Archive | Feminism

MsDiagnosis, or, what’s in a name?

rx-prescription-padistock-prv.jpgK’s sister was rushed to the hospital last week because in her twenty-first week of pregnancy, there’d been some complications that, as it turns out, are going to result in bed-rest for the duration of her pregnancy. While she was in the hospital, she’d had to stay in bed with her heels higher than her head for forty-eight hours, and she’d had a stitch put into her cervix (cerclage) in order to prevent her cervix from dilating further.

Scary stuff, absolutely–and as many of us are all too aware, while bed-rest might initially seem like a dream come true, it very quickly (like overnight) becomes a nightmare, all too reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (the heroine in that story, you remember, ends up crawling along the floorboards of her attic, over the body of her unconscious husband, peeling off the wallpaper as she crawls).

But I’m not actually going to write about scary pregnancy stories, or about women slowly being driven insane by the medical establishment. Instead, I am going to write about the diagnosis given to K’s sister: she has an “incompetent cervix.”

Seriously.  That’s the medical definition given to this condition–a diagnosis that throws us right back into the 19th century, when women were, in fact, deemed incompetent, fit only to have babies, and when to be female meant that you were always on the brink of hysteria, a word that originates from hyster, the Greek word for “womb.” 

K., in telling me about her sister, posed a key question: why is it that her sister’s cervix is “incompetent,” but a man who can’t get it up is deemed to have “erectile dysfunction” or to be “impotent”?  True, impotence means a loss of power, but to be incompetent, according to the first definition in the dictionary, is to be “not legally qualified.”  And if you’re not legally qualified, you have no standing in the eyes of the law – you’re a non-person.

Do you think Viagra would be such a best-selling drug if it were sold as a treatment for an “incompetent penis”? What man would cop to such a diagnosis?  And–further–could there really be only one pill to cure that condition? Especially when there are so very many ways for a penis to be incompetent (not the least of which is its inability to aim a stream of urine accurately into a toilet bowl).  Fixing an incompetent penis would necessitate an entire cocktail of drugs, I think, and several months of sensitivity training for the body attached to said incompetent organ.

But I digress. K’s sister’s diagnosis makes me wonder if, on some level, the days of The Yellow Wallpaper aren’t so far away after all.

(Let’s not even get started on the whole Stupak thing, yet another attempt to keep women from being legally qualified to govern their own bodies, and which in turn raises the question of how it is that the Right can, on one hand insist that the government stay out of individual lives and, on the other hand, insist that government get right inside the most intimate act a body can perform. Hmm).  

Oh dear, that was another digression. I seem to be getting all hysterical about who has access to my hyster…

Seriously, though, what if we re-diagnosed K’s sister’s condition? What if we said she had a “flexible cervix,” or a “forgiving cervix,” or–perhaps most appropriate–a “tired cervix”?

Yes. That’s it.  A “tired cervix.” Because you know what? Doing something as personal and as powerful as growing a baby? It’s exhausting.

Continue Reading · on November 25, 2009 in birth, Feminism


prideflag.jpgCaleb and I were rounding the corner onto 14th street when we saw a group of revelers waving rainbow flags, headed for the Gay Pride parade on 6th avenue.

“Dat’s cool flags,” said Caleb. “Dey celebratin’ dere country, I think.”

I remember my first Pride parade, almost twenty years ago, watching as the marchers went past the Washington Square Arch. My brother – who had just come out – walked with Tom Duane, now a New York Senator, but back then only a city councilman. My brother marched; I cried. He looked so happy – and, yes, proud – to be “celebratin’ dere country.” 

Unfortunately, of course, Caleb is only almost right, as Frank Rich details in his Op-Ed piece today. “Dere country” is not “our country” because gays and lesbians are still second-class citizens. Those flags symbolize only the promise of unity, not unity itself.

Given the recent spate of hiking trips taken by members of the conservative right (who knew these guys were such an outdoorsy bunch), I wonder how much longer the whole “sanctity of (heterosexual) marriage” argument is going to last. Seriously? If gays and lesbians want to get married so that they, too, can get bored and go on separate hiking trips in Appalachia – where’s the harm in that?

I know Obama’s only been in office for five months and he inherited a plate full of crap, blah blah blah, but wouldn’t it be great if he could usher in the summer with some dramatic statement that would help make those rainbow flags a reality?

I mean, they really are cool flags. Let’s not let them go to waste.

Continue Reading · on June 28, 2009 in Feminism, Gender

The Body of the Doctor

tiller.jpgThere is a vigil happening right now, in Union Square, for Dr George Tiller, the doctor who was shot in a church in Kansas.  I can’t go to the vigil because I’m home, making dinner for my very desired, very wanted children, who I can afford to feed and clothe, as well as supply (sometimes) with legos, bakugan, hot wheels, and swimming lessons.

A (very long) while back, I was having dinner with four of my closest friends from college and we realized that in our college years (and the few years immediately after college), among the five of us, we had had four abortions, two incidents of date rape, and a wide array of unsavory and unsatisfying boyfriends. Through nothing but sheer dumb luck, I was not one of the women who had an abortion – instead, I drove friends to the clinic, waited with them, and drove them home. But those roles could have easily been reversed; I could have been the passenger, not the driver.

Now all of us are mothers – babies we had inside the shelter created by stable relationships, jobs, health insurance, family support.

But if we’d been forced to carry those college-created babies to term? Who knows what would have happened to those unwanted children, the products of broken condoms, drunken fumblings, “true love” that didn’t last – and who knows what would have happened to us, women not ready to be mothers?

What I do know is that more than twenty years ago, we had access to a safe, clean, close clinic that helped us through those dark hours. It never occurred to us, way back when, that twenty years later, those pro-life protesters would still be shaking their horrific posters at women caught in the most difficult decision of their lives. How does a “pro-life” agenda square with shooting a man in cold blood, in a church? The idea of violence in a church violates the very foundations of social order, even if, like me, “faith” isn’t a daily part of life.

A few years ago, Bill McKibben wrote an article in Harper’s, called “The Christian Paradox: How A Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong,” in which he points out that the most basic precept of Christianity is the truly radical notion of  “love thy neighbor as thyself.” And it is radical: I mean, think about it: if you love your neighbor as yourself, can you imagine telling that person who (not) to marry? Or how to educate your children? Or what to do with your own body?

Somewhere in the fringes of the “pro-life” movement (and one must use inverted commas here, because let’s be frank: there seems to be a real confusion about whose lives are – and are not – valued) there are people who are applauding what’s happened in Kansas. How they rationalize this act of violence with their putative faith, I don’t know.

I do know that there are many people of faith, including many Catholics, who are outraged by what’s happened, and who knows, maybe – finally – Dr. Tiller’s death will be the catalyst that moves us closer to that radical and foundational Christian notion of loving our neighbors. But I have to say that I’m not optimistic.

The vigil in Union Square is over now; I can see from my window that people are filing home,  and I suppose that some of the women in the crowd are themselves wrestling with the dilemma my friends wrestled with, decades ago.  

How can it be that all these years later, we are having the same battle over women’s bodies – and how can it be that women have even fewer resources than we did then? And how can it be that the body of a doctor – a healer – has so little value?

A doctor killed in a church. How do we put that statement next to the phrase “a civilized society?”

Continue Reading · on June 1, 2009 in Feminism, Parenting

Does This Laptop Make My Butt Look Big?

pinklaptop.jpgThe bluetooth doodad thingy that I use in the car has been malfunctioning: it works, but then when I turn it off, I have to re-set the doodad so that it can “find” my phone, which, of course, can’t be done when I’m driving. It’s aggravating but I’ve been kind of living with it (who has time or inclination to go find another ear doodad, really?)

Husband searched the web and found a deal on an earpiece, which arrived in this morning’s mail. I thanked him (so lovely to have a tech assistant, isn’t it?), put the package on the floor next to my desk, and went about my day. That night, when Husband came home, he said “did you try it?”

“What?” I asked, mind on dinner and dishes and homework.

“The earpiece, did you try it? Does it work?”

“Uh, no. I don’t need it until Thursday, when I drive to work, so…” Husband sighed and returned to his email.

And there it was: the gender-tech chasm, running right across the apartment floor. He didn’t understand why I wouldn’t immediately want to fiddle with this new doodad, see what it can do, tweak it and tinker with it, set it up with my phone. I can’t understand why I should futz with it until I have to. And then when I do futz with it, I just want it to work.

Luckily, Dell, the computer giant, has decided to create a bridge across that chasm: this week, they’ve launched, a site designed to help women with their technology choices.

The home page features attractive women holding even more attractive laptops, all with stylish cases; there are directions for how to recycle your tech (isn’t this something men want to do, too?), a spotlight on a woman designer who works for Dell; and a list of “seven unexpected ways a mini can change your life.” Did you know that a mini be a recipe finder, diet guide, and provide maps to restaurants? (Women, apparently, are very interested in both eating and not eating.)

Your mini-laptop can even provide free guided meditations, for those times when you can’t make it to yoga but can find the time/place to have your laptop tell you to listen to your breath (rather than to your laptop’s “free tweakable online task manager”).

Now first of all, there are lots of women who have crossed the gender-tech chasm, and whose tech savvy puts everyone around them to shame. (For an academic’s take on tech, digital media, and gadgetry, try Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolesence, just for starters.)

And second of all, doesn’t seem to want to help women be more tech savvy; it just wants us to buy the super cute polkadot laptop sleeve, and maybe the matching tote.

Finally, if this site is Dell’s way of trying to sell more laptops to women, does that mean that the “regular” Dell site is the “male” site? Or will Dell start to proliferate like the Gap did – babydell, dell women, dell men, dell kids?

The mind boggles. In the meantime, my ear doodad is still in its box. I’m hoping Husband will set it up soon.


Continue Reading · on May 11, 2009 in Feminism, Gender, tech life

Lost in the twilight

Book_jacket_of_Twilight.jpgI’ve been hooked, bitten, seduced, sucked in, pulled under.

Ever since last Tuesday, more or less, I’ve been living in two worlds: Manhattan, and Forks, Washington.

Yes, it’s true. Stephanie Meyer, the sweet-faced Mormon Mom from Arizona, author of the Twilight series, can now count me as one of her readers.

It shouldn’t have happened this way. I mean, I’ve got a doctorate, fer crissake! In literature!  I’m supposed to read books like Twilight with an ironic sneer, with a knowing wink-wink at the cognoscenti to indicate that I’m reading these fat books with their sexy red, white, and black covers just to stay in touch with pop culture.

Truth be told, that is how I started – a colleague and I are having a “book chat” with a group of first-year college students about Twilight and then taking the group to the movie. So when I got my copy of the book, I figured if nothing else I’d get a little insight into the world of the YA reader. An adult friend of mine had started the first book and hadn’t gotten past the first few pages, so I wasn’t expecting much.

That night I read until 1:30. The next night until 12:30. Then I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the other three books (two of which are still in hardcover).  This detail matters because I’m a get-it-on-reserve-in-the-library gal – if any more books take up permanent residence in our apartment, we’ll have to move out.

Not this time. Plunked down my money, grabbed my books, and went home to my small fractious children (one of whom had strep throat last week, one of whom was home on a school holiday). I proceeded to let them both watch the telly (usually verboten in our house until that dark hour after dinner and before bedtime) so that I could READ. AND READ. AND READ.

I finished the fourth book Friday night.

Sunday I started the first one again.


Don’t get me wrong. These are not well-written books. The Jack Reacher thrillers, by Lee Child, for example, are probably better written, and the great Donna Leon detective stories, set in Venice (thanks, Sean, for telling me about those), have characters who are infinitely more “real.” In Meyer’s books, characters say things like “I love you more than everyone else in the world combined,” which, while perhaps an accurate transcription of how a 17 year old girl might  talk, doesn’t make for profound insight.

And yet – I am obsessed. Maybe I was an easy target: I’ve always been a bit of a vampire junkie, ever since I was a little girl sneaking to a friend’s house to watch “Dark Shadows” (which gave me horrifying nightmares for months, but that’s a post for another day). I loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which had much more interesting, complicated things to say about gender relationships than does Twilight. But even though Buffy’s sensibility is closer to my own, the show never enthralled me the way these books have. Even that other pillar of vampire pop culture, Interview with a Vampire, which I read when I was about thirteen, didn’t hook me like Twilight has,

So here I am, a middle-aged woman with several advanced degrees, completely enamored of an alternate universe in the Pacific Northwest, where vampires and werewolves and shape-shifters live among us, going shopping, going to the prom, and driving really, really hot cars. 

My real life – that pesky pile of student papers on the floor, the email stacking up like planes at Newark, the laundry that threatens to spill into the hallway – seems intrusive, almost rude. Vampires don’t have laundry or dishes or dust or bills or children with strep throat.

Meyer paints a fairy tale about an ordinary girl beloved by an extraordinary being, although this fairy tale has quite the kicker: to keep the prince, you have to sacrifice your soul

And it’s tempting, I have to say. Maybe that’s because I’ve not quite come to terms yet with that whole “soul” question, but from where I’m standing, it looks like an easy trade: sacrifice my soul, which may or may not exist, in order to get: eternal love, exquisite beauty, an extraordinarily well-mannered lovah (as Sarah Jessica P would say), lots of money, loads of free time (no time spent sleeping, you see, so plenty of time to learn a language, travel, paint, write, study). What’s not to like?

Meyer sweetens the pot even further by making her vampires “vegetarians”  (their joke): they have sworn not to kill humans, only wild animals. Thus the whole “blood-sucking” thing becomes a little less hard to swallow (sorry, couldn’t resist). I mean, if you’ve ever ordered steak tartare in a restaurant…

So is it just the fairy tale? Is that what has led to the series’ enormous success and the huge buzz around the movie? Is that why I’m feeling a bit befuddled these days (or maybe I’m getting strep, who knows) – a case of fairy-tale-itis?

There is more for me to think about here, in part because I’m vaguely appalled that I’ve been recommending that people read these damn books. But I can’t write any more tonight. I’ve got to go re-read book three.

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Continue Reading · on November 16, 2008 in Books, Feminism

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