Hooray for This New Study That Says Women Shouldn't Be the Only Ones Responsible for Making Healthy Babies
“Men and women contribute equally to reproduction.” That’s a statement in a new paper in the journal Gender and Society about how men’s role in making babies has been culturally diminished. It is a painfully obvious sentence, and yet, it bears repeating because we’re so fixated on women’s prenatal and preconception behavior and health. For example, the most emailed article on the New York Times website as I type is about how women’s eating habits affect their babies in the womb. But we barely ever mention how male behavior can affect sperm quality.
The paper, called “More and Less than Equal: How Men Factor in the Reproductive Equation,” notes that since 2004, the CDC has recommended that people of both genders who are looking to have a baby monitor their health more closely—but in practice, this recommendation is generally directed towards women, who are now advised to treat their pregnancies as 12 months long. This means curtailing alcohol consumption and taking prenatal vitamins before they’ve even conceived.
Yet recent research has shown that men’s preconception behavior also matters. According to the CDC, tobacco and heavy drinking can both damage sperm DNA, and we’re just starting to understand how older men’s sperm may affect their offspring adversely. The only venue where male preconception health gets much attention, the authors point out, is at the sperm bank, where men’s sperm is scrutinized in a way it’s not elsewhere.
ACLU Sues Catholic Bishops for Refusing Treatment to Miscarrying Woman
As anti-abortion sentiment grows more extreme, it's inevitable that it will start to interfere with the ability of women to get medical care even when they're losing wanted pregnancies. In El Salvador, the eagerness to arrest women caught illegally aborting has led to the government charging women who have miscarried wanted pregnancies with murder. In Ireland, Savita Halappanavar lost her life when doctors refused to clear out a miscarrying pregnancy, even though it was clearly turning septic. These doctors decided, under Ireland's strict abortion ban, that giving Halappanavar's fetus an opportunity to experience a few days more of a heartbeat was more important than saving Halappanavar's life.
While the United States has much more liberal abortion laws than Ireland and El Salvador, this extremism is affecting women's medical care here, too. Catholic hospitals, which constitute over 12 percent of hospitals in the U.S., usually require doctors to refuse to help a woman who is miscarrying until the fetal heartbeat stops on its own, which is the same rule that led to Halappanavar's death. The ACLU is now suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of Tamesha Means, who went to the only hospital in her area—Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Michigan—for help with a clearly miscarrying pregnancy. Twice, the misleadingly named Mercy hospital sent Means home, despite her suffering. From the ACLU's press release:
New York Times Op-Ed Finds the Upside to Objectifying Women. What a Relief.
What do we think about when we think about naked people? In the New York Times this weekend, Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom says that it's time to rethink the theory of objectification. The feminist argument is that when people are depicted in sexualized contexts, "the objectifier (typically a man) thinks of the target of his desire (typically a woman) as a mere thing, lacking autonomy, individuality and subjective experience." Bloom argues that the objectification process is actually more complicated: While focusing on people’s bodies as opposed to their minds does decrease our perceptions of their ability “to act, plan and exert self-control,” he writes, it can actually increase our perceptions of their capacity to “feel pain, pleasure and emotions.” When we look at people in a sexual context (or catch a peek at them without their clothes on), we're less likely to ascribe them agency, but we're more likely to ascribe them feelings. That could actually inspire greater empathy toward the objectified party—a silver lining to the focus on flesh.
Google’s Ridiculous List of Banned Words for Android Includes Uterus and Lactation
Google recently released a new version of its keyboard for Android, and, as reported in Wired, it comes along with a list of 1,400 words "that Google has quietly deemed inappropriate for Android users." This means that Android's dictionary will not autocomplete these words, no matter the context. Unsurprisingly, many of the words are sex-related, but the scope of the prudery here is rather shocking. It's not just that you have to type out all three letters when you write "sex" in a text message. The dictionary also refuses to autocomplete words like "Tampax," "butt," and even "condom," which could tragically lead lazy people to resort to the word "rubber" for their contraception needs-based texts.
Clearly, this is a tragic blow to the world of unintentional comedy caused by autocorrect in text messages. I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a world where a woman can't accidentally text "Chicken vaginas n butch gobbler pirates" to her kid when she meant to say that dinner will be chicken fajitas and buttered potatoes. However, there are political implications here as well. While Google has long had good reasons to ban "a frat party’s worth of homophobia and misogyny," as Jon Christian at Wired puts it (and while Google is known for being overly cautious, most likely to assure the government that they don't need to step in), the ban on autocompleting words for body parts and functions like "uterus" and "lactation" reinforces the idea that there's something shameful about having these kinds of body parts and functions at all.
Are You Outraged That the UK Forced an Italian Woman to Have a C-Section? It Happens Here Too.
Pregnant women are sometimes cautioned against travelling abroad for health and safety reasons, but here's a new one: Don't travel abroad while pregnant because you could have your baby forcibly removed from your womb. That's what seems to have happened to an Italian woman who, while pregnant and on a business trip to Britain, had some sort of mental health episode and was forcibly committed. While in the psychiatric hospital, Essex social services obtained a court order to force a C-section on the woman and take the newborn into custody. Now, 15 months later, the British still have the baby and the Italian woman, who says her bipolar condition is under control, is trying to get her daughter back, through both the Italian and British court system.
This is a crazy story—thank goodness it could never happen here! Except: In the U.S., declaring a fetus a "child" and using that status to deprive pregnant women of their right to control their own medical care has become downright routine. Susan Faludi sounded the alarm in her book Backlash, when she covered the 1987 case of Angela Carder, a cancer patient who died after George Washington University Medical Center obtained a court order to force her to have a C-section at 26 weeks gestation against her family's wishes. (Unsurprisingly, the baby died within two hours after her birth.)
The Worst Sex Writing of the Year Features Statisticians, Superheroes, and Brie Cheese
This week, The Literary Review will award its annual Bad Sex Award to the novelist responsible for publishing the year’s worst depiction of sexual intercourse. What makes for terrible fictionalized sex? In some cases, it’s the deployment of delusional metaphor, as in 2013 nominee Manil Suri’s The City of Devi:
We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.
Other times, crass accessories are to blame, as in Jonathan Grimood’s The Last Banquet: “I found the Brie and broke off a fragment, sucking her nipple through it.” (Another reason to never bring Brie to a dinner party). And sometimes—as in Woody Guthrie’s long-lost 1947 novel House of Earth, which was just published this year—the honor goes to a particularly horrifying interpretation of basic human anatomy. Guthrie writes: “inside the door of her womb she felt her inner organs and tissues, all her muscles and glands, felt them roll, squeeze, squeeze, and roll, and felt that every inch of her whole being stretched, reached, felt out, felt in, felt all around the shape of his penis.” (If the womb does have a door, it just slammed shut).
Will Someone Just Please Tell Me How to Lie About Santa? Thx.
When I said in an earlier post discussing how irreligious American Jews are, that my daughter’s observance was an open question, I thought it wouldn’t come up for a while. After all, she’s not even one. My biggest faith-based fear about her this holiday season is that she will knock over a menorah and set our apartment on fire. But that was before my husband and I started talking about the bearded, rotund, elephant in the room: Santa.
I am unabashedly pro-Christmas tree, but Christmas trees don’t necessarily come along with any sort of story. Big tree you decorate pretty, the end. Santa, on the other hand, requires that you tell your children an elaborate lie. It’s not just that I’m reluctant to relate a sweet story about a red-leisure-suit wearing guy who lives for breaking and entering (though as Melinda Wenner Moyer pointed out in Slate, the Santa lie is not destructive for kids). I also don’t love the message of Santa—he only rewards Christian boys and girls. “What are we going to tell her about the other children?” I asked my husband. “Why doesn’t Santa come to their house?”
Parents of Grown Children: Why Not Try Visiting Your Kids for Christmas This Year?
Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving because now it's time for the biggest, baddest, most stressful holiday of them all: Christmas. Across the country, grown adults are preparing, materially and emotionally, for that grand American tradition of returning home for the holidays. Visiting one's aging parents, often sleeping in one's childhood bedroom, is as much a part of the Christmas tradition as Santa Claus and that damn train set with the tracks that don't line up. It's also one that needs to be sorely questioned. Parents of adults, I beseech you: This year, why not consider visiting your grown children instead?
No, the New York Times Did Not Sexualize Breast Cancer
Earlier today, my colleague Amanda Marcotte wrote about the New York Times’ decision to run an A1 above-the-fold photograph of an Israeli breast cancer survivor, her tank top lowered to expose a lumpectomy scar and part of her areola, to illustrate a story about breast cancer screening. Marcotte laid out three ways of looking at the image, but came down hard on the side of a single interpretation: “It's grossly inappropriate to sexualize breast cancer, which is a serious and deadly disease.”
How did the Times objectify this woman, according to Marcotte? Because she’s wearing a tank top. Because lowering her tank top to show part of her breast “is reminiscent of a strip tease shot.” Because a strip tease shot to illustrate a story on breast cancer is part of “the sexualization of discourse around breast cancer,” which “strongly implies that the main reason to keep women alive is as life support for their delicious breasts.” With this shot, Marcotte says, the Times “proved that they’re as dependent on WTF traffic as everyone else.”
Ways of seeing are subjective, but to my eye, the Times picture—un-airbrushed, matter-of-fact—does not sexualize cancer. Or rather, it doesn’t sexualize cancer any more or less than breast cancer sexualizes cancer, because breasts are secondary sex characteristics and often play a significant role in a woman’s sexual health and fulfillment. If a woman sees her breasts as part of her personal and sexual identity, that doesn’t mean she’s somehow the self-objectifying victim of patriarchal social conditioning. To think otherwise is to suggest that a woman with breast cancer can’t be sexual, and by extension, that she shouldn’t allow a camera to capture her allegedly controversial sexuality. (To me, the only aspect of the picture that suggests objectification is the fact that the woman’s head is cropped out, but that was likely due to privacy concerns.)
Peeta May Be the Perfect Movie Girlfriend, but Katniss Still Wants a Hero
There is no universe in which Katniss Everdeen cares at all what the Internet thinks of her. But if she did, she might be happy to see so many posts and pieces in praise of her toughness and ferocity. I’m not sure if Peeta Mellark would be secretly wounded or warmed by the judgments of the Web, but support for him runs strong as well: He’s kind, brave, emotionally available, selfless, and giving. Over at NPR, Linda Holmes builds a great case for Peeta as the traditional movie girlfriend.
“Peeta is Pepper Potts and Gwen Stacy, helping and helping and helping until the very end, when it's time for the stakes, and the stakes are: NEEDS RESCUE,” she writes.
“He's better than she is, but softer. He's less knowing than she is. He's less cynical than she is. He's just as tough and as brave as he can possibly be with the skill set he has, and she's responsible for mopping up when that's not enough.”