nature, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that food allergy Mom's are moving heaven and earth to raise awareness to an uneducated public, while simultaneously keeping our kiddos safe, and giving them the most that life has to offer in spite of an uphill food battle.  Most importantly, we seem to get together and want to share our knowledge with others!  Here is my tip of the hat to all my fellow food allergy Mom's out there making a difference in any way that we know how, whether it be great or small.

Sidenote:  I'd love to hear from any food allergy men and Dad's out there!  I am a huge believer that the more diverse we are in our thinking, the more ideas for solutions and change are possible.  Here is a shout-out to two of the blogs authored by men who made the Google search, top 25 list.


  1. I am thrilled that thanks to Circle of Moms, I've discovered your witty, intelligent and interesting blog! I too wondered about the food allergy men folk, and am in awe of your "causal" research. I have discovered male blog types who are active on twitter?!? I interact with several male food allergy dads and sufferers via Tweets.

    Also, is a man and is a young man.

    1. Thanks so much for you kind words! I would have to agree that the Circle of Moms was a fabulous way to connect with other food allergy bloggers. You have an incredible resource with your blog, too (which I also discovered through Circle of Moms :)! Incredibly well written! In fact, I think I will put it as a great resource on this blog! Twitter is one social media that I have not really touched, so perhaps I'll be dragged into it once and for all. Thanks for the links, too. I can definitely attest that food allergy Dads do quite a bit - at least in our house - although, I tend to be the more vocal about it. Perhaps I'll rope my husband into a guest post one of these days. Here was an interesting find - it turns out that for most social media platforms, women dominate. So the effect doesn't seem unique to food allergy blogging.

    2. Well, actually is a husband and wife team. The wife is gorgeous... the husband really lucked out ;-)

    3. Excellent info - keep up the great work both of you. BTW, I think you probably just got a ton of points with your wife :).