Archive for July, 2009

I’m aware that the standard feminist position is to cast a jaded eye on medicine extending its authority over the female body. (In my academic life, I’ve spent hundreds of pages doing just this, with enough footnotes to sink the Queen Mary.) Versions of the birth control pill such as Seasonale (which allows for four periods per year) and Lybrel (which eliminates them entirely) represent further medicalization of women’s bodies. I agree with the assessment of the National Women’s Health Network: Women should have the option of menstrual suppression, but the drug companies need to knock off shaming women about their periods.

However, the standard birth control pill also offers some real health benefits beyond preventing unwanted pregnancy, which raises the question of whether menstrual suppression could confer additional benefits. Previous research has shown that the pill offers very substantial protection against the development of ovarian cancer. Now, a new study finds that women who have fewer periods, over a lifetime, are more likely to survive ovarian cancer:

Women whose menstrual periods start at a young age are less likely to survive ovarian cancer than their peers whose periods start later, new research shows. Similarly, women who have more menstrual cycles over their lifetime also have worse survival.

“Although we have relatively good knowledge about the influence of reproductive factors on the risk of developing ovarian cancer, knowledge is rather limited regarding the reproductive factors that may influence survival after diagnosis with this serious disease,” Dr. Cheryl L. Robbins said in a statement.

As reported in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, Robbins’ group analyzed data from 410 women with ovarian cancer who were enrolled in the Cancer and Steroid Hormone study (1980 to 1982). During 9 years of follow-up, 212 women died.

Menstrual period onset before 12 years of age increased the risk of death by 51 percent relative to periods beginning at age 14 or older.

The results also indicate that patients with the highest number of lifetime menstrual cycles were 67 percent more likely to die during follow-up than were those with the lowest number of cycles.

The 15-year survival rates for women with the most lifetime menstrual cycles and those with the fewest were 33.3 and 56.7 percent, respectively.

(Source: Reuters)

To me, this raises questions about whether Seasonale and Lybrel might reduce the deadliness of ovarian cancer, and not just its likelihood of developing. This study didn’t look at menstrual suppression (I peeked at the original article, which isn’t freely available on the web). The researchers found no statistically significant relationship between use of oral contraception and survival. They thought this was surprising:

We were particularly puzzled by the lack of associations with parity or use of oral contraceptive in adjusted analyses because they accounted for the majority of anovulatory cycles in our cases. However, in unadjusted Kaplan-Meier survival analyses, oral contraceptive use was associated with improved survival, and although not statistically significant, it is noteworthy that HRs [hazard rations] for parity, oral contraceptive use, and breast-feeding were in the protective direction, as expected. It may be that power was limited to detect modest associations due to sample size. Alternatively, it is feasible that combined, the LOC [lifetime ovulatory cycles] component variables become statistically significant in the composite measure. Yet, another possibility is that age at menarche is driving the association between LOC and ovarian cancer survival, but because the HR of high LOC is greater than the HR of younger age at menarche, we find the synergistic explanation more compelling. Finally, we considered what effect additional survival data might have on the observed associations, and because of the lethality of this disease, we think it is unlikely that increasing follow-up would yield very different results from 15-year survival results.

(Cheryl L. Robbins, et al., “Influence of Reproductive Factors on Mortality after Epithelial Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis,” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 18, 2035, July 1, 2009)

So further research would be required to determine whether artificially stopping periods confers the same protection as late menarche and fewer lifetime menstrual cycles. It’s unlikely that many women in the study would have had a history of menstrual suppression, since the pills promoted for this purpose are still relatively new. (Of course, it’s long been possible to use regular birth control pills to stop periods, too, but it was never a common practice.)

Let’s posit, for the sake of argument, that future studies show that artifical suppresion of periods conferred better survival odds. Wouldn’t this be just one more step toward greater medicalization of women’s bodies? Not inevitably. There’s little reason to force women to get a prescription for the pill. Few drugs have been more closely scrutinized, by now. It’s safety profile is good enough that it could be an over-the-counter product. In Great Britain, the Lancet has called for the pill to be sold without prescription.

Here in the U.S., some ob/gyns might oppose an OTC pill. Birth control prescriptions are one of the main levers for getting women to show up for an annual exam. But by the same reasoning, you could make Tylenol and Advil prescription-only to ensure that everyone gets their check-ups.

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According to a Fox News Poll (via Salon’s War Room), a plurality of Americans think housewifery should, in fact, be Sarah Palin’s next job:

About a third of Americans think the best job for Palin is homemaker (32 percent), while nearly one in five see her as a television talk show host (17 percent). Vice president of the United States comes in third (14 percent), followed closely by college professor (10 percent), with president coming last (6 percent).

(More at Faux News.)

This is not just sexist but bizarre, given that Faux News has been one of Palin’s biggest cheerleaders. You’d think they’d want to build up her credentials instead of stereotyping her. As Alex Koppelman at War Room notes, the “housewife” option would never have been posed for a man. Seriously! Imagine asking whether Dick Cheney ought to become a househusband! Sure, lots of us would like to see him return to his underground cave – just as I fervently hope Palin will stay in Wasilla – but no one is suggesting Cheney ought to be baking cookies.

Also: WTF made Faux News offer the “college professor” option? And what makes 10 percent of American think Palin would be even remotely qualified? Attending five different colleges isn’t quite the equivalent of earning a Ph.D. What would she teach – public policy? She showed her policy chops in the Couric interview. Geography? History? Sports journalism?

Myself, I like the idea of the Palins starring in their own reality show, which Levi Johnston mentioned as a real possibility.

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This has been my kids second-favorite toy this summer, topped only by the decrepit typewriter they unearthed while we were in Berlin.


It’s the box from our beloved front-porch furniture. The kids have turned it into a house, of course. Two months later, the porch furniture is still wonderful, but the box has achieved a state of transcendent ugliness. Plus it blocks access to the back porch when we store it there to save it from the rain that’s been a daily feature lately.

My husband would like to send this box-house to recycling. I’m hoping it will die a natural death from the kids’ enthusiasm. Fat chance; my boys have a way with packing tape. We can be glad that neither has packed his brother inside and shipped him off to the South Pole.

BoxBarksPack kitteh from I Can Has Cheezburger?

We can be even gladder that they’re entertained … and mostly in a non-malevolent key.


Scary kitteh from I Can Has Cheezburger?

There’s actually solid scientific evidence that a box is the perfect educational toy for cats and kids. Witness Maru:

So I think we’re going to live with the eyesore a little longer. As long as the kids are happy, I can almost call that box beautiful.

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The other day, I found myself thinking that Sonia Sotomayor had been attacked more along racial than gender lines. I’m not sure where I got that idea, because watching this compilation corrected my impression. Her critics seem to have been admirably evenhanded in their bigotry.

(via Sociological Images and Racialicious)

I’d forgotten about G. Gordon Liddy. He’s too ignorant to realize that a woman of Sotomayor’s age likely doesn’t menstruate anymore, and even if she did – no matter how hormones might cloud her judgment – she’d still be clearer-headed that a dude who’s suffering severe testosterone poisoning, like poor Liddy.

Pat Buchanan? This affirmative-action pick was second in her class at Princeton Law. Dude, explain to me how affirmative action got her those grades! Myself, I don’t award extra credit points based on ethnicity, and I’m one of those evil women’s studies professors.

Also, Dennis Miller? Way to go, proving that when racism and sexism intersect, they have specific effects that can’t be predicted by adding up the two oppressions! Thanks for the object lesson in intersectionality! You are a gift to us women’s studies professors! Your “humor,” on the other hand? Totally predictable. Though you do look fetching with that flower clutched between your teeth. And as long as you hold it there, you can’t keep spouting inane and hateful comments.

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Hysperia sent me a link to this story by Louise Marie Roth at the Huff Post, detailing the latest case where a woman was forced to undergo a cesarean section:

In the case, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. V.M. and B.G., the New Jersey appellate court found that V.M. and B.G. had abused and neglected their child, based on the fact that the mother, V.M., refused to consent to a cesarean section and behaved erratically while in labor. The mother gave birth vaginally without incident, and the baby was “in good medical condition.” Then she was never returned to her parents, and the judge in the case approved a plan to terminate their parental rights and give custody of the child to foster parents.

(Read the rest here for Roth’s full explanation of what’s wrong with forced cesareans.)

I agree with Roth that any forced or coerced cesarean – including this one – violates a person’s basic bodily integrity and right to informed consent. I’ve made this argument myself.

But here’s the thing. Roth fatally distorted the appellate court’s decision, as Kate Harding reports at Broadsheet. Harding quotes the appellate court’s reasoning:

The decision to undergo an invasive procedure such as a c-section belongs uniquely to the prospective mother after consultation with her physicians. To allow such a decision to factor into potential charges of abuse or neglect requires a prospective mother to subjugate her personal decision to a governmental agency’s statutory interpretation creating a scenario that was neither contemplated nor incorporated within the four corners of the relevant statutory language. Her decision on matters as critical as this invasive procedure must be made without interference or threat. V.M.’s decision to forego a c-section had no place in these proceedings.

Harding notes that the appellate court did uphold termination of V.M.’s parental rights, and that this would likely not have happened if her refusal of a c-section hadn’t already been framed as negligence and triggered scrutiny by the state. But once V.M. and B.G. were in the system, no court could ignore evidence of their unfitness. The couple failed to show up for a custody hearing, a psychologist was allegedly assaulted during a home visit, and another psychiatrist eventually found V.M. to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for which she refused medication. For these reasons, the appellate court ruled that the baby belonged in foster care. Harding is agnostic about whether the higher court decided correctly, and I agree that we don’t know enough to judge the case, ourselves.

But reporters and bloggers need to acknowledge that this case isn’t solely about forced cesareans. In our zeal to defend reproductive rights, it doesn’t help to fudge the facts. We can condemn the doctors and the lower court for violating V.M.’s basic right to bodily integrity and autonomy. At the same time, we can and should celebrate the appellate court’s clear judgment, which reaffirms that women enjoy those basic rights  – even when they’re pregnant.

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I know I swore off Palinology, so can we book this post as Shatner blogging?

posted with vodpod

(via Alas and Mudflats)

Or, as Jerry used to sing: “The sky was yellow and the sun was blue.”

Also, I don’t think I’m too naive, but if you happen to know what Cheechakos are, would you please let me know?

Here’s the transcript as provided by Mudflats:

And getting up here I say it is the best road trip in America soaring through nature’s finest show.  Denali, the great one, soaring under the midnight sun.  And then the extremes.  In the winter time it’s the frozen road that is competing with the view of ice fogged frigid beauty, the cold though, doesn’t it split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs?  And then in the summertime such extreme summertime about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago, than just some months from now, with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving  and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins.  It is as throughout all Alaska that big wild good life teeming along the road that is north to the future.  That is what we get to see every day.  Now what the rest of America gets to see along with us is in this last frontier there is hope and opportunity and there is country pride.

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I haven’t seen our bunnies since I returned from Germany. They’re probably pouting about the cage we put over my chard. So I got all excited when I heard a rustling sound while my husband and I were sitting on the front porch.

It wasn’t a bunny. It was a squirrel, having a big fight with this:


The pic is a little blurry, but yep, that’s Hershey’s chocolate syrup. I know it’s not from our recycling because I only go for the Special Dark syrup.

Here you can see the holes he’d already punctured in it.


He then scrambled up the silver maple tree with the bottle still in his mouth …


… and climbed higher, higher …


… until he dropped it!


He tried and failed at least once more before we gave him some privacy. Since I haven’t seen a Hershey’s bottle anyway near that tree, I hope he finally managed to tuck it into a high fork and gorge himself silly.

I’m also hoping chocolate isn’t lethal to squirrels; the Intertoobs tell me it’s not, but what do they know? I kinda like the little critters, even though they’re pesky rodents who tore up our last rainbow flag. My grandma used to feed them, and it was some of her best entertainment; there’s not much else to do when you’re 85 or 90, outliving most of your friends in a dying North Dakotan town where you only get two TV channels on a good day. I’d like to think of this squirrely chocolate treat as carrying on her tradition in some small way.

This nutty little guy is not the first squirrel on record for liking chocolate. Two years ago, a squirrel in Helsinki had his 15 minutes of fame for stealing Kinder Surprise Eggs (milk chocolate eggs with a toy inside them) from a supermarket. It was smart enough to unwrap the foil from the egg, eat the chocolate, and then abscond with the toy. Finnish authorities eventually banned the squirrel from the store, citing food safety concerns.

If that sounds paranoid, consider that Kinder Surprise Eggs are banned entirely in the U.S. – evidently because they violate a 1938 law that prohibits mixing confections and non-food items. I’m baffled at this; I don’t see any difference between the toys in Kinder Eggs and the trinkets that came in every Crackerjack box of my childhood. In fact, the Kinder toys are easier to isolate from the food because they’re always inside the chocolate egg and also enclosed in a yellow plastic egg! And what about fortune cookies??!

The chocoloate is really quite abysmal, but the toys are fun enough that during my early months in Germany, some other grad students and I used to buy Kinder Eggs just to see what toy we’d get. If your toy consisted of a bunch of tiny pieces that required assembly, you know you’d scored. My kids love them so much they soaked their dad for eight or ten of ‘em over the month we were in Berlin.

I’m sure there’s be a massive market for Kinder Eggs in the U.S. – if only our regulators weren’t quite so squirrely.

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