Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Nip/Tuck Jr.

From the New York Times:

The number of cosmetic surgeries performed on people 18 and under reached 74,233 in 2003, a 14 percent increase from 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Girls and boys as young as 6 get plastic surgery to flatten protruding ears. Adolescents of 13 or 14 have nose jobs. And nearly 3,700 breast augmentation surgeries were performed on teenage girls last year, according to the society. Almost as many teenage boys - 3,300 - had overly developed breasts reduced.

They continue to describe the "red flags" that consultations can bring up suggesting the patient is not ready for the surgery (i.e. wishing to look like a celebrity, parental pressure, or to please a boyfriend/girlfriend).

But surgeons also say that many teenagers make level-headed decisions to have cosmetic surgery. That perception is backed up by a series of recent studies from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where patients 12 to 22 were interviewed about their body image, their reasons for wanting plastic surgery and their experiences after getting breast implants, nose jobs or ear reconstruction.

The teenagers were notably realistic in their assessments of the body part they wanted to have changed, said Dr. Hans M. Koot, a developmental psychologist who is now at Free University Amsterdam. Rather than overestimating their physical problem, they typically rated their deformity as less severe than the surgeons did.

The study subjects were found to be as satisfied with their overall appearance as the average teenager. After undergoing cosmetic surgery, they reported that they were no longer concerned about their appearance, and that they felt more self-confident. In contrast, a control group of young people who were dissatisfied with their appearance but who did not have surgery did not develop a better self-image or gain self-confidence.

I am not against the idea of plastic surgery. Revolted by the perversion of the process by shows such as The Swan, yes. But there are a lot of cases where one body "flaw" correction could actually lead to that person living a happier life. Not everyone is psychologically capable of reaching the point where they can overcome that insecurity and love themselves, nose bump and all. I am, however, extremely against plastic surgery performed on minors. With the exceptions of reconstructive surgery or procedures done to alleviate pain, I don't believe it should be done on anyone under the age of eighteen. As is mentioned in the article, the biological and psychological processes are still so pliable that it is a dangerous road to walk down.

As for six year olds having their ears pinned back, that is sick. I can understand that the child is being teased at school. But even the most attractive adults I know (who were also attractive kids) were teased about some aspect of their looks growing up. It's the way kids get to each other. In adulthood, those same physical quirks often end up endearing. Many celebrities have gaps between their front teeth. I can think of one action star in particular whose ears stick out quite obviously. Maybe, if given the chance, these six year olds will grow to like their quirk as well. And if they don't, they can have it fixed when they are adults.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Two More Tragedies...

As I feared when the beheadings began this week, an Islamist group in Iraq is claiming that it has killed Simona Torretta and Simona Pari (though it is yet to be confirmed). The Italian women, who volunteered for the aid group 'Un Ponte Per Baghdad' (A Bridge for Baghdad), were kidnapped on September 7 in a similar manner as the contractors.

For more on the matter, there's an excellent article on Common Dreams.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Take Action Now

Ms. Magazine published this article recently displaying the often overlooked problem with the partial birth abortion ban: stillborns. While the ban does not prohibit doctors from removing a dead fetus, the controversy is enough to keep doctors from wanting to get involved. There are few doctors or hospitals that even perform the surgery to remove the stillborn, preferring to chemically induce labor, risking the health of the mother and damage to the fetus so that cause of death may not be determinable. The author of the article had to walk around for a week, bleeding, until she could have her still born 19-week old removed from her body.

More than a week ago, the House passed HR5006, a bill entitled Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2005. From the Guardian (and U.S. media, could you start carrying your own weight? I’m sure the U.K. press and the blogosphere are getting exhausted doing your job for you):

A little-noticed provision cleared the House of Representatives last week that would prohibit local, state or federal authorities from requiring any institution or health care professional to provide abortions, pay for them, or make abortion-related referrals, even in cases of rape or medical emergency.

This needs to be stopped before it passes the Senate. For a number of resources and actions, please see the article at The Blogging of the President.For even more information, visit The Well Timed Period.

A note of interest, the voting record for this bill shows that no Democrats opposed it (13 did not vote) while 13 Republicans voted in opposition. With Kerry a mere five percentage points ahead of Bush in women’s votes, it’s time for him to step up to the plate and present an alternative to the (traditionally) Republican platform

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Etymology of Genital Slang

A few days ago, I posted the etymological background of two of the most common derisive (and misogynistic) slang words based upon female genitalia but having meanings varying from "weak" to "bitch" (and not in the female empowerment, Meredith Brooks use of the word).

I am relatively new to the blogosphere and therefore trying to play a bit of catch up. For more information on the use of this slang and its appropriateness (as in, it's not), I highly recommend stopping by Des Femmes’ excellent site. There's also a comprehensive debate going on in the comment section at Body and Soul in response to the article Bitches and pussies.

My original post:

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Pussy: slang for "cunt," 1879, but probably older; perhaps from O.N. puss "pocket, pouch" (cf. Low Ger. puse "vulva"), but perhaps instead from the cat word (see pussy (1)) on notion of "soft, warm, furry thing;" cf. Fr. le chat, which also has a double meaning, feline and genital. Earlier uses are difficult to distinguish from pussy (1), e.g.:
"The word pussie is now used of a woman" [Philip Stubbes, "The Anatomie of Abuses," 1583]
But the use of pussy as a term of endearment argues against the vaginal sense being generally known before late 19c., e.g.:
" 'What do you think, pussy?' said her father to Eva." [Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," 1852]
Pussy-whipped first attested 1956.

Cunt: "female intercrural foramen," or, as some 18c. writers refer to it, "the monosyllable," M.E. cunte "female genitalia," akin to O.N. kunta, from P.Gmc. *kunton. Some suggest a link with L. cuneus "wedge," others to PIE base *geu- "hollow place," still others to PIE *gwen-, root of queen and Gk. gyne "woman." First known reference in Eng. is said to be c.1230 Oxford or London street name Gropecuntlane, presumably a haunt of prostitutes. Avoided in public speech since 15c.; considered obscene since 17c. Du. cognate de kont means "a bottom, an arse." Du. also has attractive poetic slang ways of expressing this part, such as liefdesgrot, lit. "cave of love," and vleesroos "rose of flesh." Alternate form cunny is attested from c.1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for "rabbit": "A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers' wives, 'No money, no coney.' " [Massinger, 1622]

Friday, September 17, 2004

Hey There, Little Girl...

Ms. Magazine is featuring this fascinating article by Catherine Orenstein, which deals with the origins and versions of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale. Evolving from a Seventeenth century warning about sexuality to a Nineteenth century lesson in obedience, the tale was finally reclaimed by females through some inventive films and a Beretta-packing internet tale.

Mae West, who mined the rich symbolic terrain of fairy tales, once famously quipped, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”
These days the social and sexual messages of fairy tales are no secret. Feminists in particular have long recognized that fairy tales socialize boys and especially girls, presenting them with lessons that must be absorbed to reach adulthood.

But what exactly are those lessons? We tend to think of fairy tales as timeless and universal, but in fact they express our collective truths even as those truths shift over time and place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Gender Stereotypes and Cognitive Neuroscience

Gender role stereotypes have been exaggerated, mocked, and turned on end in the past decade but the fact remains that they are trapped in our collective subconscious. In 1997, researchers at the University of Washington's Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Lab performed a study wherein test subjects were examined with ERPs (event-related potentials, small voltage fluctuations resulting from evoked brain activity) to see how their brains responded to “violations of occupational gender stereotypes”.

Sentences such as the following were presented:
(1) The man prepared himself for the operation.
(2) The man prepared herself for the operation.
(3) The doctor prepared himself for the operation.
(4) The doctor prepared herself for the operation.

“Participants made acceptability judgments after reading each sentence. Sentences like (2) were judged to be unacceptable, but all other sentences were usually judged to be acceptable. Thus, subjects' self-reports gave little indication that sentences like (4), in which a presumed gender stereotype has been violated, were perceived to be unacceptable or anomalous. “

“As expected, the pronoun in sentence (2), which disagreed with the gender a definitionally male or female antecedent noun, elicited a large P600 [syntactic processing in language- L.B.] effect, relative to the condition in which the pronoun and antecedent noun agreed in gender (sentence 1). The question was what would happen in sentences like (3) and (4). Interestingly, pronouns that disagreed with the stereotypical gender of it's antecedent noun also elicited a P600 effect, albeit one with lesser amplitude that that elicited by the outright ungrammatical disagreement. Clearly, our subjects' brains were classifying the stereotype violations as anomalous. This continued to be true even when response-contingent ERPs were plotted: Even on trials on which subjects said the stereotype-violating sentences were acceptable, the pronouns in these sentences elicited a P600 effect. “

“We also observed compelling differences between our female and male participants: Female participants exhibited a much larger-amplitude "anomaly response" to both the definitional and stereotypical gender violations, compared to the male participants.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

How to Train a Man (And Set Back Feminism Twenty Years)

As I was logging in to check my Hotmail account one afternoon, I noticed a link on the sidebar which read “Should you marry a fixer-upper?” I found the metaphor of mate and house to be, at best, lazy journalism but had reasonably low expectations for what passes as “news” headlines. Before I knew anything about the accompanying article, I guessed it would be incredibly condescending to men (hypothesis gleamed from an unflattering and somewhat mocking male photo accompanying the text) but tried to enter into the reading without a concrete bias in place.

The article was wrought with the predicted condescension but more disheartening was the air of pseudo-feminism. Styled in a question and answer format- the questioner assigned the requisite far-from-clever pseudonym- the "relationship expert" respondent was someone named Mama Gena, of whom I was initially unfamiliar. The female seeking advice was debating whether she should stay with a male partner she was satisfied with, save his appearance, job, ambition, and car. The letter was fairly standard in terms of those submitted to large websites that focus on self-help via psychologies pureed through the blenders of mainstream media.

The response, however, strayed from the typical pop psychology into the realm of (for me at least) pure horror. Promising to “…clear that sweet little head of yours and set you to rights about who and what a man is…” Mama Gena proceeds to distill wisdoms such as “See, guys on their own recognizance won’t necessarily aim very high. A beer and a channel-changer is about enough excitement for them”. “But” Mama Gena advises, “a man with a woman by his side, a woman who wants things from him, a woman who sees his potential and is unafraid of asking the best of him…that man has a shot at becoming a hero.” The article is finished with this gleaming insight into human interactions: “Join the ranks of the brilliant man-trainers of the world: Women who use men to fulfill their dreams and desires!”

Always the optimist, I am convinced this is satire. Surely such blatantly double edged sexism couldn’t be so widely endorsed? I follow the link to Mama Gena’s own website, titled “Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts”. Mama Gena is really Regena Thomashauer, an author, wife, mother, and “one of a handful of pioneers on the planet researching the nature of pleasure and dedicating her life to the discipline of pleasure and fun.” (Who knew hedonism could be defined so eloquently as a profession?) The tone of the site, although not explicitly stated, is that the Mama Gena approach is modern and feminist, empowering to women. Courses are offered for an average of $150 per class with titles such as “Mama Gena’s Owner’s and Operator’s Guide to Men: A course for women”, the description of which says that “Mama wants women to take the control they actually have over the men in their world.”

I sense a wolf in feminist clothing. The basic tenant, the outright definition, of feminism (and women such as Mama Gena, whether they proclaim so or not, are embracing the style if not the substance of the cause) is that the sexes should be equal. Ideally, women should work and persevere until they are direct peers of males in the sociopolitical landscape. The route to this equality, if it is to be something lasting, cannot be based on blatant manipulations and contortions of our gender stereotypes for the means of deception. Mama Gena’s implication is that females are unable to have the life they desire without the bootstrap provided by a mate (or potential mate), so they had better find a way to use the situation to their advantage. That’s a huge step backwards for the feminist effort. Men should not be used to fulfill our whims, nor is it acceptable to refer to them as trainable. They are not house pets. We are responsible for our own dreams and desires. Should we choose to align ourselves with a mate of the opposite gender, it should be because we care for them as a person, not because they fit an agenda.

Sadly, the “degrade men to benefit women” approach is not utilized by obtuse mainstream websites alone Available for purchase in the pointedly progressive Northern Sun catalogue, under the feminism heading, is a button that says: “He’s pretty, but can he type?” It is meant to be humorous, but play a game of pronoun substitution and there would be protests staged. The catalogue category also includes a button that states: “Men of Quality Respect Women’s Equality”. How can men, even those with liberal leanings, respect a movement if there are attacks targeted at them based solely on their gender? Reverse sexism is still sexism.

It occurred to me recently that I could not come up with an equivalent of the word emasculate that could be used towards a female. Is it not possible for a woman to be stripped of her strength, virtue or vitality? I posed the question to an etymology message board and received two responses. The first suggestion was effeminize, obviously not fulfilling my requirements for the sought after term. Defeminize seemed more promising, but is not used as an insult the way that emasculate is. Discussing the dilemma with a friend, she pointed out that “...in most human cultures, our society in particular, to be stripped of power is the worst thing. And since to be man is to be power, and to be woman is to be without power, to strip one of one's manhood would be bad. Whereas how could one be made lower than not man?”

That is the Mama Gena approach to feminism. We cannot be better than “not men” so we have to lower them to our level. Perhaps, Mama Gena, the honor is in rising up, not in tearing down.