Monday, November 15, 2010

Hymen Shmymen

 Just want to say that I and two other smart young ladies write a blog focused on gender and science. This entry is cross posted at Please check it out!
Since medical school began, I've only managed to read one non-required book in the last two months. It's not a fact I'm proud of but I think I spend my scarce time wisely. I read Hanne Blank's Virgin: The Untouched History, an account of the history and nature of virginity. It's an accessible and entertaining read for my overtaxed brain.

This was one thing I learned:

Despite the lack of any actual studies in the literature regarding whether horseback riding, gymnastics, or riding bicycles might have to do with womens' hymens, virtually every contemporary writing about virginity aimed at teen girls is duly equipped with a disclaimer that says something along the lines of 'many girls tear or otherwise dilate their hymen while participating in sports like bicycling, horseback riding, or gymnastics.'"
Woah. There is no scientific evidence that these activities stretch or tear the hymen! Yet I've heard this countless times in teenage girl magazines or otherwise informative literature on puberty and sexuality. Be sure, this "fact" is not just something from conservative abstinence-only sex education curriculum but widely seem in popular and generally accurate sex ed. It's probably in those puberty books your pediatrician recommended you to read. Understandably this belief was popularized in order to dissociate hymen with virginity. In recent years (decades?), it's become more acceptable for girls to participate in sports and the hymen less a gauge of virginity.

I think it also shows that the empirical evidence or lack thereof don't affect people's beliefs that much, in sexual matters and otherwise. In medical school we grumble all the time about evidence-based medicine. It should dictate medical practice but often it doesn't. Doctors and patients often want and perform procedures that aren't medically better than the other options.

Have you heard this when you were growing up?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

history, culture, politics, and religion. oh my.

I have the pamphlet from the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba! Actually my travel companion graciously sent me these photos of hers, which she managed to carry back to the States. I re-read the pamphlet and it confirmed the feelings I had when I first read it standing under the red and white striped arches. The Church has a narrative of Andalucia's history and it's eager to let the visitors know that it has the moral high ground. 

According to the pamphlet, the Church is protector of other cultures. It preserved the mosque by converting it into a church.
It is the Church, through its Cathedral Chapter, that has made it possible to keep the former mosque of the Western Caliphate, the oldest cathedral in Spain, and a World Heritage Site, from becoming a heap of ruins. In fact this has always been one of the missions of the Church, to safeguard and inspire culture and art.
On the other hand, Moors destroyed the first church that was at this site in order to build the mosque on top of it: "Following the Islamic invasion of Cordoba, the dominating Muslims proceeded to the demolition of the [unintelligible] church of San Vicente and in the year 785, began construction of the Mosque..."

Therefore, everyone should be grateful that the church was so generous in preserving the mosque even those the Muslims destroyed the previous church.
It is a historical fact that the basilica of San Vicente was expropriated and destroyed in order to build what would later be the Mosque, a reality that questions the theme of tolerance that was supposedly cultivated in the Cordoba of the moment.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mosque-Church-Tourism Cash Cow of Andalucia

I was pleasantly surprised to this article on the NYTimes website yesterday. It brought back memories of my trip throughout Spain in early May, which was one of my fondest trips for reasons beyond the grandeur of La Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba.

Basically the bishop doesn't want people to drop "mosque" from any references to the present day Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Last month, the bishop of Córdoba began a provocative appeal for the city to stop referring to the monument as a mosque so as not to “confuse” visitors.
I was less surprised to learn that the church doesn't want visitors to call it a mosque or even a mosque-church. When I visited in May, it was obvious that the church has an uneasy relationship with their building's history from the pamphlet/maps distributed to visitors. Unfortunately I don't have these pamphlets to quote to you, I know, bad that I don't have evidence to backup my claims. My travel companion can back this up.

The language taking great pains to emphasize both the cathedral's Catholic past and present. It's obvious that the church's past was a mosque. Most people come to see La Mezquita as an exquisite example of Moorish architecture. But the church wants the visitors to know that this site was first a church before the mosque was built. This fact prominent in the pamphlet and in the site itself. The foundations of the 7th century church have been excavated. Near the center of the mosque-church visitors can peer down to see the ruined foundations of the 7th century church. A placard prominently tells visitors this fact.

Tthe language of the pamphlet emphasized the glory of the church after its consecration as a cathedral. There was also a line, I can't recall precisely, that basically said that the Moors weren't all happy and multicultural and tolerant as everyone thought they were. Really, it said this. The tone of the pamphlet was like this: This building  happened to be a mosque sometime ago but you really shouldn't care about it so much. It was a church first. It's a church now. That stuff in between, Moors or savages or whatever, that doesn't really matter. Silly tourists.

I know that it's the church's prerogative to print whatever pamphlet it wants. The visitors have no choice but to read it because it includes a map showing the location of the mihrab, a must see. But this one seemed much preachier than other mosque-turned-church-historic-tourist site pamphlets I read elsewhere in Spain.

Finally, it's not confusing to visitors that the building is no longer a mosque. First, we're in Spain. It's very Catholic. Second, there is a giant altar with a giant crucifix from which hangs a giant Jesus. Third, there all along the perimeter are shiny golden chapels with figures of saints. It's obviously a church. No one is getting confused, as the bishop claims. [I didn't take any photos of these because I had severe church fatigue. Couldn't take any more Jesuses or Virgin Marys.]

Maybe the Mosque-Cathedral should be turned over to the Spanish ministry or culture or tourism the way Hagia Sophia has to the Turkish government. But no, that won't happen in Spain.

*The #1 tourism cash cow of Andalucia is actually Alhambra. Tickets are really expensive (like 15 or 20 euro) and booked weeks in advance. But La Mezquita is definitely worth seeing. My travel companion convinced me to go here with her. It was a decision I do no regret.

Blogger needs a confirmation page before actually posting. ARG. Did an incoherent draft show up in your RSS readers? I think so. That's embarrassing. I apologize.

Secular Córdoba

red and white arches