National Institutes of Health and Gender Bias

Did you know that many clinical trials of drugs and medical devices deliberately exclude female subjects? Scientists have traditionally preferred male subjects because they believe that female hormonal cycles might cause variability and skewed results. Of course, the deeply flawed logic of this thinking should be obvious – if hormonal fluctuations affect results, then results are not skewed but in fact may indicate a key gender difference. But nothing has been done about this bias until recently. The latest good news is that the NIH is now starting to require the use of female subjects in trials. See the details here.

“America I Saw You” by Bridget Meeds

When I taught Leaves of Grass a few years ago the students just didn’t buy it, though they loved Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Their rejection of Whitman’s grand American hope comes back to me every now and then. Was it the poetic claim to omnipresence that irritated them, or did Whitman’s egalitarian vision of hope seem like nothing but hype to young readers in a post-9/11 world, where climate has become a threat and employment prospects are grim at best?

This reaction was all the more striking when they embraced Edward Albee’s anxiety-ridden world of illusion and rage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so wonderfully captured onscreen by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.That world made perfect sense to them, and they loved it on paper and on film.

I thought of those students again when I recently read Bridget Meeds’ stunning Whitmanian poem, “America I Saw You.” Meeds brings the maker of American Religion into the 21st century, and I have a feeling my students would have loved it:

America, I Saw You

America, I saw you leaping from the burning skyscraper, believing in your urgency that you
would survive,
America, I saw you on the on-ramp, smiling with meth-brown teeth, holding a sign that said
“homeless and pregnant please help,”
America, I saw you huddled in the belly of a Chinook, earbudded and solitary,
America, I saw you up at four a.m., ironing your blouse for work,
America, I saw you punching a stop sign, screaming in Chinese,
America, I saw you looking straight with seventeen pounds of pot hidden in your spare tire,
America, I saw you texting while driving,
America, I saw you bite your father in a fury,
America, I saw you put on ten pounds,
America, I saw you walk the winning run,
America, I saw you asking for an epidural,
America, I saw you raise your hand to strike your child,
America, I saw you eating roadkill woodchuck.
America, I saw you drinking a kamikaze by the hotel pool,
America, I saw you at the Super Great Wall buffet with blue swastikas tattooed on your neck and
knuckles,
America, I saw you in your 87 Oldsmobile, wearing your best wig and sunglasses, God radio
blaring,
America, I saw you in your private helicopter above Manhattan, doing mental arithmetic,
America, I saw you walking a dog who was wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt,
America, I saw you waving a white linen napkin from a broken window in the burning
skyscraper,
America, I saw you fall.

To get in touch with Bridget and find out more about her fabulous work, click here.

Robert Webb on feminism: “It’s an unloved word–we should give it another chance.”

It’s not so easy to write convincingly and with humor in support of feminism, but this lovely piece from the New Statesman makes the grade. In it, writer Robert Webb schools the gentlemen:

Guys, your doctor might tell you to lose  a few pounds – but the taxi driver will not; the Daily Mail will not. You won’t open the Sun and compare your own cock to that of a well-endowed model. You won’t get dressed for a party and worry if you look like a slut, or get called a slut, or get raped on the way home “because you look like a slut”. In the rare event that you do get raped, the police won’t seem to mind what you were wearing. Lawyers won’t ask what you were wearing; your mother won’t ask what you were wearing.

When you dance in a ballroom, you won’t have to do it backwards in high heels; when you speak in a boardroom, you won’t have to second-guess yourself in case you’re coming across as “shrill”. You reached that boardroom with the grain, not against it. You didn’t need to look hard for role models. If they cut your genitals when you were an infant, they didn’t expect it to make much difference to your enjoyment of sex. If they cut your genitals while you were giving birth . . . Ah, but then you will never give birth and nobody will make you feel guilty about whether you breastfeed or not. You don’t judge yourself for eating a cake; you haven’t, since childhood, been encouraged by the media and by every careless comment from your family to have a relationship with food that borders on psychosis.

Webb builds up to what so few people are willing to say: If you are a man, you (unlike women) “never had it explained to you and you never had to figure it out for yourself that in this world, you’re slightly wrong. That everything is going to be made more difficult for you than for the opposite sex.”

This is the good medicine. For the sweet humor that makes it go down easy, read the full piece here.

 

 

Roxanne Gay on Ferguson: “Silence is not an option but words are not enough”

I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent police terror in Ferguson, Missouri. I wish I could say that I’m completely shocked, that I can’t believe this level of racism still happens in the U.S. But I’m mostly deeply saddened that so many people still don’t have basic human rights.

The words of Roxanne Gay are helping me to break through the numbness, the weary feeling of “Oh, god, not again…” Part of what helps is acknowledging the feeling of helplessness while affirming the need to never give up:

Those of us who are watching at a remove are trying to find the words to describe our horror, our dismay, our anger but nothing seems adequate. We are not there. Our good intentions on social networks won’t change the situation. Our pithy comments about how we are now, finally, like the rest of the world won’t change the situation.

We need action from our political leaders. We need change in how the police protect and serve. We need to redefine how the law regards black people. As individuals, we need to fundamentally alter how we think about race in America. We need to do the hard work of overcoming our lesser selves.

Her conclusion that “silence is not an option but words are not enough” is a fine model for how to keep pushing beyond “our lesser selves,” in the face of what seems like an endless, hopeless cycle of violence. Read the full piece here.

 

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Double Standard

This article highlights the marked differences between the U.S. Supreme Court’s views on gay rights versus those of women. In a speech last week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke explicitly about the court’s double standard:

In its gay rights rulings, she told a law school audience last week, the court uses the soaring language of “equal dignity” and has endorsed the fundamental values of “liberty and equality.” Indeed, a court that just three decades ago allowed criminal prosecutions for gay sex now speaks with sympathy for gay families and seems on the cusp of embracing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

But in cases involving gender, she said, the court has never fully embraced “the ability of women to decide for themselves what their destiny will be.” She said the court’s five-justice conservative majority, all men, did not understand the challenges women face in achieving authentic equality.

And, according to the article, the court’s swing voter Justice Anthony Kennedy is the “most powerful” contributor to this inconsistency. Read the full piece here. The article also includes more about Ginsburg’s career and her account of working with her conservative male colleagues.

My Brother’s Keeper: How Does it Affect Girls and Women of Color?

Here’s an article that was not featured in the daily email of headlines I receive from The New York Times, but it should’ve been. Law professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw argues that U.S. President Obama’s “signature initiative on race, My Brother’s Keeper, a five-year, $200 million program that will give mentorships, summer jobs and other support to boys and young men of color, most of them African-American or Hispanic,” neglects girls and women of color, who not only face many of the same challenges that their male counterparts do but also deal with gender-specific issues such as a worse pay gap, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and others.

It’s a controversial argument––and a courageous one. Check out Crenshaw’s powerful argument here.

Rereading Susan Faludi’s Backlash

This is a cool idea. If you’ve never read Susan Faludi’s bestseller Backlash, published in 1991, now’s a good time to do it. The book was groundbreaking because it documents the backlash against feminism that began in the 1980s and continues today, especially in terms of reproductive rights, but also in other ways.

Matter has started a summer book club, where different writers talk about each chapter of Backlash, and readers are invited to join the conversation, of course. Irin Carmon kicked off Chapter 1, and Donna Shalala, Roxanne Gay, and Rebecca Traister discuss Chapter 2 here. New responses to subsequent chapters will be released each week until the end of the summer. Have fun with this classic!