Msnowe's Blog

girls, gays, minorities, and everyone else: keep it in your pants.

Posted in CDC, gender, sex bias, sexist, STDs by m.snowe on March 15, 2009

(M.snowe originally posted this on March 12, 2008, but it’s been clicked on a few times recently, so she thought: “Hey, why not see where we were a year ago this month?” and then she thought: “I’m hungry, and where’s my coffee?”)

Gender, race, and sexual orientation inequalities run around naked all day for everyone to observe, all over the world (though many turn a blind, scandalized eye). But one rather juicy piece of exposed, bigoted flesh should get some extra ogling today, after a recent CDC report. It elucidates the inequality of gender-, race-, and orientation-based health tests/studies. Invariably, these tests are not only biased, they are blatantly so; in turn, the media reports and methods of prevention and reform are also skewed towards unequal and unfair consideration.

The latest report, which came out this week, details the CDC’s finding that among US teenage women, 1 in 4 have some sort of STD. Those reported STDs ranged from chlamydia, to HPV, to HIV/AIDS. HPV, as many media outlets have been clear about reporting in the past year or so, is the virus that can lead to cervical cancer –obviously a disease that only effects those of us with cervices. But men are at least “carriers” of all the diseases listed (though with most STDs, men suffer the same symptoms as women).

The way the CDC, and those reporting this supposedly news worthy story, is the first issue. It’s not “roughly 25% of teenage women,” it’s not “One-fourth of the female teenage population,” or anything of that nature. They make this study personal: One in Four Teenage Girls. (and this is how practically every media outlet is phrasing it) Let’s break this down. “One in Four”: this implies proximity. Not one-fourth, which suggests a fraction, which by definition means only a part. By saying “one in four” the reader (and especially the white male reader) is implored to consider the obvious: “think of four women–you know quite a few. Well, one might have the clap.” Next, consider “teenage girls“. The term “girls” suggests that these sexually active women can’t possibly take care of their own sexual health. This is the best type of fear mongering we’ve seen in a while: it not only admonishes young women, it scares parents, potential sexual partners, and women themselves. The article practically screams: “Why, don’t you see: these young “girls” shouldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions about their sexual lives. They’ve gone and mucked up all the boys’ fun.”
But the problem with this saddening study (because 25% of teens with STDs IS saddening) is that it completely disregards the male aspect of this report. Doing a quick search on the CDC website, and special section on STD prevention, you can find reports on women, and the general population as a whole, and minorities, and studies broken out based on sexual orientation. What you cannot find is a good study on the rates of STDs among your average, straight, white males. Hmmm. Why is it that we place the research blame on women and minorities and gays? In the study, it also highlights how black women have an even higher risk of STDs. What about white and black men? Why is it solely the responsibility of the woman to get tested for STDs, as the CDC heartily recommends? Oh, and telling your partner about any STDs you might have–that’s a woman’s job too. Because men, well, they’re only having sex with one woman, always. And that’s verily true, it is–we got this little tidbit from Elliot Spitzer, so you know it’s legit. And women should be the ones with whom the responsibility to get treated lies. Men don’t need the HPV vaccine, because they wouldn’t ever get cancer. But, ahem, they can still transmit it. If you found the cure for HIV, would you exclude giving it to any population that was only a carrier and didn’t themselves contract full blown AIDS? I think not. In order to best serve the women, it would be a valid argument to vaccine both sexes. For more, read here why men should be similarly vaccinated.

And this just in:
Here’s another orientation, gender, and race skewed report by the CDC, that hopes to incite fear and reinforce bias. It talks about how gay men are reportedly more likely to contract syphilis. The study does say that men are six times more likely to contract this disease, but they quickly include that the primary transmitters are gay, and that the researchers “also called rises [in syphilis] among women and blacks troubling.” The article also points out that the increase stems from “high-risk behaviors” (whatever that means) and “multiple partners.” This language is even more insidious than that of the teenage girl article, because it suggests, very overtly, that gay males are in some way more apt to commit risky or irresponsible behaviors. Well, sorry, but high-risk behavior (like unprotected sex, and other, non-vaginal forms of sex) as well as having multiple partners, happens with ALL sexual people–regardless of orientation or sex. And the rather tactless implication of this article is that only gay men practice certain behaviors. The fact of the matters (sexual and otherwise) is that white, straight, rich men have a better ability, and the need and want to cover up their sexual activities. What’s more is that often what is reported by certain groups varies–is a middle aged married man willing to admit to his sexual escapades, especially if they’re Spitzer-style risky? What is reported, and what is happening in the collective sex life of all Americans is much more than meets the eye, and you can bet the CDC.

why to hate morning television (in case you’ve forgotten)

Posted in Clinton, gender, laura bush, morning television, no child left behind, Today Show by m.snowe on April 24, 2008

Morning news television (produced by the major broadcasters, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox) is in the rather unenviable position of straddling the line between daytime television and regular newscasting. Perhaps a better title would be “daytime lite.” The time of airing is what does this format in–or at least makes it particularly unique. Because these programs usually start at 7am, it services a large crowd early. People have yet to go to work, so network morning new programs catch all groups–workers and stay-at-home people alike. They get people watching at the gym, or those waiting for the traffic report during those ever-important 25-minute-intervaled local news breaks. They get stay-at-home parents and caretakers, and work-from-home professionals. It’s an eclectic mix, and because of that, the shows provide a little bit of everything.

But, in watching an entire show, front to back, you get a much better sense of the structure. Often, people catch five minutes here or there. But if you really pay attention, there are patented social cues inserted into the ebb and flow, including atmospheric shifts and tempered segments. It’s all so that the supposed demographics are fitted, or so those who the execs think are watching, are induced to continue watching. It’s no surprise that in the earliest, 7AM hour, the “hard news” dominates the segments, whereas during the last hour, fashion, entertainment, and cooking make up the majority of the program. But this makes the assumption that these divergent audiences, watching the same three hour show at different times, are only looking for certain things. What this suggests is that the show is purely consumer driven (like most other shows), based on people’s wants. It’s so obvious that stay at home mums want to know how to dress nicely, and that career-types will want the results of yesterday’s financial market projections. But this assumes too much–it isn’t informed by culture, it in fact informs cultural cues, including stereotypes about gender, race, and especially class. It over-compensates, making the facile assumptions that those who stay at home are less concerned with politics, and more concerned about how to bake the perfect muffin. It implies that the legal aid rushing out the door around 8AM doesn’t want to know about which celebrity is in rehab, although they will be glued to their US magazine on the train into work. These kind of cultural assumptions benefit no one.

And the gender implications are omnipresent. First off, the increase in “feminine products” commercials is inversely proportional to the amount of news coverage, as if women, not enticed by ads for vagacil or o.b., are devoid of any use for what’s happening in China (Free Monistat Three Day!…I mean Free Tibet!). And if it wasn’t Black & White enough how sexually-stereotyped the Today show is, they give it to you in Blue & Pink: observe, if you will, next time–that all Matt Lauer’s cheat sheets are a pale blue, whereas Meredith Viera’s are a baby pink. And that’s not the half of it. Gadgets, gizmos, legal battles, medical stories, politics & sports are all covered by the men; whereas cooking, fashion, relationships, and the odd political story about Hillary Clinton is thrown to the women, along with the throw-away mothering stories and pet tragedies. Yes, you might argue that there are exceptions–but they are just that, the exceptions, not the rules. And this isn’t just gender bias here, the show is fraught with racial & sexual bias and ageism. Look at the different segments, and tell which go where. The “anchors” are predominantly white and upper middle class, middle aged, definitely heterosexual(we are meant to think). These are the people that are metaphorically and literally anchoring us — they’re who and what we’re supposed to be. The jolly weatherman, the extra-bubbly semi-hosts, etc.: all superfluous, and therefore all apt job openings for affirmative action initiatives, sadly. The only gay correspondents allowed are those that flamboyantly embrace the most stereotypical roles, and are relegated to, you guessed it: fashion and pop culture (and that’s only for gay men, who never are allowed to really talk about their orientation on air, but it’s implied. Openly out lesbians, well, they don’t get any segments). Young women co-hosts, or fills-ins on the show must be: perfectly trim, stylish, and married, also, the possibility of pregnancy is seen as a way to introduce lovely segments on what to expect while expecting. They will never get a hard-edged story to cover, ever. Where the weatherman or the male anchor can be happily rotund, the younger female hosts must adhere to the strict rules that apply to movie stars (except when pregnant). Another double standard. Like in politics (or almost any other professional arena) women will be judged by what they wear, while the male anchors throw on a suit and they’re done (the only controversy lately about a man’s attire has seemed to center on jewelry, namely a little “flag pin” …but them again, that was about ideology ultimately, not fashion sense. Women have to deal with cleavage counters).

Then there was Tuesday’s Today show, and please note that this is the day of the much anticipated Pennsylvania primary. What heightened the excitement on Tuesday’s show was that the First Lady and one of her (currently sober) daughters guest-hosted, and were interviewed on the show. Now, Laura Bush is no garish bulldog–she’s what every 1950’s woman would have hoped from her First Lady . She’s got stereotypical gender roles coming out her perfectly make-uped pores. Talk of her husband’s politics was verboden, and she focused mostly on literacy (primarily childhood literacy). Though she might get a pass because of her old job as a librarian, literacy is the common cause trumpeted by first ladies ever since Martha Washington supported the post-colonial version of No Child Left Behind. (Yuck…people realize that common grammar rules state sentences shouldn’t end on a preposition, right?)

Okay, so the visit seems innocuous enough, but it’s not. Why would Mrs. Bush pick Tuesday? Could it possibly be an attempt to throw a huge contrast out against Hillary Clinton, the rather “Un-FirstLadylike” Senator hoping to win voted in PA? Laura Bush’s stint on Today reinforced the “important issues” women should focus on: reading to their children, dressing snappily, and helping to plan your kid’s weddings (apparently, a Bush daughter is gettin’ hitched).

At one point, the presidential spawn remarked how its hard to teach children to appreciate reading, “especially getting boys to read.” First, it should be noted that the statement is grossly inaccurate–many little boys love to read. It also reinforces the stereotype that rough and tumble boys are incapable of sitting still and reading a book, cover to cover. Second, it suggests that the state of education should be more concerned with getting boys to excel, when in fact copious studies have shown that our educational methods were primarily crafted by males, for males, and put women and girls in the classroom at a strict disadvantage. The angry objections to Today, and complaints about the first lady’s strategic visit to the set of studio one A could go on forever. Basically, the main thrust of this argument is that morning television is a hazy-eye-crusted version of everything that is wrong in the world, served to us before coffee, so we don’t necessarily process all it’s evils. But let’s not dwell–we’ve all got more important things to be getting on with. (Note that preposition!).

What’s on your plate, sexy?

Posted in food preference, gender by m.snowe on March 20, 2008

This morning was an uninspired one, so the prevailing notion was not to post. But lo and behold, when you hope for outrageous material, it is oft thrown your way like an unwanted encomium of 100 calorie packs or homemade beef jerky.

Speaking of things that leave a bad aftertaste, and are leathery and un-digestible, a new study was conducted and reported on this morning, with results that discuss the “different gender preferences” for certain foods.

In one literary swoop, let’s place this study in the location it belongs: the scientific and sociological gutter.

First, let’s address this opening assertion:
“If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then Mars is a land where the refrigerators are stocked with meat and frozen pizza and Venus has a bounty of yogurt, fruits and vegetables, a new study suggests.”

If the SEXES (not “genders”) are from different planets, than we would all more likely appreciate the taste of Tang and Moon Cheese. Thankfully, the sexes are both from earth, and the variations of taste preferences among the sexes are far vaster than those between the sexes. By suggesting different planets, and implying the old adage of “opposite sexes” this report (and probably the study) has determined their findings even before they began. By theorizing that there is an inherent difference between men and women’s food preferences, the research has set itself up as biased. Also, the study hearkens back to the old idea that men hunted while women foraged for berries… so naturally the delicate women must enjoy the light vegetative delights, while big strong men need rip through the carcass of something newly slaughtered. Thus, men like meat and women like yogurt. You couldn’t diverge in comparisons more.

Now, you might be saying, “well–perhaps this is true, and perhaps men do prefer and eat more meat, and women spoon up more yogurt?” The report, in terms of studying the actual amount of each item each sex eats, might be relatively accurate. What is objectionable in this study, and the way it has been reported, is the implications it makes about the sexes, or “gender”–a societal construction reinforced by studies like this. The problem with this study/report is that it implies, rather overtly, that “gender” and/or sex is the main determinant of differences in food choice. But truly, it is the socially constructed views on “gender difference” that helped make this study palatable for some. Somehow, this study is suggesting that your vagina or your penis is telling you what to eat. Maybe studies haven’t been done on this, but it’s pretty much recognized that we all usually use our mouths and taste buds to eat, not our reproductive organs; and the idea that hormones predispose us to to eat certain things depending on our sex–well that’s more mythical than sweet ambrosia.

Reinforced gender stereotypes are the true cause of this study’s results. Society tells us, beginning when we are very small, what to eat, and how to eat it. But it’s not just the food–it’s what the food means based on our sex, and all the other notions of gender that will come to affect what we do and do not put into our mouths. Young girls are told to have proper etiquette, take smaller bites, eat slowly, “watch what they eat,” etc. Young boys, while maybe they are not allowed to eat like complete animals, are given more leeway to be messy and romp about while flinging things in their mouths. Also, girls are encouraged much more to keep their clothes clean, and not spill; whereas food stains, like grass stains, are generally a par for the young boy’s daily course. So from the very beginning, society has predetermined what should happen– and these are learned behaviors taught by the grown-ups. Here’s a quote from “The Political Nature of Human Nature” (in Theoretical Perspectives on Sexual Difference, Yale University Press, 1990)to explain the argument more bluntly:

“If society put half its children into short skirts and warns them not to move in ways that reveal their panties, while putting the other half in jeans and overalls and encouraging them to climb trees, play ball, and participate in other vigorous outdoor games; if later, during adolescence, the children who have been wearing trousers are urged to ‘eat like growing boys’ while the children in skirts are warned to watch their weight and not get fat; if the half in jeans runs around in sneakers or boots, while the half in skirts totters about on spike heels, then these groups of people will be biologically as well as socially different.” (my italics)

So, the biological may exist to a degree, but it was forcibly imposed by gender stereotypes.

The next problem with this study is almost too blatantly obvious to explain: each adult is likely to answer in ways that reinforce the gender stereotypes, because the majority don’t want to seem “odd” , or non-gender-conformist. Men know that to be seen as “truly masculine” they have to say they love meat, pizza, and beer–even if they occasional savor a cone of fro-yo or fruit salad. Women, who want to be seen as a good nutritional role-model for their “feminine gender” will say yogurt or salad, even if they like a good steak or some extra hot buffalo wings. Even on the phone, those 14,000 people are likely to answer with what their questioners would like to hear (and after all, the government could be tapping in, so make sure nobody’s promoting “gender-stereotype terrorism”). The watch-lists we all have out on those people who refuse to fit the gender mold is much more fearsome for your average, everyday joe or judy.

Towards the end, the report says: “Shiferaw said she could not explain some of the odder findings, like why men eat more asparagus than women.”
Calling this finding “odder” suggests that since men must naturally despise most vegetables, assuming that it doesn’t fit into the predetermined male-female designated food choices. Might it be suggested that the preference for asparagus could actually fit into a male-gender-stereotype. The only thing these biased researchers would have to do is make some well placed comments about the Washington monument, or, rather less covertly, phallic imagery. They’ve already implied that when women do prefer a hamburger, it is fully cooked, as opposed to men, who would rather that their meat was still mooing, and they tore it up in large gulps to further signify the blood-thirsty barbarians that they truly are. Thor want meat!

Commercials, food packaging, everything is targeted towards a gendered audience. No wonder we assume its biology–we can’t get past the labels!

hmm, could that be a macho fighter pilot on my frozen pizza? Somehow, eating this pizza will magically transform me into a heroic World War I flying ace!

The image is too small – but if you look on the upper left corner of the Activa box, you can see a lovely, slender female stomach. While there may be guys who have a “yogurt porn” fetish–surely this is nothing more than pandering to the “feminine” problem of body image.

Inevitably, it is society, and not any biological determinants that make food preferences an overwhelming reality. The packaging is not reinforced by “gender difference”–the packaging and marketing itself reinforces a gender difference first imposed through social hierarchies.

Your moment of hormonal zen

Posted in estrogen, gay, gender, PMS, testosterone, women by m.snowe on March 16, 2008

“During those days immediately preceding her menstrual period (i.e. the infamously nicknamed ‘PMS’), a woman’s estrogen level drops to it’s lowest point in the monthly cycle. Thus, just before menstruation, women, at least hormonally, more closely resemble men than at any other point in their cycle. Perhaps, then, the only sensible purely biological solution would be to have every corporation, government office, and–especially–military operation run by gay men, whose levels of testosterone would presumably be low enough to offset the hormone’s propulsion toward aggression, while they would also be immune to the ‘raging hormonal influences’ of PMS.”
-The Gendered Society, Michael S. Kimmel

p.s. – for those who don’t realize it, this means that during PMS, women are hormonally controlled by testosterone. This means that if a woman is “PMS-ing”, she is truly just acting like an everyday male (regardless of the time of the month).