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Archive for December, 2010

Trickle, trickle, dribble, drip. One day in October, I was talking with a student after class when we heard the unmistakeable sounds of water. A few steps down the hall, we heard the gush that could only be a broken pipe. Our admin argued successfully with the facilities folks who wanted to put in a work order (!!) but even with their prompt response, the torrent took out a bunch of ceiling tiles while my student and I watched in horrified fascination. It took a month for those tiles to be replaced. The whole ceiling still looks stained and provisional.

Meanwhile, administrators prioritize student retention and recruitment over all other goals. The result? Money is found for lavish student activity centers and gyms while faculty are laid off and classroom facilities turn into scenes from Brazil (the movie, not the country).

The corporatization of the university is so far advanced that it’s probably unstoppable, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut up about it. Two little examples from beyond my campus:

Exhibit 1: I just went to check the links in my winter syllabus. I always include a couple of links to guides on nonsexist language usage. When I clicked on the one from the University of Minnesota, the old link redirected me – to a page on how to present a unified brand image for the university! It looks like this:

Lovely, but where are the women? Previously, there were university-wide guidelines for avoiding sexist expressions. Now, the university merely refers us to the Chicago Manual for guidance in all matters of style unrelated to its brand. Nowhere could I find the old guidelines (though a few individual departments offer brief tips on nonsexist usage in student papers). It’s all about the brand. None of this has any bearing on the university’s Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, which is outstanding; I’m betting no one consulted them.

At least Keene State College still maintains an excellent guide to nonsexist language.

Exhibit 2: Clarissa’s Blog reports that upper-level administrators at Clarissa’s public university in Illinois are drafting a dress code for its employees. Here’s the proposed language:

32.7 DRESS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE. All University employees are expected to portray a professional image to students, parents, and the community at large. An employee’s dress and appearance shall be neat and clean. At a minimum, the standard office dress code shall be defined as business casual. Apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements. In addition, apparel shall not be of an indecent, suggestive, provocative, obscene, or defamatory nature. If applicable, employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts. The University may direct an employee to leave work and/or change clothes if he/she is are found in violation of this provision.

Clarissa dishes out the snark that this proposal so richly deserves:

Will I be required to bring dry-cleaning receipts to prove that I clean my clothes on a regular basis? Do I need witnesses to testify that I do my laundry often enough to satisfy these losers? And who will teach my classes if I’m ordered to leave for “violating the provision”? The administrators? That, surely, be fun to observe. Maybe now, whenever I’m too lazy to prepare a class, I should just show up dressed “obscenely” and be sent home to rest.

Oh, and she says it reminds her of the bad old days back in the USSR.

The very idea of a dress code is to turn professors from idiosyncratic, original – if slightly frumpy – people into corporate drones. Clothes may not make the man (or the woman), but I sure think more clearly in comfortable shoes. It’s an interesting contradiction too, to say “apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements” but also “employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts.” University branding, anyone? If my uni comes up with a dunderheaded policy like this, I think I’ll need to buy some of those sweatpants with the university’s initials appliqued onto each butt cheek, just to test whether “indecency” or “suggestiveness” trumps the tomcat-like urge to mark everything with the university’s branding.

I have to wonder if the broader intent of such silly proposals is to be a diversionary tactic: Keep the professoriate busy with idiotic dress-code proposals and perhaps they won’t notice that their compensation is being slashed while their workloads balloon. Certainly my institution’s top honchos are very adept at forming unwieldly committees that either 1) lack meaningful faculty representation (if its task is important), or 2) keep scores of instructors tied up in busy work, often for a year or two, only to discard or disregard the committee’s product or recommendations.

These diversionary tactics are one way to suppress dissent against the advancing corporatization of higher ed, in which students are seen as customers and instructors are inconvenient expenses, useful only in generating “weighted student credit hours,” which is a measure of tuition income. It’s also a means of distracting professors from the way in which the casualization of academic labor – its delegation to people like me with no possibility of tenure, significantly lower wages, and a high chance of being unemployed next year – is undermining the ability of the entire professoriate to do its best work. Instructors who are busy fighting silly battles over basic dignity in working conditions have less time to refine their teaching and pursue their research. And those who are squeezed for time are more likely to seek individual, dog-eat-dog solutions to their own precarious situation, rather than investing in solidarity with other instructors and staff.

I’m off to a meeting now, myself, but this one is for union rabble-rousing. Professors do not have collective bargaining at my school. Now that incoming Governor Kasich is threatening to run over us with his “bus,” we’re going to need it.

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Just for the record: I would not care to samba with Julian Assange. Anything more intimate that square dancing, and I’d wonder what tricky step he might try … bareback, of course. Hmm, maybe “dosido your partner” means something different to Australian men of mystery?

Anyway, Gayle Force posted this irresistible clip. (Don’t see it? Go here.)

My favorite lyric?

Don’t corner Merkel, she’ll become tenacious

She’s risk-averse and rarely creative.

When I still lived in Germany, we regarded her as the Spawn of Helmut Kohl for her tenacity, risk aversion, and political acumen. Rather immaturely but accurately, we called her the Pillsbury Dough Girl. Back in the mid-1990s she honestly looked like she would end her career as a puff pastry; since then, she’s discovered tanning beds. I generally disapprove of tanning beds, but Merkel truthfully looks a whole lot less dowdy – unlike her mentor Kohl, who grew ever more dumpling-esque over time.

Here’s Merkel and mentor Kohl circa 1992:

(via the Editrix’ Roncesvalles)

And today? Why, it’s Merkel Barbie! (Or do the other dolls just call her Angie?)

(Image from Mattel. Don’t miss the flag on the left, or Angie’s pink accessories. Yeah, I know – I’m just spiteful because I want a Sungold Barbie!)

Had I been in the State Department, Wikicables would be a lot more embarrassing. Just imagine if diplomats and snarky bloggers magically traded places for a day! Oh, the places we’d go! The scandals we’d sow! Mmmmm, I feel some Seuss coming on: The Cat in the Hat Comes to the U.N.! The North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax meet on that disputed Korean island! The Star-Bellied Sneetches Rock Paris! The Butter Battle and the Big Boy Boomeroo – coming soon to a dictatorial Middle Eastern nation near you!

On second thought, maybe we bloggers ought to stay home and start poring through those cables ourselves. We might yet uncover a Big Boy Boomeroo. I hear Iran is building one.

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I kvetch a lot about snow days on this blog, because the North Dakotan girl in me is annoyed and appalled at how my little town in southeast Ohio shuts down as soon as a dozen snowflakes stick to the ground.

But this North Dakotan girl also knows the difference between a snow flurry and a blizzard. When the weather forecasters tell you that a foot and a half of snow is about to whomp your town, you locate your flashlights, make sure you’ve got food in the house, and then you hunker down.

“Hunkering down” ≠ getting in your car and driving.

And so I am amazed and appalled at how New Yorkers compounded their quandary by putting their cars on the streets where snowbanks could form all around them and block the plows. People! When Minneapolis got an equal dump of snow earlier this month, did you see the Minnesotans turning their city streets into impromptu parking lots?

I feel for the folks who are camping out at the airports and train stations. Their predicament was a stroke of rotten luck. But the motorists? Except for those few who were responding to an emergency, they were captured by hubris and willful stupidity, which they then inflicted on the whole city. It makes me think of this very cool puzzle/one-person game my kids got for Christmas, where you try to unsnarl gridlocked traffic …

… except that in real life, there’s negative fun and everyone loses.

Oh, and staying home in a blizzard isn’t a sign of the “wussification of America,” no matter what Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s thinks. Real men are smart enough to hunker down during the storm (again: not in their cars!!). They’ll have plenty of chances to prove their mettle when the digging out begins.

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I haven’t blogged about Julian Assange and Wikileaks because I’ve been trying to understand before I judge. I’m still not willing to offer any final judgment on the rape allegations against Assange. That’s for a Swedish court of law to do, assuming that he’s extradited and the prosecution continues to press its case.

I feel confident about three things, though. If the Guardian’s article presents a good approximation of the facts, some sort of sexual assault occurred. (I’m well aware that Assange disputes his accusers’ accounts, and he deserves a chance to rebut them in court if formal charges are brought.) Secondly, anyone who dismisses the women’s accusations out of hand is out of line – and that goes doubly for feminists, who have every reason to know better. Lastly, even if the accusations never lead to a conviction, Assange is still an insufferable egotist who treats women like crap. That’s not a crime but it does raise questions about whether the left should continue to lionize him as a hero.

As I’ve already stated, I support what Wikileaks is trying to do. But as many other feminists have already argued, we can support its mission without preemptively assuming that Julian Assange is innocent of sexual assault. We don’t have to assume he’s guilty, either. We can instead support due process for Assange (including his right to bail) while also insisting that his accusers be treated respectfully, their allegations investigated, and their privacy protected. Or as Jill at Feministe said: “Seriously, we can chew gum and walk at the same time.” Seriously!

It’s still not clear what charges will be filed against Assange. Indeed, it’s still possible that Swedish prosecutors will decide the case is too difficult to win in court and decline to press charges. In that case, Assange just might be better off in Sweden than in Britain; should the U.S. cook up a brand-new crime and try to extradite Assange, I suspect Sweden would be less likely to cooperate than would Britain, with its “special relationship” to the U.S.

* * * * *

For the sake of conjecture, let us say that events transpired as described by the Guardian. Let us, for the sake of fairness, assume that the defendant is a fictional character we’ll call Albino Aussie. This lets us run a thought experiment without prejudging the actual real-world case. We will assume for this experiment that the women’s accounts are factual. In the real world, of course, the male protagonist disputes their statements, and we don’t have his side of the story. That would matter crucially in a court of law. The intent of my little thought experiment is more modest: to ask whether the alleged actions constitute sexual assault.

[The account of Miss A.] to police, which [Albino Aussie] disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

(Source: The Guardian)

Ripping off clothing is standard fare in romance novels. It could be good fun in an established relationship where one partner knows for sure that their partner would like to be ravished in this way. But with no discussion about desires and predilections? Albino Aussie made some major assumptions. Once Miss A. started to put her clothes back on, he had a stop signal – a flashing red light – and he chose to ignore it. (Also, Albino Aussie was a complete asshole to wreck her necklace. Not a crime, but that would have been a deal-breaker for me.)

His attempt to keep her from grabbing a condom is not sexy by any standard. It’s coercive. By itself, it doesn’t constitute sexual assault, but it could be significant if it signaled his intent and he then did “something” deliberately to break the condom, as Miss A. alleges. Criminal intent (mens rea) is a key element in sexual assault law in the United States (except for statutory rape), and it would be surprising if it were irrelevant in Sweden.

Similarly, Albino Aussie ran roughshod over the insistence of the second complainant, Miss W., that he wear a condom:

Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. [Albino Aussie] had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

Early the next morning, Miss W told police, she had gone to buy breakfast before getting back into bed and falling asleep beside Assange. She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Note that Miss W. never consented to sex without a condom. In fact, she was adamant that she would refuse consent to unprotected penetrative sex. Nothing changed between the evening and the morning, except that Albino Aussie chose to ignore the critical conditions on which her consent was premised.

Whether any of Albino Aussie’s actions constitute “rape” will depend on the specifics of Swedish law. But there’s every reason to understand them as sexual assault of some form, even if they don’t rise to the standard of rape. He violated the conditions of consent that Miss W. had explicitly and repeatedly stated as a categorical prerequisite to sex. He initiated sex while she was sleeping and could not possibly say no. While the Guardian doesn’t specify the exact type of sex, it’s reasonable to assume PIV since she responded that he’d better not have HIV.

In the case of Miss A., Albino Aussie violated her conditions of consent by ejaculating inside her without protection. (If he was unaware that the condom broke – which is unlike if, as Miss A. claims, he ripped it himself – Swedish law might still allow prosecution on the basis of recklessness, though again I’m speculating since there’s precious little info on Swedish law.) He also ignored her clear signal to slow down and check in with her when she began to dress herself again in the midst of their encounter – an action that obviously signals NO.

To my mind, the clearest-cut example of sexual assault here is the allegation that he had sex with a sleeping woman. She could not possibly consent. What’s more, his decision to have unprotected sex clearly violated the terms of consent that she’d insisted on all night long. No way could he reasonably assume he was giving her something she wanted. (Jill at Feministe has a great analysis of the limits and nuances of consent; she wrote it before the Guardian piece appeared, but her basic points are still relevant. Plus, she’s a real lawyer … and I’m not even a fake one.)

Again, we don’t know what happened. But the substance of the allegations amounts to much more than “sex by surprise” (whatever that might be!). The allegations definitely fall on the spectrum of sexual assault. Everything else that allegedly happened – the fact that Miss A. let her guest continue to sleep in her apartment, partied with him, didn’t contact the police for days – is immaterial, if indeed events went down as she and Miss W. described them.

The allegations are not atypical for date rape cases. As a professor and as a feminist, I hear too many stories from students that echo elements of this case: the desire to normalize things the next morning, pressure to keep the social fabric intact by keeping accusations private, fear of character assassination if one does report, reluctance to label one’s experience as rape instead of – as Miss A. called it – “the worst sex ever.” (That last point is borne out by research done by Arnie Kahn, who found that many college-aged are reluctant to call nonconsensual sex “assault” if the perpetrator is a friend or lover. See Arnie S. Kahn, “What College Women Do and Do Not Experience as Rape,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28 (2004), 9-15.)

* * * * *

Feminists who’ve worked with college students and rape survivors should be aware of all this. And yet … Naomi Wolf is not. Or more likely, she chooses to repress what she knows, because she so fiercely wants Assange to be able to continue his work with Wikileaks. Here’s Wolf (in the HuffPo):

I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke.

Um, no. Compare with the accusations above. In the second instance, the allegation is that the sex was not consensual, because Miss W. had not consented to barebacking, and she had no opportunity to say yes or no while she was sleeping.

More Wolf:

I understand, from the alleged victims’ complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women’s apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, ‘reading stories about himself online’ in the cab.

Um, no. Self-centered texting is not among the allegations. I’m no expert in Swedish law, but I don’t think they’ve outlawed egotism yet. Just file this nugget away for the last part of this post (on why Assange is a douche).

Wolf expanded on her flippant HuffPo piece in an interview with Amy Goodman, which also included Jaclyn Friedman. Wolf said one thing I agree with: We do need to expect women to behave as “moral adults.” Sure. We cannot expect men to simply intuit a woman’s every wish. But Wolf didn’t stop there:

If you read these allegations, he took off Miss A’s clothes too quickly for her comfort. She tried to tell him to slow down, but then, quote, “she allowed him to undress her.” This is what the report says. The second woman says she woke to find him having sex with her. When she asked whether he was wearing a condom, he said no. Quote, “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV.'” He answered, “Of course not.” Quote, “She couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

So, if you’re going to treat women as moral adults and if you’re going to take the issue of rape seriously, the person who’s engaging in what he thinks is consensual sex has to be told, “I don’t want this.” And again and again and again, these women did not say, “This is not consensual.” Assange was shocked when these were brought up as complaints, because he had no idea that this was not a consensual situation. Miss A kept Assange in her home for the next four days and threw a party for him.

Thing is, the women did say and signal: “I don’t want this.” At some point, both of them gave up on him getting the memo. But dang it, Assange – or “Albino Aussie,” if you will – had every opportunity to see the yellow and red cards the women were pulling. And instead of saying, “OK, being ravished is not your thing – so what would really turn you on?” he just keeps going on autopilot, ripping bodices until Miss A. gives up resistance. Instead of asking, “Should we do something else, since I only want to fuck bareback?” he waits until Miss W. is sleeping and slips it to her against her express wishes.

These women did act as moral adults. They delineated their boundaries. They tried to negotiate a satisfying, sexy experience for both partners. They said and signaled no to activities they found disturbing or unacceptable. According to their allegations, he drove a bulldozer over their moral agency.

How many times should a woman have to say no for it to count?

A final beef with Wolf: In the Democracy Now interview, she insinuates that only violent stranger rape is real rape:

In 23 years, I’ve never seen any man in any situation this ambiguous, involving this much consent, have any kind of legal process whatsoever. And all over the world, women who have been gang-raped, brutally raped, raped in alleyways, pimped, prostituted, trafficked, you know, their rapists go free.

Yeah, well, most rapists will never be convicted. But does the existence of violent stranger rape make date rape irrelevant, trivial, or harmless? Wolf and I are almost exactly the same age. It was our generation of college students that first started talking about date rape in the mid-1980s. Wolf knows that date rape is real rape. Just a few years ago Wolf accused Professor Harold Bloom groped her inner thigh back when she was an undergrad. That might not have been a case of sexual assault, but it was at least sexual harassment. No trafficking or gang-rape occurred, yet Wolf saw fit to publish the incident in New York Magazine. I’m not saying she was wrong to do so, only that she seems to have lost her compass since then. How else to explain her assertion that Assange and Miss W. were “making love”? (She said it in her Amy Goodman interview, at 5:27 – sorry, no transcript.)

It’s not just Wolf who’s twisting herself into pretzels to defend Assange. AnnaAnastasia at Shakesville directs us to Laurie Essig’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled “Assange, Morality, and Desire,” it’s remarkably devoid of morality. Instead, Essig – a a sociology professor at Middlebury – is channeling some combo of Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and Harlequin romances:

One can imagine the summer air in Stockholm, ripe with possibilities, seducing Mr. Assange into  thinking it was a good idea to hop into bed with his host, known as Ms. A in the court papers, and then hopping into the bed of one of his fans, Ms. W, just a few days later.

Essig doesn’t even try to make Assange into a moral actor. He’s giddy with optimism, opportunity, and the seductive air of Stockholm. Potential entrepreneurs, take note: there’s an untapped market for bottling Swedish air and selling it to frustrated men (the Seduction Community might buy in bulk). Poor Assange was defenseless; he was seduced, perhaps even entrapped, by Swedish women who, Essig suggests, subscribe to a moral code that is wholly foreign to an Australian man.

While Essig initially concedes that Assange is charged with”having sex without a condom (without full consent of the women),” she backpedals a moment later:

And while Sweden might consider having sex without a condom against the law, most countries do not.  Perhaps more confusing is the issue of consent. Although this young woman clearly found being taken while asleep upsetting, some women would be turned on by being the object of that much desire.

This is pure disingenuity. Essig has just noted that the problem is a lack of full consent, not laws against barebacking. She damn well knows better! What’s so “confusing” about consent here? Consent to one sex act doesn’t imply consent to another. Just as consent to vaginal sex doesn’t imply consent to anal sex, consent to safer sex doesn’t imply consent to condomless sex.

As for being “taken while asleep” – in a longer-term relationship, partners might let each other know they’d welcome sleep sex. To just presume it? When it’s your first time hooking up? When your only real communication revealed your incompatible expectations vis-a-vis condoms? That’s more than just stupid and presumptuous. That’s rape.

Then again, Essig seems to consider “date rape” to be something quite distinct from “rape.” Channeling Whoopie Goldberg, Essig digs herself in even deeper in a follow-up post:

Based on what we do know, I do not think Assange is guilty of rape.  I am not sure whether he is guilty of date rape, but if he is, then the date rape is incredibly murky since no one seems to have been drugged or beaten or even particularly coerced.

So if Miss W. had taken drugs before sleeping, then Essig might entertain the possibility of “date rape”? I can only imagine how she might respond when her students report having been raped. “No roofies? No worry! Just be more careful next time … and remember, some women get off on lack of consent.”

Essig wants us to understand that sex is messy and complicated. She strikes the pose of a sophisticated libertine, a connoisseur of heterosexual behavior. Essig teaches classes on heterosexuality – but in her essay, she offers up a vision of female heterosexuality that’s cartoonish, not complex:

According to press reports, Assange held one of the women down in a sexual manner.  Yes, and many women like that.  Assange started having sex while one woman was sleeping.  Yes, that too some women like.  Because people like all sorts of things—clothes being ripped off, dirty threats whispered in their ears, even somewhat violent sexual encounters.  Not everyone likes these things, but many, many people do.  Clearly someone in Assange’s past sexual encounters thought it was a turn on or at least didn’t think it was rape.  That’s why he was doing it.  Is that gross?  Sure.  Is all sex gross when you’re not the one doing it?  Pretty much.  Is it rape if the woman doesn’t wake up and say “Stop” and “No, I don’t want that”?

Many (most?) heterosexual women will cop to some un-PC desires. Fantasies about non-consent are quite common – among hetero men as well as women. But when we go beyond fantasy, the desire to submit and be ravished is virtually always predicated on consent. Partners can ethically incorporate violent activities, even “nonconsensual” scenes, into their sex lives – if they negotiate. If they agree on a safe word. If they consent in advance, with an option to bail if the scene goes wrong. Two people who disagree on whether a condom must be used are in a whole ‘nother universe than partners who communicate their edgier desires. Essig surely ought to know all this too.

After all, Essig teaches in Women’s and Gender Studies as well as sociology.

* * * * *

Even though I think the allegations are serious and credible, I’m still not committing myself to the “Assange must be guilty camp.” I do think that if the two women set out to smear him, they would have constructed a much smoother story. Someone setting a premeditated trap would have avoided the details that Essig and Wolf find damning, such as Miss A. continuing to host Assange in her home, or Miss. W. giving him a ride the next morning. They would have continued to say no throughout the encounters. They would have called the police immediately and filed sexual assault charges, instead of just demanding Assange take an STD test. In short, they would have sought to fit the ideal of how a sexual assault victim ought to act, rather than behaving in the way that actual survivors often act – confused, trying to not to make waves socially, and unsure what to call their experience.

Does that make Assange guilty? No. I would want to hear Assange’s side before drawing any conclusions.

What we do hear from and about Assange doesn’t exactly cover him in glory, though. He comes across as a user and a sponger. Given that he now draws an income from Wikileaks, why did he keep squatting in Miss A.’s  apartment even when she moved into a friend’s place to avoid him? Why did he apparently have Miss W. pay for his train tickets to and from her home? (He told her he had no cash and feared being tracked by his credit card – a thin excuse for a guy who was easily trackable via his public speaking schedule in Sweden.) How narcissistic do you have to be to immerse yourself in online stories about yourself even as you’re trying to get laid? Why did he order Miss W. to bring him orange juice (as Essig reports)? Couldn’t he pour his own damn juice?

And why didn’t he just get the STD tests? He claimed that Miss W.’s demand for testing was “blackmail,” but it’s a pretty reasonable request, given how open he was about his predilection for barebacking. If he’d agreed, the whole matter would probably never have come to the prosecutor’s attention.

The interview Assange granted the BBC last week hints at the answers to these questions. Here are a couple of especially prime slices:

Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.

JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more. …

Q: But you haven’t denied having sex with those women?

JA: No, I haven’t denied that.

Q: So you did have sex with those women?

JA: I have always tried in this case and in my other dealings to be a private person and to not speak about matters that are private.

Q: This is now public. So I’m asking you the question. Did you have sex with those women?

JA: It’s a matter of public record as far as the courts are concerned but I am not going to be exposing other people’s private lives or my own more than is absolutely necessary. That is not what a gentleman does, that why I have also never criticised these women. We don’t know precisely what pressures they have been under, exactly. There are powerful interests that have incentives to promote these smears. That doesn’t mean that they got in there in the very beginning and fabricated them. …

Q: The allegation against you, the very broad allegation that’s been made over and over again in the media over recent days is that you’re some sort of sexual predator who has sex with a large number of young women, ideally without a condom, and that you do it because you can, effectively, because in some cases they’re groupies or they’re enthralled to your fame or whatever it is. Are you a sexual predator?

JA: That’s ridiculous. Of course not.

Q: How many women have you slept with?

JA: That’s a private business. Not only does a gentleman not tell, not only does a gentleman like to talk about his private life, a gentleman certainly doesn’t count.

Q: Many, without being specific?

JA: I’ve never had a problem before with women. Women have been extremely helpful and generous.

Q: Not quite the question I asked you.

JA: No, women have been extremely helpful and generous and put up with me. But…

Q: Does put up with you mean having you in their beds?

JA: Of course on occasion, I mean I’m an adult man, but women have been generous to me over many years.

(Read the full BBC interview here. Ellipses are mine except for the one in Assange’s second-to-last statement.)

Of course, a gentleman wouldn’t argue when his partner insisted on a condom. That’s what a foolhardy narcissist does.

A gentleman might not keep count of his lovers, but then again, a gentleman would keep some mad money in his pocket, so as not to mooch train fares off his lovers. A gentleman gives as well as takes. Relying on women to be “generous”? That’s what a sponger does.

Also, a gentleman doesn’t relish martyrdom. That’s a role better suited for a someone with a messiah complex.

In a profile of Assange as a dark-hatted hacker, Bruce Sterling calls him a sociopath. I don’t see proof of that. But a wannabe martyr? A cheapskate mooch? A narcissist? An exploiter of groupies? A misogynist with no understanding of women? An antifeminist who says “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism”? A jet-setting, globe-trotting, world-class douche? I think the evidence is in.

None of this makes Assange guilty of sexual assault. But it does indicate that Assange has some grave character issues. He’s too self-centered to earn my trust – too entitled and narcissistic. The Wikileaks organization would be better served with a leader driven more by public interest than by self-interest.

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Before I dive into the thorny mess of the rape allegations against Juian Assange, I want to say this: For the record, I generally support what Wikileaks has done. Too many secrets corrode democracy. We now live in a national-security state that is also a surveillance-and-secrecy state – what Glenn Greenwald memorably describes as “the government’s one-way mirror.” Increasingly, the state gathers data on every aspect of our lives, to the point of intercepting and reading individuals’ emails without probable cause, while it demands absolute secrecy even for ludicrously quotidian operations. As Greenwald puts it:

One of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government is its fixation on hiding everything it does behind a wall of secrecy while simultaneously monitoring, invading and collecting files on everything its citizenry does.  Based on the Francis Bacon aphorism that “knowledge is power,” this is the extreme imbalance that renders the ruling class omnipotent and citizens powerless.

Wikileaks poses such a profound threat because it undermines the asymmetry of knowledge/power, allowing us citizens to glimpse the inner workings of our government. I get nervous about the sheer scope of revelations, because it’s hard to be confident that Wikileaks has redacted everything that could put individuals at risk. A few days ago, there were reports that an Algerian journalist could come to harm as a result of leaked material. That’s one person too many. If this becomes a pattern, then we’ll know that Wikileaks has succumbed to the same ends-justify-the-means logic that has corrupted the U.S. government, and I couldn’t support that. So far, though, I’m convinced that its aims are essentially good: to make it harder for governments to act conspiratorially, and thus to foster a more just society. I’m also glad that human rights organizations are leaning on Wikileaks to make sure they get their redactions right.

Beyond its lofty long-term goals, Wikileaks had shed light on specific abuses. Though that’s not the group’s leading goal, it’s still a terribly important corrective to the secrecy state. Greenwald gives us a rundown of their most important revelations this year.

Too many of the revelations are reminiscent of the Pentagon Papers. Not because they reveal “top secret” info; they don’t. The Pentagon Papers, by contrast, bore a “top secret” classification. Nor do the Wikileaks revelations present a neat, self-contained analysis and narrative, as the Pentagon Papers did. These leaks are so messy and sprawling, they’ll still be spawning news stories a year from now.

No, the link between the Wikileaked materials and the Pentagon Papers is much simpler. Both show that our government is lying to us. That’s our democratically elected government, folks. As in the 1960s, it’s lying to us in the midst of war. It’s lying about the war. This parallel is striking enough that Daniel Ellsberg (he who leaked the Pentagon Papers) sees it, too. Behold him on Colbert:

(If you can’t see the clip, go here – or just pop over to Kittywampus, which has more kittehs than your blog reader does.)

I don’t want my government to lie to me. Far many more lives have been lost through its lies than were lost on 9/11. Far more have been killed in the name of “freedom.” I worry more about the structures and policies that enable this killing than I do about “terrorists” or Australians hackers.

Also: Don’t you just love Daniel Ellsberg? I don’t have many heroes. I don’t much believe in heroes. He’s one of my few.

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People go to such lengths to keep the Santa myth alive! Kenneth Rapoza, writing at Salon, details the lies he spins to preserve the magic for his children:

We send letters to the Santa Claus Main Post Office in the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland. A real place. We even got letters back from them two years ago.

That tradition began after my daughter, at 5, discovered in school that the North Pole had no land mass and didn’t support life, except for an occasional polar bear in the winter months. I pointed out that Lapland was a hot spot for actual Santa activity and told her that the North Pole was just one of many Santa stories: not real. It was a nice recovery, but year after year, it’s getting harder to trick her.

What she doesn’t get is the logistics. How can Santa deliver toys around the world in one night? It’s not one night. It’s two because of world time zones and dates, plus the story that Santa flies through the sky on reindeer is just a story. Years ago, he delivered toys in his hometown by sled, pulled by reindeer. But Santa has a big staff now. The Santas you see, including those in the fake beards who are trying to dress like Santa, represent Santa in other cities and towns and — upon receiving your letters to Santa — fill in your wish list with small presents that Santa makes. This is reality, dear. Santa may not be as magical as you think. But don’t ruin those stories for others, I say. She’s cool with it.

Maybe his kids are in for a gentle landing. Maybe it’ll be more like a brutal crash, with reindeer blood and tears despoiling the winter wonderlandscape. That’s sort of how it went for my ten-year-old nephew this year. Everyone had assumed he was in don’t ask, don’t tell mode for fear of losing the loot. But when his seven-year-old sister learned the truth and immediately spilled the beans to him, there were histrionics. I wasn’t there, but I hear it involved oceans of tears and at least a half-hour in the fetal position. He’s fine now, but to judge from Salon’s comment section, there are adults walking this earth who still suffer the aftershock of disillusionment.

My mom has long said she hated lying to us kids about anything, even Santa and the Easter Bunny. I shared her qualms (even though I hadn’t been terribly traumatized, myself) and so I vowed to keep the lies to an absolute minimum. Yes, Santa comes to our house, but their dad and I never told the kids a lie when their budding scientific minds began to deconstruct the Santa myth .

The Bear, age five: How does Santa get into houses without a chimney?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think?

Bear: I bet he uses the door.

Not long thereafter, the Bear determined that the Easter Bunny couldn’t be a real rabbit; he had to be a person. A few days later, he announced, “And I know who he is! It’s Santa Claus in a bunny suit!”

By the time the Bear solved the puzzle, he had a lot of pieces in place: the impossibility of making all those deliveries in one night, the absurdity of flying reindeer, the fact that all the elves’ handiwork was “made in China,” the presence of familiar handwriting and (oops) wrapping paper on Santa gifts, and the small can of blue paint in our garage that perfectly matched the base of the fish tank Santa brought him. The Bear was proud to have done the detective work and thrilled to guard the magic for his little brother. He was a perfect co-conspirator; not once did he let the secret slip.

Over the past year, the Tiger – now seven – would ask occasionally whether Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy was real. I’d always counter, “What do you think?” He would respond, “I think he’s real.”

Earlier this month, he raised the question again:

Tiger: Is Santa real?

Me: What do you think?

Tiger: I think he’s not real.

Me: Why? What made you decide that?

Tiger: Because magic is not real.

Me (with a slight pang – knowing that when magic dies, the whole world is disenchanted): What would you think if you knew it’s me and your dad who are Santa?

Tiger: That would be nice!

I couldn’t have wished for a softer landing. In general, my parenting is pretty imperfect, so I’m reluctant to claim any special wisdom here, either. But if you’ve got young sprogs on Santa’s delivery route, it might be worth trying our approach. Let them decide what they want to believe and how much of the myth to question. Follow their lead. (Hmm, that’s starting to sound like my philosophy on sex ed, too!)

I’m curious how other parents handle this, as well as what went right or wrong in your own falling away from a world enchanted.

Happy holidays to all, whatever you celebrate or believe!

Illustrations are a few of the cookies that my family and I made during the last run of snow days – photos by me, Sungold.

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My seven-year-old Tiger would put Kackel Dackel at the top of his Christmas list, if only it were available in the U.S.! (Amazon.de has it but the shipping times were too long.) This toy has got everything: animal cuteness, extruder action, and scat!

(Click here if you don’t see the clip. Via Andrew Sullivan, who got it from Warming Glow.)

See, this is why I spent all those years learning German! I knew it would come in handy someday. My rough translation:

Oh no! Poopy Dachsund is pooping again! Quick, into your doghouse! Naughty Poopy Dachshund!

Fix his food – feed him – roll the dice – and one, two – what’s that noise? [Cue excretory sounds.] Collect the most [poop] piles, and you’re the winner!

Poopy Dachsund! From Goliath Toys.

Whoever said the Germans were anal-retentive? This pooch is just the opposite. In fact, Berlin alone must have 50,000 live-action Kackel Dackel, all of whose piles are left on the sidewalk for pedestrians to tread in, forming a sort of obstacle-course game of their own.

In any case, given the popularity of the Captain Underpants books, I’m positive there’s a U.S. market for Kackel Dackel. Maybe next year?

Just for good measure, here’s Kackel Dackel in action, speaking a completely international language.

(I found this clip at Toytown, a site for expats in Germany. The comments there are worth a visit. “BDSM Bear,” anyone?)

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Gratuitous flowers for a sex post: Cascading morning glories captured by me, Sungold, in October, back before the frost bit ‘em.

The Denver Post ran an article today asking why an arousal-booster for women called Zestra can’t find TV stations willing to run their ads, even as Viagra ads are literally driving in circles around us. Historiann took the article to task for its casual disavowal of feminism, and I’ve got nothin’ to add to her critique except a vigorous nod of approval. Figleaf chimed in to say that the stations’ ad policies spotlight the illegitimacy of autonomous female desire.

What most struck me about the article, though, was its conflation of libido and arousal, which is endemic in “science writing” that reports on “pink viagra.” Here’s how reporter Mary Winter framed it:

Now, you would not know it from the $300-million annual ad campaign for erection-enhancing ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but women suffer more sexual dysfunction than men do — 43 percent to 31 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In other words, the potential market for flagging female libidos is huge. But here’s the irony: When the makers of Zestra went to 100 television networks and stations to buy ads, the vast majority refused them. The few stations that did take their money would run the ads only after midnight or during the daytime.

The stations “told us they were not comfortable airing the ads,” Zestra co-founder Mary Jaensch told “Nightline.” The double-standard here — men, you deserve sexual pleasure, and women, what’s wrong with you hussies? — is breathtaking.

So how about this ad: a Camaro, a woman, and a vibrating driver’s seat?

(This is just the end of the article; read the whole thing here. Winter is very sharp and witty on the Viagra ads!)

In a way, it’s unfair to pick on Winter, because most writing about female sexual dysfunction fails to draw basic distinctions between arousal, orgasm, desire, and libido. It also tends to ignore the reality of the physical pain some women experience (which K has explored eloquently at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.) In practice, women can of course have issues with any or all of the above, and problems in one area can easily spill into another. A woman  suffering from vulvodynia, for instance, might be able to orgasm, but if sexual activity hurts, that’s likely to dampen her libido. Another woman might have a generally low libido (meaning she doesn’t crave sex very often) but develop desire responsively to her partner, at least in certain situations. There are probably as many variations as there are women.

Now, getting back to Zestra and the Denver Post: Winter’s article refers mainly to libido. She’s partly on the right track, insofar as that “42 percent” figure refers mainly to women who complain about low libido. (Some feminists have criticized that figure as too high, but let’s set that debate aside for today.) Winter does hint at the primary issue here – arousal – in that apparent throwaway line about a vibrating driver seat in the Camaro. Why yes, I think quite a few of us gals might enjoy such a ride! But if we got a good buzz per gallon, that wouldn’t mean our libido was revving – only that our engine was purring smoothly.

Libido is not the primary target for Zestra, though Zestra’s website refers to a whole host of potential benefits: stronger libido, greater satisfaction, more earth-shaking orgasms, and a more harmonious relationship with one’s partner. (That last point comes up only in testimonials; the overall tone of the website is “try this for yourself,” not “use this to please your long-suffering husband.”) It’s being marketed to women who suffer from sexual problems of any sort due to illness (including cancer), postpartum changes, menopause, antidepressants, stress, and even widowhood. But what does it really do?

Zestra’s primary mechanism, as far as I understand it, is to enhance arousal and response during sexual activity. As far as I can see without having tried it myself, it looks like it might increase engorgement and/or creaste prickling sensations in a nice way. In the best case, yummy sensations start a cascade of increasing desire during lovemaking. As a topical agent applied directly to one’s ladyparts, Zestra doesn’t act directly on libido, which is regulated by the brain and a complex dance of different hormones and neurotransmitters (including estrogen and testosterone, but also thyroid hormone, stress hormones, dopamine and lots of other nifty “messenger” chemicals). A topical gel won’t directly influence that chemical brew. It’s only logical, though, that if sex is more pleasurable, some women might want it more. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has written about how hot sex with a new partner gives us a dopamine high akin to cocaine (quick summary of her ideas here). Maybe hot sex with in a newly reinvigorated relationship can give us the same buzz?

Also, the testing for Zestra relied on women who committed to have sex eight times in a month, so it’s unlikely many of them had a super low libido. (For more details on the testing, check out the clinical study.) These women were already open to regular sex. As a group they sound to me more like women who basically like sex but were frustrated by difficulty getting aroused. They don’t sound like the subset of women who’ve given up on sex – a group that constitutes about 15% of American marriages, by the way. (This according to Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, where “sexless” was defined as no sex at all with one’s spouse during the previous six to twelve months.)

In other words, the mechanism behind Zestra appears to be entirely different than flibanserin, an orally-administered drug recently rejected by the FDA for ineffectiveness. Flibanserin was supposed to increase libido directly by changing one’s brain chemistry. It too was compared to Viagra, and quite wrongly so: Viagra targets a mans plumbing, so to speak. It produces an erection (though it almost always requires mental and/or physical stimulation to be effective). Flibanserin left physical arousal untouched while aiming to increase psychological arousal and desire.

Calling flib a “pink viagra” was just misleading. In the case of Zestra, the comparison appears more apples-to-apples, since both Viagra and Zestra appear to work by increasing engorgement.

I still think it’s too bad that flib flopped. Yes, the drug was intended to be a Big Pharma Bonanza. I don’t really give a shit. If it had really helped women live better, I’d be all for it. I trust women to make decisions about their bodies (though I also insist on our responsibility to understand our bodies. At any rate, flib failed to gain FDA approval because it didnt work.

As far as I know, there’s still nothing  on the market that specifically helps women who only desire sex once in a blue moon. For some women, hormone therapy (sometimes including testosterone as well as estrogen) delivers a libido boost. But hormones carry some risk. Women fear breast cancer if they take estrogen and they fear growing a beard and unibrow if they take T. But these are the choices, because there’s no drug that specifically targets libido.

Zestra interests me because it seems to be quite safe (worst side effect: transient burning sensations in some rather precious real estate). I’m skeptical to the extent that their studies are pretty small. Unavoidably, the very fact of running a study is an intervention in itself. This can have real effects on its findings. How many of the couples studied would have had sex at least eight times in a month? If most would’ve had less, that means Zestra wasn’t the only independent variable. Perhaps the twice-weekly commitment, combined with a new toy or just wall-to-wall pictures of George Clooney and Jon Hamm would fire their engines just as well. I’m pretty sure I’d be off and roaring on that program! (Where do I sign up?)

Seriously, I have been meaning to try Zestra just for the fun of it, since it sounds like its potential benefits might not be limited to people suffering from difficulty with arousal … and, y’know, anything for science! I’ve got a packet of it in a drawer but I’m not so sure what my lab partner would think.

As always, I’m very curious if any of you out there in bloglandia have given Zestra a whirl? And if so – are you willing to dish? Pretty please?

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Betty Draper of “Mad Men,” played by January Jones. Photo from examiner.com (Columbus). I claim fair use.

Confession: I find lists of trendy baby names fascinating. If you share this mildly guilty pleasure (“guilty” because it’s so easy to snark and criticize), the list for 2010 is up at Babycenter.com. But what caught my eye this time around was the “Mad Men” trend that Babycenter spotted: “Betty” has emerged from almost total obscurity, landing at number 868.

Of course that’s still pretty obscure. Of course there’s nothing inherently bad about “Betty.” It’s a perfectly nice name. It’s even the name of an iconic second-wave feminist, Betty Friedan. But new parents are not finding inspiration in Betty Friedan; they’re evidently borrowing the name from Betty Draper. (Then again, Betty Friedan had issues of her own, failing to adequately recognize her class and racial privilege, and accusing lesbian feminists of constituting a “lavender menace” to the rest of the women’s movement.)

In case you’ve never watched Mad Men, the first thing you need to know is that you’re missing out on a real treat. I was a real latecomer, but once I started, I was practically hypnotized from the first episode onward. For you Mad Men virgins, I promise no major spoilers below! (But do get your hands on season one!)

The second thing you need to know is that the show brilliantly portrays the sexism of American society in the early 1960s. Betty Draper is the wife of a handsome but philandering ad executive, Don Draper. While there’s plenty of sexism to go around at Don’s agency, too, Betty exemplifies everything that was wrong with the upper-middle-class housewife role in the early 1960s.

At the outset of the series, Betty’s life revolves around keeping a perfect suburban home, drinking coffee and cocktails, and waiting for her husband to come home. She’s spoiled and childish, seemingly stunted by her beauty and social privilege. In her marriage to Don, she’s lonely and depressed. She’s not a very likable character; her demeanor is mostly cool and passive, though she does seem to feel passion for her husband. Although her life is organized around homemaking, she typically appears detached from her children. In one early episode, she scolds her daughter Sally for putting a big plastic dry-cleaner’s bag over her head. Betty’s not worried about Sally’s safety, she’s just angry that her dry-cleaned clothes might be soiled.

In short, Betty Draper evokes more pity than sympathy. She’s a dramatic embodiment of what Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name” – the anomie, depression, and disorientation of highly educated, affluent suburban housewives of the early 1960s:

Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby. Sometimes, she went to a doctor with symptoms she could hardly describe: “A tired feeling. . . I get so angry with the children it scares me . . . I feel like crying without any reason.” (A Cleveland doctor called it “the housewife’s syndrome.”) A number of women told me about great bleeding blisters that break out on their hands and arms. “I call it the house wife’s blight” said a family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see it so often lately in these young women with four, five and six children who bury themselves in their dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t cured by cortisone.”

Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feeling gets so strong she runs out of the house and walks through the streets. Or she stays inside her house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and she doesn’t laugh because she doesn’t hear it. I talked to women who had spent years on the analyst’s couch, working out their “adjustment to the feminine role,” their blocks to “fulfillment as a wife and mother.” But the desperate tone in these women’s voices, and the look in their eyes, was the same as the tone and the look of other women, who were sure they had no problem, even though they did have a strange feeling of desperation.

(You can read the whole first chapter of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique here.)

And new parents are saddling their infant girls with a name honoring this legacy? Sure, Betty has a chilly glamour reminiscent of Grace Kelly, but it’s swamped by all her negative baggage.

Babycenter suggests that we may be craving “a simpler, Betty Crockeresque way of life.” but that just doesn’t compute if you’ve watched Mad Men even once. Nothing is simple about the Drapers’ world, despite all their privilege. Kennedy is assassinated. Racial tensions simmer, and casual racism is as common and unremarkable as sexism. People betray their colleagues and their lovers. The show features some strong women, but all of them suffer real injuries from sexism. That’s not simplicity; it’s oppression. Funny how people tend to confuse the two.

(Then again, Babycenter reports a surge in Bristol, Willow, and Piper, too. As I said, it’s way too easy to criticize and snark.)

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(Dazed kitteh from ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

Despite having foolishly booked my return flight to Ohio through Chicago, I managed to avoid getting stuck there in last weekend’s blizzard – only to be snowbound with the kids all this week. We’ve had three full snow days and two mornings with two-hour delays. The high school kids didn’t get to take their final exams today; my fifth-grader and his friends have to postpone their geography fair until January; and neither of my kids had math even once this week, since that’s scheduled first thing every morning.

A walloping half-foot of snow has fallen over the course of the week, maybe a tad more.

We here in Athens, Ohio, are not like Seattle or Atlanta, where snow takes everyone by surprise. We get it every darn winter. Here in southeast Ohio, we actually get less snow than, say, Cleveland, but my students from Cleveland laugh at our inability to carry on with school once a snowflake sticks to the ground.

The problem, this year and every year, is that we don’t have the equipment to clear the snow quickly. We don’t have the manpower. The city does pretty well at clearing the main streets, but the county roads remain impassible. It’s all a function of money. You could just as well call many of our snow days “poverty days.”

It’s not even the first day of winter, and we’ve already blown through all our snow days. In fact, thanks to our “tornado day” back in September, we’re one in the hole. Our inestimably wise legislators reduced our allotment of calamity days from five to three, starting this fall. I guess they thought our kids would get more edumacated this way. Instead, we’re likely to have a few dozen more two-hour delays between now and March. To make up the snow days that we’re sure to have in the new year, we’ll lose every holiday except MLK and Memorial Day. The school year will extend into the summer, like it does every year. And our kids will miss a month or so of math.

(From ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

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It’s possible that John Boehner cries easily for the reason I do: he’s easily touched and not so hot at self-control. But I’m not buying that. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in her excellent segment on Boehner’s waterworks, if the fate of America’s children reduces him to tears, he could actually take steps to improve their future!

Boehner’s not the first pol to cry easily and often in public; he’s just the most unexpected and the least discriminating when it comes to his triggers. Rachel traces the history of weeping politicians back to Edmund Muskie, whose alleged tears in New Hampshire allegedly derailed his 1972 Democratic primary. (Muskie’s damp cheeks – and the weird media reaction – are among my earliest political memories. He won that primary but lost the nomination.)

Rachel argues,

There’s nothing wrong with politicians showing emotion. There’s nothing wrong with politicians crying in public. It demonstrably does not hurt them with voters, but it shows us what they feel passionately about, and what’s wrong with that?

So true. And yet, while you can find military giants shedding tears in the ancient world, here in the U.S. we’ve liked our men tough and dry-eyed. For a political leader to cry publicly was pretty well verboten from the end of WWII until the closing years of the Cold War. The same probably holds true all the way back to George Washington and his unruffled wig, but this is a blog post, not a book. So let us think of our post-war presidents! Truman was gruff and bluff. Eisenhower never lost his military bearing. JFK drew much of his power from his aristocratic cool. (Did he ever once cry publicly over the loss of his infant son, Patrick?) LBJ couldn’t afford to look soft while playing hardball with Congress.

But then came Nixon. Tricky Dick did emotion, all right. He knew how to project self-pity all the way back in ’62, when, in his purported “last press conference,” he announced his withdrawal from politics, telling reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” By the early 1970s, he projected anger and paranoia pretty well, too. Indeed, Muskie’s destruction can be laid at the feet of Nixon’s henchmen and their ratfucking.

Even when forced to resign in disgrace, Nixon controlled his grief – in public. His resignation speech was calm and even resolute. (You can listen to his speech here.) My ten-year-old self felt sorry for him as I watched it, and I distinctly recalled tearing up despite knowing he was a crook and needed to go. Disgrace and shame push my empathy buttons even when that shame is richly deserved. But Nixon held it together, even launching into a policy disquisition toward the end. The WaPo described Nixon’s public composure but also the gap between the private and public man:

Mr. Nixon’s brief speech was delivered in firm tones and he appeared to be complete control of his emotions. The absence of rancor contrasted sharply with the “farewell” he delivered in 1962 after being defeated for the governorship of California.

An hour before the speech, however, the President broke down during a meeting with old congressional friends and had to leave the room.

He had invited 20 senators and 26 representatives for a farewell meeting in the Cabinet room. Later, Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.), one of those present, said Mr. Nixon said to them very much what he said in his speech.

“He just told us that the country couldn’t operate with a half-time President,” Goldwater reported. “Then he broke down and cried and he had to leave the room. Then the rest of us broke down and cried.”

(Carroll Kilpatrick, Washington Post, 9 August 1974)

Goldwater is yet another guy who’s hard to imagine weeping.

In the wake of Watergate, the whole country felt emotionally ravaged. We found respite in blandness: Gerald Ford’s good-natured bumbling and Jimmy Carter’s be-sweatered earnestness. But we did not find collective catharsis. That would wait until 1980.

The defining moment in presidential emoting came with the election of Ronald Reagan, who – though not much of a weeper – brought his entire actor’s armamentarium to the office. At the time, critics gleefully described Reagan as merely a “B-movie actor.” No matter. His acting skillz, modest as they were, earned him his “Great Communicator” moniker and enabled him to transform American politics in both substance and style. (Peggy Noonan had a hand in all this, of course, but her lines would have flopped, had Reagan been unable to fill them with warmth and passion.)

And yet, Reagan wasn’t much of a weeper. Serious presidential tears came into their own with the first Gulf War. International relations scholar Steve Niva views the end of the Cold War as a watershed in public political expressions  of hegemonic masculinity. Suddenly, General Colin Powell was weeping at his high school reunion. General Norman Schwarzkopf raved about his love for opera. In an America that had shed much of its Vietnam Syndrome through Rambo and Reagan, it became possible, Niva argues, for American masculinity to be both tough and tender. (See Steve Niva, “”Tough and Tender: New World Order Masculinity and the Gulf War,” in The “Man” Question in International Relations, ed. Marysia Zalewski and Jane Parpart (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), 109–28.)

The floodwaters sprung all the dams in 1992, as Bill Clinton teared up at every tale of woe on the campaign trail. He wept his way through his presidency, and we’ve never been the same since.

Niva’s excellent article explains just part of this transition. Reagan laid the groundwork. The first Gulf War expiated the shame of Vietnam and allowed American men to claim their manliness again as long as it was cloaked in khaki. But the “tender” part of Niva’s equation requires further explanation. Men like Clinton were simply of a new generation. They had defied conventional masculinity by growing their hair long, questioning the corporate rat race, fantasizing of careers in rock and roll – or at least playing the tenor sax on the Arsenio Hall Show. They had tuned in, turned on, and dropped out – or at least, they “didn’t inhale.” Perhaps most significantly, many men of Clinton’s generation had married a new generation of women. Some were feminists. A larger number were too timid for “women’s lib” but still warm toward egalitarianism. Most of these women expected and honored male emotion, though still within constraints.

The Boomers and subsequent generations are thus willing to grant our male leaders some slack in expressing public emotions, as long as it’s for a serious cause. Rachel’s clip shows how both Bushes and Mitch McConnell – powerful Republicans all – cry in public without losing face.

But none of them are crying about TARP. And that brings us back to Boehner’s tears, which are quite extraordinary even for a tough-and-tender post-Cold War leader.

Go to about 8:30 in Rachel’s clip. You’ll see him beg tearfully for the big-bank failout bailout known as “TARP.” He has subsequently attacked those who voted for it, conveniently forgetting his own damp-eyed support.

Rachel nails him for hypocrisy:

As Americans we react to someone crying about children’s welfare because we think that it implies strength of his commitment to improve children’s welfare. It doesn’t always. When the new congress convenes and John Boehner is Speaker of the House, remember this: just because he’s crying about something doesn’t mean he’s going to fix that thing. Crying in public is neat. I’m all in favor. Crying in public, however, is not the same thing as fixing the thing that makes you cry.

(This and the previous transcript via Business Insider.)

I, too, think hypocrisy is the most likely explanation for the cavernous gap between Boehner’s tearful public pronouncements and his Grover-Norquistian actual policymaking.

But there’s an alternate explanation, and it’s a doozy. A few weeks back, Gregory House, M.D. (the TV doctor played by Hugh Laurie, my next-husband-in-spe) had a patient whose emotional expression was the exact opposite of what most people would feel. The “case” was medically incoherent, but it nudged the two brain cells in my head where I’d stored the concept of pseudobulbar affect. I’d read about this phenomenon – the expression of inappropriate emotions – when I was diagnosed with MS. (New readers: that diagnosis was later overturned, though it’s still my sword of Damocles.)

So could Boehner have pseudobulbar affect? If so, there’s a short list of conditions that can cause it. Multiple sclerosis. Amyloid lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Stroke. Parkinson’s and Alzheimers’. Traumatic brain injury.

To put it bluntly: Pseudobulbar affect only occurs in a brain that has suffered considerable damage. If Boehner has any of the conditions I mentioned, he merits your sympathy and mine, no matter what his politics. But he also might not be capable of serving as the third in command. People can suffer from pseudobulbar affect without having impaired judgment. I’d want to be sure of that, however, and not just assume it.

I still lean toward hypocrisy and manipulative tactics as the most parsimonious explanation of Boehner’s tears. I just wouldn’t rule out brain damage.

Either way, I question his fitness for the office of Speaker of the House.

No word tonight on where Glenn Beck gets his waterworks. At least he’s not President – yet.

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Howard was a singular figure: a gay man in a tiny mid-North Dakotan town in the middle decades of the previous century. Courtenay had just under 300 in-town residents according to the 1940 census (trend: declining). It had lady elders running the Presbyterian church (first and foremost, my grandma), a general store, and plenty of orderly, hard-working, meat-eating farmers. Courtenay had its own grain elevator. It had various misfits and outsiders, most of whom my grandma befriended; some she even took into her home as boarders. What Courtenay didn’t have: a mate for Howard.

Howard, you see, was the misfittiest of the misfits. He was the only gay man in Courtenay and – we believe – for miles around. He did excellent work at the store. In his spare time, he perfected various housewifely arts: knitting, crochet, sewing, candy-making. Still no mate was forthcoming. It goes without saying that my grandma befriended him warmly. (Today she’d make a fine fag hag.) I was the greedy beneficiary of this, because he was still stitching up snazzy Barbie clothes circa 1970.

Howard didn’t get such a sweet deal. He lived an unpartnered life, alone (except for a few friends like my grandma) and I suspect celibate, until late in his days, when he went into retirement and moved to the next largest town, Jamestown. There, he met another like-minded and like-oriented gentlemen. Together they enjoyed their golden years.

Whenever I think of the joy Howard found in his final years, I don’t know whether to smile or weep.

His cream candy just might make you do both. It’s simple to make, though it takes some time and patience while you’re cooking it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups evaporated milk
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla – be generous

Using a very heavy pot, melt the butter, sugar, and 1 cup of the evaporated milk until it reaches a boil. I needed to go pretty close to high heat to get the process started. Once you’re boiling, set a timer for 10 minutes and turn down the heat. You want to keep the candy at a boil for 10 minutes. If your heat source is too strong, you’ll see chunks of caramel begin to form at the bottom of the pot. That’s a signal to dial back the heat. (I saw enough of those chunks that I started frantically bailing them while stirring vigorously with my other hand.)

If you don’t already have a candy thermometer, an hour ago would be a good time to have bought one. If your candy is at a boil and you’re lacking a thermometer, corral a lover, roommate, or random wino on the street to buy you one.

When your ten minutes are up, add the second cup of evaporated milk, then go back to your stirring. You are aiming to hit a sweet space just above “soft ball” stage but still below “hard ball.” This will take a while – for me, perhaps 20 minutes? Once you think you’ve got the right temperature, remove the pot from heat. Let it cool for three minutes or so – not much longer or the candy will have reverted to solid. Beat it with a mixer on high, adding the vanilla and salt. Then smear into a pre-buttered dish. I used an 8 1/2 by 11 inch pyrex pan, but I don’t think this is critical. At this point, Howard’s candy will behave a bit like fudge. Let cool in the pan at room temp, cut, and serve! (If the pieces are super-sticky, you probably didn’t cook it long or hard enough. Expose them to air overnight.)

Serve to anyone who appreciate a good sugar confection with no nutritional value – unless you consider a good backstory to be healthy for the soul. Howard left this earth over a quarter century ago. If there’s an afterlife worth living, it surely includes his candy.

(I thought about trying to illustrate this post, but frankly, the candy is beige, and I’ve got nothing purty to decorate them.)

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Messed-up FIFA Caturday

Why Qatar is the wrong choice to host the 2022 World Cup:

(Soccer kitteh from ICHC?)

Lots of oil. Plenty of petrodollars. A severe shortage of LOLkittens.

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Earlier this week, I talked to my husband and kids, who are keeping the fires burning in Ohio while I’m visiting family in California. All of them were aggrieved. My husband was planning to fix broccoli and noodles for dinner. Both boys were insisting that they would not eat it and furthermore never had liked broccoli. Never mind that two reliable witnesses (both of their parents) have seen them eat it with gusto! The standoff ended when the broccoli was discovered to have both mold and bugs.

You might imagine that this was simply an instance of children being picky and ornery. You would be wrong. New research shows that I am to blame!

When I saw the headline on the medical news wire Ivanhoe – “Pregnancy Diet Predicts Food Choices of Children” – I figured it would insinuate that mommy is at fault. But the actual article was much worse. It managed to blame mothers directly in its very first sentence:

If you’re a mother to a finicky child, then you may be to blame for his or her picky taste.  A new study conducted at the University of Colorado School of Medicine uncovers the possibility that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can both familiarize the unborn baby with specific scents and tastes and directly influence what the child will later prefer to eat or drink.

“This highlights the importance of eating a healthy diet and refraining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and nursing,” lead researcher Josephine Todrank was quoted as saying.  “If the mother drinks alcohol, her child may be more attracted to alcohol because the developing fetus ‘expects’ that whatever comes from the mother must be safe.  If she eats healthy food, the child will prefer healthy food.”

I’m dizzy with those leaps of logic. How did we jump straight from food to alcohol – the kryptonite of mother-blaming? And how many children are attracted to alcohol, anyway? Yes, fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious problem among the offspring of binge drinkers. I don’t see a lot of kids clamoring for a glass of Merlot. In fact, we’ve let our kids taste beer and wine, when they expressed curiosity, just so they could discover that it tasted “pooey” to them.

Read a little farther and you learn that Todrank et al. tested their hypothesis on newborn mice. For better or worse, mice don’t have much of a culinary culture. They aren’t tempted by the toys in Happy Meals. Nor are they exposed to my delicious vegetarian chili. Even in terms of the mouse lifecycle, one wonders whether the pups acquired a broader range of tastes as they grew. Also, mother mice are never told to drastically limit their diet while breastfeeding due to a colicky or restless pup.

My firstborn child tolerates much more spice than I do. He eats chard and Thai curry and Kalamata olives with gusto. My second son? He’d live on candy, breakfast cereal, hard-boiled eggs, Kraft mac-n-cheese, and more candy if we’d let him.

If this study has any applicability to humans, you’d expect to see the same pattern in every family: the firstborn should be a foodie, while subsequent children – conditioned by the relatively bland diet that families often adopt while feeding a toddler – should be pickier. You’d also expect the children of my spice-loving friends to be omnivores, yet many of them are pickier than my younger son.

It may well be that the biological effects on taste and smell that Todrank et al. found in mice have some applicability to humans. If so, it’s heavily filtered through culture. As parents generally know, young children usually have much more restricted tastes than their parents. I, for one, forced myself to eat broccoli during pregnancy even though it triggered nausea – and look where it got me!

Can we stop with the mother-blaming already? Most women consume a reasonably well-balanced diet during pregnancy. The few who don’t are usually either poor or plagued by hyperemesis gravidarum (that’s medicalese for uncontrollable barfing). Let’s not make mothers feel guilty because they failed to eat their brussel sprouts.

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Those of you with any contact to academia have probably already seen this fascinating first-person exposé of professional plagiarism, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Ed Dante” (whose name is as genuine as “Sungold”) makes a little over $60K annually churning out faux dissertations, term papers, and plain old essays. His story is a fascinating portrait of a guy who makes about 50% more than I do (and my Ph.D. is real!) just by having no scruples.

I’m enough of a dilettante to understand the appeal of conducting research all over the map. I’ve translated texts ranging from marketing blather to the inner workings of a Porsche. I’ve taught a religion class (though my training is in German history and gender studies) and I wrote a dissertation that immersed me in old German medical journals without a lick of formal medical training. So I grok the fun of roaming among every discipline except for math and animal husbandry (Dante’s two no-goes). What I don’t get is how Dante sleeps at night. Then again, with all-nighters right in the job description, I guess the sleep of the just is bound to elude him anyway.

On top of his amorality, Dante tries to shift blame to professors, who he alleges are too checked-out to catch obvious cheaters. This is complete and utter bullcrap. Let’s peer more closely at Dante’s tripartite clientele: spoiled rich kids, unprepared ESL speakers, and native speakers whose education has abjectly failed them. The rich kids are usually capable of the work but too lazy and too moneyed to bother. Dante says that we profs ought to be busting the latter two groups, however, because the disparities between their formal written work and other verbal expression are so glaring.

In rare cases, professors are negligent. My own university had a celebrated plagiarism case a few years back where a certain engineering prof overlooked multiple cases of plagiarism in the theses he supervised. It was celebrated precisely because it was an anomaly – and because the rest of the faculty were furious! The vast majority of my colleagues are adept at spotting plagiarized work and willing to call our students out on it.

So why aren’t we busting Dante’s clients? The reason is not laziness or laxity. It’s the impossibility of proving our case. Students with poor writing skills can avail themselves of tutoring services – and indeed they should, because they can’t expect remedial instruction in their regular classes. But tutoring services muddy the waters. Even the most diligent teacher can’t prove that a student hired a ghostwriter rather than consulting a tutor.

When it comes to garden-variety cut-n-paste Internet-based cheating, though, making the case is a snap. It’s remarkably easy to spot the paper that’s cobbled together from various websites and a student’s own prose. I caught three students cheating this fall. It’s not a pleasure – in fact, I’m always quite upset when I discover plagiarism – but it’s also far from rocket science. You just need to google a suspicious phrase  that jars with the student’s own style, and the source usually pops right up. Sometimes you need to slice and dice the phrase a bit to compensate for slight paraphrasing by the plagiarist.

What does this mean for our students’ educational experience? At Big Think, Pareg and Ayesha Khanna suggest that the easy availability of scholarly and semi-scholarly material online may spell the death of academic integrity as we know it. They fear students will cobble bits of the Web into a serviceable or even honors-level paper.

I think not. Cut-n-paste plagiarizing is easily minimized through three main strategies. You start by including a clear policy on academic integrity in each syllabus, which lays out a definition of the delict and the range of penalties. You then create assignments that resist simple cutting and pasting. I no longer assign a novel in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies, for instance, because SparkNotes sadly proved too tempting. The second third (ooops!) strategy is to read carefully for style. The paper plagiarized through Internet bricolage reads like the patchwork that it is. It veers from Wikipedia-style prose to ad-speak, then devolves into jibberish (that would be the hapless student’s original contribution), only to soar to the loftiest heights of poststructuralist theory. Oh, and if your U.S.-American student writes of “colour” or “kerbs,” your next stop better be the Google.

Of course, a few students will still be rich or desperate enough to resort to the Dantes of the world. Their number is declining, I suspect. Most students would rather spend disposable income on fun (often, drink). Most students are not organized enough to engage Dante’s service in a timely way. Instead, they seek refuge in Wikipedia at 3 a.m., not realizing that their profs can read Wikipedia, too. Much as I’d love to see students make use of actual books in the library, at least their over-dependence on Wikipedia is likely to hurt Dante’s business.

At the end of the day, I wonder why anyone bothers to copy from the Web. The results are typically incoherent. Sometimes they’re unintentionally hilarious. My recent favorite? Definitely the paper that tried to explain patriarchy and ancient Roman sexuality with stuff swiped from Conservapedia on pagans, a neo-Pagan site called Nova Roma, and interview material from Starhawk – all unattributed, of course. Hey, I’d love to see Starhawk hobnob with Conservapedia’s founder, Andy Schlafly (spawn of Phyllis!). Thanks to my unfortunate student, I got to experience the next closest thing.

(The title goes back to a post on plagiarism allegations against Barack Obama in 2008. I couldn’t resist recycling it.)

(From ICHC?)

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Maybe you’ve heard the rumor that the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA are making lists of dissidents who oppose TSA policy. The rumors come from some pretty fringy sources (Canada Free Press and a survivalist site, Freeze Dried Food). I wouldn’t put this past the DHS, but if there’s any truth to it, they’re at least not very efficient. A few moments ago, I found myself inadvertently in the Rapiscan line at the Columbus airport. I stepped to the side, gave the officer a sunny smile, and walked through the old metal detector as if I belonged there.

So either the DHS isn’t wise to me, or they just can’t be bothered with someone who blogs under the name of a cherry tomato.

The older gent behind me in line took the same path. We’d chatted while waiting and agreed that we opposed the body scanners on principle. I suspect that there’s an awful lot of quiet opposition like his. He would have gone through the scanner if pressed, but he didn’t like it one bit. We had a nice time grousing about taking our shoes off, too.

The TSA did get to me earlier today. I lost my last hour of sleep to a freaky dream where I was first placed inside a chamber that irradiated me, then informed that I couldn’t board because my body temperature was elevated. Oooh, biological warfare – we’ve finally got a defense. Then I snuck into another line, hoping to still pass. There, my iris was measured. At the end of the exam, I got a poof! of air into my eye, just like eye doctors used to use. I recoiled, and was again pronounced “suspicious.” During all of this, my luggage kept fading in and out of sight, until finally my laptop disappeared. I woke up with my heart pounding.

Paranoid, much? And if yes – is it me, or my country, who’s losing it?

 

 

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The other day, I googled “cold flashes.” That wasn’t a typo; I didn’t mean “hot flashes.” I meant COLD.

I’m not at menopause yet, and judging by family history I’m probably a good half-decade away. But over the past several years I’ve had even more trouble than usual staying warm. My internal thermostat went completely haywire when I got sick in January 2009 with the still-undiagnosed ailment that messed with my nerves and muscles and brain. Nothing could keep me warm. While that has improved somewhat, it hasn’t returned to my pre-illness state. Then, after a minor virus this fall, I started to notice that warm stimuli – the blessed touch of sun on skin, or the spray of hot water in the shower – could give me the chills. Goosebumps, even!

I wasn’t alone. A friend of mine, a few years younger than I, seemed equally miserable at those chilly soccer games at the end of this fall’s season. We were both hiding under blankets and nursing a thermos of tea as soon as temperatures dropped into the 50s.

I began to wonder: might freezing just be part of aging?

According to Google, yes. Women do report cold flashes, though they typically follow upon hot flashes. Somehow, the hot flashes, with their dramatic sweats and red skin, get all the press, while the chills get – well, the deep freeze in the media!

The root cause seems to be the same, though. The hypothalamus is responsible for keeping our internal temperatures running steady. In the decade or so prior to menopause (a woman’s last period), the hypothalamus stops running so steadily. Conventional wisdom holds that fluctuating estrogen levels send confusing signals the hypothalamus, but actually there’s an intricate interplay between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and ovarian hormones. Contrary to its image, estrogen does not function as the ringmaster – not on its own, anyway.

Whatever the exact mechanism, it sure feels like a broken thermostat to me. At the blog re:Cycling, Heather Dillaway objects strenuously to calling it broken, or attempting to “fix” it. She objects to any language that portrays menopause negatively or suggests that women “suffer” from it. She’s part of a noble tradition of feminist criticism that has pilloried the medicalization of women’s bodies. This critique, however, too often sets up a false opposition between how doctors tell women they should feel and women’s actual experience.

Sure, experience is partially shaped by our expectations, including biomedical ideas about women’s bodies. Menopause is indeed a natural transition, one that every cis-woman will undergo if she doesn’t die young. We should certainly oppose the idea that women’s worth is based on their youth, beauty, and fertility. We should celebrate the wisdom that can come with time.

But doggonit, my thermostat feels broken! I might fantasize about it improving if were to spend a week in St. Tropez, but realistically? It’s likely to get worse before it stabilizes or improves. And it’s not a trivial thing. When I’m unable to get warm, despite long underwear and a sweater, a heating pad, and an ambient temperature of 72, I don’t merely experience cold; I suffer it. Putting a positive spin on this merely denies my experience. To anyone intent on painting menopause in shades of rose and mauve, I ask: What color do they turn when they freeze?

For many women undergoing the menopausal transition, temperature regulation is only one challenge. Many women also report debilitating fatigue, which is also linked to a wonky hypothalamus. They wake up at night, drenched in sweat, heart racing. It’s not a panic attack; it’s “only” a night sweat.  Salon just ran an essay by Beth Aviv detailing her struggles to manage such symptoms after (admittedly foolishly) stopping hormone treatment cold turkey:

… I wake in the middle of the night, heat percolating to the surface like an underground spring — flooding between my fingers, into elbows, under my arms, onto my chest, my neck, my scalp until my straightened hair curls. If you could slide your fingers over my forehead, it would feel like you were finger-painting. Sleep does not return for hours.

The comments on Aviv’s essay are Salon’s usual mixed bag. There’s no shortage of people telling women to just “suck it up.” (This phrase appears repeatedly.) It’s mostly women piling on other women, as in this especially judgmental comment by a woman calling herself Semolina:

Most menopause symptoms are psychological. Some people enjoy making drama out of trivial events, and those are the folks who suffer mightily. I’m sixty years old and female and none of my friends has had this extreme problems — because I don’t hang out with drama queens.

Well, that Judgey McJudgey comment drew the smackdown it deserved from another commenter named Mona:

I see. Well, I am a 54-yr-old woman with a law degree from an elite university. A bit more than a decade ago, I suffered a severe emotional breakdown in the wake of the death of my oldest son via vehicular accident. Followed by that son’s father deciding to leave me for a man — that happened 6 weeks after we buried our 19 year old son.

As a consequence, I developed a crippling anxiety disorder. I’ve been in peri-menopause or menopause for about 8 years, and had been swimming right along assuming mine would be as easy as my mother’s.

It is now NOT. And it’s not in my head. It’s in the interference with my work toward recovering and living an emotionally stable life — a life with joy.

The extreme insomnia is not in my head. Nor the heart palpitations and the profuse sweating followed by cold clamminess ALL NIGHT LONG.

So, Seminola, I’m glad you don’t hang with “drama queens.” Neither do I. But some women have had, and continue to have, serious, dramatic problems that are, most decidedly, not in our heads. Or wait, they are, but not in the way you imperiously meant.

Now, obviously most menopausal women don’t undergo two personal tragedies in quick succession (though most of us do start to notice the losses piling up as we move through our forties). I’m offering Mona’s experience not to typify menopause, but to underscore its variability. She thinks she’s going to try bioidentical hormones, which I would likely try myself in her situation. (The debate on the relative safety of “bioidentical” versus synthetic and equine-derived hormones is not one I want to engage here – maybe in a future post?)

It’s great that some women sail through menopause, getting by with a sense of humor and a willingness to just suck it up. That’s their experience. I’m glad they were able to manage. I’m still early-days enough to fantasize it could be my experience, too, especially if I keep my house well heated.

But other women have other experiences. Some experience severe cognitive and mental health issues. Most face the more mudane – but still sometimes disabling – issues of body temperature regulation and insomnia. Oh, and sexual issues, but that would be a whole ‘nother post.

Point is, nobody gets to define your experiences for you. Not the perhaps well-meaning but ultimately wrong-headed doctors in the 1950s and ’60s who promised eternal femininity. Not those present-day doctors who fail to see patients as individuals, either demonizing Prempro (the most common synthetic HRT) or withholding it across the board. Not good-hearted feminists who want to put power back in women’s hands – but haven’t walked in your shoes, nor tried to sleep in your soggy sheets. Certainly not the Internet scolds who tell you to suck it up.

You. Only you get to decide what you’re experiencing, whether you’re suffering, whether something feels “broken,” and how – if at all – you might try to fix it.

Then again, maybe I’m a drama queen, and I just haven’t noticed it?

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