Saturday, April 4, 2009

Douchebaggery 101: a follow-up to AP objectification

It is hard to wash a car and eat a hamburger at the same time. Why is this important fact never pointed out? Love Sarah.

"First guns" - now the internet has gone too far

I'm very, very confused by this. Just take a look for yourself at "First Guns" - the blog apparently written by Michelle Obama's toned arms. Are biceps really for bipartisanship? Some people have too much time on their hands.

Thanks to Gracie for the tip!

Those delinquent kids - "sexting" edition

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

One of my friends mentioned the phenomenon of "sexting" recently, and I thought it was a joke. No such luck - even my friend doesn't have such a dark sense of humor. Apparently we've moved on to another hysterical, overblown, teen-blaming trend. Because, you know, with every passing day, those kids get more corrupted.

"Sexting", if you're not aware, is the practice of sending naked pictures via text message - usually from teenage girls to teenage boys. How many teens are actually engaging in "sexting" is unclear, but it's caused an uproar among legal professionals, who have taken to charging the teens who are sending the pictures - and, in some cases, the educators who are trying to investigate the issue - with child pornography. Most recently, a judge charged three girls in western Pennsylvania with pornography after they sent nude pictures of themselves to three boys at their school (the boys were also charged). In October, a Texas eighth-grader spent a night in jail after his coach found a naked picture on his phone, sent to him by a classmate.

According to a survey conducted by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, about 20 percent of teens engage in "sexting". And certainly, they don't seem to be aware of the potential dangers - cell phone photos are easily downloaded or forwarded, and a picture that was intended to remain private could circulate quickly around a school. But prosecuting the kids who are sending the pictures, and sending them to jail or "re-education" programs? Surely that isn't logical. Earlier this week, a judge in the western Pennsylvania case barred the prosecutor from filing child pornography charges against the teens who had refused to participate in a "re-education" program, a decision that was welcomed by the ACLU, which was defending the teens.

"This country needs to have a discussion about whether prosecuting minors as child pornographers for merely being impulsive and naive is the appropriate way to address the serious consequences that can result from sexting," said Witold Walczack, the legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU.

This practice is definitely disturbing, just because teens' privacy is at risk. But what are we going to do, throw 20 percent of teenagers in jail? Part of the appeal of "sexting" is that it's easily hidden from parents - so isn't that part of the problem? Instead of threatening teens with legal action, let's make an effort to destigmatize conversation about sex so that teens aren't afraid to let their parents know that they are, shockingly, developing sexual identities.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Vermont -- So Close and Yet So Far

by Laura Smith-Gary

I've been following this struggle and gnashing my teeth for days now. In Vermont (yep, we're back in New England) we've got a whole different power conflict going on over same-sex couples marrying -- this is legislative power vs. executive power.

Vermont was the first state to pass a bill allowing gay and lesbian couples to have full civil unions, and both the Vermont House and Senate have overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage. Their last procedural vote will happen today, then the bill will go to the desk of Governor Jim Douglas -- who says he will veto it. It's too distracting, ya know? We've got this whole economy thing going on. No time for a quick signature.

The Vermont Senate voted 26-4 in favor of the same-sex marriage bill, and the House passed it 95-52: they are five votes short of overriding the impending veto. According to the Reuters story I linked above, many nay-voting legislators apologized to their gay and lesbian friends but said they were responding to the will of their constituents -- or at least, you know, the loudest ones. (If you live in Vermont, call your state representatives and tell them to vote yes!) Though naturally they do need to listen to the people they represent, I am deeply tempted to call down Edmund Burke upon their heads.

There's much more teeth-gnashing I could do about this, but I'm choosing to be excited about Iowa today. Citizens of Vermont: call your legislators and let them know that some of their constituents support equal marriage rights, and crush Governor Douglas's hay-making attempts.

Iowa -- Hurray! Hurray! Hurraaaaaay!

by Laura Smith-Gary

This morning Iowa's Supreme Court declared that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional --unanimously. According to this breaking-news Bloomberg article, the court wrote that in the case Varnum v. Brien, "The language in Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.”

This is especially important, of course, because Iowa is -- prepare for a shock -- not in New England. Nor is it in California. Iowa's the heartland, the breadbasket, the "real America" some politicians are so fond of referring to. Iowa's Supreme Court acknowledging that same-sex couples have a right to marry is a serious blow to the Defense of Marriage supporters, at least in part because it's impossible to say "Yeah, sure, but come's Iowa" in the same dismissive "stupid effete-amoral-liberal-elitists" tone of voice people use to say "Yeah, sure, but come's Massachusetts." This is one more sign that the tide is slowly but inevitably turning toward affirming the rights of same-sex couples.

Now, of course, we'll start with the fight over the powers of the courts vs. the powers of the legislature. Last year in California a similar fight ended with a referendum vote on Proposition 8 (it didn't really end, of course -- now it's back in the courts and will surely come up for referendum again). Without launching into a full discussion of this issue now, I'll just say that the courts' job (and the Constitution's job) is to protect minority groups from the tyranny of the majority. Rock on, Iowa Supreme Court.

The Associated Press has more.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New legislation in Afghanistan: worse than the Taliban?

by Laura Smith-Gary

According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, U.S. backed President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, the nation's trumpeted First Democratically Elected President, the "fresh start" for the war-torn, extremist-plagued land, the man whose inauguration was attended by all three living U.S. presidents, recently signed a law that will ravage the rights of his country's Shi'a women. The Guardian, which broke the story, reports that Afghan Senator Humaira Namati has stated the law is "worse than during the Taliban." Remember the Taliban? The government we invaded Afghanistan to destroy?

While the official document has not been released, U.N. officials who have read it report that the law would prohibit Shi'a women from refusing sex with their husbands and from leaving the house, working, going to school, or visiting the doctor without their husband's permission. In the case of a divorce, only fathers and grandfathers would be eligible to take custody of children.

The constitution of Afghanistan (here is a link to an unoffical English translation) states that "Any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan are prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan -- whether man or woman -- have equal rights and duties before the law." (Article Twenty-two, Chapter 2 Article 1, the translation I linked above). It also allows, however, that "Courts shall apply Shia school of law in cases dealing with personal matters involving the followers of Shia Sect in accordance with the provisions of law." (Article 131, Chapter 7 Article 16, same translation). Most news stories report that Shi'a Muslims compose 10% of Afghanistan's population, and the CIA fact sheet on Afghanistan says the country's population is 19% Shi'a. That means that when this law goes into effect somewhere between 1.7 and 3.2 women can legally be raped and can't legally step out their front doors without their rapist's permission.

In promoting this atrocity, Karzai is pandering for votes from the conservative Shi'a elements in his country and some key conservative "swing votes." As the Canadian newspaper National Post's editorial board wrote , "The world already knows Mr. Karzai's government to be corrupt and ineffective. Now we also know that the President is willing to sell out the country's women in a crass bid to buy votes from Afghans whose world view is still locked in medieval times."

When the Guardian first broke this story on March 31st, the international community was wincing away from condemning this law, citing cultural differences and the importance of national sovereignty. The next day, however, held flickers of hope: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is said to have privately confronted Karzai, as well as giving a speech emphasizing the importance of women's rights to the Obama administration's foreign policy. Scandinavian foreign ministers are demanding explanations, and Canada is officially furious. According to the original Guardian article, though, the head of women's affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says that "it's too late" for international outrage to have any effect.

Without disregarding the the many complicated political, diplomatic, cultural, religious, and military dimensions of the United State's relationship with Afghanistan and President Karzai, or all of those complicated dimensions within Afghanistan, or all of those complicated dimensions within the region, I still think it's clear that this law is a travesty. If we don't stand up against this, if we don't have enough leverage to say that worse-than-Taliban laws are not fucking acceptable, then why in God's name are we sending more soldiers to kill and die and bleed into the poppies?

For more on the state of women's rights in Afghanistan, Amnesty International and Afghanistan Online give summaries and statistics.

Should you wish to contact the U.S. State Department, here is the link.

Is the recession hurting prenatal care?

The British think so. Next week, all pregnant women will be eligible to receive a £190 tax-free "baby bonus" from the British government, assuming that they have consulted for health advice with a doctor or midwife. The grants will be made to women who are delivering on or after April 6. However, there will be no extra cash for twins or multiples (so no octomom incentives!). The stated purpose of the bonus is "to help [the mothers] stay well and healthy and to meet extra costs during the later stages of pregnancy," said Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs.

I think this is fantastic. Prenatal care is very expensive, and I'm sure that it is one of the first things that goes by the wayside when the economy goes sour, and I'm especially glad that there's provisions for seeing a midwife. President Obama, add this to the stimulus plan!

Thoughts from Anna Rose, Part 2

This is the second post in my series about a sexual pain disorder and my journey towards a cure.*

"If sex hurts," reads the ad in my college newspaper, "It could be vulvar vestibulitis." Next to the text is a serious and intense-looking young woman who may or may not actually have vulvar vestibulitis.

I do not have vulvar vestibulitis, even though sex hurts. I saw the doctor the ad is for. He had a million dollar grant to research the disorder, and was so excited that he diagnosed me before I walked in the door. But his cures didn't work for me. After the lidocaine cream, which burned, and would numb me rather than allow pleasure, his next idea was tri-cyclic anti-depressants--an old generation of drugs that wasn't great at curing depression, but worked for physical pain. Its side effects include heart palpitations. Some people get depressed on them. If that didn't work, he offered surgery: Amputate the affected tissues. My instinct told me these ideas were unnatural and drastic, and I left his practice.

Vulvar vestibulitis is "an unexplainable inflammation of the vulvar vestibule," more commonly known as the vaginal opening. (The whole external part of a woman's reproductive system is the vulva. The vagina is only the opening.) I think the word vulva is beautiful and powerful. Fun fact: The only two human tissues that are identical under a microscope are the vestibules of the vulva and the mouth.

Next, a resident who didn't even look at my vagina (or any other part of my vulva) diagnosed me with vaginismus. As these disorders go, it's common, as is vestibulitis. But it's totally different. With vaginismus, the muscles of the vagina perceive--for whatever reason--an incoming object--penis, tampon, speculum--as a threat. When muscles feel threatened, they clench up. With constricted muscles, embracing even a desired penis can be terrible. Doctors have had a lot of success treating vaginismus. Patients use a dialator, and slowly, slowly teach their muscles to stretch enough to accept a penis (tampon, speculum). Physical therapy and massage therapy also help. I've heard great stories about cures from vaginismus. I do not have vaginismus.

I saw a doctor of Chinese medicine about my crippling lower back pain, and mentioned my sexual pain. He said he'd cured someone with the same problem, by giving her a homeopathic yeast medication. Her yeast glads were overactive and enlarged. In just three treatments, she felt fine. He gave me six injections in my inner labia. Yeah. My yeast glands, as it turns out, were already fine.

I went to a naturopath who said I might actually have interstitial cystitis. My dad, a kidney doctor, had suggested that the symptoms of vulvar vestibulitis and interstitial cystitis are so close that a diagnosis may depend on the type of doctor you see. This doctor put me on an elimination diet--a diet where you exclude foods that are potential irritants for three full weeks. If the symptoms go away, you add the foods back one at a time to see which one is the culprit. My list was about 40 items long: Most of my favorite fruits and vegetables, anything fermented (cheese, vinegar, soy sauce, alcohol), caffeine, and so on. And elimination goes as as far as this: There is alcohol in vanilla extract. If there is vanilla extract in a cookie, I couldn't eat the cookie. It made me insane. I do not have interstitial cystitis.

Sometimes people suggest that I have sexual trauma in my past. If I did, I might have female sexual dysfunction: After an episode of violence or coercion, the brain's response to sex changes. It becomes terrified, and often develops vaginismus: A fear response to a penis. In one case, a woman who was molested as a little girl suppressed the memory, along with all sexual interest whatsoever. As a physically healthy adult, she was unable to become the least bit aroused, physically or emotionally. She saw a psychologist who helped her reveal and work through her trauma. She's fine now. I've thankfully never been attacked, and do not have female sexual dysfunction, or any psychological disorder.

I also happen to know that my disorder is not curable by acupuncture, Qi Gung, hypnotherapy, or chiropractic, even though I know these to be successful and legitimate healing systems. In fact, I want to stress that all of the methods listed above have worked for other people. If you're on your own journey for a cure, I recommend trying out any of them (just get your doctor to check your yeast glands before they inject you. Biggest mistake of my life.)

Three years after my first diagnosis, my dad talked to an old doctor friend of his who specializes in urinary and sexual pain (don't ask me why it took him three years). His degree is DO, Doctor of Osteopathy. DOs can do anything MDs can do, but look at the body in a different way; they see it as on system. For example, my father studies the kidneys. He once tried to interest a dental school in helping him with a study of the links between gum disease and kidney disease (because if you swallow something, it ends up in your kidneys). Anyway, this doctor's first question was, "Do you have lower back pain?"

The morning after my thirteenth birthday, I woke up with lower back pain so bad that I couldn't sit comfortably, or stand for more than a few minutes.

His second question was, "Do you have foot pain?"

When I was sixteen, I developed foot pain so intense I couldn't walk without wanting to cry.

"Oh, this is easy!" he said. I have pelvic floor dysfunction. It's a disorder that occurs because standing upright is a relatively new stage in evolution--much like having mouths too small for wisdom teeth. Up till recently, the pelvic floor was a wall, which has far fewer responsibilities, and is sometimes too weak to be up to the job. Five problems commonly arise: Pain in the lower back and feet, pain during intercourse, and bladder and bowel problems. I'm thankful that my bladder and bowel work fine (for the record), but sometimes I wonder if they could have helped me get diagnosed sooner.

Because diagnosis meant relief. My doctor, a stocky man in his eighties with a big smile and a handlebar mustache, who always wore shorts to the office, treated me with a simple, side-effect-free technique called strain counter-strain (also called positional release therapy). Pressure is put on painful areas that shouldn't be so sensitive, and limbs are gently folded around those spots until a position is found that makes the spot more comfortable. The position is held for ninety seconds, until the brain realizes it likes this better. It's an incredible tool. The doctor of Chinese medicine I mentioned before told me that my back pain was probably due to the places on my feet that I put more pressure on. He taught me to walk properly, but the method never became habit. I had to think about it with every step for months. After my first treatment with strain counter-strain, my feet landed on the floor properly.

My doctor retired, and I've moved around quite a bit for the past few years, so my relief has been spotty, and always beyond my reach. But I'm finally settled enough to stay with one healer and see results. I'm in physical therapy, learning techniques that relax my tense, hyped-up muscular system and acclimate my hurting areas to greater amounts of pressure. I'm getting massages, which I think helps psychically as well as physically. Little by little, in tiny steps, I'm getting better. I'm less afraid of sex.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of disorders. I am not a medical professional of any sort. I would love to point you to Internet sources, but I haven't found good ones. The only piece of advice worth repeating from any website I've ever seen is this: Be your own advocate. Do not take the first solution offered if it doesn't feel right. Don't expect your doctor to know what they're talking about, or to have explored all the options. Painful sex is not covered in medical school. See different kinds of doctors, because different specializations offer different solutions, and something that worked for another patient may not work for you.

Don't stop with MDs. They only offer one perspective, and not necessarily the best. My experiences have led me to believe that some doctors, often older men, are proud and unwilling to admit they're in unfamiliar territory. Explore your options, keep an open mind, talk to lots of people, and be your own advocate.

When I first heard that, I thought it was one lonely-ass prospect. But you are not alone.

Anna Rose

*If you have chronic pain during sex, and you know you are not a victim of violence, you should see a doctor.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Things you can't do in America

Once again, we Americans are completely flabbergasted by the French. Prime example: this April's issue of French Vogue, in which editor Carine Roitfeld used model Lily Donaldson to make a variety of strange, questionable and sometimes incredibly witty statements about modern motherhood that never would have made it into the magazine's American counterpart. Although let me just say - pregnant women cannot wear five-inch heels. And that makeup is probably full of carcinogens (okay, I'm joking a little). But, as Jezebel points out, it certainly highlights the fact that motherhood is not something every woman is cut out for.

For your enjoyment: the photos are on Jezebel.

Be a health peer advisor next year!

Ever wanted to get in-depth training, programming experience, spend time with peers who have similar interests? Don't miss this dynamic leadership opportunity to be involved in the 2009-2010 school year. Applications due, April 13th, 2009 (Except for SHARE).

The Eating Concerns Advisors (ECA's) work to promote awareness of issues surrounding eating and body image as well as those resources on campus available to students who have related concerns. ECPEs are interested in recruiting individuals who wish to promote dialogue and improve the campus culture regarding these issues. For an application go here:

Healthy Minds address a variety of mental health issues as they affect the Princeton student body, with particular focus on stress and depression. Current projects are aimed at raising awareness of common emotional/psychological issues, as well as resources available on campus, with the ultimate goal of creating an environment where students struggling with mental illness can get help without feeling isolated or embarrassed. Group members have a varying degree of interest in health-related careers, but all share a desire to help their fellow students! For an application go here:

Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education (SHARE) Peer Educators serve the Princeton University community by providing campus-wide support and information to survivors of abuse, assault and harassment and their friends. SHARE Peers Educators provide outreach in the form of workshops and programming regarding sexual assault, relationship abuse, sexual harassment and harassment based on sexual orientation. For more information email

The Sexual Health Advisors (SHA's) educate and advise students with all aspects of healthy sexual decision making, including decisions about sexual activity and abstinence, STIs and pregnancy prevention, relationship health, LGBT issues, and other sexual health topics. We serve the full spectrum of sexual decisions made on campus, supporting and helping students to make those decisions in a healthy and healthful way. SHAs are trained to help with the many topics we cover through fascinating discussions of an enormous variety of sexual health issues, and we then use our training to plan fun and purposeful programs for students throughout the year. For an application go here:

An open letter to Professors George and Londregan

Dear Professors George and Londregan,

Calls for a chastity center at Princeton caused quite a stir last semester, so we were interested to see that you had brought this idea up again in your March 17 article in "Public Discourse." We are the co-editors of Equal Writes, the campus feminist blog, and we wanted to engage you in conversation about the much-debated "hook-up culture," because we agree many of the issues that you raised. The sexual culture at Princeton is problematic, and many students are ambivalent about our school's perceived sexual norms. We were particularly disturbed by the discourse about the “hook-up culture” around Valentine's Day, which was mostly played out in the opinion pages of the Daily Princetonian. What we saw was a discussion that antagonized, rather than engaged, the campus community.

We think that this discussion has gotten out of hand. And it certainly isn't fair to any of the campus organizations involved - not least the Anscombe Society, which is marginalized because of the perceived extremity of its views. The value of sex after marriage, or for that matter, within any committed relationship, is an important subject which is rarely addressed at Princeton. There is a damaging tendency for students to feel socially compelled to make themselves sexually available, because of widely held campus assumptions about what other students want, and what other students expect. And this is fair to no one involved. There has been an essential breakdown of communication about sex at Princeton, and it has resulted in a sexual culture that benefits no one.

Where we disagree with you is in the solution. You suggest a "Love and Fidelity Center” designed to provide support for students who are seeking a more “traditional” sexual lifestyle, but we think that the answer is not to create more islands of difference in a campus climate that tends to dismiss people who represent extremes. Instead, we want to open the conversation to all Princeton students, so that people who fall on all sides of the sexual spectrum feel comfortable speaking openly about their desires, confusions, and fears when it comes to sex.

You write that our campus culture is hostile towards students who hold traditional beliefs about sex. We know this to be true, and feel that it is crucial to give these students the highest degree of respect for their individual choices. However, we feel that to create a "Love and Fidelity Center” would simply isolate these students further from their peers, and render the issue even more polarizing. Moreover, it is necessary to remember that many students arrive for their freshman year at Princeton without strong commitments to a particular vision of what sex means. Could a "Love and Fidelity Center" serve all students as they come to terms with the role that sex will play in their lives? It seems to us that the center, as proposed, will exclude the majority of students who are nevertheless struggling, unsupported, to gain a clear understanding of their sexual identities.

We believe that sexuality at this point in our lives is a process of self-discovery, and any institution that does not recognize this will only serve to exacerbate the confusion that students already experience. We also believe that college is a time for students to engage with their peers in these processes, and that conversation about these issues should be broadened, not narrowed. This does not mean that Princeton will produce homogeneous students who follow one ideal blindly, but rather that Princeton will produce well-rounded individuals who have given serious thought to a variety of viewpoints and come intelligently to their own conclusion. That is, after all, the goal of the liberal arts education, and one that we think Princeton students should strive for.

We want to know how you envision the services of the proposed "Love and Fidelity Center" in terms of all of the students who are coping with the negative effects of the "hook-up culture." We recognize that we do not have all of the answers to the dilemmas that students face when they arrive at Princeton. Nevertheless, we want to express these concerns to you because we believe that real progress on this important issue can be made only with the input of diverse student voices. To that end, we will post this letter on our blog, and with your permission, your responses. We're looking forward to engaging with you about these issues.


Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux '11
Joshua Franklin '11
Co-editors, Equal Writes

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

We're still talking about sex?

Just to keep you posted (and shamelessly use the blog as a platform for my other activities), if you're interested in getting involved with Princeton's still-nameless new sex-positive group, there will be a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) night! There are various levels of involvement in the group, so there are slightly different meeting times. Here's the situation (I pasted this from an email I sent out earlier, so enjoy the colors I added to make up for the email's length and confusing nature):

We're going to have our second sex-positive group meeting tomorrow night, so get excited! We'll do introductions and hopefully decide on a group name, and discuss where we want to go from here. The meeting will be at 10:30 pm, in Frist 205. Once again - bring friends, tell people - this is the first official meeting, so it will be harder for people to join the discussion group later, just because it will be a fairly significant commitment. If you know that you don't want to be in the discussion group, but you want to help plan events, and reach out to the larger campus (no less important, but a smaller time commitment), come to Frist 205 at 10 pm.

So to recap (I know that was slightly confusing):
1) Meeting tomorrow night in Frist 205
2) If you just want to help plan, come at 10 pm - we'll be done by 10:30
3) If you want to plan and discuss (i'll love you forever if you do!), come at 10 pm, but don't leave because...
4) If you want to discuss the forbidden subject, come at 10:30
5) I'll bring snacks to make up for the ridiculous confusion of this post

So, as usual, let me know if you have comments/concerns/questions. Or if you can't make it tomorrow but still want to be involved. And I can't wait to see you tomorrow night!

If you didn't know, the "me" is Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux (I'm an EW editor), and my email address is And I am serious: I want to hear from you, and I want you to come to this meeting. Questions? Complaints? Ideas? Just hit me up.

Are we "Generation Diva"?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

How many haircuts do you get every year? And how much do you spend on makeup? Do you opt for a $5 mascara from the drugstore, or do you buy $40 eyeliners from Origins? Do you get your eyebrows waxed? What about your legs? Do you spend much time thinking about how much this all adds up to - how much money gets sunk, every year, into your personal upkeep?

Newsweek has a really fascinating (and disturbing) online feature dealing with these questions, which I would guess that most women don't ask themselves very often. I don't worry very much about makeup, and I get my hair cut fairly infrequently, considering that it's short, but when I stopped to think about how much I actually spend on beauty products, I was a little horrified - and I'm not a big spender. The average woman, Newsweek hazards, spends $449,127 on beauty products over the course of her lifetime, beginning with tween-dom, when girls first start shelling out for manicures, face creams, and lipsticks.

That number may seem insane. But broken down, it's entirely believable - and points out a horrifying truth about women's body image in America. It may be spaced out in small payments over a lifetime, but women still feel that to look attractive, we need to spend more than the cost of a house, or a college education.

Why do we feel this way? Just take a look at the gallery of vintage beauty ads that accompanies the "Generation Diva" graphic - even if we're not being told quite as blatantly to "buy this anti-aging cream or kiss your husband goodbye!", these messages have been subverted into the idea that female self-worth, even if it's masked behind a fake kind of independence, is still tied to the way our bodies look - which is thin, smooth, white, young, impeccably coiffed, and perfectly made up. It's terrible that this pressure is affecting younger and younger girls, and yet further proof that even if we've moved slightly past ads which asked us, "Can you compete with your daughter's 'Little girl look'?", we still have a long, long way to go. And this is a change that you can effect with your wallet - so before you invest in a $150 haircut or a $40 lipstick, just ask yourself, is this worth it? And why do I need to spend this much money to change the way I look?

Quick side note: congrats to Aku Ammah-Tagoe, who did the reporting for "The Beauty Breakdown." She's a Princeton sophomore who's taken the semester off to intern with Newsweek, and she's the source of many of the tips that I post about! So we're all proud of her.

A new kind of breast implant

by Thúy-Lan Võ Lite

It was only a matter of time before stem cell research expanded from curing cancer and diabetes to growing bigger boobs. According to this article, a group of British scientists promises to "boost cup size while reducing stomach fat" by utilizing a new technique that extracts fat from the stomach or thighs, isolates stem cells, combines them with another batch of fat, and then injects the delectable mixture into the breast. The procedure, which has been practiced in Japan now for six years, was originally designed "to repair the breasts of women who have had cancerous lumps removed" but will soon be offered to "healthy women seeking breast enlargement."

Assuming you're okay with stem cell research on an ethical level, the development should seem largely positive. If the decision is autonomous, breast augmentation is a way for women to express their control over their own bodies and to boost both confidence and self-esteem; this procedure takes an age-old surgery and makes it safer and more natural. Professor Kefah Mokbel of the London Breast Institute at the Princess Grace hospital stated, "Implants are a foreign body. They are associated with long-term complications and require replacement. They can also leak and cause scarring." This process, however, "promotes the growth of blood vessels to ensure a sufficient blood supply circulates to the transplanted fat," which may offer a safer and "more natural" alternative.

Of course, there's the issue of the social pressures that influence women to alter their bodies in the first place. It seems antithetical to the feminist cause to allow the androcentric, unrealistic media to influence how a woman sees her body and, furthermore, to encourage her to conform to these ideals by, for example, obtaining larger breasts. But if a woman decides for her own reasons that she would benefit from or enjoy being chestier, it would be more just to allow her to pursue this desire. And if science improves the process, even better.

Women today are caught in a limbo; they are given the message that their breasts are too small in a world where controversy makes them feel guilty for changing them. Though far from perfect - the technique, after all, "will not provide firmness and uplift" - the stem cell process should be offered as an alternative for women seeking larger breasts.

Pro-woman, pro-western

by Thomas Dollar

One of my tasks last week was to draft a proposal for a project to empower women in Sierra Leone. As you might have gathered from my previous posts, this is a Sisyphean task, and there are no quick ways to accomplish it. Empowering women here means overcoming the barriers imposed by both traditional culture and biology.

I discussed culture in my last posting; now I’ll talk about biology. Men and women are physically different in a number of basic but significant ways. Only women have the ability to bear children. (And, thus, only women have the potential to die or suffer injuries during childbirth.) Only women have the ability to breastfeed. On average, men have larger, more muscular bodies than women. On average, men produce more testosterone, which makes them more aggressive and prone to violence. In a traditional culture like Sierra Leone’s, these small physical differences translate into vast social differences. Biology is not destiny, but it is still an obstacle to gender equality. The societies that have (mostly) overcome biology share two critical factors:

1) Enlightenment thinking. Feminism has its origins in the Western Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th Centuries. It was this movement that gave our society its foundational ideas: that certain rights are inalienable, that individuals have autonomy over their own mind and body, that there exist personal freedoms that the group may not infringe. The old, dead, white guys of the Enlightenment may never have thought that equal rights and personal liberties would apply to women, but ideas have consequences, and it wasn’t long before women demanded that they Remember the Ladies. When women and men gathered in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 to draft their Declaration of Sentiments they applied the Lockean language of natural rights to women’s struggle for equality.

Women’s rights are human rights, and a society can’t possibly have the former if it doesn’t have the latter in general. History has been riddled with hierarchies meant to preserve social order: master over servant, clergy over layman, chief over subject, majority over minority, man over woman. Enlightenment philosophy brought hierarchies into scrutiny; the fact that they were traditional was no longer good enough. Absent a society that had already accepted the notions of dissent and personal freedom, the movement toward gender equality never would have begun.

I realize that saying anything good about Western society is a totally un-P.C., uncool thing to do amongst modern, feminist circles. Philosophies like Ecofeminism and Third-World Feminism manage to trace all the planet’s ills to that Hyphenated Hydra of Oppression called Eurocentrism-Colonialism-Imperialism-Male Chauvinism-Natural Destruction-Military-Industrialism-Patriarchy. This “West is Bad” attitude leads to misplaced multiculturalism that enables and excuses real patriarchal oppression. (Just ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali.) Enlightenment ideals may have originated in Europe, but they are a universal good—not the property of any one race, society or ethnicity. We as feminists should embrace Western culture and share it, not shy from it.

2) Industrialization. The second great factor in the rise of women’s rights was the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization got women off the farms and into factories. In an agrarian society, land is power, children are wealth, and women’s work is inextricably tied to bearing and raising children. In an industrial society, this was subverted. Women working in mills and factories finally achieved their own income and their own sense of independence. As labor became mechanized, the physical differences between men and women became less important. And as science and technology progressed, biological sex differences became far less significant. Hormonal contraception and safe, sanitary abortion gave women the ability to control their reproduction—and the modern, urban-industrial economy gave them an alternative to a life defined by bearing children.

The result of these twin factors—the Enlightenment and industrialization—is that today’s Western societies are more egalitarian than any other in the history of the world. This is not to say that they’re perfect, or that the status of women is the same in all Western countries (there’s a big difference between Sweden and Chile). But in a society that tolerates, even celebrates dissent, change is not only possible but inevitable. On the issues of women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights, we’ve seen a fringe position become a minority position become a mainstream position. In a traditional culture, this progression just does not happen.

So where does this leave Sierra Leone? Industry is what the women and men of this country need more than anything else. One Nike factory would do more for women’s empowerment than ten years of campaigns and slogans. (NGOs like Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes provide free birth control, but traditional culture still places a premium on large families.) When women work industrial jobs, they marry later, have fewer children, and exert more control over their lives. And when people embrace modern, liberal society over traditional, hierarchical ones, everyone has more control over their futures. So by pushing for women’s empowerment in Africa, I’m proud to be pro-Western, pro-industry. If you read Equal Writes, it’s likely—even if you don’t know it—that you are too.

Monday, March 30, 2009

You can hide keys there?!?!?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

A friend sent me this website earlier today, and I spent far too much time perusing it, and wondering guiltily whether I should be finding it quite so hilarious. The site, (make sure you spell it right!), is the brainchild of three (presumably young) men who are "baffled" by women and are trying to work out their issues with the ladies by...mocking them ruthlessly? The site is divided into useful categories like "sex", "dating", "moms" and, my personal favorite, "wtf" and basically consists of strange anecdotes and observations about women that range from strange to disturbing to really fucked-up.

For example, at the top of today's page, a story from Cosmo (so you know it's good) - a woman got into a fight with her boyfriend in a parked car, and to keep him from driving away, stowed the key in her vagina. They later made up (although I know that I wouldn't be in the most forgiving mood with a car key stuffed up there), but discovered, to their horror, that the key had somehow gotten lost. When they went to the hospital, the doctor couldn't find it either, so they concluded that it must have fallen out somewhere near the car.

This story is just plain weird, and the rest of the site doesn't make any more sense. Even though I know that there are parts of it that definitely offend me (for example, the post that mocks women's weight issues), it's also pretty obvious that these guys can't live up to the subheading of their site "Women Be Trippin - And We Know Why." People are crazy, and some of them are women, but these guys have no idea why. So now someone just needs to start "Men Be Trippin," and we'll have twice as many borderline-offensive stories to laugh at.

What feminism means

by Josh Franklin

Courtney Martin has a wonderful article about the future of feminism. She provides an excellent discussion of the possibility of a single, well-defined feminism, asking the question: "Is there a formal feminist movement anymore? Does there need to be?" Martin points out that modern society is different in significant ways from the political climate of the 1960s, and concludes:

Call me cynical, but I don't think there will ever be a global, or even national, uprising of women focused on one singular goal. There will be no singular feminist agenda. There will be no women's movement. And that's not a bad thing. Because there will be thousands upon thousands of women -- young and old alike -- waking up tomorrow with big ideas, lots of resources and communication tools, and plenty of conviction that they have the right and responsibility to make the world better. It's a little less romantic, I admit, but amazing nonetheless.

We've been having several controversial discussions here on EW, including the possibility of pro-life feminism and a feminist perspective on campus sexual assault. Are there answers to these questions that lie in the realization that gender politics are shaped in significant ways by their local communities--that there isn't just one feminism? I think this is a very interesting conclusion, and I wonder a lot about it's consequences. Is the loss of a single global movement politically debilitating? We could theorize about this endlessly, but I'm afraid of doing so, because there's so much at stake. Rather, how do you feel about this idea? If it has lost something, hasn't it also opened new possibilities for progress? Is it a reality that we can accept?

Thanks to Chloe for the tip!

Start Monday right: more depressing thoughts on body image

Reading the first line of last Tuesday's Reuters article, "Women still have a complex and contradictory relationship with their own image," one is very tempted to say "Thank you, Captain Obvious!" - which I did. But the study that the article goes on to describe is very disturbing, even though the questions that were asked are also a little silly. For example:

"25 percent of those questioned would rather win the 'America's Next Top Model' TV show than the Nobel Peace Prize.

75 percent of women surveyed said they'd be willing to shave their heads to save the life of a stranger, but more than a quarter of those taking part admitted they would make their best friend fat for life, if it meant they could be thin.

Half of the 18- to 24-year-olds questioned said they would marry an ugly man if he were a multimillionaire."

Just ponder. How far have we come? 1 in 4 women would rather win Tyra Banks' reality show than do something that would gain them the Nobel Peace Prize? Scary, scary thought!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Home birth at its most extreme

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

After I watched The Business of Being Born in my women's studies class last semester, I decided to become a birth doula. I'm prone to extreme decisions, but this was also because The Business of Being Born, a documentary about the home birth movement, is one of the most convincing documentaries I've ever seen - it shows off the midwives of New York City as sane and birth-friendly in a healthcare system that is unqualified and unwilling to deliver babies correctly. There's a profile of midwife Cara Muhlhahn (one of the central figures in TBOBB) in New York Magazine which presents her as perhaps a darker figure - one which I don't necessarily agree with, but which is an interesting counterpoint to the film. The article's author, Andrew Goldman, is distinctly dubious about Muhlhahn's methods - and to hear him tell it, she does sound a little crazy.

Goldman writes, "When you ask Muhlhahn’s many happy customers to recount their birth stories, they struggle a bit; you suspect they feel the way an astronaut might attempting to describe space travel to someone who’s never flown in a plane. 'When you get through that transition, and you experience the birth of your child, you get the endorphins, the best bonding experience, I mean, I can’t even explain how meaningful and important and life-changing an event it was,' says Jeannie Gaffigan, who delivered her second child with Muhlhahn." This is the side of Muhlhahn that the documentary presents - a woman who pays attention to her clients, and refuses to let them feel like they're a number or a small part of a larger system. And she has delivered babies under the riskiest of conditions, in dramatic circumstances - like the picture above, which shows her simulating delivering a baby on the roof of a Brooklyn apartment building.

All of this is exciting, and has helped to normalize home birth so that it even seems glamorous. However, there are points at which it's very possible to question Muhlhahn's sanity, and those Goldman is eager to bring up. He recounts the horror stories that didn't quite make it into the movie's final cut - like the time Muhlhahn left a woman in labor for 72 hours while she went off to deliver another baby. When Muhlhahn returned, the father (understandably worried about his wife's health) asked, "How long is too long for a woman to be in labor?” “Never,” Muhlhahn replied. The woman was taken to the hospital and the baby was delivered by C-section. She remembers her reaction to entering the hospital, which surprised her - "It was a feeling of, ‘Oh my God. Here are people in their white lab coats who know what they’re doing, and there’s equipment and medicine here.’ Then I looked over at Cara with her crazy hair and ragtag clothes and I said to myself, ‘What was I thinking?’"

There are plenty of other stories to make all potential home birth clients cringe, and a few of them ended in tragedy. But there's another side to all this, which obstetrician Jacques Moritz (admittedly, an aficionado of the home birth movement) was quick to point out - "The problem is that we’re talking about the possibility the outcome would be different," he said. “No one who loses a baby in a hospital says, 'Oh, I wonder if this would have been better if I’d done it at home?'"

Goldman is open about his partisanness in all of this - he and his wife almost opted to go the home birth route, but their baby was born in a hospital, through a cesarean section. But I do wonder how much this has to do with the home birth movement, and how much it's about Muhlhahn as a person. There are many midwives who would never dream of attempting the deliveries that Muhlhahn takes on, and that's perhaps the reason why she's taken on a kind of celebrity in the movement. The fact is that there are many good reasons to have a home birth, but there are also times when it's far safer to have a hospital delivery, and the answer is not as cut-and-dried as the doctors or the makers of TBOBB would like you to believe. And Muhlhahn, in many ways the face of the home birth movement, is definitely controversial (I don't know how I'd feel about delivering my baby on the roof of a New York apartment building, for example). But I do think that Muhlhahn's essential goal, to render childbirth more "poetic than clinical," is a beautiful one. Even if she's personally a little crazy, what Muhlhahn - and her fellow midwives - are attempting is something which is brave, and admirable. But I do have to say, after 72 hours in labor, I would be screaming for the hospital too.

Thanks to Aku for the tip!

Feminists: not all crazy man-haters?

by Christina DiGasbarro

I began writing a novel in eighth grade, while I attended a middle school where, for most classes, boys and girls were separated. I’m not sure it did much good—and I would have preferred all co-ed classes, just because that makes things more interesting—but it didn’t do much harm either. Exceptions to the single-sex rule, though, were the language classes, so my Latin class was a pretty even mix of boys and girls. Perhaps because we were separated for most of the day otherwise, we all took full advantage of the opportunity to interact with members of the opposite sex. For the boys, this seemed to entail good-naturedly teasing us girls quite a bit of the time.

But, being in eighth grade, some of that teasing was, while not malicious, singly intended to get a rise out of us—teasing like: “Go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich.” (One particularly clever girl did make the boys a sandwich one day: she got two pieces of bread, put handfuls of sand from the playground between them, dressed up the edges, and, if memory serves correctly, one of the boys may have begun taking a bite of it before realizing the prank.) Regardless, I, having a bad habit of rising to every piece of bait offered me, became very adamant in my feminism whenever comments like the above were made. Feminism, as I understood it at the time, meant that women could do anything men could, and that women didn’t need anybody and were supposed to be absolutely independent, and that women shouldn’t do anything that might be perceived as weakness. So, I would argue vehemently with the boys and get disproportionately bent out of shape. Of course, at the time, I refused to recognize that the boys did not, in fact, really think women belonged in the kitchen—they simply realized that such teasing was the easiest way to get a reaction and attention.

The relevance of this to my beginning a novel is that, influenced in part by my experiences in Latin, I attempted to make my heroine adhere to that perception of feminism. If one of her male friends offered to help her with something, she refused on principle; if one of her male friends tried to offer her some sort of protection (e.g., against aggressive harassment, or when she physically couldn’t protect herself), she rejected that as well. She was just being a strong and independent woman, refusing to rely on a man for anything, right?

But, once I matured a bit, and as my writing matured along with me, I saw that writing my heroine in that manner was tiresome and not really productive. I realized that if a female friend had offered her the same help or protection in those situations, she would not have categorically rejected that help—she probably would have accepted it gratefully. I realized that, if the only reason she rejected her friends’ help was their gender, that she was doing them a disservice and, in fact, being sexist by assuming that her male friends, like all males and simply because they were male, were patronizing her. I realized that she ought to recognize that her friends were offering their help because she was their friend, not because she was a woman. And finally, I realized that writing her simply as a strong character—not as a woman with an in-your-face kind of strength, without the ability to recognize the need for help, without the maturity to properly deal with her weaknesses—would give a truer picture of her, and it would still accord with my core feminist ideals.

I often think about all of this because it is tied up with the misperceptions Josh wrote about earlier this week. Josh rightly commented on the worrisome feminism that becomes misandrist; and I also am afraid that the perception of feminists as women who hate men, or at least as women who eschew men, is too prominent.

I also think about all this when I encounter guy friends who, for instance, offer to carry my package back to the dorm for me. I tend to refuse offers like those categorically (unless I’m really, really struggling), and I’d like to think that my refusal is simply a wish not to burden anyone else; I’m sure that I would refuse such an offer from a girl friend too. But I know that, somewhere inside of me, there’s usually a defiant little voice saying, I can do it myself even if I am a girl, thank you very much. And I don’t think that’s at all productive, and it’s certainly ungrateful, which is an ugly trait in anyone; I don’t think there’s a reason to reject common courtesies simply because of the gender of the person making the offer. It’s something I’m trying to work on.

Meanwhile, in a broader sense, I think there’s every reason to combat even the slightest tendencies within feminism that seem to or that do, in fact, come across as working against men, as eschewing men, or simply as ignoring men and making them irrelevant. Ultimately, feminism doesn’t exist to set women up as a separate (but equal!) class of citizens on their own, or to subjugate men to a matriarchy; feminism exists to make sure that women are mixed up in the same class that men inhabit and that everyone is treated equally, across the board and within one system.