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.
The world is so lucky to have the wonderful and wise Jeanette Winterson. In her latest piece for the Guardian, she explores the ways in which we remember past love relationships, and how these ways affect the present. With one of her classic, brilliant hooks, she begins with, “Nostalgia for lost love is cowardice disguised as poetry.”
It’s not that we shouldn’t have fond memories of past loves, or even regrets, she says.
But recognising the past as our past, and being able to groan, giggle, blush, sigh and play with those memories, is not the same as a corrosive secret infatuation with the idea of that special someone we managed to mislay. Sighing over a fantasy drains energy from reality. What happens in our heads isn’t private; it is unspoken, that’s all. We all know what it’s like to live in the stifling atmosphere of what is unsaid.
She goes on to discuss the hard work that real love demands and how she finally realized that she was running the same story through all her relationships. But the line that stays with me is the one that unveils the myth of privacy: What happens in our heads isn’t private, simply unspoken. How true, and how easy to convince oneself otherwise.
Winterson concludes by inviting readers to share their stories of lost love. For details, read the full piece here.
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
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
America, I saw you in your 87 Oldsmobile, wearing your best wig and sunglasses, God radio
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
America, I saw you fall.
To get in touch with Bridget and find out more about her fabulous work, click here.
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.
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.
We often think of narcissism as a maladaptive personality trait, but what if the culture of neoliberal capitalism makes narcissism increasingly necessary? Here is Sarah Burnside’s review of Anne Manne’s book The Life of I, which offers a new look at narcissism as a cultural phenomenon, rather than simply as a personality flaw.
Good conversation is not generally easy to come by in the age of endless busy-ness and casual manners, so here’s a fun piece on how to be graceful and spark interesting chat.
As writer Troy Patterson points out, asking “what do you do” is not only boring but also “has a way of taking the bloom off the roses in the garden.” So what should you say instead?
To win a friend—or, at the very least, to gather data that will enrich your appreciation of the human comedy—you should ask something like “What are you excited about?”—which is nice and wide and cheerful. Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs, you know. To say, “What are you looking forward to this fall?” invites the other party to remark on enthusiasms and travel plans and hopes and dreams, and it allows him his choice of a momentous or delightfully trivial answer. He looks into the future while you look into his eyes. It will be your duty, in this joint improvisation, to ask good follow-up questions. It will be your pleasure to reveal something of yourself—the slant of your curiosity, the cast of your mind—by drawing him out and encouraging a self-portrait.
For more on civilized conversation, including how to politely escape a bore, see the full piece here.
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.
In this article New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead rejects “relatability” as a cultural “scourge,” as she comments on popular radio host Ira Glass’s tweeted response to a performance of King Lear: “Shakespeare sucks…No stakes, not relatable.”
Mead provides a quick survey of the rise of the use of “relatable” as a cultural demand vis-a-vis art, and she explains why it’s such a problem:
Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or of watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should not be where critical thought ends. The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.
But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.
Read this fine piece here. Then go read, watch, experience some art form that feels totally “unrelatable,” and see what happens.
This great article by historian Stephanie Coontz explores the relationship between progress in gender equality and the rapidly growing economic inequality plaguing the U.S. Of particular interest is her take on the well-known gap in marriage rates between lower- and higher-income mothers:
Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry — even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expenses, and even if they have a child — is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.
Their fears are justified. Chronic economic stress is associated with an increased incidence of depression, domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse and infidelity, all of which raise the risk of divorce. If a woman’s marriage breaks up or her husband squanders their resources, she may end up worse off than if she had remained single and focused on improving her own earning power.
Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families — at almost all income levels — than turning back the gender revolution.
Amen and thank you. It’s great to see someone talking sense about the actual risks and benefits of marriage, but the piece also offers excellent data on wages, marriage rates for various classes, and so forth. Read it here.