Archive for October, 2009

No Vaccine for Men, Women Will Do It…

Be Safe, Guys

Safe Sex is for Men

Birth Control is for Women

Birth Control is for Women

Wouldn’t it be nice if men and women were assumed to be equally responsible for the various costs that come with being sexually active?

Although condoms are generally assumed to be a standard male purchase – about 70% of the market, (while women face slut-shaming if they make such a promiscuous purchase), women are generally assumed to be held responsible for preventing pregnancy, and avoiding STIs, and any health problems that could arise from either, by (paying for and) taking the pill, wearing an IUD, abstaining, and, since condoms are so embarrassing, only having sex with disease-free or condom-carrying persons.

Case in point – this statement from researchers saying vaccinating boys against HPV wouldn’t be “cost effective.” And why is that?

Assuming all girls get the shot, adding boys to a national vaccination program may not be worth the expense, (…) the study assumes that 75 percent of girls will get the vaccine and be protected from cervical cancer.
(emphasis mine)

That’s right – in creating a cost/benefit analysis of this vaccine, the researchers begin by assuming that the entire female population has already been successfully vaccinated.

This is in the US, too, remember, where they still don’t have national healthcare, the uninsured are estimated at anywhere between 20-30% of the population under 65, which might lead a professional medical researcher to assumer that a large percentage of the target population might not even be able to afford to get the vaccine.

“If coverage in girls ends up being low, then vaccinating boys became much more attractive,”

It would make more sense to assume a non-vaccinated population, except that it’s really about sexually active women, and clearly, the ladies are supposed to fend for themselves. Why should guys take responsibility for preventing cervical cancer? (Even though HPV causes cancer in men, too, it’s far less common).

Keep in mind that the pill costs between 15-50$/month (up to 600$ annually), and IUD costs 250$ plus the doctor’s fee for insertion and removal.

Condoms cost .50-1$ a pop – to even equal the cost of an IUD, that’s sex 4.8 times a week (with no side effects).

The cost of the vaccine? 360$ for all three shots.

And men still make 25% more than women.

thanks to slate for the head’s up


More Pepsi Embarassment

Pepsi responded to the blog chorus of WTF? in regards to that silly iPhone app with this tweet:

“Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback.”

If it’s in bad taste?

LOL. Sexism is so hilarious, Pepsi!

Isn’t Pepsi acting like a bit of an obnoxious teenager? ‘Gawd, don’t be so sensitive, I’m sorry if I hurt your “feelings”, talk to me when you’re, like, over it.’

It’s time to officially boycott all mention of Pepsi and Amp until their marketing frat boys are fired.

(tweet found via, who have a good write up on the continuing silliness).

Pepsi’s Amp for Shallow Sexists! Yummy.

Hyperactivity is *so* hot

Hyperactivity is *so* hot

Jezebel pokes fun at a new iPhone ap (no wait, it gets better). This is an application, sponsored by Pepsi to promote their ‘energy drink’ – Amp.

This helpful application gives guys (yes, Amp is for hetero males, obviously) tips on how to pick up women (“score”), keep a list of their conquests (achieved, of course, with the infallible info from Pepsi’s crack team of experts), and advertise their ‘success’ (and, by extension, the beverage) via various networking sites .

Marketing genius, no?

The ap helps the user identify one of the 24 types of women (including ‘married’ ‘sorority girl’ and ‘trouble’), then provides factoids which the user can present as information they actually knew, which, presumably, gets these easily identified women to take their pants off.

I was going to joke that the ‘married’ pick-up line has something to do with current statistics on divorce, but it suddenly occurred to me that is actually probably exactly what the program contains.

What’s depressing about this is that it is being promoted by a major company; sexism, hetero-normativism, and general chauvinism is nothing new, but every time an advertiser thinks that portraying these ideations as normal, healthy, and ‘cool’ women lose out. The company is deciding that female consumers don’t matter, and that male consumers (and this is equally insulting to men) are straight, juvenile, and shallow.

You wouldn’t catch Coke with their pants down like this.


Obama Wins Nobel – Really?

Obama meets Abbas

Obama meets Abbas

Did Obama deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize?

I do think he’s a good president – strong coming out of the gate, rhetorically gifted, focused, centrist – and certainly superior to the other options, despite the downturn in popularity, but the Nobel?

Alfred Nobel stipulated that the Peace Prize be “dedicated to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

Taking a quick glance at recent past winners, I am struck by how few meet this criteria in any direct way – or rather, how flexible the Nobel committee is in their reading of it.

Last year’s winner, Martti Ahtissari was a diplomat and President of Finland, and obviously fulfills the criteria over the course of a long career of mediation and negotiation in international conflict.

Earlier winners, however, such as the IPCC and Al Gore, Muhammed Yunus’ Green Bank, and Wangari Muta Maathai, although truly admirable and certainly influential, don’t, strictly speaking, have much to do with encouraging international fraternity and reducing standing armies.

Muhammed Yunus is a microfinancier, which is wonderful and certainly creates a lot of opportunity and independence, particularly among women. The Nobel brings attention to the goal of eliminating poverty in a ‘teach a person to fish’ kind of way, encouraging a move towards investment.

The IPCC/Al Gore, and Wangari Maathai are dedicated to environmental causes. With so many people blaming climate change on sunspots or subscribing to other unscientific beliefs that allow them to continue polluting with impunity, it’s great for the Nobel committee to realize the international importance of people who work towards education and developing green economies.

One could argue that environmental activists and microfinancers help reduce armies, promote peace congresses, and encourage international fraternity by focusing on borderless problems (the environment) and international investments that reduce the competition for resources that results in black markets, corruption, and a reliance on military strength. Or one might find that a bit of a stretch.

So – Obama. He’s been President of the US for under a year, and, according to he has:

• Ordered the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and a review of our detention and interrogation policy, and prohibited the use of torture.
• Appointed Special Envoys for Climate Change, Southwest Asia, the Middle East, Sudan, and a Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
• Announced a plan to responsibly end the War in Iraq.
• Announced a new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
• Announced a strategy to address the international nuclear threat.
• Agreed to negotiation of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.
• Established a new “U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue”.
• Announced new policy steps towards Cuba.

His platform has certainly been one of reaching out to other nations, particularly ones with which the US has had a tense or antagonistic relationship (sometimes, perhaps, at the expense of the relationship with allies – keep your friends close…) – Iran, Cuba, even North Korea, have all had a little special attention. Some of his earliest speeches were designed to show a desire for understanding between the US and Middle Eastern countries.

Obviously, as part of this reaching out, there has been encouragement for countries to stop developing technology that could be used for creating nuclear weapons. So far, so spot on.

But. The US military. Not only has Obama increased troop investment in Afghanistan, but in order for the military to leave, there has to be a successful, standing military (US-friendly) that can take over the task of hunting down local terrorists in perpetuity.

And obviously, there is no way that the US standing army will shrink. Unless it officially shrinks to be supplemented with a standing force of independent security contractors. Scary.

So, two out of three? And three years to go – maybe Obama was a more obvious choice than he seems.

Update: in response to this over at Slate – which says, basically, that no one should care about the judgments of five Norweigans (or Swedes, in the case of the prize for literature).
1. There is no such thing as a completely objective prize – no matter the provenance, it is always a matter of the jury’s opinion.
2. There is extant cachet in the Nobel because of the history of judgment; if it was really irrelevant, no one would take any notice except the enriched winner (and their agent and accountant)
3. It is poor logic to criticize a prize by listing non-winners. There are 6.2 billion people on the planet – that’s a lot to choose from. Not awarding Gandhi doesn’t mean the prize is bad, or that Mandela is somehow superior, it just means they are limited by time and money and have to make a choice. Not everyone gets a gold star, no matter how deserving.
4. There is a lot of press on the Obama win because of Obama, not because of the prize itself. I bet Anne Applebaum, the author of the article, would be hard pressed to name last year’s winner without looking it up. Though I bet she knows that Al Gore and Jimmy Carter are winners – why? They are already famous.

image from,


this is the previous issue, I couldnt find the latest one

this is the previous issue, I couldn't find the latest one

In this month’s Glamour (UK), which I bought in hopes of some mindless entertainment before dinner (the perils of unemployment are for another day), I stumbled across some surprising sizeism.

A fashion magazine being judgmental about size is no surprise; in this case, though, it’s a case of denigrating people of thinner build.

On page 40, there is a picture of five women (all save one, the smallest, white) in white bras and panties. They each represent a different size – from 6 to 14.

Under each woman, there are a couple of comments, and a percentage indicating which of the women appealed (the most, one assumes) to a hundred men sampled for this poll. The pull quotes are all positive except for the size 6 and 8 women.

The size 6 woman (and I hate having to refer to her this way instead of being able to say ‘Charlene’ or ‘Mary or something) has four comments, two of which are negative – one implying that she is somehow unwomanly, and the other presuming that she must spend her life obsessing about exercise and low-calorie foodstuffs. The size 8 gets two positive comments, and one suggesting that she seems uncomfortable and unhealthy.

This is disingenuous at best, as all of the women have between 10-30% of the vote, leaving no particular size the runaway favourite, and one could therefore assume each woman would have at least three positive ‘quotes’ (assuming they are not all made up by an editorial assistant).

I leave aside the very pertinent questions of how four white, blond women with shoulder length hair and one black woman with short hair, can be considered sufficiently representative of all women of a particular size, and whether ‘appeal’ has anything to do with dress size, especially since most women are size 14 and higher anyway, and therefore only marginally represented in any case.

Obviously, it would have been easy for the editors to decide to print only positive comments about each size – which would of course be the most body-positive option. In choosing to berate the smaller sizes by proxy, and omit larger sizes all together, what is surely (hopefully) intended as a positive ‘let’s all be healthy but not obsessively so’ message becomes rather more complicated and frankly judgmental.

It is not necessary to insult skinny women to make larger women feel better about themselves. To do so is to create a false competitiveness and encourage the act of judging people of size.

Naturally, there are plenty of skinny women in the later fashion segments and in all the advertising.

There is also an article (to become a regular segment) about how the yo-yo dieting, size 18 beauty director is determined, once and for all, to ‘get healthy’. Her inspiration, incidentally, was a segment last month that revealed the eating habits of Glamour staffers.

It is possible that this segment may, probably unintentionally, reveal how all dieting is yo-yo dieting. While the beauty director may indeed lose some weight, and perhaps develop a different relationship with food and a healthy exercise regimen, it is unlikely that she will find the magic bullet that eludes so many other people.

People are the size they are for all sorts of reasons, and while it is healthy to exercise and eat wholesome food, to suggest that body size is a simple indicator of health (not to mention femininity or eating habits) is scientifically fallacious and perpetuates a misogynistic, critical view of the human body that should really have had it’s day.

Let’s look at these pictures instead.

image from

Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t (take pills)

Over at feministing drahill writes about choosing to stop pharmaceutical treatment of her manic disorder.

drahill describes some criticism she receives about this choice:

to hear some describe it, I am deeply irresponsible, because I do not take pills. I am placing myself, my family, my schoolmates, my community (ect.) (sic) at risk because I could snap and do something terrible one day. I have been told I set a poor example. That I am stupid to disregard medical science. That I have a RESPONSIBILITY to take the drugs.

A lot of discussion in the media and, as drahill sees, in social circles, revolves around making judgments on what is the ‘right’ way to cope with mental illness. Some may assume that it is easily dealt with using medication, and that to avoid pharmaceutical treatment is perverse. Others criticize a perceived ‘over-diagnosing’ of various conditions, and complain about the medical field turning everything into a symptom or a disease that must be treated; such people are the sort who claim all but the suicidally depressed should just get a bit of exercise and snap out of it.

The frustrating thing is that people are passing judgment at all. Most medical professionals would assert that treatments, pharmaceutical or in the form of lifestyle changes, must be determined on a case-by-case basis, based on the most current research available and the patient’s own history. When everyone else starts chiming in because they saw a segment on the local news about Ritalin abuse, it shifts the focus from patient coping with a condition to some overarching state of society, for which the individual is now responsible.

There is no way to win – if one accepts a prescription, one is then open to criticism for being too weak to control themselves (a criticism arising from the school of people who don’t fully understand the nature and influence of brain and body chemistry on feeling and behaviour, and those who assume that an increase in a certain diagnoses must indicate error), and if one decides, like drahill, that the side effects are worse than that which it purports to treat, then one is berated for being a Luddite, or irrational and unscientific and, especially if the mental illness sounds scary – like ‘schizophrenia’ – they are a potential danger to society.

Both of these tendencies require one to ignore the basic humanity and self-determination of the person coping with the illness. The only people qualified to have an opinion are those who have experienced something similar themselves, or medically trained professionals. Everyone else is just assuming that reading an article in Newsweek makes them an expert.

image from

The Problem with Self-Help

Nothing matters more than this day

Nothing matters more than this day

Carole Cadwalladr has an article in the Guardian about the new trend towards self-help books – old ‘classics’ of the genre are suddenly best or near best sellers, and conferences featuring authors of self-help books, such as the one she visits for this article, are selling out.

One would hope that most people know that ultimately what is in these books is nothing more inspiring than a bumper sticker or Hallmark card, and sometimes even more nonsensical.

Perhaps most of these folks who are making these books best-sellers realize the illogical elements to much of the content, and just need some voice to say ‘be brave’. However, as Cadwalladr finds, there are those who think it’s a much more insidious trend:

When I talk to Ben Goldacre, the NHS doctor who writes the Guardian’s Bad Science column and bestseller of the same name, he says there is evidence that beliefs and expectations can impact on your health, but that self-help is a “pretty seedy world” where writers often overdramatise these findings, and cherry-pick the evidence. He couldn’t comment on the individual authors because “I would literally rather slam my cock in the door than read any more of these books”.

I am inclined to agree with Goldacre (and not just about the door) – even if someone is only hunting for a little agency in a life where they feel things have gotten out of control, isn’t it harmful to read that everything is about ideation, even illness? If one is told that by envisioning item x, they will get it, and then (by magical use of, say, a credit card, or applying themselves) they do manage to acquire what they want, are they not more likely to think that the reason their buddy has cancer is because they just aren’t imagining hard enough?

In searching for a better mood and more control, are they not also exposing themselves to a kind of belief system that eliminates consideration of every other influence?

Cadwalladr speakes to Oliver James: “In my opinion it’s extremely harmful. This is the story that selfish capitalism wants us to believe. That it’s our fault as individuals that this fantastically big fuck-up in society happened, which Reagan and Thatcher caused, and which did not happen in mainland continental Europe. We have twice the level of mental illness as mainland Europe and yet this garbage encourages people to blame themselves and take responsibility, which is just a fucking joke. It makes me furious. It’s very convenient to neo-liberals – meanwhile people like Philip Green have got massively richer while his employees read this crap and he nips off to Monaco in his £1.2bn corporate jet.”

Cadwalladr does talk to people who have found a benefit from the books; one man says “If I hadn’t found this, I’d have let the fear take over.” Obviously, it’s nice that this man can function with his fears. But why must this involve such a total embrace of positive thinking, to the exclusion of, say, doing something about the institutional or environmental causes of things that are making us unhappy?

Rather hoping this fearful man can ‘change his attitude’, should we not be asking what he is afraid of? Does he have a valid reason to be afraid? If not, what is missing from the way people interact with the world that makes them need this positive-self-talk instruction? What is really taking away our sense of agency?

This ‘positive thinking’ also eliminates consideration of consequences. If everything is about imagination, are we not tempting people to believe that they can imagine away debt, guilt, and inconvenience, rather than taking responsibility for their actions and dealing with them?

Everyone wants to be happy, but we should not want this at the cost of our own intelligence. Nor should we ignore the fact that negative emotions often have a real source, one that the negativity is trying to draw our attention to. Happy is good, that doesn’t mean that sad or mad or afraid is bad.

We shouldn’t define happiness as ignorance, of the world or of the source of our problems.


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