The Man Who Made the Period Safe for the Women of India
My hero of the week is Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who made the period safe for the women of India. Muruganantham’s decade-long odyssey to create an affordable sanitary pad for village women is the subject of an incredible BBC Magazine story. It’s a tale of an inventor’s obsession, in the face of ostracism, and it ends in triumph, with Muruganantham’s simple, low-cost machine for the production of cheap, clean pads that can replace the dirty rags, sawdust, leaves, and ash women were using to absorb their menstrual flow.
This is a true public health advance. According to a 2011 survey cited by the BBC, only 12 percent of Indian women were using sanitary pads. One reason was cost; another was custom. And as the BBC reports, “Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don't get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene—it can also affect maternal mortality.”
Muruganantham’s quest to save the women of his village, including his wife, led him to punch holes in a football bladder, fill it with goat’s blood, and then try to walk, bike and run with it under his clothes to test the absorption rate of his first attempt at a sanitary pad. His village decided he was a “pervert,” he says, who’d been bewitched. His wife left him. And at first, his pads, made of cotton, didn’t work. Muruganantham couldn’t figure out what was going wrong. He wrote to a professor, who helped him get in touch with manufacturing companies. They sent him a sample of their material, and it turned out to be cellulose, from tree bark. The BBC story, by Vibeke Venema, continues:
The Moral Panic Over E-Cigarettes Intensifies
Americans have always struggled over the distinction between disapproving of a behavior because it's bad for people and disapproving of a behavior because it makes people feel good. Unsurprisingly, then, the advent of e-cigarettes—devices that allow you to get the pleasure of smoking without taking the lung cancer risks of actually inhaling tobacco tar—has inspired a new moral panic that looks a lot like the public health campaign against real cigarettes, but might not be anything more than old-fashioned priggishness. Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to regulate the indoor smoking of e-cigarettes, or vaporizers, in basically the same way they regulate regular cigarettes. Wednesday, the New York Times ran a piece about fears over the e-cigarette with that perennial phrase of any respectable moral panic, "lure young," right there in the headline.
Male Executives Don’t Feel Guilt, See Work-Life Balance as a Women's Problem
A revealing—and depressing—article in this month’s Harvard Business Review shows that no matter how much power female executives have accrued, or how much lip service male executives might publicly pay, family issues are still seen as a female problem.
Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg and research associate Robin Abrahams looked at interviews of nearly 4,000 C-suite executives conducted by HBS students from 2008-2013. Forty-four percent of the interviewees were female. And while the men and women often had the same job titles, the similarities stopped there.
The first difference between male and female execs is in the way they frame work-life conflicts. The men tend to choose work without regret when conflicts arise, because they frame their family role as “breadwinner.” This seems to alleviate any guilt. One interviewee says he doesn’t regret his divorce because he was always a good provider and was able to achieve his goals, and now he spends more time with his kids on weekends. Another says:
“The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.”
As the authors point out, most women would not brag about only spending 10 minutes a day with their children. Contrast this with how a female executive frames her experience: “When you are paid well, you can get all the [practical] help you need. What is the most difficult thing, though—what I see my women friends leave their careers for—is the real emotional guilt of not spending enough time with their children. The guilt of missing out.”
Dating Service to Import Single Women to Male-Dominated San Francisco
When a female friend and I took a road trip through the American West last year, we did not deliberately chart a course through several states—Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah—that are known for their surplus of male residents. But we weren’t exactly complaining, either. We’d seen the unintentionally erotic 1990s Chevrolet commercials. If the ratio worked in our advantage, we weren’t going to argue with the math. Then we met Tim. A grizzled, ponytailed rodeo rider, Tim noticed us the second we walked into the Cheyenne, Wyoming, bar. Because we were women, entering a Cheyenne, Wyoming, bar. Tim bought us Buds. He told us that he’d dismantled bombs as a Navy Seal and mounted bulls as a rodeo rider, but that women were the one problem he couldn’t figure out. Then he asked if we were lesbians, and proposed a threesome. When we declined, he said he’d settle for having sex with us one at a time. We agreed.
Police Testify That Patricia Esparza “Consented to” Being Raped
Last week, the murder prosecution of Patricia Esparza took another step toward trial with a preliminary hearing that actually demonstrated how troubled and strange this case is. Not to mention how off it sounds when the police try to cast doubt on allegations of rape.
Here’s the gist of this story, which I’ve written about at length: At the end of March 1995, Esparza said she was raped, as a 20-year-old student at Pomona College, by a 25-year-old man named Gonzalo Ramirez, whom she'd met the night before at a dance club. A few weeks later, Esparza told her ex-boyfriend, Gianni Van, about the rape, both Esparza and Van say. Van and some friends of his friends allegedly took Esparza back to the club where she'd first met Ramirez, got her to point him out, and allegedly kidnapped and killed him. At the time, the cops charged Van but then (inexplicably, in my view) let the case drop, even though they had plenty of evidence, including DNA showing that Ramirez’s blood had been found in an auto shop owned by a friend of Van’s and his wife.
When the police interviewed Esparza, six weeks after the murder, she told them she’d been raped and that she’d talked to Van about it. But she didn’t describe being taken back to the club to identify Ramirez, and she also didn’t say that she’d seen Ramirez before he was killed, chained to a ceiling, bloody and beaten. It was a terrible mistake not to tell the police the whole truth at the time. Esparza, though, says she was paralyzed by fear of Van and his friends, fed by a history of being victimized as a child, when she says she was sexually abused by her father. (Her mother and siblings confirm this.) “I felt I needed to submit to survive,” Esparza told me. “I’d been broken by the years of abuse by my father. I couldn’t assimilate so many traumatic experiences. I felt utterly trapped.”
Hollywood, We Are Watching What You Do to Lupita Nyong’o. And What She Does to You.
Lupita Nyong’o’s story is one of an elegance carefully cultivated. This is no sudden ascendancy to delicate silks and bold brocades, no tale of a girl plucked from obscurity or hardship, conferred the brass ring of Tinseltown by princely powers-that-be. It is, instead, a story of privilege—a privilege enjoyed by so many white actresses, which makes it then also a story of justice. It is what happens when a Kenyan politician entrusts his daughter’s post-secondary education to The Yale School of Drama, rather than insisting she study medicine or law or finance. When such a daughter is daring enough to pursue a life in pictures, within a family of professors, physicians, and politicians, the Academy Award is what happens.
This is not a reality well-known to American black girls with silver screen ambitions. We watch our stateside actresses languish in Hollywood for decades, delivering pounds of flesh for bit parts: girlfriends in black films and girlfriends in white films and staid, put-upon wives in comedies, action films, biopics. And yes, even now, the occasional brave domestic, even now, the harrowingly tortured slave. We see them shed their apple-cheeked innocence all too quickly, becoming more vocal and more cynical about the dearth of complex and meaty work.
Our ingénues rarely win Oscars. It is our seasoned comediennes, sassing their way through lines like, “Molly, you in danger, girl!” or throwing frying pans at their pregnant daughters, who take home the gold. It is the reality star who belts a gut-wrenching beggarly torch song to a man already walking away or the naked grieving mother sexing the guard who executed her husband. The round, battered, quick-witted maid who bakes her own excrement into pies. They are the ones who win. And we are proud of their achievements. We take everything we get, and we are glad for it.
Prosecutors Now Seeking a 60-Year Sentence for Marissa Alexander's Alleged Warning Shot
Marissa Alexander, the black woman who was sentenced in Florida to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at a husband who was allegedly abusing her, starts her retrial in July. Except now she may be facing up to 60 years in prison, if re-convicted. The prosecutor announced this week that she would be seeking the maximum sentence of 20 years for three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon—one for her husband and two for his children that were in the room at the time—to be served consecutively. These are the same charges she was found guilty of the first time, but the judge in that case ruled that she should serve the sentences concurrently.
Alexander's case drew a lot of attention last year because of its unsettling contrast to a different Florida shooting trial, that of George Zimmerman, in which Zimmerman successfully argued that he had to shoot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was running a quick errand on foot, because he felt Martin was a danger to him. Zimmerman actually killed Martin, but did not get convicted, whereas Alexander did not kill anyone, and has argued convincingly that she was being chased and abused by her husband in the house. Alexander is a black woman, however, and Zimmerman is not—though his victim was also black—and critics of the two cases are suggesting those race and gender differences might be carrying more weight than the actual evidence and severity of the respective crimes.
According to a New Study, Nothing Can Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind
While some false beliefs, such as astrology, are fairly harmless, parents who believe falsely that vaccination is dangerous or unnecessary for children present a real public health hazard. That's why researchers, publishing in Pediatrics, decided to test four different pro-vaccination messages on a group of parents with children under 18, with a variety of attitudes about vaccination, to see which one was most persuasive in convincing them to vaccinate. As Chris Mooney reports for Mother Jones, the results are utterly demoralizing: Nothing made anti-vaccination parents more amendable to vaccinating their kids. At best, the messages didn't move the needle one way or another, but it seems the harder you try to persuade a vaccination denialist to see the light, the more stubborn they get about not vaccinating their kids.
Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth University and his colleagues tested four different messages on parents. Mooney describes them:
It’s Horrible to Be an Old Woman in Hollywood, Kim Novak Edition
“I’m not saying movies are the most important thing in the world,” Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres said shortly after she took the stage at the Dolby Theatre last night. “I’m not saying that—because the most important thing in the world is youth.” It was a broad joke meant to implicate the values of the entire entertainment industry. But as the ceremony wore on, the critique hit some famous faces harder than others. DeGeneres threw the first punch when she welcomed “one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I have seen in my entire life,” as the camera zoomed in on the 67-year-old actress’s face. “Just really, seriously,” DeGeneres added. “Good job, sir.”
Hollywood may value youth above all else, but as we learned last night, there’s nothing sorrier than an older woman who tries to look young. Because Minnelli’s face has been nipped, lifted, and filled, even the nice-to-a-fault DeGeneres joked that Minnelli has been reduced to an imitation of herself. (The line registered as offensive to both Minnelli and the trans community). And 81-year-old Vertigo star Kim Novak—who was roundly mocked for turning up onstage, two decades after her last movie, exhibiting extensive plastic surgery—might as well be dead. As comedian Rob Delaney cruelly joked: “Will they have time to edit Kim Novak into the In Memoriam section?” Even Matthew McConaughey’s mother, who last night aspired only to the role of proud parent, was eviscerated for rocking a keyhole-neck gown that gave the world a peek at her cleavage, which apparently only young women are allowed to possess. Twitter commentators deemed the view “leathery,” “ancient,” “inappropriate,” and “terrifying.”
Yes, the Birth Control Pill Has Side Effects. For Instance, Better Sex.
Reliable, female-controlled contraception, such as the birth control pill and IUDs, is easier than ever to get. Obamacare mandates that your insurance cover it without a copay, and over-the-counter access to emergency contraception has been steadily improving. (The FDA just ruled in favor of putting generic emergency contraception out on shelves, which will help lower the price.) So it's no wonder, then, that there's been an uptick in misinformation and scare-mongering about contraception, and not just from conservatives who claim to believe, against medical evidence, that the pill and the IUD are tantamount to abortion. There's also been a wave of self-identified feminists attacking hormonal contraception by portraying it as far more dangerous than it is, and making it sound like taking the pill gets you only a horror show of every negative side effect under the sun. Now even Ricki Lake is getting involved, making a documentary out of Holly Grigg-Spall's poorly argued anti-pill scare book, Sweetening the Pill, which Lindsay Beyerstein thoroughly demolished on Slate last year.