Sunday, August 31, 2008

Historic African-American Women at the DNC

I just heard a great piece by On the Media (itself a great show) interviewing Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a Princeton University professor of African-American studies. Harris-Lacewell talks not just about how race was a surprising non-issue at the Democratic National Convention this year, but specifically about the female African-Americans who played significant roles in Conventions past.

They include Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper from Mississippi, who protested her state's all-White delegation; Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to run as a candidate for President in a major political party; and Barbara Jordan, the first African-American congresswoman from Texas, who delivered a keynote address in 1976.

It's a great, thoughtful piece with audio from some of these astounding orators. Go here for the complete audio (with a transcript coming Monday) or check out Harris-Lacewell's article in The Nation.

New Orleans Women Need Your Help

As Ann of Feministing notes, INCITE! needs support in its efforts to help low-income women of color evacuate New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav approaches: will go directly to supporting the hundreds of low income women of color that are the constituency of the New Orleans Women's Health Clinic.

Once again, the particular vulnerability of low-income women of color and single female-headed households (including folks with disabilities, seniors, undocumented immigrant women, and incarcerated women) has been... overlooked in the days leading up to the storm. With few resources, facing challenges and concerns for their families of their own, INCITE! New Orleans and WHJI have stepped in to fill the gap. Please send all your support, solidarity, sisterhood and strength their way, and join us in hoping for the safety and well-being of the people who are already suffering from Gustav in Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti, and willing the storm to subside or veer off safely before it strikes the Gulf Coast.

You can make a donation here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Keeping Football Boys-Only

Kacy Stuart tried out for her high school's football team and made the cut. All summer she's been practicing and scrimmaging with the team, readying herself for the upcoming season. She was to be a kicker. Yet, as team photos were being taken last Thursday afternoon, Kacy Stuart was pulled aside and given the bad news:
...a couple of weeks ago... Hank St. Denis, executive board chairman of the Georgia Football League, realized a girl had been accepted onto one of its football teams. St. Denis overruled New Creation’s decision to let her join the team.

“He said she can’t play simply because she’s a girl,” Stuart said.

That's right - she earned her spot on the team and now, after putting in the work, she's not being allowed to play - because she's a girl.

The Georgia Football League can be contacted here, should anyone feel inclined to comment on this policy of discrimination.

UPDATE: ESPN has picked up this story.

Friday, August 29, 2008

NYT Says Gov. Sarah Palin is McCain VP Pick

More soon, I'm sure - but the rumors start here.

UPDATE: Looks like yes, Palin is the VP pick. Put your thoughts in the comments, if you care to - I declare Open Thread.

UPDATE II: From Melissa McEwan, who is already starting to hear sexist language used against Palin:
For the record, there is plenty about which to criticize Palin that has absolutely fuck-all to do with her sex. She's anti-choice, against marriage equality, pro-death penalty, pro-guns, and loves Big Business. (In other words, she's a Republican.) There's no goddamned reason to criticize her for anything but her policies.

I will defend Sarah Palin against misogynist smears not because I like or support her, but because that's how feminism works.
UPDATE III: From Ann of Feministing:

First up, she's super anti-choice. The forced-pregnancy crowd is thrilled today!... She's against marriage equality and supports a federal gay-marriage ban, but has made sure to note that she "has gay friends." Though she has signed on to same-sex partner benefits. She believes schools should teach creationism. She's also pretty terrible on environmental issues, and is a huge advocate of drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Plus, she's embroiled in a scandal:

But Palin's seemingly bright future was clouded in late July when the state legislature voted to hire an independent investigator to find out whether she tried to have a state official fire her ex-brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper.

As Vanessa blogged last month, Bill Kristol was claiming McCain would pick Palin -- and that would prove that Republicans are "much more open to strong women." Frankly, that's bullshit. Republicans are more open to a certain type of woman -- one who is strongly against things like equal pay, universal health care, and reproductive freedom. In other words, the party is pro-woman-candidates, as long as they enact anti-woman policies.

Againcourt has already mentioned that her Mom is thrilled by McCain's pick, though - is anyone else seeing any impact from this decision? I mean, other than our collective inability to talk about anything else?

Friday Funny: Ah the Olympics...Never a Dull Moment!

Since it's Friday, I'm allowed to wear jeans to work today, and it's a long weekend I find that I'm feeling a bit spunky. While not everyone might love sports to the degree that Agincourt and I do, everyone can find humor in it. I received the following in an email yesterday and it cracked me up. Enjoy! (I don't know where this originated so I apologize for any infringement.)
Here are the top nine comments made by NBC sports commentators during the Summer Olympics that they would like to take back:

1. Weightlifting commentator: 'This is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning during her warm up and it was amazing.'

2. Dressage commentator: 'This is really a lovely horse and I speak from personal experience since I once mounted her mother.'

3. Paul Hamm, Gymnast: 'I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.'

4. Boxing Analyst: 'Sure there have been injuries, and even some deaths in boxing, but none of them really that serious.'

5. Softball announcer: 'If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again.'

6. Basketball analyst: 'He dribbles a lot and the opposition doesn't like it. In fact you can see it all over their faces.'

7. At the rowing medal ceremony: 'Ah, isn't that nice, the wife of the IOC president is hugging the cox of the British crew.'

8. Soccer commentator: 'Julian Dicks is everywhere. It's like they've got eleven Dicks on the field.'

9. Tennis commentator: 'One of the reasons Andy is playing so well is that, before the final round, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them... Oh my God, what have I just said?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Are We Really Moving to the Right on Abortion?

Tonight, Barack Obama told the crowd gathered to watch him accept his nomination as the Democratic candidate for the office of President of the United States, "We may not agree on abortion, but we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies."

Those words reminded me of a recent conversation I had with an in-law, in which he called me 'pro-abortion' and I insisted that pro-choice policies -like access to birth control, sex education, and, yes, legalized abortions- actually reduce the number of abortions. I've tried to convince anti-choice family members that, if their goal is to see a decline in abortions, then it is a goal we share - but the pro-choice plan is more humane and more effective. I've also tried to convince friends who go to rallies waving signs that read "future abortion doctor of America" that perhaps their tactics don't help our cause.

Am I part of the movement to the right when it comes to abortion?

The Wall Street Journal suggests that I am:

On the fiery issue of abortion, the Democratic Party has been taking small but notable steps to the right -- continuing to vigorously support abortion rights but adding more support for family-planning and other educational services that would "reduce the need for abortions."

These steps, some begun years ago, are part of the emphasis the party will place in the rest of the campaign on wooing religious voters, many of whom have been unwilling in the past to vote for a Democrat because of the party's long-standing belief that women should be allowed to end their pregnancies at will.

Obviously, the WSJ's phrasing is ridiculous, this idea that our aim is to allow women to "end their pregnancies at will" is intellectually dishonest.

Yet, my question remains - are progressives really moving to the right simply by focusing more in speeches on what can be done to make unwanted pregnancies less common, by putting public emphasis on access to birth control and truthful sex ed - values we've held for a long time?

Mexico's Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Rights

I can't go to bed without mentioning today's news from Mexico:
Mexico’s Supreme Court has voted to uphold legal abortion in Mexico City, making the Mexican capital one of only a handful of places in Latin America that allow abortion without limitations in the first trimester. Here’s the early AP story.
There's more, of course, at Feministing.

Yet, the trouble is that doctors can refuse to provide this medical service- just like we're trying to ensure they can in the States as well. According to the NYT, in Mexico City (D.F.):
...85 percent of the gynecologists in the city’s public hospitals have declared themselves conscientious objectors. And women complain that even at those hospitals that perform abortions, staff members are often hostile, demeaning them and throwing up bureaucratic hurdles.
So, although we're making progress, it is still a battle to ensure that back-ally abortions and self-performed surgeries are just a bad memory for North Americans.

In other news, you can read some of my thoughts on Obama's speech and add your own opinions here.

WHO: Social Injustice Kills

A recent report from the World Health Organization documents the influence of social injustices on people's life-expectancies and finds that social factors -not genetics - are the root cause of variations in health and lifespan between different populations. In fact, differences in living conditions between two neighborhoods located just a few miles from one another can mean a difference of more than twenty years in the life expectancies of the people of those communities. The BBC explains:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has carried out a three-year analysis of the "social determinants" of health.

The report concludes "social injustice is killing people on a grand scale".

For instance, a boy living in the deprived Glasgow suburb of Calton will live on average 28 years less than a boy born in nearby affluent Lenzie.
I was particularly struck by this chart, which documents the difference in average lifespans in two neighborhoods near where my parents currently live - Washington DC and Montgomery County:

The report also reminds us that a woman's chances of surviving childbirth are dramatically different depending on where she's living. "In Sweden, the risk of a woman dying during pregnancy and childbirth is one in 17,400, but in Afghanistan the odds are one in eight."

As we approach November's elections here in the States, I can't help but feel like the WHO report highlights what's at stake. The report's authors explain that:
"(The) toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and politics is, in large measure responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible."


The report calls for governments to consider how all their policies impact on health.

The report highlights education, affordable housing, management of access to unhealthy foods and social security protection as key.

It also said that governments should take action to ensure a living wage for workers, and working conditions that reduce work-related stress and ensure a healthy work-life balance.

All of this highlights the fact that our own health, and that of our neighbors, is at stake when we cast our ballots. If we vote for candidates who would keep working women and the elderly in a state of poverty for the convenience of big business, if we support politicians who are not committed to social justice, we are essentially decreasing our nation's vitality - dooming it to sickness and early deaths.

Yet, how do I talk to conservatives in my own family about the importance of providing education, affordable housing, and security to everyone? When my brother-in-law tells me that it is not our responsibility to help the less fortunate 'because they are the victims of their own bad choices,' how do I respond?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Doctors Fear Impact of Immigrant Woman's Arrest

According to NPR, not long after 23-year-old library clerk Marjavi Angel-Martinez sought prenatal care in a North Carolina hospital, immigration officers found her at her job and questioned her about her legal status in the USA. The process to deport Marjavi has now begun, and South Carolina doctors fear that hospital records are being collected by law enforcement agents in an effort to find and deport immigrants. As Latino advocate Jose Alegría explaines the case, "Its a fact that she received medical care during her pregnancy, that is a fact. It is a fact that she was using someone else's social security number, yes." Yet, although Marjavi has pled guilty to misuse of a social security number, her arrest has dangerous implications for everyone living in the United States.

Peter Morris, medical director of one of South Carolina's largest networks of clinics, explains that all of society is impacted if members of a population are forced to avoid hospitals. If someone who has an infectious disease fears going to the hospital to seek help, for example, the entire community is put at risk. "If people come to our offices afraid that, if they tell us something, that information could be used against them ... that's something we all should fear."

Marjavi 's arrest came after Sheriff Terry Johnson promised to crack-down on immigrants, who he claims are a tax on Alamance County's resources. County leaders have also recently called for an investigation of the county's medical system. While it is legal for officials to request medical records as part of a health-care investigation, Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum explains:
What is rare here is to have information used to deport someone. What you don't want to have is a system in which someone goes to a public health clinic and then that is used [to punish her] - you don't want that.
Marjavi came to the States legally as a toddler, and she and her family have been living here since, even though their visas have expired. In the days since Marjavi Angel-Martinez was charged, her husband and family have also been arrested and face deportation too. The NPR story does not mention what will happen to Marjavi 's baby, who will be a legal US citizen if born here.

This story comes on the same day that the New York Times, in a piece about an immigration raid in Mississippi, reminds us of "a significant escalation of the Bush administration’s enforcement practices" in which those detained are not only being deported, but also "...imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents." So it is quite possible that Marjavi, young and pregnant, will be separated from her family for quite some time before being deported.

Miriam of Feministing points to A Book Without a Cover as a site that helps citizens take action in the face of overly aggressive immigration raids. But I also think that Sheriff Terry Johnson might appreciate a letter letting him know that US citizens do not want to live in a society where our health is put at risk by a willingness to turn hospitals into branches of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

(Image via)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Soul Calibur IV: The Great Titty Effect

(Note to readers: Today we are lucky enough to have Stefan K. as a guest blogger and expert game-reviewer. Its Stefan's first time writing for for a feminist blog, so put on your 'company manners.' Feel free to argue with him about any of his claims, though - no holding back. A guy who spends his days pretending to slash his opponents to shreds with his dominatrix whip can't be too sensitive, right?)

Taking the fight to the next generation
by Stefan K.

Should I, a thirty-something year old long-time gamer, feel embarrassed when walking into a videogame store and asking for the latest title in a critically acclaimed, technically excellent franchise? Well, unless you belong to that rapidly dying breed of people who think that videogames are an inherently adolescent pastime (with the baffling exception of the Wii, which seems to defy social condemnation for some inexplicable reason), the answer should be no, of course. Should be. But the powers that be at Bandai Namco have apparently decided that sales of Soul Calibur III, the fourth -no really- installment of their well-loved fighting game series, have been underwhelming, which means that now I do in fact feel like apologizing whenever I talk about my hobby with, for lack of a better term, the uninitiated.

The reason for this is Soul Calibur IV (a.k.a. Stonking Great Tits IV Featuring Star Wars [1], as it is mockingly called on one of the message boards I frequent). In their seemingly desperate struggle to make the elusive and oh-so-fickle consumer part with his money, the publisher has chosen lowest common denominator tactics to market their product. To get the first, more obvious publicity ploy out of the way: Darth Vader and Yoda have joined the roster of characters. So, uh, light sabers against wooden sticks, sure. Now personally I don't approve of old canteen-head and the grammatically challenged garden gnome running around in my pseudo-medieval power fantasies, but I do (grudgingly) admit that it got peoples’ attention, so I guess it's a job well done.

Then there’s this other thing, you know, the elephant in the room. In the fast-lived world of videogames, every series has to have a unique sales pitch. Street Fighter has its comic book looks, Mortal Kombat its over-the-top violence, and Soul Calibur has its, well, gratuitous panty shots and skin-hugging spandex suits. But while shameful fan service has always been a part of the series’ legacy, it has never been so seemingly desperate, juvenile, and to some extent grotesque as in the current game. Behold, for example, the bizarre transformation of notorious whip-cracking dominatrix Ivy Valentine over the years [2] (not really work-safe, unless you work at a really relaxed place). Disregarding for a second that this outfit is highly impractical for a fight to the death -or anything else not porn-related for that matter-, which I know is asking for a lot but has already been discussed elsewhere [3], it also appears that her breast size is inversely correlated with the amount of cloth and leather she’s wearing. Yes indeed, the cringe factor is quite high in this game. And still, I love it. Now at this point I could try to save face by telling you about Ivy’s unique fighting style, her vastly more fashionable alternative costume [4], or her awesome zombie pirate daddy (who, coincidentally, also happens to be a playable character [5]). Or I could simply point out that Soul Calibur is actually a really good game that is getting rave reviews left and right for a reason, and that I can now play against my friends overseas via the magic of the internet. But honestly, why bother; by the time I agreed to write this article I had already decided that I'd have to leave my dignity far behind. So here, have another screenshot instead [6] (do not, under any circumstance, click this link during office hours).

Oh hey, did I mention the clothing damage feature that was introduced in the new Soul Calibur? Thanks to the raw number-crunching power of those new-fangled consoles, you can now punch what (little) the fighters are wearing right off of them, which adds a whole new layer of political incorrectness to the whole thing. Of course there is no actual nudity in the game (otherwise the ESRB would release the hounds and retract that Teen rating quicker than you can say Hot Coffee), but still, it’s rather silly [7]. Really, it's quite funny to get hit by a meaty slash and run around in chainmail underpants for the remainder of the match. Now, all of the above makes it sound as if this game is incredibly sexist. Not so. Or rather, yes, but it objectifies both genders. Siegried for example is an unlikely prettyboy with an even more unlikely gigantic sword, the many bare-chested male fighters sport abs that might as well be chiseled out of pink marble and are handsome with few exceptions, and -well- you've likely already seen Voldo (although you really have to see him in motion [8] to get the complete experience). Which means that all of the characters in this game are, and have always been, larger-than-life clichés, or caricatures if you will. There's even an Elvis Presley lookalike for crying out loud. It's just that this time, all the trailers and previews have been shouting "hey look, huge melons and Darth Vader", instead of reminding people that there's an actual game buried under all this titillation.

Funnily enough, at least on the surface this pandering to the supposedly hormone-crazed audience has had the exact opposite effect so far. Gamers all over the web are ridiculing the characters designs, and people on dedicated fan forums have been petitioning for some decency
ever since the first screenshots have been released half a year ago. Without much success, obviously. But there's no such thing as bad publicity, and Bandai Namco have recently announced that since its debut last month, two million copies of Soul Calibur IV have been shipped (tech term meaning "not quite sold", but still impressive) [9]. Because of the nudge/winking marketing, or despite it? I guess we'll never know, but the fact remains that this game has done the average fan an incredible disservice. Thanks, guys.



(Oh, and the image up top comes via the gamer gene)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Late Sunday Night Links

It's nearing midnight and becoming clear that I won't be able to write about all of the stories I'd like to cover before the weekend is officially over. So instead I'll let you decide what you'd like to read and discuss - all on your own:

Some CA school boards debate whether or not to take a stand on Proposition 8.

Cara of Curvature writes about more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention atrocities.

A Mississippi high school had its first interracial prom this year. It took actor Morgan Freeman to make it happen.

FeministGal posts on the accessibility of sustainable food.

Feminist Law Professors discuss What Women Want, which is brought to us by the National Women's Law Center.

5,000 women marched through London, calling for an end to violence against women. No one seemed to notice.

Are women still fighting a 'confidence gap'?

More at Denialism on the HHS's attempts to deny women access to medical services. NPR discusses this too.

What if makeup wasn't used as a barometer of feminist credibility?

Amanda makes a book recommendation.

GA fights to end child prostitution.

Sex slavery is still common in the UK.

One poll says Americans are ready for an openly gay president. I think we have Portia and Ellen's glowing wedding photos to thank.

Can Alabama truly institute an obesity tax?

Pam looks at how we're treating transgender veterans.

AlterNet discusses the future of immigration reform.

Media Matters is awesome, and such an important resource during the election season.

Oh, and its time to hand-in your submissions to the 64th Carnival of Feminists.

If there are important stories we've overlooked, leave another link in the comments! Oh, and feel free to self-promote!

Gender differences in medical care and mortality

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a growing global epidemic, as described by a great PLoS article. It is associated with smoking and is a major cause of disability. In 1990, it was the 6th leading cause of death worldwide. It is projected to climb to Bronze (in the Olympics of Morbidity and Mortality) by 2020. To put it in prospective, it is currently being beaten out by heart attacks, strokes, and AIDS. While we have been better able treat and prolong life with these other diseases, COPD is actually on the rise. It affects 10% of the global population--not a small chunk of people by any means. Of smokers 25% of them will develop COPD and despite the public and medical bias, the rates between men and women are equal according to a 25 year study published in 2006 in Thorax. Importantly, the rate is rising faster in women.

About COPD:
According to the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease COPD is “a preventable and treatable disease.‥characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. The airflow limitation is usually progressive and associated with an abnormal inflammatory response of the lung to noxious particles or gases”.

There are two variants of COPD. With the chronic bronchitis subtype, you slowly lose the ability to breathe because your windpipes fill with mucus and plug up. With emphysema, your smallest airsacs, where the essential transfer of oxygen to the blood occurs, begin to dissolve. We measure the decline by following the forced expiratory volume (FEV1), which is the amount of air you can force out in 1 second. People with COPD lose 50-100 mililiters of volume each year. 'Normal' people only decline by less than 30 mililiters per year.

According to another great article in PLoS, while life expectancy has been steadily on the rise (7 years for men, 6 years for women), this increase is not distributed equally across socio-economic groups. The figure below is from that article. The darker the green, the higher the life expectancy compared to the national average, where as the darker the red, the lower. As you can see by the map in the lower right, women are doing worse as a whole (i.e. the map is more red).

Women are also more likely to die from COPD. Why?

Women are less likely to be properly diagnosed as having COPD. Below is an excerpt from "Gender and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease":
A 2001 study [Chapman K, Tashkin D, Pye D. Chest] that sampled 200 primary care physicians in North America presented two hypothetical cases of cough and dyspnea in smokers, one male and the other female. Physicians were then asked for provisional diagnosis and initial diagnostic steps. COPD was given as the most probable diagnosis significantly more often for the male case scenario than for the female case scenario (64.6 vs. 49%).
Women are more likely thought to just have asthma. A similar study was conducted in Spain with similar results, so it's not just us in the US. If a doctor is less likely to think a [female] patient has COPD, that doctor is less likely to order the proper tests and make the right diagnosis.

Women are more susceptible to tobacco. It is not clear why, but the same amount of smoking is more damaging to female lungs. Women also tend to decline more quickly once they do develop COPD. As described by Gan et al., women have an accelerated rate of decline of FEV1 as compared to men.
Women are more symptomatic. Women are more likely to have severe shortness of breath (dyspnea) with less pack year (number of cigarette packs smoked per day x number of years). Additionally, FEV1 (the above mentioned marker of disease progression) correlates significantly better with male disease and death.

Women are differently biologically. Sex hormones may affect the way the body deals with smoking. Just as children are NOT little adults; women are NOT men. We need specifically tailored drug and clinical trials. Women have smaller lungs, increased airway responsiveness, and hormones which modulate the body's response to irritants like smoke. From Han et al. :
It is interesting to note that chronic bronchitis is more prevalent in women, whereas emphysema is more prevalent in men. Gender dimorphism in COPD was first suggested by Burrows and colleagues in 1987.
Women are socially disadvantaged. As women have a lower socio-economic station, they have less access to health care and early intervention. Globally, particularly in poor countries, women have increased exposure to indoor toxins from burning dung, charcoal, and wood indoors for fuel for cooking and heating. This has led to increased rates of COPD in even non-smoking females.

Women choose to smoke more dangerous cigarettes. Cigarettes marketed towards women as "light" or "low tar" are typically lower in nicotine. The other toxins, however, are still in the same concentration. The low nicotine content results in a deeper and longer inhalation and thus more contact between the toxins and the lung surfaces.

COPD is a real threat towards women and the inequalities which exist are unacceptable. We need better education of the public and medical communities. We need better recognition of the disease in women and ultimately better treatments.
This post was inspired by a great lecture by a female physician.

More on Mini-Skirts

A university in Mexico's Sinaloa province has banned mini-skirts, claiming that the new dress code will protect women from an atmosphere of violence. As Guanabee explains:
Director of Studies, Héctor Melesio Cuen Ojeda explained that with such a violent atmosphere existing in Sinaloa—the state spawned the country’s most fearsome drug cartel and is home to a bloody, ongoing battle with neighboring cartels in Tijuana— wearing such short skirts is “an invitation to be attacked or bothered, not only within the university facilities, but also on the outside.” Also discussed was the need to cover tattoos and remove face piercings.
Of course, we know that this type of 'lady clothes cause violence' logic isn't confined to Mexico, but common throughout the world. The problem with the ban on sexy as a protective device is that it simply doesn't work - in order to protect women, we have to change the attitude that abusing women is acceptable, we must stop victim-blaming, and we have to create a safe society where everyone can be comfortable walking around their universities and neighborhoods. This type of clothing ban hurts women in the long-run by promoting the idea that women can be responsible for the violence against them simply by being found attractive by an attacker. Perhaps another protest is in order.

You can read the original article, in Spanish, at El Universal.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Well, it looks like Joe Biden is who I'll be supporting for the office of vice-president come November. I'll admit that he wasn't on the list of people I was secretly hoping Obama would choose, but I still love Obama - so. I'd like to thank Ann, my favorite Feministing blogger, for doing such a thorough introduction to Biden and his record.

Now, though, I'm hoping someone will help me see what Obama sees in him. If I remember correctly, some of our readers and contributors were mentioning Biden as a favorite early this year. So... tell me why I should love him.

UPDATE: Over at Feminocracy, Earlgreyrooibos has posted a great break-down of how Biden has voted on important issues. Another good resource is the site On The Issues, where you can read more about the voting history of all the candidates.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Houston Councilwoman Pulls Woman from Burning Car

The Houston Chronicle brings us the amazing story of how Houston Councilwoman Jolanda Jones helped save a woman after a car wreck:
Jones and a friend had just picked up her son from a country-western concert... when they saw the car leap off the tollway near U.S. 59. They stopped their car, called 911 and followed the smoke.

"We just ran," said Jones, 42, a former track and field star at the University of Houston.

She didn't expect to see anyone alive. But when she neared the car, she saw movement.

Then she heard a woman screaming.

Jones and the two men, all of them strangers to each other, tried to pry the woman out, but she was pinned by the steering wheel inside the crumpled car.

Time was running out.

"The window was melting," Jones said. "The fire was coming in."

Finally, Jones leaned in through the back passenger window and put her weight on the driver's seat.

The woman slipped free, and the trio lifted her out the window.
Wow, just - wow.
You can read more about Jones here.

(h/t TransGriot)

Have You Seen the Latest Target Women?

Happy Friday!

On Underground Abortions, Anti-Choice & Pro-Life

ABC News has an article up about the fact that, surprise!, women are still having "underground" abortions. To summarize, there is a lot of information out there on the internet that lets you know what combination of drugs and such will induce a miscarriage. (My senior thesis was actually on the past, present and future of abortion, so I can add that there are several books that also have this info.) It seems that women are accessing and using this information in growing numbers. Now researchers want to know why.

I understand the need for actual statistics, but I can venture a few guesses as to what they will find:

1) Access to abortion is becoming quite the tricky issue. There are partial-birth abortion bans (FYI, this is a phrase anti-choicers contrived to fuel their own claims), parental consent/notification laws, public funding requirements, etc.

2) Abortion laws and regulations vary from state to state. Here is a breakdown of state differences from the Guttmacher Institute.

3) There is a general distrust of doctors in this country. Am I the only one who finds that I need to tell the doctor what might be wrong with me rather than the other way around?
EDIT: In getting caught up in my schpiel, I forgot to urge people that they should not stop seeing their doctors! GO TO YOUR DOCTORS! Yes, our health care system is not perfect, but doctors are trained and fully capable of keeping us safe in situations like these.

4) (Related to #3) Our health care system needs an upgrade. Stat. Abortions are expensive and many lack the resources to get abortion. Combine that with the fact that doctors can refuse to give you an abortion, and you've got a whole lot of obstacles hidden in the fine print.

5) There is serious shame and blame attached to abortion. This increases when dealing with people who have religious families and people from other cultures. Some women would rather see the problem go away quickly and play the denial game afterwards.

6) Access to the correct information is sometimes tricky. With all of these rules and obstacles, there is plenty of room for confusion. The article mentions a Mexican woman who just did not have all of the facts straight:
"She knew that abortion was legal in the U.S.," Grossman said, "but she thought that is was only for people who are legal residents."

I think we need to attack these problems from both sides. Not only should we advocate for better policies and clearer information from our government, but we should also rely on grassroots efforts to keep others informed of what the law says, what the alternatives are, and how to make sure that women are safe at all times.

And can we please stop calling the anti-choicers, "pro-life"? I am pro-choice. I am also pro-life. In fact, I don't know of ANY pro-choicers who are not also pro-life. I recently read that they're sometimes called pro-birth. I suppose this is also accurate, but since this particular group of people is usually the one against birth control and adequate sex education, I think anti-choice is more accurate. Erica has a post up over at the Feministing Community site about reclaiming the term pro-life. I completely agree with her. We need to start now.

Some great resources: NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Abortion Access Project, and National Abortion Federation.

(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

HSS to Allow Doctors to Deny Treatments on Moral Grounds

Just when we were celebrating California's Supreme Court ruling that doctors can't refuse treatments to lesbians or gays due to religious beliefs, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has started pushing to ensure that doctors can refuse to provide abortions based on moral grounds. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt explains this new attempt to blur the line between health care provider and clergy this way:
"Freedom of conscience is not to be surrendered upon issuance of a medical degree," Leavitt said. "This nation was built on a foundation of free speech. The first principle of free speech is protected conscience."
Let me just point out here that there are many branches of medicine that a person could practice which in no way involve providing abortions, and only one that does. So perhaps the better answer would be for individual medical professionals to not choose fields where their duties conflict with their beliefs. Also unclear is whether or not doctors would be allowed to object to providing abortions to only certain types of people - say, on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status, or race.

Also worrisome is this:
The underlying laws deal mainly with abortion and sterilization, but both the laws and the language of the rule seem to recognize that objections on conscience grounds could involve other types of services.
That's right, under the HSS's new rule, any type of medical procedure could be denied due to any member of the facility's beliefs - since "regulation is written to apply to a broad swath of the health care work force," a hospital worker who decided it was morally wrong for him to, say, provide a certain type of person with lifesaving medications might be covered.

As PalMD of Denialism recently wrote, "...a physician must be careful not impose his or her personal beliefs on patients." In a discussion of Dr. Christine Brody's refusal to provide fertility treatments to Guadalupe T. Benitez (the act of discrimination that eventually led to the CA Supreme Court ruling mentioned at the first of this post), PalMD explains:

Conflicted with the doctor's faith. There's the rub.

This is a particularly perverse form of prostelitizing. It doesn't involve having coffee with an acquaintance and teaching them the Word. It involves a vulnerable individual, who comes to a qualified professional for help, and is turned away because of "improper" living and thinking.
For a physician to deny a patient care based on their own beliefs is a cop-out, and is a coercive use of their paternalistic powers.
The HSS is in the wrong and its new rule is aimed at denying medical services to women. Worse, as Broadsheet notes, the ruling:
...goes far beyond defending a medical worker's right to refuse to perform an abortion -- it also secures his or her right to refuse to "refer for, or make other arrangements for, abortions." In other words, a worker at a women's clinic, perhaps the only one for several hundred miles, can refuse to perform an abortion and refuse to refer the patient to someone who will.
This seems to be a serious attack on our medical freedoms.

UPDATE: Both NARAL and Planned Parenthood have letters you can sign and send to help ensure this rule does not go into effect. (h/t Jump off the Bridge)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mini-Skirt Protest: The Right Way to Make a Point?

La Jornada reports that a group of young women wearing miniskirts and short-shorts interrupted services at the Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) in Mexico City last Sunday, protesting policies of the Catholic Church that they believe lead to wide-spread victim-blaming and misogyny:

Encabezadas por Perla Vázquez, las manifestantes acusaron a la Iglesia Católica de adoptar actitudes misóginas y machistas al supuestamente culpar a las mujeres que usan minifaldas o pantalones ajustados de provocar abuso sexual o violencia de género en su contra...

"Hacemos un llamado a exigir el fin de la opresión a la que somos sometidas por ser mujeres para acabar con la dominación y la explotación", expusieron.

Roughly translated, the above says (my apologies in advance for some awkwardness - I *hate* translating):

Led by Perla Vázquez, the protesters accused the Catholic Church of adopting misogynistic and sexist attitudes that blame women who wear miniskirts or tight pants for provoking sexual abuse and gendered violence against them.

"We are putting out a call to demand the end of the oppression that subjugates women, to do away with domination and exploitation," they explained.

I certainly understand the rage that the protesters are expressing - I was ready to take to the streets in protest after reading yet another victim-blaming piece, this time by mega-turd Peter Hitchens. Yet, my question is this: What's the right way to protest?

PETA provides almost daily proof that there is a wrong way to advocate for a cause. Countless stunts involving half-clad women, sham violence, and a complete lack of insight into the real problems facing people who don't share their privilege have perhaps even hurt the cause PETA ostensibly promotes, since the stunts draw attention without evoking wide-spread sympathy or a real understanding of animal rights issues. Rev. Dr. has even argued that most modern protests are ineffective due to a lack of dignity. Yet, if a group feels strongly that its members are aware of an injustice largely misunderstood by or even invisible to greater society, how should a protest be carried out in a way that both informs the public of the problem and builds sympathy for those who face injustices?

More specifically, how do women best protest the injustices that still face us?

(image 1 via this Dailylife story about similar protests in South Africa, image 2 via Feministing)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Feminist Parenting: Advice, Doctors, and Dr.'s Advice

(Note to readers: As sometimes happens after I've posted in a hurry, I've reread this piece and discovered that, although it seemed fine when I pressed publish, something about it now doesn't sit well with me. Regular readers will know that we're geeky sorts of feminists here, and usually pretty good skeptics to boot. So, I'd like to stress that the advice of your doctor is not to be ignored. When posting, my intent was not to cast aspersions on the ability of pediatricians to give good advice, but rather to prompt some discussion about how new parents cope with the bombardment of suggestions that often accompanies pregnancy and birth - and how doctors can best help them sort the good from the bad.)

Part of the stress of being a new parent comes from having to sort through often conflicting messages about what's best for you, your family, and your baby. Grandma, Dr. Spock, Elmo - everyone seems to have an opinion on what you should be doing, and what you're probably doing wrong. Worse, this is pared with the realization that - possibly for the first time in your life - your decisions don't just impact you, there is someone else entirely dependent on you, upping the ante of each choice. Still worse - companies know that expecting and new parents are stressed about making healthy living choices, and will try to take advantage of our fears and confusion in order to sell crap like Mummywraps, designed to protect against "electro-smog."

Between the advice from other parents, half-believed "old wives' tales," and books like What to Expect when You're Expecting, it can be difficult to know what - or who - to believe.

Of course, your doctor should be the expert who sorts through all the woo and superstitions, and provides solid facts. Yet, even in the pediatrician's office, new parents can feel insecure about any choice they make, as Elena of California NOW explains:
“Is she still breastfeeding?”

“Yes, we’re still breastfeeding,” I said proudly.

“You need to work on weaning.”

I sat there in shock. After a year of strong breastfeeding encouragement I was suddenly supposed to immediately wean her?

“Well, we were planning to let her self-wean when…” I started.

The doctor cut me off in mid-sentence. “Is she sleeping through the night yet?”

“No,” I said, guiltily wondering if that was somehow my fault.

“That’s because of the breastfeeding; it doesn’t fill their stomachs enough. You also need to move her into a crib,” she said, looking at us significantly, “You need to be able to get more time as a couple. Move her into her own room if you can.”

Jesus Christ, I thought, is she actively trying to destroy any chance of sleep for me?... And who was she to tell us with that knowing look that my husband and I needed “more time as a couple”? When did my baby’s pediatrician get a say in our sex life?

Elena's experience brings up multiple issues new parents often face when at the doctor's office. Parents worry that the decisions they thought were best might hurt their child anyway. There can also be confusion about what is solid medical advice backed up by research, and what is simply a doctor's personal opinion. Finally, there's the conundrum of what to do when your doctor's advice goes against your own ideas about what's best for your family and relationships.

Of course, our blog's contributors include a couple of doctors and medical professionals, so we have to look at these issues from both sides. So, I'm inviting some discussion:

Parents: How did you decide what was good advice and what was baloney? How did you set your boundaries with advice-givers? Did you have any problems with your doctors, and how were they resolved? Finally, what tips would you give young parents just beginning the challenge of deciphering what's good advice and what's complete bunk?

Doctors: How do you help patients make the best decisions for themselves and their families? How do you help them figure out what of the advice they've been given, sometimes from beloved grandmothers, is tripe? Is there such a thing as feminist doctoring, or is it rather a question of having a good 'bedside manner'?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Part II of children are not just tiny adults: Newborn pain

I heard a great talk last week on neonatal pain. It was honestly not even a topic that I had considered before. Of course all humans have pain--it never even occurred to me that they might not. Apparently, it wasn't until about twenty years ago that the idea that a premature infant could even feel pain was medically accepted. The thought was that they were born before their pain circuits fully matured, and therefore were incapable of feeling pain. Newer studies in fact shown that premature infants are HYPER-sensitive to pain.

One great tip I learned while on my pediatric rotation is that the most important developmental milestone could be considered the social smile at 2 months old. Up until 2 months, it is very difficult to tell if a baby is in pain or sick. If a child has lost their social smile, there is an excellent chance they need more advanced medical care. So how do we tell if a newborn, or even more dramatically, a premature infant is in pain?

It is not as easy as you might think. Testing (and common sense) has shown that crying is completely non-specific. Babies cry if they are upset, hungry, tired, etc. Grimacing and withdrawal reflexes have also proven to be a poor indicators. Additionally, in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), for medical reasons, babies are often sedated or groggy from medications. This further blurs our ability to read any cues they might give us. There are >40 scales out there, but none of them are thought to be the ideal way to assess neonatal pain.

From the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine is the study "Do we still hurt newborn babies?". In the NICU, in their study, each baby had on average 14 painful events each day. This ranged from pulling off tape, to heel sticks, to suctioning. Many times we don't even think to give any comfort during these procedures. Therapeutic options don't even have to be limited to just medication. You can dim the lights and noise to create less stressful environment and every medical student at some point has been on sweeties duty. This is where you dip the pacifier [or your finger] into a sucrose solution to let the baby calm itself on something sweet. This honestly works like magic. In this study, they found that less than 35% of newborns received any preceding intervention. Some studies suggest that neonates may be unable to experience the analgesic (pain relieving) effects of adult medications, such as morphine. They might just experience the sedative effects.

In my own work environment, cribs and incubators often have mirrors (so that the infants can look at themselves and receive visual stimulation), music, and mobiles. Hopefully other hospitals are also beginning to recognize the importance of treating neonatal pain; I just wish there were more quality studies out there to better guide us. Clearly, treating neonates like little adults just doesn't cut it.

Not only do neonates experience pain, they also remember it. The pain we experience as infants changes the way we will always react to pain. In mouse models, neonatal surgery affects the way adult mice react to pain stimuli. Similar results have been shown in humans. I have heard stories of former premature babies brought into the pediatrician's office who shriek if you touch their feet. Maybe they remember the heel sticks?

Olympic Fashion as a Feminist Issue

Talk of uniforms and body politics in the Olympics has been covered throughout the feminist blogosphere (check here for a summary and here for a generally great post). As usual, the word has not spread so quickly throughout the news circuit. So imagine my surprise when I see a lengthy article about uniforms at the Olympics over on ABC News. (I'm telling you, these people are after my feminist heart-- first a story on men's skirts, then intersexuality, now this!)

The article touches on some of the sports with the biggest uniform differences - namely, beach volleyball and gymnastics - and tries to explain the functionality of the uniforms. Apparently, the athletes themselves are the ones that prefer to wear their respective uniforms. I thought it was interesting that they mentioned one woman, Melody Drnach, who wanted people to take a closer look at the disparities in the uniforms, but she is not an athlete herself.

This made me curious to find out how other athletes feel. It seems that a lot of the opinions we have about what we see women wear mostly come from a place outside of the actual sport. If it makes more sense for these women to wear these uniforms, then maybe we should be looking at how comfortable men are in their own uniforms. Or, perhaps, it should all be more of an individual choice rather than a standard in each sport. The article suggests that there is already not that much detail in regulations about uniforms themselves, so perhaps it's a possibility.

They also mentioned something my guy and I talked about a few days ago, which is that fashion also plays a role, with uniforms sometimes just changing over time to what people find appealing. Admittedly, I'd rather they analyze that a bit more, because to me it seems that part of the discussion needs to center around what "fashion" means in this case, but, there's only so much detail any article can have I suppose.

What do you all think about this? As spectators, are we over-analyzing the uniform deal? Or is there a deeper link here than the athletes themselves are recognizing? Also, do you think there is a connection between the fashion of the sport and pressures that come up (particularly eating disorders)?

(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge.)

Children are people, too

PLoS Medicine has an article today entitled "Children Are Not Just Small Adults: The Urgent Need for High-Quality Trial Evidence in Children". According to several investigations, >50% of medications used in pediatrics have not been specifically tested to verify their safety and efficacy in children.

If children are so important to us as a society, then why don't we value their health?

PLoS Medicine also has an original paper in this edition that examines the differences in anti-epileptic drugs in children and adults. This study is meta-analysis, therefore it combines many previous studies to examine subtle trends that can be revealed by adding together the patients from other studies. They show that kids are more likely to experience the placebo effect than adults. Although the specifics of what they showed is not incredibly important, the study is particularly interesting because it is an example that kids don't respond to medication in the same way as adults, i.e. it is difficult to directly apply adult studies to children.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Smiling Othering

Othering is "a way of defining and securing one’s own positive identity through the stigmatization of an 'other.'" It is the "[s]implistic recognition of normal human diversity, combined with ethnocentric thinking [that] can lead to a tendency to depict ‘others' somehow, categorically, topologically, intrinsically, DIFFERENT." It is also incredibly common.

Othering is so common, in fact, that people are often unaware that they are doing it, and will even Other you to your face - while smiling at you. I've been thinking about how to best handle this type of 'smiling othering' since reading two excellent posts about this phenomenon.

The first example comes from Female Science Professor, who writes about a conversation she had at a recent overseas conference:
When I was introduced to a senior scientist I had not met before, we talked about scientific topics of mutual interest at first... Then he told me: “I once worked with a Female Scientist.”

...It’s kind of hard to know how to respond to that. He was trying to make friendly conversation, and perhaps he feared that I had preconceptions about him based on stereotypes of male scientists from his country. But what can I say?

- Me too!
- How did that go?
- I’ve worked with a male Scientist.
- Do you think it will rain later today?

The challenge was increased when he added, somewhat randomly “She’s taller than I am.” Now what to say?

- Most people are.
- How did you feel about that?

I decided to avoid a direct response and return to discussing Science, including the work he did with the Female Scientist.
The next is from Carmen at Anti-Racist Parent, who got Othered at a Staples. She was waiting in line to make some photocopies, when the man in front of her turned around and asked if she were Hawaiian:
I say: “No”

And he insists that I look Hawaiian and I shrug my shoulders and say I’m not, at which point he asks the dreaded question that ALL ASIAN AMERICANS HAVE HAD TO ANSWER AND THAT MOST OF US HATE: “Where ARE you from? Which country?”

Me (sighing inside–I mean, I just want to make 5 lousy photocopies): “I’m from the United States of America.”

Him, now a bit flustered: “No, I know that, I mean, where are your parents from…where are your people from?”

Me (not willing to give in): “California”

Him: (now he’s bemused and acting like I’m retarded rather than being frustrated by my obvious deference of his questions): “No, I mean what is your ancestry? Where are your ancestors from?”

To which I tell him that if he’s asking about my ethnic background, it’s China/Chinese.

Him: “Oh! Ni hao?”

Me (now being deliberately obtuse): “Sir, if you are inquiring as to whether I speak Cantonese or Mandarin, I do not.”

Him: (now laughing amiably because he thinks we’re having a jolly little conversation): “Oh, I’ve been to China several times and have picked up a few useful phrases. Have you ever visited China?”

Me: (now just annoyed, I mean, he’s a nice older fellow, but really, I JUST WANT TO MAKE MY PHOTOCOPIES): “No, I’ve never been to China.”

Him: (he’s now VERY SURPRISED and in ADVICE mode): “But you HAVE to go to China. It’s where your people are from!”

And I just shrugged and made my photocopies and he left, finally.

In both examples, the conscious intent wasn't to make anyone uncomfortable - in fact, the speakers were trying to be friendly. The result, however, is to point out - repeatedly - that the male/white is normal and accepted, while anything else is remarkable and calls for an extended explanation.

I'm going to guess that most of our readers have been Othered at various points in their lives, and sometimes by people who seemed to mean no harm. So my question is - how have you been othered, and how did you deal with it? When someone seems good-natured even as they insist that we are different, how should we respond?

(image via Sociological Images)

Washington Post Takes Another Bite At the Feminist Bookstore

I was settling down to read my Sunday dose of aggravation, also known as the Washington Post’s Outlook section. But just as I’m about to figuratively pat the Outlook editor John Pomfret on the back for a good line up this week I find this column by Leonard Sax called “'Twilight' Sinks Its Teeth Into Feminism.” Oh great, here we go again. Yet another Sunday Outlook author who is selected to tell us feminism doesn’t work -- this time its because women’s genetic code tells us we love baking cookies.

Leonard Sax is interested in discussing the Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, which despite being incredibly popular, I know nothing about it. So I can’t evaluate his summarization of the series and its passive female heroine. But I don’t need to be an expert on teen fiction to find the burning straw woman of Sax’s argument. Which is “hey you feminists, despite all your indoctrination, girls still want to read about passive victims and boys still want to watch porn and play video games. So take that!”

Here’s the key passages:
Yet on some level, it seems that children may know human nature better than grown-ups do.
We really should just make children tenured faculty until they grow up and their education ruins their unspoiled nature.
Consider: The fascination that romance holds for many girls is not a mere social construct; it derives from something deeper.
Boys however do not ever care about romance. That’s why they never understand why all those video games and Star Wars have “rescue the princess” as plot points. Or why Harry Potter had a girlfriend. And feminists truly believe that little girls shouldn’t even know what a romantic fairytale is until they’ve gone through an intensive Womyn’s Studies program in college.
In my research on youth and gender issues, I have found that despite all the indoctrination they've received to the contrary, most of the hundreds of teenage girls I have interviewed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand nevertheless believe that human nature is gendered to the core.
Because, as we’ve shown, if kids believe something, then it is demonstrable fact. Also did you know that candy makes a good lunch?
They are hungry for books that reflect that sensibility. Three decades of adults pretending that gender doesn't matter haven't created a generation of feminists who don't need men;
Feminists, when we say “we want equality” what we really mean is “you are no different from men, in fact you don’t even need men. In fact, we actually hate men.”
they have instead created a horde of girls who adore the traditional male and female roles and relationships in the "Twilight" saga.
Because no other vampire series has ever been popular, ever. And no other book is also popular amongst teens.
Likewise, ignoring gender differences hasn't created a generation of boys who muse about their feelings while they work on their scrapbooks.
Damn it! That means the feminist movement has failed! I mean if little boys aren’t playing with dolls then what else could feminists ever possibly want to achieve?
Instead, a growing number of boys in this country spend much of their free time absorbed in the masculine mayhem of video games such as Grand Theft Auto and Halo or surfing the Internet for pornography.
Yeah, I wondered why at the NOW national conference the panel on "How to Separate Men From Their Video Games and Porn" was so poorly attended. I guess every video game out there (and porno) is just more proof that our national goal of emasculation isn’t working. Why! Why must we always fight these losing battles against HUMAN NATURE instead of trying to achieve tangible successes like getting equal pay for equal work and getting access to contraception? I’m sure glad we never tried to go after sexual harassment in the workplace either, because god knows it’s just in men’s nature to be assholes and you can’t change that either.
For more than three decades, political correctness has required that educators and parents pretend that gender doesn't really matter. The results of that policy are upon us: a growing cohort of young men who spend many hours each week playing video games and looking at pornography online, while their sisters and friends dream of gentle werewolves who are content to cuddle with them and dazzling vampires who will protect them from danger. In other words, ignoring gender differences is contributing to a growing gender divide.
So starting back in 1978, little girls who were told “you can’t be anything you want to be,” really should have been told “but really all you want is to be the princess rescued by the cuddly teddy bear.” I can see now why that section I was taught in primary school called “WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU ARE A BOY OR A GIRL” was invented. To beat out of me any inherent genetic ideas I had about loving teddy bears and unicorns, and Princess Leia in an iron bikini. Little girls who want to be the hero of their own fiction? Sorry, it’s just in your HUMAN NATURE to have limited fantasies. Oh and stop bothering the boys for a turn on the Nintendo Wii, you know video games are only for boys.

--Crossposted at NewsCat

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tennessee Gets Tougher on Sex Offenders

I am ashamed to admit that I was unaware of this particular legislation in Tennessee. Chalk that up to all the attention that the Johnia Berry Act of 2007 received, especially since it went into effect at the beginning of this year. While the Johnia Berry act addresses violent felony arrests, additional legislation went into effect the beginning of July designed to further protect children from sex offenders.
Registered sex offenders in the state will be required to register any e-mail address, user name or instant message screen name, along with their given name, place of residence and any crime for which they’ve been charged.
It certainly makes sense to me, although I do worry about registering "any crime for which they've been charged". I'd go along with any sex offense that they have been convicted of, but not necessarily any charged crime. That aside, why not require sex offenders to register how they access the computer? Without that, a pedophile can move into a neighborhood by complying with the buffer zone requirements, register as a sex offender so the neighbors know they are there, and then happily continue to prowl for children from the unmonitored safety of their home.

No doubt sex offender registry requirements create a slippery slope. Non-repeat offenders who have served the time are lumped into the same category as the most dangerous of repeat pedophiles. It isn't ideal, but as I write this I cannot come up with a better idea to protect children from the wide open candy shop that the internet has created for those who seek to prey upon children.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quick Hit: Explaining HPV and Cancer

Denialism has posted a succinct description of the relationship between HPV (human papilloma virus) and cervical cancer.

So how can a virus like HPV lead to cancer? The short answer is simply that "HPV causes cervical cancer by screwing with two of our most powerful tumor suppressor genes." The long answer is really worth reading though, so go to!

(Image via the CDC)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Not A Gay Disease: HIV, Homophobia, and the Americas

When a friend of mine heard one of her medical school professors refer to HIV/AIDS as a 'gay disease,' she had to speak-up. "We need to be clear when talking to patients that it isn't being gay that puts people in a higher risk category, it's anal sex."

Noticing the stunned looks of her classmates, she assumed that they simply hadn't understood her point and attempted to clarify, "Look, while I was living in Honduras I had a friend who insisted that he wasn't at risk, because he sometimes had sex with women and therefore wasn't gay. His doctor had told him that only gay men needed to worry about HIV. We need to make it clear to patients that any unprotected sex puts them at risk, and it is unprotected anal sex with multiple partners - not identifying as gay - that increases your chances of catching the virus."

My friend has been shunned by many of her classmates since making her point. Apparently, honest talk about sex isn't ladylike - even in a hospital.

Yet disease isn't deterred by cultural taboos, and we are needlessly endangering people through this combination of homophobia and excessive prudishness. By stigmatizing homosexuality, and by making being openly gay dangerous, we encourage people to lead double lives and to lie about their sexual experiences - putting themselves and all their partners at risk. An unwillingness to openly talk about sex only compounds the problem.

As the New York Times reports, the myth of AIDS as a 'gay disease' is common throughout the Americas, and interferes with efforts to protect people:
Martín Márquez Chagoya, a gay man who has had H.I.V. for 14 years and counsels other men, visits a park in downtown Puebla [Mexico] where men go to have sex with other men, but he says his efforts to promote condom use there often fall on deaf ears. The No. 1 response he hears from men there is that they are not gay and are therefore not at risk. They say they are merely having sex with gays.
It is time we all acknowledged that fear and misinformation do not constitute a prevention plan.

In order to limit the spread of disease, we need to fight homophobia and discrimination. Here in the United States, we are currently working to pass legislation that would ensure that no one could be fired on the grounds of sexual orientation; but even if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passes the Senate, it faces the risk of a presidential veto and fails to extend protection to transgender citizens. Denying legal protections to the LGBT community sends a frightening message to young gays - that they should stay in the closet. We cannot ask people to be honest about their identities while threatening the livelihood of anyone who is openly gay. If our societies paint homosexuality as something punishable, how are we to encourage young people to be honest about their sexual identities - even with their doctors and partners?

We also need to combat the myth that people's sexuality can always be fitted into neat little categories. As Professor Hector Carrillo of San Francisco State University recently explained to the New York Times, "Sexual identity is a very complex thing... We like to think that once someone figures out their sexual attraction, they will fit into the categories we’ve created. But life isn’t like that." A greater acceptance of how very fluid sexual identity can be for many of us would help combat myths about who is at risk.

We also need to stop kidding ourselves about the progress we've made. Sure, the world is a more accepting place than it was 50 years ago, but homophobia still kills. According to the Mexican gay rights group Letra S., "[b]etween 1995 and 2006, about 1,200 Mexicans were killed because of their sexual orientation." And violence against gay and transsexual citizens is not a country-specific problem, but is common throughout the rest of the Americas as well. Yes, even here in the States, where people come with the expectation of protection (rest in peace, Angie Zapata). Our governments need to ensure that hate-crimes are recognized as such, and prosecuted. Parents need to make sure that their children know that dehumanizing someone because of their sexual identity is evil. We cannot continue to create an environment of hate, and those who promote intolerance need to keep in mind that the ripple effect of acts of violence has the ability to impact us all in a multitude of ways.

We cannot fight disease with lies, threats, or platitudes. If we want to keep all of our citizens safe, we need to respect and protect them. And that means being honest - even about sex.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Silver Ain't So Bad

I have to confess that I hate the Olympics. I could give you a really long essay explaining why, but I'd rather get to the thing that bothers me today.

On my google feed of CNN, I saw the headline, "Heartbreaking loss for U. S. women gymnasts." I was thinking that they must have done pretty horribly. But no. They got the silver medal. That's not actually a loss, in my opinion. Another headline reads, "Golden girls no more." It just makes me wonder, what's with all the gloom and doom?

This is one of the things that really bothers me and women's gymnastics is one of the places where it's the worst. Americans feel like if you don't win a gold medal, you lost. Nevermind the fact that the Olympics is supposedly all about bringing countries together and enjoying the purity of sport. What really worries me about this is that womens gymnastics is the kind of sport that leads young girls to watch obsessively, to put up posters on their wall. I remember watching it, entranced, back in the days of Kim Zmeskal. Is this the kind of thing our country's girls should be seeing? National mourning because we didn't win?

It bothers me that when these girls make a mistake it leads to tears and embarrassment instead of good sportsmanship and a handshake like they teach you in tee-ball. It bothers me that the main story here seems to be us pointing fingers at China and claiming they've broken the rules. (These stories inevitably point out that the Chinese girls look like "prepubescent children," which I thought was how all gymnasts look. They also remind us that one was missing a tooth. Imagine that, a gymnast missing a tooth, it's not like they're constantly hurling their bodies through the air or anything.) Finally, it bothers me that we're not talking more about the problems with the sport, the injuries and the eating disorders and on and on.

To me, it doesn't matter if China cheated. If they did, it's a symptom of a gold-medal-obsession that I think we're better off without. If we can't show the world good sportsmanship, maybe we'd be better off ditching the Olympics and contenting ourselves with Saturday morning soccer games and Little League.