Where To Draw The Line

July 31, 2010 § 5 Comments

by ELENA

One of the ways in which people frequently judge women is regarding parenting. Women are judged by whether or not they have children, how many children they have, how they raise and take care of said children, and there seems to be quite a few rules and regulations that must be followed in order to be a Good Mother. And, as posts like Mai’a’s views on “child-free spaces” show, feminists can be just as judgemental about how parents (especially mothers) raise their children.

I think a lot of people have a difficult time when they are in the same space as a child is misbehaving, and don’t know when it is appropriate to say something to a parent whose child is acting out/misbehaving/otherwise acting like a child in a room full of adults.

I think this “I don’t want to be impolite, so I can’t say anything” impulse can be harmful during times when a child isn’t just being fussy, but genuinely in harm’s way.

About a month ago, I was hanging out at a friend’s house, which she rents with several other roommates. We were on the porch, when we noticed something disturbing going on at the next door neighbors house: A little boy ways trying to climb out of a first-floor window, and we didn’t see anyone come over to pull him back in. My friend (who is majoring in social work) went over to say “Go inside” in an attempt to coax him back in. She then knocked on the front door, and after a while, someone answered. She explained that the window was open, and that the boy was trying to climb out of it. After walking back to the porch, we saw the little boy attempt to climb out of the window, again. When she said that she was going to call Child Protective Services the next day, she asked us “Is that okay? Am I doing the right thing?” We all responded that yes, calling CPS was the right thing because it didn’t seem like anyone was supervising the boy, and if we had not noticed what was going on, he could’ve gotten hurt, or ran off without anyone knowing, and that whoever was at the house didn’t seem to notice/care that something was wrong. And she, as a social work student, had the best understanding about when living situations can be harmful to children.

I get annoyed when people freak out about how Angelina Jolie is raising her children. (Do I have some mixed feelings about how she can “magically” change a child’s life by adopting them? Yes. Do I think this makes her a bad mother? No.) I’m also annoyed when people assume that when a child is crying in a public space, the mother of that child is bad/stupid/selfish/should’ve gotten a sitter. There are times when I’ve gotten annoyed with the children around me (airplanes are one of those times, though a dingbat honeymoon couple who wouldn’t stop whining about a flight delay takes the cake for me, and for every crying child in a theatre, there has also been the adult who blithely uses flash photography, even when the house manager tells them not to). However, most of those times, the children were not causing any harm to themselves or others, and the parents were trying their best to calm down their children.

We have to ask ourselves: Is this child going to harm themselves or others? Do the parents intervene to prevent that from happening? Are the children being abused (physically/sexually/emotionally)? Are the children abusing others? And in those situations where outside interference comes from a response to a dangerous situation, we should not have to apologize for our actions.

Fibromyalgia Linked To Increased Suicide Risk In Tragically Ableist Article

July 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

by KATIE E.

A new study has shown that women with fibromyalgia are ten times more likely to commit suicide than women without the chronic pain condition.

Researchers in Denmark followed death rates of men and women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and while the death rates overall for both genders were consistent, only the individual mortality causes of males were very similar to the rest of the population. Within the women followed, about 3.3% died through suicide, compared to less than 0.005% of the general female population.

The article notes that this is not truly brand new news, as many doctors, and, more likely, people with fibromyalgia, have been aware of this for years.

I suppose the article can be seen as somewhat of a good thing, because it calls attention to the fact that fibromyalgia is a real condition that can have devastating consequences, which many people living in this ableist world don’t or refuse to understand. Normally, I would shudder at the thought of this, but all one has to do to read dozens of stories of misdiagnoses, accusations of lying about the condition, and years of chronic pain is to read the (surprisingly civil) comment section on the article. It is not a safe space by any means, and there are a few ableist comments that are definitely triggering, but all in all, it is one of the few mainstream sites I’ve seen people with fibromyalgia share their stories without excessive attacks, derailing, etc.

The article isn’t perfect, though. There is the obvious issue that this is something people with fibromyalgia and (good) medical professionals already know, but other parts of the article seemed to do nothing but erase the experiences of the exact same women that the article is written about, particularly a section where one of the researchers speculated on the exact causes of the suicides:

“Dr. Bente Danneskiold-Samse, a rheumatologist at Frederiksberg Hospital and one of the study’s authors, said that other psychiatric illnesses that often occur in tandem with fibromyalgia might not be the only explanation for the high suicide rates.”

This leaves the reader to wonder if Dr. Danneskiold-Samse has actually talked to many women with fibromyalgia who may be suicidal, or if she, being the typical “expert,” just decided it must be true without sufficient evidence. The parts of the article detailing the study make no reference to asking women whether or not they had a diagnosed psychiatric condition, or even asking what their primary reason (the section frames it as a depression vs. physical pain issue, I’ll get to that in a moment) for contemplating suicide was.

Better yet, why not take the focus off the “experts” and actually interview some women with fibromyalgia who may have experienced suicidal thoughts or other psychiatric conditions who are willing to share their experiences? They’re the only real experts here, yet the article silences their voices.

“None of the patients in the study who committed suicide had a history of psychiatric illness before they were diagnosed with fibromyalgia.”

Well, this is a huge, ableist fail. Believe it or not, so-called experts of the world, psychiatric conditions can change radically, especially after the diagnosis of the condition that you just said correlates with suicide. Shouldn’t that be blatantly obvious?

“The high suicide rate could still be linked to depression in these patients, or to anti-depressants that are known to carry risks of suicide, she told Reuters Health. But ‘many of these patients do not take anti-depressant medications because of the side effects, and because they do not feel depressed,’ she said. ‘My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.'”

So much assuming, silencing, and obviousness going on here. Apparently, this doctor knows everything about women with fibromyalgia who’ve committed suicide — why they don’t take anti-depressants, and exactly why they committed suicide. Never mind the fact that some people can’t take anti-depressants because of other conditions, some don’t believe in or see effects of them, and some can’t afford them, among other things. Don’t forget: “My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.”…really? Does she not notice that that is a huge assumption about all women with fibromyalgia? Some women with fibromyalgia take their lives solely because of the pain, some only because of depression that has nothing to do with their physical condition, some solely because of depression caused by pain, and many because of various combinations of the above, along with completely different reasons.

As stated before, the article does acknowledge fibromyalgia as a real condition that can create very severe problems for people, but it cannot effectively do its job while it silences the women affected by the condition everyday.

I am not Mandy Slade, but thanks for the sweeping generalization.

July 22, 2010 § 10 Comments

by ELENA

This morning, I went to my local Health Department in order to get tested for HIV. It was free, quick, and I tested negative. I also managed to curb-check the family station wagon on my way there, and so explaining to my parents why the steering was messed up wasn’t fun.

There was one thing that irritated me, though.

The nurse who administerd my test reacted very negatively when I explained that my boyfriend was bisexual. She said that it was very plausible that he was lying to me about his sexual history, and that he should get tested for HIV right away.

I was a little dumbstruck, but in no mood to piss off the person responsible for performing an accurate test.

When will we get it through our heads that gay/bisexual man does not equal “lying asshole who has every single STD known to humanity”? The main reason why I decided to get tested was not because I suspected that my boyfriend was lying to me, but because I was concered that any of my straight exes may have had an STD they had not told me about. In middle school, my health teacher stressed that HIV/AIDS wasn’t a “gay disease.” In high school, my gym teacher said we shouldn’t worry about HIV because only men who have sex with men are at risk. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only person who received mixed messages about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases while they were growing up, and these mixed messages are what lead to people making inaccurate assumptions.

I’m lucky that my parents and friends are very supportive of my relationship, but I also have to wonder if there more people like my nurse out there: Well-meaning people that are convinced that my health is at risk because of who I am dating, or that I am kidding myself because bisexual men don’t really exist and I’m just dating a closet case, or that because of who I’m dating I am somehow “unclean” and unfit to give blood, despite the whole being HIV negative thing.

In 2005, researchers at Northwestern University did a study on male bisexuality, and came to the conclusion that male bisexuality didn’t exist. Their justification was that the men they study only reacted to images of gay porn, and they didn’t find any men who were a “3” on the Kinsey scale (ie, equally attracted to men and women). So evidently I’m dating someone who doesn’t really exist.

There aren’t a whole lot of examples of bisexual males in pop culture. David Bowie is currently married to Iman, but I am as much of a supermodel as my boyfriend is a rock legend. Bryan Safi did a hilarious “That’s Gay” segment on how TV shows like to have a stereotypical “gay best friend,” whose gayness is suddenly cured when he falls in love with an (unrealistically hot) woman. The only woman in TV/film who dated a bisexual man that I’ve ever seen was Velvet Goldmine‘s Mandy Slade, who was portrayed as a coke-snorting basket case. The film is quite good, albeit campy, but it’s sad that the only example of a woman dating a bi man in film winds up “paying” for it by ending up divorced, lonely, and miserable.

Network and cable news shows like to occasionally bring up the “down low lifestyle” as their “scandal of the week,” which is 500 different kinds of irritating, because it combines racial panic with gay panic: “Oh noes! Look at all of these black men! That have girlfriends! And occaisonally have sex with other men!” PANIC TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Society likes to categorize women by their relationships with men. Realizing that people can make sweeping judgements about me just because I’m dating a bi man only reinforces my belief that such categorization has got to stop. Plus, it would be nice to be able to give blood again.

Denial of Racism Will Not Help Prevent HIV/AIDS

July 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

by KATIE E.

I cringed when I saw the title of this article pop up: “In U.S. cities, AIDS linked more to poverty than race.” My head was immediately filled with visions of the damage that “post-racial” fauxgressives toting this as proof we should all be color-blind and the already minuscule support for reproductive health support groups specifically for racial minorities who may need it (like SisterSong or National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, both of which are fantastic groups that you should consider donating to if you can) dwindling further.

I think everyone who’s ever done real anti-racist work breathed a collective sigh of relief when the article made a note that “…understanding that blacks are disproportionately poor probably does explain why the rates are higher…”

Well, at least they can’t technically pull the “If you really wanted to cure AIDS and luuurved everyone, you would be race-blind” card on us. Still, I find it to be disturbing that this article mentions the connection between being black, living in poverty, and having AIDS a whopping one time, all while containing these gems:

  • “Federal scientists found that race was not a factor — there were no significant differences between blacks, whites or Hispanics.” For those of you who aren’t exactly statistics nerds, this point is made invalid for the disproportionate amount of black, Hispanic, and/or multiracial people who live in poverty compared to white people.
  • “Studies in Tanzania, Kenya and some other African countries actually found that wealthy people were more likely to be infected than the poor.” Because there is apparently something completely wacky about places that GASP-have different sociological trends than the U.S. It isn’t like class differences can mean a totally different thing in Tanzania than they do in the U.S.
  • “He noted there are diseases that are more prevalent in certain racial groups, for genetic reasons. Sickle cell disease, which is most prevalent in blacks, is one example.” Does this anyone else get the impression that Scientist Guy was trying so hard not to acknowledge that black people could be more susceptible to a disease because they’re more likely to be poverty stricken and living in poorer conditions, even though he knows it’s true, because it would wreck his white privileged color-blind street cred?

The article is essentially trying to brush over the simple fact that instead of poverty replacing race as one of the main risk factors for AIDS, poverty and racism are hugely interconnected, and neither system of oppression would exist without the other one. Meaning that, yes, race is a risk factor for AIDS, and AIDS prevention education and outreach need to acknowledge this in a big way, as do programs that work to put an end to poverty. Putting aside racism, classism, and the connection between the two may make those living in privilege more comfortable, but it will do nothing to prevent AIDS among oppressed groups.

Beyond Lindsay Lohan

July 21, 2010 § 4 Comments

by SILVIA

Right now Lindsay Lohan’s incarceration is all over the news. While most media outlets are obsessed with how much time Lindsay will be serving, it’s super important to remember the staggering and disturbing statistics of women in prison.

The following statistics are quoted directly from Women’s Prison Association’s Quick Facts Women and Criminal Justice — 2009. For more information, visit their website.

  • Over 200,000 women are in prison and jail in the United States, and more than one million women are under criminal justice supervision.
  • Two-thirds of women in prison are there for non-violent offenses, many for drug-related crimes.
  • Nearly two-thirds of women in prison are mothers.
  • 93 out of every 100,000 white women were incarcerated at midyear 2008. During the same time period, 349 out of every 100,000 black women and 147 out of every 100,000 Hispanic women were incarcerated.

According to Amnesty International’s Women and Prison: Fact Sheet, women in prison often experience sexual assault and misconduct due to the extreme power imbalance between officers and inmates, including guards’ ability to withhold privileges. In addition, women in prison experience medical neglect, including shackling during pregnancy, as well as severe discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation. For more information about women in prison and other issues of women’s human rights, go to Amnesty’s site.

No, You Can’t “Slip” Fitness Into My Life

July 19, 2010 § 5 Comments

by KATIE E.

I was really disturbed to find this article on skirt.com, a website claiming to be pro-woman. The article, titled “5 Ways To Slip Fitness Into Your Daughter’s Life,” claims to be easy ways to encourage a pre-teen or teenage daughter to exercise, but it simply promotes the concept of a parent controlling all aspects of their child’s life. Not to mention the fact that it manages to be sexist, ageist, classist, ableist, and sizeist all in one short article.

The author states in her opening paragraph: “Startling new research has revealed that our kids are spending about eight hours a day in front of electronic devices like computers, TVs and cell phones. This most certainly is contributing to the 17 percent obesity rate for kids in the U.S.”

First of all, she perpetuates the idea that obesity always equals unhealthy, which, I’m sure you’re aware, is false and hateful. That needs to stop, especially in reference to children, as their self-image and self-esteem are often very fragile and still developing. Plenty of heavy children are healthy, and many skinny ones are not.

What really stood out to me, though, was the fact that while she talked about how kids don’t exercise and kids are obese, the article only focuses on females. To me, this seems like a subtle way of promoting the idea that women always need to work to stay skinny and sexy for men. I can also see it promoting the idea that daughters are property that you can do whatever you want with. Male children are not immune to this, of course, but things like purity balls/rings, parental consent for abortion laws, etc., show that females are generally worse off in this department.

The article doesn’t get much better from here. To take it point by point:

1. “Walk the talk.” Require that she pace or walk round the house for at least one hour of her phone or texting time. This can burn almost a calorie a minute.

Sounds nice. Unless you don’t have enough class privilege to afford a cell phone or have an hour of spare time between school and work. Or if your daughter is disabled. Or if *gasp* you have one of those teenage girls who actually has interests outside of texting, like we aren’t all stereotypes!

2. Replace her computer chair with a simple balance ball. It builds core strength and improves posture.

Because stealing the personal property of your children is totally different than stealing that of an adult! Again, note the classism-not everyone can afford a computer or a new balance ball-and the ageist stereotypes-teenage girls spend all their time on the computer.

3. “Plant” items in the TV room, like a mini trampoline, Bosu or hippity hop/balance ball – and require that kids use one of the items for an hour of their TV time. One hour can burn around 150 more calories than sitting.

Do I even need to say it? Classism, ableism, and ageism, right there.

4. Harness her inner entertainer and let her play “So You Wanna Be A Rock Star?” with her friends. She can make her own rock video by picking one by a favorite musician for inspiration and reenacting it. An hour of dancing and singing burns 123 calories.

Because micromanaging what your daughter does with her friends is so normal! And boys never want to be pop stars!

5. Let her give you a “halftime show.” Every time a commercial comes on TV, press the mute button and ask her to give you a floor show. She can sing, dance or act out what just happened in the show she was watching.

Translation: All teenage girls are out-going egoists and aspiring performing artists who love to have all eyes on them. They would never consider being forced to “perform” degrading or humiliating. Also, maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but does anyone else get the creeps reading “give you a floor show?” With the constant objectification of women in society, when I here “give you a show” I automatically think of a sexual performance of some kind. That could just be me, though.

Overall, I find the concept of forcing a daughter to exercise, especially through these ways, to be intrusive, and, as I stated before, promoting the idea of women and children as property. Girls and young women might actually have a good reason for not exercising, and they are capable enough to figure that out on their own. The daughter in question may have an invisible disability the parents don’t know about or fully understand, be too tired from work/school to exercise, or may simply not enjoy traditional exercise. It should be her decision, not something for parents to invade and change.

In Which I Masochistically Attempt to Understand Camille Paglia

July 6, 2010 § 8 Comments

QUESTION: What the fuck is this? That was my first thought when I came across Camille Paglia’s recent column, No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class. I looked her up on Wikipedia, which was a mistake. Lady is contro-fucking-versial and also slightly ridiculous.

The piece is — apparently — about a drug to counter low libido in women, for which there is significant demand. An advisory panel to the Food & Drug Administration recently voted against the approval of such a drug, but recommended further research. It seems the that possibility of providing non-hormonal medical help to women with this kind of sexual dysfunction might soon be a reality.

This is excellent! Agreed? Because women deserve an equal share of the power of modern medicine, we deserve a drug industry that responds to our concerns, we deserve good sex. Because men with sexual dysfunction are just regular guys with a bit of bad luck, but women with the same problems are alien cyborgs who should be quiet and shame-ridden. Because Viagra was covered by insurance before some kinds of birth control. (Erections are reimbursable, but preventing the unwanted potential products of said erections? Out of pocket, bitches. ERECTIONS!! We bow down to your almighty power! Or something.)

Unfortunately, Camille Paglia doesn’t agree. At least, I think that this is her position, though it’s difficult to discern why from the apalling above-linked collection of words and “ideas” that bears little resemblance to a coherent argument.

Below, for your reading pleasure, a selection of astoundingly ridiculous (published! And financially compensated!) excerpts from Paglia’s piece. (Real Paglia words in bold, followed by my own alternate, comparably illogical text.)

“A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class.” “Sometimes I see women of color in my local Victoria’s Secret. Lacy underwear = having sex. Therefore, the aforementioned ladies must be having more sex than white ladies. Therefore, they must never suffer from unpleasant sexual dysfunction, which the aforementioned pharmaceuticals might cure. Conclusion: white ladies are prudes! No lady-Viagra can cure that shit! VICTORIA’S SECRET FOR THE WIN!!!”

“Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.” “FACT: As soon as you get to know someone, it is automatically impossible for you to find them sexy. You’re like, ‘Oh hey, that guy over there is substantially attractive. Shall I go over and introduce myself, maybe acquire his name, maybe acquire his digits of phone?’ Ladies, I am here to say NO! Do NOT talk to the men, do not allow yourself to glimpse them wearing T-shirts, shorts, OR HEAVEN FORBID SNEAKERS, because the sexy will vanish. It will be GONE, and you won’t deserve any lady-Viagra to turn you on again.”

“In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.” “I, Camille Paglia, don’t find Lady Gaga sexually appealing. Since I, Camille Paglia, have recently been crowned The Very Important White Lady Who Is Also The World’s Sole Arbiter Concerning Who Is And Is Not Attractive, the previous statement obviously supports my thesis that white women have an incurable lack of lust, so incurable that not even the most testosterone-packed lady-Viagra can attempt to correct it.”

“In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation.” “Because of stupid feminism, today’s poor, poor men sometimes work with their minds instead of their muscles, which is of course degrading and ridiculous. I would prefer if men were once more allowed to roam free in the wild, where they might enjoy a life of staring at their biceps, gnawing on beef jerky, never washing their hands, and impregnating women left and right. Men! MEN!!!”

Men must neuter themselves?! I am literally wondering aloud: what the fuck do these words mean? Is she saying that men have to suppress their masculinity, really? Really, they have to control their rapacious manliness in the unabashed boys’ club that is almost every single “white-collar realm” in this nation? Because 30% of female workers report harassment in their workplace, and men are almost always the perpetrators, dontcha know. (Keep in mind that the vast majority of sexual harassment cases go unreported, so that 30% estimate is likely far from accurate.)

And maybe some “ambitious women postpone procreation” not because they don’t like sex, as Paglia implies, but because…their lifetime ambitions simply don’t include children? Or because despite being inundated since birth with cultural messages about how they’d better-become-moms-or-else, many of their jobs offer shamefully stingy maternity leave? Or because they fear workplace discrimination based on pregnancy status?

Look, Paglia: I guess I can concede that I admire your attempt at a historical analysis of women’s sexuality in the United States. I live for that shit! Seriously, I love writing about sex and women. Because it is interesting, and complicated. Also, convoluted. A BRIEF AND REALISTICALLY CONFUSING PARAPHRASE OF WHAT WE TELL WOMEN: Everyone is having sex. Also, having sex is weird. Sex feels good. Also, feeling good is bad. Your sexuality is your only power and worth. Also, if you have sex your power and worth will vanish. You must want and be ready for sex all the time. Also, you can never have sex at any time.

Yes, this is what we do. We repeat over and over that women’s most potent power is sexual — which in some ways, unfortunately, is true, because we don’t hold equitable financial, or corporate, or political power — and then we don’t let women have sex!

So yes, I can agree with Paglia that the topic of women’s sexuality is ripe for analysis, and that a comprehensive understanding of such requires dissecting cultural norms. But what I cannot condone is her condescending dismissal of real womens’ sexual problems. Because female sexual dysfunction? Is not cultural. At least, it’s not any more cultural than breast cancer is cultural or fibromyalgia is cultural or any medical condition is cultural — which is, actually, somewhat (because the way we understand and interact with our bodies differs from culture to culture), but not entirely, as her writing supposes.

Paglia’s piece is a farcical charge against the logical and equitable notion that women, like men, sometimes suffer from sexual dysfunction. She betrays and mocks the 43% of this country’s women who will experience some form of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime. These conditions are real. They are medical. And they are treatable — or will be, if the FDA will approve effective drugs, and if people like Camille Paglia will take seriously the right of women to enjoy fully the pleasure our bodies can provide.

Also see the Harpy Seminar on and Sungold’s takedown of Paglia’s article.

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