(Not for kids)
January 23, 2010
One of my loooong replies to a discussion on Feministing. It was a discussion I started on a skit on SNL that made fun of Tiger Woods’s saga, but also wound up making fun of violence against men – not funny. Just thought I’d share my thoughts:
from reading the various insights and experiences shared so far, it seems like domestic violence against men brings up some important issues:
1) statistics are confusing because there are many important things they might not explain. many men might report experiencing some sort of violence from their wives, but often it is minor and doesn’t fit the cycle of abuse (which is not to say that it’s not important). i remember that in college a survey reported that ~30% of male students experienced “sexual harassment” from women, while the vast majority of female college students did too. but the study also showed that the quality of harassment was different. for example, many male students thought of sexual comments of notes as harassment, but were not intimidated or even bothered by it. on the other hand, harassment experienced by many female students were more predatory, and had a bigger affect on them. so i suspect it’s the same case with domestic violence, where men as a group have the power of the system, and it victimizes women as a group.
2) there’s a notion that because men are generally physically stronger than women, that violence can’t happen to them. that highlights the important point that domestic violence isn’t about strength, it’s more about the intention behind it. just like men are expected to defend themselves, so can women defend themselves, although the attacker’s physical strength can be overpowering. the common theme between male and female DV victims is that they felt they deserved punishment, or that they should do better to avoid beatings, or they can’t leave their partner, etc. and again, because we live in a patriarchal society, women are victimized more.
“Both genders need to be taught the signs of an abuser NOT just to avoid them but to be able to recognize those signs in themselves.” – Phenicks
that is so true! all of us have a tendency to take advantage of, use, abuse, or just not care about those who’re less powerful than us. women often direct their violence and abuse (even sexual abuse) towards children. i’ve experienced this growing up in bangladesh where many people consider it okay to beat children to “discipline” them, just like many consider it okay to beat women. there are news stories of women torturing and even killing their domestic servants, especially if they’re child servants. within the family, parents often beat their children inhumanely in the name of discipline.
this is also why many feminists are environmental activists and animal rights activists, because both men and women justify superiority over animals. not many justify torture of animals, but still many women don’t recognize the abusive premise of animal industries.
the reason feminists mainly focus on violence and rape against women is that in a patriarchal society, violence is considered natural for men, and often justified against women. thus, it’s a woman’s fault for making her husband angry, or it’s a woman’s fault for arousing a man who raped her. non-feminists don’t realize that rape happens because men feel justified to use women’s bodies, or use rape to “discipline” or “teach a lesson,” or simply, just use it for their own pleasure.
i think when we see abuse from women against men or other women, it seems either horrifying or funny because it’s so “unnatural” for women. for feminists, this is an opportunity to point out that abuse and violence result from a sense of entitlement, not because it’s a male characteristic. and it’s because of patriarchy that more men feel entitled about women than vice versa.
DV shelters and sexual support organizations often perpetuate this stereotype about men while trying to help victims. but that doesn’t help change society, and also ignores abuse in non-heterosexual settings. as feminists, we should raise awareness about it, amongst ourselves and others at such opportunities.
December 12, 2009
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As we all know, recent recommendations about mammograms and Pap smears have caused some confusion among both women and doctors. I can understand at a time when we’re discussing cutting costs in healthcare and setting up death panels to kill old people, guidelines to reduce screenings can cause suspicion. Nonetheless, I was surprised that the discussions on my favorite blog (yes, even more than my own!) Feministing generally perpetuated that suspicion/outrage. I expected that feminists would be more skeptical of American healthcare and skeptical of the original mammograms guidelines to be so struck by the changes.
You can read more about the science behind the new guidelines here, and I’m sure in many other blogs. The whole point of revising the once-a-year mammogram rule is that it leads to a lot of over-treatment. Of course, screening too little would be under-treatment. Evidence based guidelines are always trying to find the happy medium, and yearly mammograms are not that happy medium. One author I read complained that the new guideline was not based on new studies, but faults of older studies that lead to the yearly mammogram rule. But if the yearly mammogram rule was based on flawed studies, isn’t that enough reason to question the guideline, especially when it leads to over treatment? A poster on Feministing had asked “how could reduced screening ever be a good thing?” Well, you have to consider the invasiveness and cost of the screening. X-ray imaging, which has more risks, and MRIs which are expensive, are done less often. On the other hand, self breast exams can and should be done more often. I wish the authors of the guideline had done a better job of explaining the reasoning. Instead of highlighting that yearly mammograms lead to unnecessary anxiety, which understandably made women mad, they should’ve made it more clear that previous guidelines were not based on the best evidence, and the risks of over treatment are greater than the benefits of frequent invasive screening. They should’ve also emphasized the importance of breast exams, by self and doctor. It would be useful to know other countries’ policies on this too.
I expected feminists to think about the above reasoning intuitively, given the context of women and healthcare. So I was surprised to see the notion that a right was being taken away, rather than questioning whether yearly mammograms were the best thing to do in the first place. Are we so naive to believe that existing healthcare practices on women’s issues are always in the best interests of women? Haven’t we discussed before that sometimes profit motives of pharmaceutical and biotech companies can interfere with evidence based medicine, and over-pathologize certain issues like PMS and reduced interest in sex, to create a market for drugs? And who can forget “designer vaginas?” Feminist theorists have pointed out that because we have historically considered the male body as the norm, many female bodily processes have seemed inherently pathological. While access to birth control is definitely a positive thing for women, some feminists have also noted the sexism in the drive to regulating women’s fertility with drugs and devices, as opposed to researching birth control on men. For social reasons, women’s bodies are more tampered with on the aspects where women are different from men. In America especially, where healthcare practices are heavily influenced by profit and inequality of access, we tend to have widespread use of technological and pharmacological interventions on women’s bodies, from interventions during labor, C-sections, hysterectomies, pills for PMS, PMDD, etc, etc. It’s not that such high use of gadgetry is unsafe, but it’s not based on scientific recommendations or medical indications either. In countries with more socialized healthcare, cost-effectiveness is always an issue, so the necessity of pills and surgeries are under more scrutiny. I’m not saying that previous mammogram guidelines were based on biotech companies wanting to make more money. I’m saying that given the context of American healthcare, guidelines for less use of gadgets is likely to be a good thing, as the norm for us is usually overuse and waste. Has our widespread use of invasive medical procedures led to much better outcomes for American women? Not really.
I realize that the mammogram issue is different for two reasons, 1) it’s not really in the realm of reproductive health where inequality is clearer, and 2) it’s because of feminist activism that breast cancer awareness and prevention has become such important issues in the first place. Once upon a time, breast cancer research was actually being done on men (!), who comprise a small minority of breast cancer patients. It has been a huge success of feminist activists to shed light on a disease that affected and killed women (for the most part). Breast cancer awareness, screening, and treatment have saved many women’s lives.
But as feminist activism changes society, feminists have to deal with new issues of a new society. Nowadays, breast cancer awareness is so commercialized that merchandise is ubiquitous. Community posts on Feministing have pointed out the sexism in using breast cancer campaign slogans like “Save the Tatas.” It seems now that feminists have legitimized the threat of breast cancer, the interest in the issue is becoming a little sensational. After all, it is about boobies, not non-sexual things like cardiovascular diseases (which kills more women than breast cancer) or colon cancer. So I think we feminists need to take a step back from the notion that fewer mammograms mean that the scientists don’t care about women dying from breast cancer. It just means that as far as we know, fewer mammograms will reduce over-treatment yet not reduce survival rates. This is also an opportunity to think about how breast cancer isn’t women’s only health issue. Let’s start focusing some effort on cardiovascular health, which is also an area where we need more women-specific research.
December 4, 2009
As a medical student and a feminist interested in women’s health, women’s reproductive health is of utmost importance to me. Obviously abortion rights are important, but equally important is the issue of childbirth. My college senior thesis in Women’s Studies was on Childbirth and Women’s Choices, and since then I’ve sought to continually refine my views.
My latest endeavor was to read some opinions by Amy Tuteur, MD, who calls herself “The Skeptical OB.” The label “skeptic” has become akin to the “I’m not a racist” disclaimer. If someone feels the need to clarify that they’re not a racist, chances are that they are a racist! Similarly, the term “skeptic” is used by many bloggers as if to prove that they’re searching for the truth, when it’s evident from they’re writing that they’re only skeptical about things outside of their ideology. Anyways, Dr. Tuteur is a hoot! When you read her blogposts and her responses to the comments on her posts, the strongest impression you’ll get won’t be about childbirth, but that Amy is FULL OF HERSELF! I can go on and on about the stupidity of some of her comments, but you can go judge for yourself.
I’m glad I read through some of her absurd articles though, as it helped me refine my thoughts on pregnancy and childbirth once more. The American maternity healthcare system is plain dysfunctional. As with many other aspects of our healthcare system, we spend wayyy to much without getting any benefits over other developed countries who spend less. For more on that, you can read articles by Jennifer Block or Marsden Wagner. Until recently, I vehemently criticized the overuse of C-sections, epidurals and medical inductions in American obstetrics on the grounds that it causes higher morbidity and mortality in women. I also firmly believed that home births for low risk mothers are as safe as hospital births, so it was perfectly okay to promote. Those opinions remain true, but it is the focus of the argument that I’m refining after reading crazy OB’s blog.
You see, Dr. Tuteur can’t get over the fact that the study of home births in North America showed that babies are 3 times more likely to die during a home birth than a hospital birth. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? That’s until you consider how TINY the absolute risks are for babies of low-risk mothers dying at all. The risks in this particular study were ~0.7% for hospital births and ~2.1% for home births. The authors of the study explained that because the risks are so small, it fluctuates between values of 1 to 3%, therefore, direct comparisons between the values are not appropriate. One can only comment on how similar the values are. Now of course to understand such nuances you have to understand research methodology, but Dr. Amy is not a researcher. Her agenda as an OB is to protect her trade and outlaw options like home birth that would give legitimacy to midwives.
Another thing she’s vehemently against is water birth. She cites a 1999 study that concluded that out of 4030 deliveries in water, 35 babies had serious problems, of whom 3 died. Here is the authors’ conclusion: “Perinatal mortality is not substantially higher among babies delivered in water than among those born to low risk women who delivered conventionally. The data are compatible with a small increase or decrease in perinatal mortality for babies delivered in water.” But Dr. Tuteurs conclusion is that because the water in the tub is contaminated with fecal bacteria and meconium, etc, and because a small number of babies aspirate the water before being pulled out, water births are not safe: “Babies should not be born underwater. There is no benefit to the baby, only risk, including the risk of fresh water drowning and aspirating fecally contaminated water.” When a commenter points out that the water births were safe for the vast majority of cases, Amy points out that “First of all 99.55% doesn’t mean it is safe; it’s means that it is dangerous.” RIGHT. I’d like to see her use the same arguments for use of the epidural or elective inductions – they don’t have any benefits for the baby, but only potential risks, so therefore should not be used! But of course if her logic was consistent then she wouldn’t be able to justify the virtues of American obstetrics.
Her absurd articles made me realize one thing, that sometimes because of the frustrations of dealing with the American OB system, feminist activists exaggerate their claims a bit. Jennifer Block acknowledged how the benefits of breast feeding is sometimes promoted based on fear or promise of a super-baby, rather than the simple acknowledgment that breast milk is best for baby and mom, do it if you can. I’ve held very strong opinions on how unnecessary Cesareans have 3x the risk of maternal mortality than vaginal births and additional risks to the baby, and also how C-section rates over 15% for a country is correlated with increased maternal mortality as determined by WHO. But the thing is, the absolute risks of dying from C-sections in a developed country is pretty low, so my opinions about doing a natural birth in order to avoid that have seemed as extreme as Dr. Amy’s claims about home births and water births.
My issues with American obstetrics now focuses more on the wasteful spending and unnecessary use of gadgets as well as the lack of options for birthing women. Hopefully, as we’re moving towards better health insurance, cost effectiveness will become more important. Women should know that even if they’re low risk, there’s a chance of unforeseen complications in childbirth that many require hospital care, especially for the baby. Hence they need to take that into account when planning a home birth that’s more than 30 minutes away from a hospital. Women should know the small risks to the baby specific to water birth. And they should also know that there are risks to the mother and baby in every obstetric intervention, so the benefits might not justify the risks if these interventions are used without medical indication.
Is there any choice in life without risk? No. Some people are totally repulsed by the small risk to the baby during water birth. Fine, don’t take that risk. OBs like to say that epidurals are completely safe. Yet there’s a very small risk of paralysis or even death. If you’re fine with that, take that risk. In developed countries at least, there are numerous safe options available for childbirth. Each woman decides which ones she wants to take. I realize that many women will take the risks that I won’t take, but using fear tactics and selective skepticism is not a useful approach. Though, to birth activists’ credit, even if their rhetoric is biased, they’re not out there to outlaw certain birth choices as some crazy OBs are.
Readers might be wondering why I haven’t linked Amy’s blog articles. That’s because I want to limit the interference from trolls to my blog. You can either google her name, “skeptical OB,” “home birth debate,” or find her articles on the “science based medicine” blog (prime source of trolls on health issues).
And here’s another very meaningful article by Jill at Unnecesarean.
December 4, 2009
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This was a recent conversation between two Hindu guests at my parent’s house:
1: What is the reasoning Muslims give in support of polygamy?
2: Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had said that a man can marry up to four women if he can treat them equally. Treating equally probably referring to their material needs. In addition, the Prophet himself had many wives and in society men outnumber women.
I waited before responding to see if the second guest was going to give the complete explanation behind the polygamy issue, and when he didn’t, I explained to the first guest that not all Muslims support polygamy, and use the same verse referred to above to prove that since it is impossible to treat four wives equally, Islam is actually against polygamy.
This little conversation brings up so many issues for me. Firstly, a friend had told me some time before that the guest no. 2 was very learned about both Islam and Hinduism, so it was hard to argue with him about these issues. Well, the thing is, most Bangladeshi Hindus know a thing or two about Islam, since we live in a Muslim majority country, so I’m not ignorant either. Knowing about Islam doesn’t mean just knowing about how conservative Muslims justify patriarchal traditions or violence against “infidels.” Fully knowing about Islam, or anything else, means knowing about different interpretations of the same text. Once upon a time, I thought I knew about Islam too, when in fact, I only knew about the hateful rhetoric conservative Muslims spewed. Thanks to what I learned later from feminist Muslims and liberal Muslims, I now feel like I truly “know” Islam, and other religions for that matter, even though I’m not adept at quoting suras or verses or anything.
When I was still quite ignorant on the issue, a Muslim friend told me, “Blame Muslims for all the negative portrayals of Islam, not Islam itself. Islam is perfect.” At that time, I didn’t understand what he meant. Like many feminists, I thought that the problem lied in the ideology, whether Islam or any other religion, not the interpretation. That view changed while learning about female religious leaders in a Women’s Studies class. I found a quote by a Christian feminist preacher that went along the lines of, “The religious establishment is patriarchal – get over it. Every secular establishment is patriarchal too, and yet feminists fight to change things in the workplace, in politics, etc. By shunning religion instead of reforming it, we feminists deny ourselves valuable spirituality instead of reclaiming what’s rightfully ours from patriarchal religious people.” Unfortunately, I lost the link to this gem of a quote that changed my life, and I can’t find the link. But the knowledge will be with me forever.
I finally realized what it meant to criticize Muslims, but not Islam, for the crimes some Muslims commit. Islam gets a bad rep for oppressing women and holding women back, and yet, for every verse in the Quran or Hadith that is misused to justify women’s oppression, there are many more verses that support women’s equality. Islam gave women the right to inherit and own property, to marry with prenupital agreements (!), and divorce if those are not met. Were those rights equal to the rights given to men? No. But progressive Muslims argue that Islamic law represents progress towards an equitable society, not the final word on laws as countries like Saudi Arabia interpret it to be. That argument is not created out of thin air. Islamic jurisprudence is not static, but a process where new interpretations of the law override previous ones. The Quran itself is said to have several layers of meaning (I think seven), so it does not make sense to accept conservative Muslims’ interpretations as “literal” and shun Islam as some oppressive philosophy.
There’s another solid reason why feminists should stop thinking of religion as patriarchal bullshit. Think of it as a perpetuation of the “boys will be boys” attitude. In this case, the attitude is that “religious people will always be oppressive, or violent, or illogical.” That’s just not true! We’re missing a valuable opportunity to collaborate with other feminists in changing religions and making them more equitable. Demonizing their belief systems and morals just alienates them. Instead, we need to recognize the similarities between the struggles of Christian, Muslim, or Hindu women to reconcile their feminism and spirituality, just as many secular feminists struggle to reconcile their cultural identities or careers with their feminism. Do we stop calling ourselves Americans just because our government does many things we don’t agree with? You get the point.
Now, when feminists or progressive people mistakenly shun all religions, I can see where they’re coming from. I’ve made the same mistakes not too long ago. But when people of one religion claim that their religion is so equitable, and so kind to women, while other religions are not – now that’s stupid. But I’ll save that for my next post.
December 4, 2009
So Dr. Benjamin, the current Surgeon General, got a lot of crap for being on the advisory board for Burger King. But after reading about her on Wiki, I had a hard time believing that such an apparently intelligent, humane, and accomplished woman was on that board for evil reasons.
And voila, by coincidence, I found this video of Dr. Dean Ornish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTIY66IPjdY
Here, he says he’s also on fast food companies’ advisory boards! But not to promote the junk they usually sell, but to promote healthier options like the salads. I suspect Dr. Benjamin is on there for the same thing.
As for her own weight – well, losing weight, even with a healthy diet is not easy when you have an active or stressful life. I know very well :(
December 4, 2009
Stupid question? Well, the idea was put forward by Karen Salmansohn on Oprah.com
Now, folks at Feministing.com have already criticized the premise of this article – the debate over whether feminism is too “masculine” or a rejection of “femininity.” The debate has already been settled, and feminism is not about being masculine, as Salmansohn alleges. Feminism is diverse, period. Some feminists are more masculine, some more feminine, but all of us, like the general population, are androgynous. The difference is that feminists accept this androgyny, rather than force men and women and all those in between to follow rigid stereotypes.
It has also been pointed out that the article exoticizes India, which it truly does, and that’s the idea I want to discuss a little. It is not unusual for foreigners to see a new culture and just be fascinated by it – positively or negatively. Both are bad because they fail to understand and accept the culture as a whole. Much has been said about Orientalism and Europeans’ “othering” of colored cultures. South Asians feminists know that plenty of our desi folks exoticize in the opposite direction, that is, they are either fascinated by the total “freedom” and “equal opportunity” in the West, or they are disgusted by the “hedonism.” Both pictures are incorrect, of course. Individual freedom is more prevalent in America, and that has it’s drawbacks, but plenty of oppression still exists. At the same time, Americans are not just a bunch of “slutty” wasteful people who divorce their spouses over an argument over what bed sheet to buy (I have seriously heard the last analogy!). I should add, being a slut and being divorced/divorcing is not a bad thing in the first place. Any strong woman is called a slut and a whore – if I’m called one (I came close), it means I’m doing something right! Yay.
Ok, back to my original point – you have to see beyond the generalizations about countries and cultures. We all generalize sometimes to make certain points, but we can never take that too far. Once we see both the good and bad in a culture, then we can se how similar it is to our own – the first step to being humane.
Westerners generalize South Asians in two ways – either by disgust and contempt at the backwardness and weirdness, or by adulation and worship of the spirituality and other-worldliness of Hinduism. I should add a third one – Westerners are further fascinated by Islam – another big component of South Asia. Our author Karen falls in the category of adulation of Hinduism, or she would not have characterized India this way:
“If America were to be personified, it would definitely be a real guy’s guy—running around, talking loudly, smacking you on the back in greeting, occasionally belching—a lovable, rambunctious guy’s guy. Now, imagine a country like India personified. It would embrace more feminine qualities like stillness, meditativeness and spirituality.”
No one with a complete experience of India or South Asia would agree. Firstly, the male chauvinistic, self-serving Hindu men are going to get their panties in a bunch over the fact that Karen called meditativeness and spirituality “feminine.” It’s a good laugh just to imagine the reactions of the idiotic types of Hindus who say that women are less inclined towards true spirituality, blah blah. Secondly, what makes spirituality feminine? Nothing. Masculine and Feminine traits, using their traditional definitions, are qualities of Maya, or the material world, and spirituality is about transcending both the masculine and the feminine. So spirituality is definitely neither masculine, not feminine, though sexist male Hindus have forcibly kept women out of spirituality, thus making their institutions “masculine,” or rather, “insecure masculine.”
Finally, anyone who is aware of what goes on in India knows that it’s much, much more that spirituality. In fact, most Indians would make fun of the New Age type of spirituality. That’s because India has as much of the “guy’s guy” personality that apparently America personifies. What’s worse, both countries have plenty of aggression and violence to go around, making neither lovable, or spiritual. If India was spirituality personified, why would it have so much dowry killing, female fetus abortion, female infanticide, rape, assault and human trafficking?
Westerners see the incessant religious rituals and think of the magical spirituality, etc. That’s fine with me. It’s true that Vedic knowledge is fascinating, and something that the whole world can appreciate. But look at the whole picture. Let’s not think that India is some kind of spiritual and feminine Goddess just because Indians are immersed in rituals. Those religious rituals mean nothing spiritually unless done with spiritual intention, and that is lacking in India as much as it is in America. Anyone who is familiar with the reality of India knows not to be complacent with such adulation of Hindu spirituality. It’s there in India, but so is evil.