Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I love Nick Kristof

I have a crush on Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist, because he consistently highlights the importance of women and girls in bettering societies, domestically and abroad. In particular, he always makes a strong case linking the importance of women to the most pressing, most challenging issues of the day. And I’m publicly declaring my love for him today because he and his wife Sheryl WuDunn wrote the cover piece for this past weekend’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, a special edition on women, that perfectly explains his view of the relationship between women’s empowerment and development.

From The Women's Crusade:

In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited resource isn’t oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren’t educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy. With education and with help starting businesses, impoverished women can earn money and support their countries as well as their families. They represent perhaps the best hope for fighting global poverty.

“The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution,” writes Kristof and WuDunn. Aid to women is not a pity cause, a pet cause, or a charity case. But I think sometimes these problems are perceived as such. The developed world, as individuals and as nations, give money to social causes as “charity”. “They” are poor and “we” are going out of our way to do a good deed. In contrast, money for, say, investment in developing markets is business and both sides are business partners. There is occasional hubbub — charity concerts and the like — over social programs, but they are generally given lip service. The bulk of global development efforts are devoted to political and economic issues. But Kristof and WuDunn very eloquently show that aid to women benefits everyone. Women will lead their families, their communities, and their countries to prosperity.

Like Kristof, I have always believed that treating women right is a vital part of any country that wants to security, stability, and become a player in the global community. But I don’t think many of those in power in this country and elsewhere share this belief because the more I have learned about world politics, the more I have come to see the gulf separating “hard” issues like security, arms control, trade and “soft” issues like education, nutrition, child and maternal health, and social issues. At times it makes me mildly embarrassed even, to say that I care about women’s issues because I think it pigeon holes me as idealistic and naive. Like I want to “help people” but have no understanding of national governments and global institutions. So I’m all the more glad to see Nick Kristof using his position as a widely-read journalist to explain that women’s rights is a vital part of the solution to global problems.

There is “hard” evidence now that helping women does help the whole society. It often happens that men who control the family finances don’t spend it well. And when you have very little to spend, you must spend wisely.

One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men.

When women have control of money, they spend less on entertainment — alcohol, tobacco — and more on the family — food, medical care. So giving women greater financial power also helps families prioritize their spending.

The economist Esther Duflo of M.I.T. found that when the men’s crops flourish, the household spends more money on alcohol and tobacco. When the women have a good crop, the households spend more money on food. “When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves,” Duflo says.

Terrorism is one today’s most pressing issue today and women’s empowerment is a key part of it. Kristof concedes that the precise mechanism of this is unclear, but societies in which women participate are less likely to breed terrorism.

Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room.

The piece opens with a Chinese saying that women hold up half the sky. It is a saying that I like very much and am familiar with. For now it seems that women should not peek through the cracks of a world that men have built and run. But a few good people, Nick Kristof included, know that they should be leading the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Firsts at Interlochen

When I came back from Interlochen, I thought about all the experiences I had that week. I had reconnected with orchestra alums and learned a lot of new things. I'm not sure if I'll be able to adequately describe the way the counselors bonded with each other so for now here's a list of new experiences.

Things I did for the first time at Interlochen

  1. Skipped a rock on the lake
    Too bad the next 20 rocks I through after that went "thunk"

  2. Learned Euchre

  3. Played Mao, quite badly

  4. Learned the Ninja game
  5. Drove a golf cart

  6. Slept in the counselor part of the cabin

  7. Played the My game and claimed lots of cool stuff, including two bear crossing signs, two wild turkeys, the Mesick water tower, the Melody Freeze, and a schnauzer (or maybe it wasn't a schnauzer)

  8. Learned that Neutral Milk Hotel's In Aeroplane Over the Sea is a concept album about Anne Frank

  9. Cleaned humongous dead moths from the cabin

  10. Plungered a toilet and actually made it work again and did not put more TP to make it flood

  11. Saw satellites and the "music stand" and "bass" constellations. But I never called a satellite, which makes me sad.

  12. Was carried on a chair during the tennis court rehearsal of Saen-Saints' Samson and Delilah because it sounded like Hava Nagila

  13. Was a counselor at the first Huron orchestra camp at Interlochen

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Because we all need to learn about STIs in women

I love medicine and I love the human body (a feeling pursue sapiance captures nicely here) and it pains me a little to hear medicine described as an all-out racist, sexist, and heteronormative medical-pharmaceutical complex because I feel as if all medical professionals are being tarred with the same brush. I know of students and medical professionals who not only know their science, but are also socially conscious. (I like to think of myself among their ranks). I'd much rather highlight the efforts of people trying to do something about the outdated ideas that exists in medicine.

I especially admire a professor for her gender-balanced lecture on sexually transmitted infections. I think it shows that not only can you be a doctor and still have a heart, but small but meaningful change from within is possible.

I had this professor for a human pathophysiology course, the study of human diseases. When we arrived in class for the lecture was on sexually transmitted infections, my professor began by saying that she made changes to the lecture notes left by the last professor who taught this class. The last professor did not discuss STIs in females! No talk of signs and symptoms, manifestations, treatments, modes of transmission of STIs for females. My professor was appalled by this omission and made sure to include these discussions in her lecture.

She explained that perhaps because many STIs have few signs and symptoms in women, the previous professor thought it was acceptable to exclude any discussion of them. The causes of STIs -- the kind of virus or bacteria -- would already be covered in discussions of STIs in males. Of course this excuse didn't make much sense to my professor and me. Even if there are few symptoms in women, it is important for students and sexually active people to know that there are few symptoms in women so that we can be all the more vigilant.

I especially admire a professor for her gender-balanced lecture on sexually transmitted infections. I think it shows that not only can you be a doctor and still have a heart, but small but meaningful change from within is possible. Even though she did not re-educate years of students for whom this important demographic was missing from their human pathophysiology education in STIs, I still think it was good of her to point out this omission. She could have just changed the lecture and given it without any of the students knowing about the previous version. In explaining it to us, she taught us that medicine is still riddled with pockets of misconceptions and outdated information, but that she as the new instructor and we as students, are capable of teaching and learning better medicine.

This brings me to a point about medical education. My professor prefaced her explanation of the STI omission (and indeed apologized for delaying the start of her lecture) by acknowledging that she was an anthropology major as an undergrad. With that perspective, she was able to easily spot the embedded in medicine. It also restored my belief that my non-science education as a Comparative Cultures and Politics major in the college of public affairs will still pop up to shape the way I see medicine. Because sometimes all the talk of non-science majors, well-rounded students sounds like meaningless admissions committee blather.

Let's not forget that women make up an increasing proportion of medical school students, which can only be a good thing. In 2008, 47.9% of medical school students were female. It's not quite equal yet, but in 1988, it was 35.2% and a mere 8.8% in 1968. (Source: AAMC )I think many women, not necessarily anthropology majors, will be watchful for accurate medical information about themselves.

All this, good things for medicine. Keep women and anthro majors coming in medical school.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Last week I while was talking to someone (sorry, forgot who) about Buffy and Twilight, I was reminded that Mr. Wilson, my AC English teacher in high school, was a huge Buffy fan. He would joke that his winter break plan was just to watch Buffy. At the time, this made him seem rather odd and almost creepy since I thought the main demo of Buffy was probably 12-20 year old girls, not mid-30s guys. But now because of Twilight, I have a new appreciation for Buffy.

I haven’t been living under a rock, so I know that the Twilight book/movie/pop culture phenomenon is hugely popular. Almost as big as Twilight’s fandom is the amount of discussion about Bella and Edward’s relationship. Everyone’s got an opinion. I guess I’m not that qualified to review Twilight since I have not read the books or seen the movie, but I have been reading the blogosphere debates (flame wars?) about vampire guy/human girl relationships. I defer to this YouTube video and its accompanying explanation by its creator. I think it best shows that not all vampire/human relationships and male/female romances have to play out Stephanie Meyer’s way. And it’s funny.

Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixels, created this video and explains the reason for making it:

In this re-imagined narrative, Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed - in hilarious ways. Ultimately this remix is about more than a decisive showdown between the slayer and the sparkly vampire. It also doubles as a metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century.

Before seeing this video, I have read critiques of Twilight, contrasting it with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, such as this review from Salon.

Comparisons to another famous human girl with a vampire boyfriend are inevitable, but Bella Swan is no Buffy Summers. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was at heart one of those mythic hero’s journeys so beloved by Joseph Campbell-quoting screenwriters, albeit transfigured into something sharp and funny by making the hero a contemporary teenage girl. Buffy wrestled with a series of romantic dilemmas — in particular a penchant for hunky vampires — but her story always belonged to her. Fulfilling her responsibilities as a slayer, loyalty to her friends and family, doing the right thing and cobbling together some semblance of a healthy life were all ultimately as important, if not more important, to her than getting the guy.

Jonathan McIntosh writes a longer expose on Twilight/Buffy called What Would Buffy Do?

There are readers and moviegoers who simultaneously object to Bella and Edward’s antifeminist relationship and enjoy the series. I may be even be such a fan, if I ever watch more than the movie trailer or the book review. But I don’t think I will pick up the books because if I’m in the mood for the vampire genre, Buffy is the more palatable choice.