Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Have you had the H1N1 (a k a swine) flu? I went to an internist yesterday who said I probably had a flu of some sort and gave me Tamiflu. She explained that a good test to determine H1N1 costs $300, isn't covered by most insurance, and thus, few people get it.
ESPN's "Body Issue" arrived free in the mail last month. (In other words, I got it whether I wanted it or not.) The inaugural issue had six covers of naked athletes, four female and two male. It's amazing how women have come to dominate sports coverage.
I happened to get the magazine with Sarah Reinertsen on the cover, wearing only her prosthetic leg. Women with disabilities often have been considered uninterested or incapable of sex. Reinertsen looks capable of anything. She gazes directly at the camera. Her pose – sitting with arms and legs crossed – is relaxed but still coy because she’s covering her breasts and pubic area. The great majority of the magazine’s readers are men, and for many, she will be an object of desire. Women with disabilities have won the right to be objectified.
Inside the magazine are other unclothed athletes, both men and women. In some photos, the nudity makes men appear more fierce and the women more vulnerable. The women are less likely to be flexing their muscles and more likely to be smiling. Several of the captions stress femininity, such as the one that notes Olympic shot putter Michelle Carter gets her nails and hair done before competition.
I want more coverage of women's sports, but not if the athletes have to get naked, look sexy or prove their femininity.
There's value in portraying women of different sizes, shapes, colors, abilities, etc. For me, however, the real freedom will come when women don't have to be attractive to feel valued.
Strong, athletic women do present an alternative image to extra-skinny fashion models. But none of the women photographed compete in burkas; readers who follow them as athletes already knew they had strong bodies.
ESPN's Body Issue is being compared to Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue. The Body Issue is much better. At least, it's about sports.
I never get my head around the fact that so many Americans worship Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. They are not even in the list of approved goddesses and gods, not even in the subcategory of interesting monsters.
Now they are telling us that the new mammography recommendations are a commie plot to start rationing. Sigh. If that were the case (it is not) I guess they'd admit that the 40-plus million uninsured are a capitalist plot to keep on rationing on the basis of how much money people have?
The reason I'm snorting about this is because both Rush and Glenn would qualify for the Misogynists Hall of Fame should such an august edifice exist. But as the long-term memory of their adulators appears to be about ten seconds they can suddenly turn around and to pretend concern for the poor wimmenz.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The new CNN poll asks this question about health insurance coverage for abortion:
Generally speaking, are you in favor of using public funds for abortions when the woman cannot afford it, or are you opposed to that?
The answers are 67% opposing the use of public funds and 37% favoring their use.
This question is then used as a lead-in to the following:
The health care reform bill that narrowly passed in the House of Representatives on November 7 included tight restrictions on the use of federal money for abortion coverage. Abortion rights activists strongly oppose such restrictions.
"Roughly one in five Americans who oppose the House health care bill do so because it is not liberal enough," said CNN polling director Keating Holland. "The abortion issue may be one reason why. But for most Americans, potential restrictions on abortion may not be a deal-breaker."
Now, that's just plain silly. The question about public funding is irrelevant as the Hyde amendment already covers that bit (unless we are planning to overthrow that?). What the Stupak amendment would do is expand the Hyde amendment. The CNN poll respondents were not asked about that at all. To draw conclusions about an irrelevant poll is...irrelevant.
Then there's this question:
Now think about women who are covered by private health insurance plans that are paid by private individuals or employers with no money from the government involved. Do you think private insurance plans should cover some or all of the costs of an abortion, or do you think that women who want to get an abortion should have to pay the complete costs of that abortion out of their own pockets?
Forty-five percent of the respondents stated that health insurance should cover some or all of the costs. Fifty-one percent stated that the woman should pay all the costs herself. This difference is within the poll's sampling error (which suggests that the sampling error is pretty big).
Note that these women "want" to get an abortion. They don't "need" one. Note also that there is no option to say that the man who got her pregnant should pay some or all of the costs or that his health insurance plan should do that.
Neither are there any questions about whether private insurance plans should cover Viagra or the treatment for injuries caused by sky-diving or surfing or snowboarding. It is only abortion which is deemed worthy of these types of carelessly formulated questions.
As I've mentioned before, the Stupak amendment expands the reach of the Hyde amendment. It would also make it a permanent law. It is very odd to find a Democratic Congress doing more damage to reproductive rights than the last eight years of Bush, very odd indeed.
Two research papers (one by George Washington University Medical Center and one by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation) discuss some of this and the potential consequences of the Stupak amendment on women who need abortions for medical reasons without those reasons qualifying immediately as life-threatening. For example, the pregnancy itself may have turned into a high-risk one, something else may have happened during the pregnancy (say, a car accident) or the woman may suffer from a chronic condition (such as Type I diabetes) which makes abortion medically recommended.
But if a physician will not call the case life-threatening, the costs of such an abortion would not be covered for anyone on public insurance or for anyone who receives federal subsidies. Indeed, the insurance exchange itself is unlikely to offer coverage for medically necessary abortions, because of the small size of the market for one specific procedure and the Stupak requirement that the abortion rider must bear all its own administrative costs.
You find that worrying? I do. Note that currently women on Medicaid are limited to the same menu of covered abortions, but states have the right to decide to add coverage for medically necessary abortions, and seventeen states have done so. It is unclear whether this practice could continue under the Stupak amendment.
Medically required abortions are currently covered in most employer-provided health insurance plans. Whether this would still be the case in Stupak's world is unclear, but there would certainly be some pressure towards making all policies eligible for the insurance exchange and that could well mean that medically necessary abortions would no longer be included.
The research papers are well worth reading through if you don't mind getting ever more worried. I did, but mostly I got very angry. The anti-choicers have created laws which refuse to cover abortions even when this results in great pain and suffering of the pregnant woman, as long as she doesn't drop dead right there and then. And note how carefully risk to life is defined as only coming from physical health problems. Never mind what mental health problems a woman might suffer from, birth she must give. All this is so that the sluts can't get away with "convenience abortions." That's how the anti-choicers view women.
So thanks, Stupak, for making me face that fact about you and your brethren (mostly brethren).
Link to the Kaiser paper via Rheality Check.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
1. This article on the new mammography recommendations is well worth reading for the additional information it gives us.
2. Trigger warning: A Danish campaign aiming to make people more aware of violence against women doesn't work very well. It's never a good idea to make violence into a game in which you score more points for each slap, even if at the end you are told you are an idiot.
3. Living on one dollar a day: How women around the world cope. Here is one of them:
You can help here.
Masculinity is a fragile and serious business. You can find out if you are a real guy in this promotion from an underwear manufacturer. To get the whole flavor of it, answer that you are a model and not a guy and see what kinds of questions you get. Then go back and start again a different route.
What's interesting about this (and the other promotions on that site) is that the way to prove masculinity is by denigrating various feminine stereotypes. That's what I mean by the fragility of masculinity, as it is often defined in the popular culture. If you answer wrong, you fall into the deep and slimy well of womanliness.
Thanks to hmj for the link.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
You might not know this, but every blogger quickly learns which particular topics cause fights and arguments and lots of anger at the blogger. As fights and arguments and anger mean more hits, some bloggers always add those topics when the traffic is slow. Other bloggers (coughgentlegoddessescough) hate writing about those topics because the arguments are like a fog of old farting and never clear completely.
The list of explosive topics for feminist bloggers is slightly different than for, say, progressive bloggers in general. And no, I'm not going to give you the list because that would get the yelling started. But one of those topics certainly is the way Sarah Palin is treated in the political media and on various political blogs. The debate on her is predictable: Some (poor dear) feminist blogger points out that her treatment contains large chunks of sexist smearing. Then others note that Sarah is trading on her sexuality so she deserves the sexualized responses. Or that she's too stoopid for words and has such horrible politics that we really should dump everything possible on her head. Including misogyny, whenever appropriate.
And that's where things get ugly. It's nearly impossible to separate Sarah-Palin-hating from Sarah-Palin-as-female-hating, and that offers a nice opening for any closeted misogynist to exercise his or her inner demons without getting caught doing it. Ultimately the whole topic turns into free-for-all about tits and power and shit, and the only valid conclusion is that we are far from an equal world when it comes to getting and using political power.
That's why I'm not writing this post.
The new mammogram recommendations have caused a lot of arguments. This is not unexpected at all, because the earlier recommendations sure did sell mammograms as the way to beat breast cancer, and now we are all supposed to do a 180 degrees turn! But the truth is that a mammogram is a form of screening, given to a large number of women, with the intention of finding early cases of breast cancer and with the assumption that such early cases would lend themselves better to the current types of treatment. Those still consist of cutting, poisoning and radiating, by the way. It's important not to forget that our abilities to treat cancers of all types really are pretty medieval.
Screening is not treatment. To do it at all is based on the hope that early detection raises the odds of survival. This has been shown to be true for cervical cancer and the pap test and also for colon cancer screenings. But the most recent evidence suggests that breast cancer screening is less effective than previously thought. As I mentioned in an earlier post, researchers now suspect that mammograms capture a lot of tumors which might either disappear on their own or never grow much, while missing the very aggressive tumors which develop very rapidly. It is the latter types which are reflected in the mortality statistics:
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) pointed out the evidence for this. Breast cancer statistics for women in the Unites States has not shown a reduction of advanced breast cancers being diagnosed, despite the widespread use of mammography.
One would expect that if mammograms diagnosed breast cancers earlier and women were then treated for these cancers, over time there would be a reduction in the diagnosis of more advanced cancers from the "successful" screening. But this is not the case. Advanced cancers continue to be diagnosed with greater than expected frequency.
What makes discussing mammograms so very tricky is that the topic of screening can be approached from two very different points of view.
One of those is the way a survivor of breast cancer would approach it. She had a mammogram, a tumor was found and treated, and she is alive. To then learn that other women are told not to get the mammogram sounds blasphemous to her. Horrible, even. At the same time, perhaps her cancer wasn't the type which progresses very rapidly? Perhaps it wasn't the early screening that saved her life? Or perhaps it did. We just don't know at this stage, because we don't have the ability to look at a tumor and classify it based on how dangerous it is. That is the research that should be carried out now, by the way.
The other angle is to approach mammograms from the point of view of screening large population groups in order to find cases of some disease. When statisticians analyze screening proposals they want to know how many cases can be found if a certain number of people are screened. Remember that screening costs money, both for the health care system and for the people who have to travel and spend time in order to be screened. Even if screening does find cases of a disease it might not be worth doing. To give you an extreme example, suppose that we could save one life by having every American screened for some rare disease. Should we do this? How much money are we willing to spend to potentially save that one life? Then remember that there are many, many other diseases which are rare but which could be screened for in the same manner. If we decided to carry out all possible types of screening the costs would be astronomical.
The choice to pay for screening (by both individuals and the society) is ultimately a value judgment. But resources are not infinite. If money is spent (by both individuals and the society) in one type of screening, it is not available for other types of screening or for other types of prevention or treatment. These are the reasons why something like mammograms deserve careful scrutiny:
Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chairwoman of the task force and a professor of biomedical informatics at Arizona State University, said the guidelines were based on new data and analyses and were aimed at reducing the potential harm from overscreening.
While many women do not think a screening test can be harmful, medical experts say the risks are real. A test can trigger unnecessary further tests, like biopsies, that can create extreme anxiety. And mammograms can find cancers that grow so slowly that they never would be noticed in a woman's lifetime, resulting in unnecessary treatment.
Over all, the report says, the modest benefit of mammograms — reducing the breast cancer death rate by 15 percent — must be weighed against the harms. And those harms loom larger for women in their 40s, who are 60 percent more likely to experience them than women 50 and older but are less likely to have breast cancer, skewing the risk-benefit equation. The task force concluded that one cancer death is prevented for every 1,904 women age 40 to 49 who are screened for 10 years, compared with one death for every 1,339 women age 50 to 74, and one death for every 377 women age 60 to 69.
These figures don't tell us whether mammograms should be recommended for various age groups or not. What they do tell us is that we are saving more lives by screening older women, or, in reverse, each saved life costs less in that age group. If our measure of outcome was years-of-life saved the arguments might change.
The reason for the heated debates has to do with the clashing of these two approaches. The recommendations are based on the second approach (the system-wide, dry and statistical) and the reactions largely on the first approach (the voices of individual women). Note also that the new recommendations leave no active role for women themselves, until the magical age of fifty. Even breast self-examinations are no longer recommended! It's as if you are to sit and wait for the day when you might find a lump in your breast. This is very bad psychology, if nothing else.
Add to that the fairly sudden turn-around in the whole policy, and it's no wonder that many women ask if this is just another way to cut back on health care costs at the eve of the reforms (though it's good to remember that the treatment of well women is a big business in general (remember hormone replacement therapy) and that the screening industry certainly wants to go on existing).
It must be clear to you by now that I'm not going to answer that question in the title of this post, except for all that helpful academese above. But ultimately I want effective treatment, not discussions about how to get people burned, slashed and radiated earlier.
Reproductive choice, that is, and Jeffrey Toobin gets it in his excellent New Yorker article. All of it is worth reading but especially the end:
But, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights "center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature." Every diminishment of that right diminishes women. With stakes of such magnitude, it is wise to weigh carefully the difference between compromise and surrender.
Indeed. The usual approach of pro-birth debaters is to begin with the assumption that a selfish and lazy and slutty woman gets herself pregnant and then decides to abort so that she gets away with the inconvenience of being pregnant. Honest. That's how the arguments mostly go. The pregnancy is parthenogenetic! The women "gets herself" pregnant, and abortion is just something she wants in order to stay slim and because it's convenient. Mmm.
An equally common anti-choice approach is to start from the idea of killing born babies and then go backwards, to show that women who abort a pregnancy indeed are cold-blooded killers. I debated a troll like that recently. He (yup) posed the question whether I'd be OK with a woman changing her mind in the ninth month of pregnancy and aborting a perfectly healthy fetus. And obviously if I wasn't OK with that he'd then repeat the same argument backwards until we'd arrive at the point where the egg "got itself" fertilized. Well, that was his plan, but he hit a problem which is my religion: echidneism. (That's the one where I'm the goddess, you worship me and buy me chocolates and act nice.)
We echidneites believe that the soul is in the sperm. So every nocturnal ejaculation is a mass murder, and all anti-choice demonstrations should be under guys' bedroom windows. With big signs showing the lovely faces of little sperm!
Why can't I stay serious, even with a topic like this? Let's try again. Let's apply this trollie's approach but from the other end. Suppose that we start with a fifteen-year old girl (a virgin) in El Salvador, a country which does not allow abortions under any conditions, not even if the pregnant woman will die, not even if she was gang-raped. Never.
If this girl gets raped on her way back from school she might become pregnant by force. Then she would have to carry the pregnancy to term, even if that meant she could no longer go to school. If the pregnancy threatened her life, too bad. The fetus comes first!
How can she protect herself from this? You might mumble that going out in El Salvador is dangerous in any case, and perhaps she should just stay at home. Who needs education, after all? Women should stay at home. Or she could ask her (Catholic) parents to put her on the contraceptive pill? Of course many pro-birthers in the U.S. argue that the pill itself causes abortions!
If all that is too extreme for you, consider that this girl will probably be propositioned by boys and young men. "Once won't do it!" "I swear I'll pull out in time!" "I'll never leave you if you get pregnant, I swear." "You don't love me if you won't do this." And so on.
If she gets pregnant, the boyfriend most likely disappears, her family might kick her out, her school might kick her out. And her dreams have died.
Every fertile woman living in a world without perfect birth control is vulnerable in this way, dancing on an invisible tightrope. To have access to a legal and affordable abortion is nothing more than a safety-net under that tightrope, and if we remove that safety-net we remove equal opportunities for men and women. It is ultimately that important for a woman to be able to choose the timing of her pregnancies.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Peter Beinart's piece (a few days old, thanks blondie for the link) is truly like a breath of fresh air, invigorating, testosterone-laden fresh air. He lays out in detail the reasons why the Democratic Party started losing power:
Yet it was that big, ugly Democratic Party that from Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson pushed through Social Security, the Wagner Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Food Stamps, Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid (with occasional help from the then-extant progressive wing of the GOP). Some of the Democratic bigots opposed these economic reforms, to be sure. But others backed them; they genuinely wanted to curb the savagery and chaos of unfettered capitalism. They just wanted to preserve white, male supremacy too.
This was the devil's pact that defined the Democratic Party for more than three decades, until the civil rights and women's movement forced party leaders to choose. They reluctantly chose racial and gender equality, and so the racists and the misogynists drifted away. The Democratic Party became culturally liberal: pro-affirmative action, pro-choice, and smaller, since the old racists and sexists, now repackaged as racial and sexual conservatives, flocked to the GOP. Starting in 1968, Democrats began consistently losing the presidency. And in 1994, the realignment finally trickled down to the House of Representatives, and the Democrats lost that, too.
So what to do? What to do? The only thing to do is to lure the racists and sexists back, and that's exactly what Beinart argues has happened. It began with the game to get pro-birth Democrats elected in conservative regions of the country and it continued with the netroots movement:
But had big-tentism been merely a strategy by Democratic leaders, it would have failed. Just as important was the emergence, in the Bush years, of a new liberal grassroots—the "netroots"—which is generally hostile to single issue litmus tests, especially on culture war issues. While prior generations of liberal activists had often rallied under the banner of gender equality or civil rights, the netroots demanded that those causes be subsumed within a larger progressive agenda. And they showed a particular affinity for candidates willing to challenge corporate power—even candidates like Virginia's James Webb and Montana's Jon Tester, who sometimes ran afoul of liberal cultural orthodoxy.
Yah! (That's a troll-shout of complete agreement, by the way.) Beinart calls people who believe in racial and gender equality "cultural liberals" and, boy, do they have to take their medicine:
For cultural liberals, it was ugly. They had better get used to it: Big parties are ugly. But if you want to rebuild the American welfare state, there is no alternative.
The Education of Echidne! I haz now been educated in what it means to be a Democrat and what a big tent means: It's got a white-boyz-only sign at the door. As blondie points out in the comments, that's a surefire way for Democrats to become a minority party again. But whatever.
Beinart does sound like a single-issue Democrat. You have to understand that all these policies are ultimately about power: who has it, how it is acquired and how it is protected, and who has power over others. Beinart seems to think that it's sufficient if poor men get more economic power. That they get to keep and grow their power over women, for example, is perfectly AOK with him. Because the latter power is somehow not real, does not affect women's daily lives or their ability to make a living. It's just cultural liberalism, like wearing only black frocks and going to art exhibitions. It's not about the daily life of women everywhere, including poor women, but more like a frill around the neck of your Thanksgiving turkey.
Remember that globalization thing? Remember how good it was going to be for all of us? Cheaper imports, more jobs for everyone! Ice-cream yesterday and tomorrow! Now read this:
American workers are overpaid, relative to equally productive employees elsewhere doing the same work. If the global economy is to get into balance, that gap must close.
Of course, workers in the United States should earn more than their peers in China, Moldova or Vietnam. Americans take advantage of the higher productivity that makes their country rich: better education and infrastructure, abundant capital and a strong work ethic. But how much higher should American wages be?
Global wage convergence is great for the poor but tough on the overpaid. It's possible to run the numbers to show that American manufacturing workers should take average real wage cuts of as much as 20 percent to get into global balance.
The required cut may be smaller. But if American wages get stuck above global market-clearing levels, as in the 1930s, the result could well be something approaching Depression-era levels of unemployment.
Anything would be better than that. Both moderate inflation to cut real wages and a further drop in the dollar's real trade-weighted value might be acceptable.
Note how the gap is to be closed by American wages falling, as opposed to other wages rising. Note how the discussion appears to be about nominal wages, not real wages which would take into account differences in the cost of living. And note how the only differences discussed are about productivity. There are a few other things differing between countries, too, such as environmental laws, worker protections and so on.
I wonder if these guys realize that their own work is eminently out-sourcable and that they should probably take a sizable cut in their earnings to stay competitive?
(Sumerian headdress worn by Queen Shub-Ad)
Coincidences can be interesting. I was reading about Michelle Obama's ratings as the First Lady and then the reader comments to that story. The "First Lady articles" always make me feel as if I had just been stung by several hundred bees and as if a handful of them were still buzzing around my ears. Bzzzz.
Those bees are all the hidden assumptions about what women are for and about the role of the First Lady. Should she be the Perfect Mum? The Perfect Feminist? The Perfect Representative of her ethnic group, age group, body shape group? Should she be the Earth Goddess of us all? Should she be assertive or retreating? Should she participate in politics or not? If not, what should she do? And why do we have any right to even discuss this?
Then there's the fact that she is both a public person and one who is not paid for her work.
Where was I? Those bees, right. Right about the same time I happened to read Gerda Lerner's The Creation of Patriarchy, and came across her discussion of the women of the Mesopotamian upper classes, about 3500 years ago. And Gerda took the fly swatter and killed all those bees:
Having briefly surveyed the fragments of evidence concerning Mesopotamian women in different cultures over a 1400-year span, what have we learned? We have seen ample evidence of societies in which the active participation of women in economic, religious, and political life was taken for granted. Equally taken for granted was their dependence on and obligation to male kin and/or husbands.
For the ruling elite, their self-interest as usurpers to the kingship demanded that the form in which they establish power become what one observer has aptly called "patrimonial bureaucracy." The security of their power depended on installing family members in important subordinate positions of power. Such family members were, in this early period, quite often women --who, so to speak, become the first liege-lords of their husband/father/king. Thus emerged the role of the "wife-as-deputy", a role in which we will find women from that period forward.
We have seen the extent and the limits of her power represented by Queen Shibtu carrying out her husband's orders in ruling the realm and in selecting women for his harem from among the captives. Her image can serve as an apt metaphor for what it means, what it meant then, and what it has meant for nearly 3000 years, for a woman to be upper class. Queen Shibtu's role of "wife-as-deputy" is the highest to which such women can aspire. Their power derives entirely from the male on whom they depend. Their influence and actual role in shaping events are real, as is their power over the men and women of lower rank whom they own or control. But in matters of sexuality, they are utterly subordinate to men. In fact, as we have seen in the cases of several royal wives, their power in economic and political life depends on the adequacy of the sexual services they perform for their men. If they no longer please, as in the case of Kirum or Kunshimatum, they are out of power at the whim of their lord.
Gerda puts it more harshly than I would, but she has a point: Any First Lady is a First Lady only through her husband. In that sense nothing much has changed from those Mesopotamian times. Well, if anything, today's First Ladies have less real political power than the queens of old did. But they are still working the wife-as-a-deputy role.
And that is the main reason why I dislike the "First Lady articles."
You can send a coathanger message to all those who voted for the Stupak amendment here. What is truly fascinating, though, is the initial form of the Stupak amendment: It would not have allowed payment for all abortions resulting from rape but only those cases where the rape was forcible! Because otherwise those sluts would lie about being raped just to get god-fearing manly Christians to pay for their abortions.
So how much would the Stupak amendment really matter? We are told by dispassionate and calm people of all sexes that the amendment doesn't really matter much at all! Women are already fucked as far as abortion is concerned, dontchaknow, and we should all be quite used to our second-class citizenship status. Besides, women's issues make politicians flare their nostrils as if some very bad smell had invaded them.
And being kind and considerate is what ladies do, right? No real lady would want to block health care reform just for the sake of something as trivial as abortion coverage. Because we NEED health care reform.
We do, of course. But when are we going to need women's equality?
That, my sweeties, was a rhetorical question.