The Myths of the Man Hater & Farts

Not that long ago, some women on Facebook were agreeing with an essay written by a 20-year old in which she stated that she wasn’t a feminist because she liked men. Feminists hate men, she said, and some readers were quick to agree. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. It’s been studied. The study should have shocked the nation into its senses.Depositphotos_5832274_l-2015.jpg Feminist women are less likely to hate and have resentful attitudes towards men than are non-feministists.  

It makes sense though. If you see yourself as a whole, autonomous person with agency, you are more likely to see men as real people. You are less apt to stereotype them and more apt to like them and appreciate individual differences. You don’t see them as benevolent oppressors. You don’t see them all as boys who never grow up and can’t keep their evil urges under control. You expect that they are mature. You respect their intelligence and ability to be rational. You don’t see them as animals lurking to get women, animals that can’t even be left alone with a woman. You even know things such as only 6% of all men are rapists and that dressing provocatively doesn’t increase your chance of being raped. You know that men can and do control themselves. Just as women can be misogynists, men can speak and think ill of other men. Let’s not blame it on feminists. Even Shakespeare did it.

Traditionalists (the non-feminists)  have more benevolent attitudes towards the opposite sex. However, we need to ask ourselves if that’s good. The anti-feminist women on Facebook said that they wanted “real men.” But what does that even mean? They were seeking some sort of stereotype, maybe a Ken or GI Joe doll. Benevolence comes with hidden sense of superiority and stereotypes. It often overly inflates the value of a partner based on looks or physical attributes. These women are more likely to be judgmental towards other women and towards men. They expect other women to always look young and keep a tidy house. They see men as sloppy, smelly brutes that need cleaning up after as if they were naughty children. In fact, in the aforementioned Facebook post, the women were saying things like “I love men, I want them to open doors for me. But their farts smell so terrible.” The truth is, women’s farts smell worse than men’s. 

When you are young you might try on this benevolent sexism and the Mars vs Venus thing. However, it can be a terrible trap. If you like someone, they become more attractive to you. If you constantly see a battle of the sexes, you are missing an opportunity to know someone and see their attractiveness. All you need to do to realize it’s not an us vs them thing is to know some gay couples. They have the same problems! I will never forget a friend calling and complaining to me about his boyfriend and realizing that my husband and I were having an identical spat.  In fact, feminists have long spoken out against this type of sexism, the idea that men and women live in two different worlds.  How old is that plea to stop the gender wars? Over 100 years old.

Most people surveyed these days  do not want a traditional partner. However, when babies come along, it’s mom and her hormones that make her more in-tune to the cries.  Here’s where feminism lets moms down, right? They expect that all women will work outside the home. Well, not exactly. The National Organization for Women has long advocated for homemaker’s rights and respect.  There are plenty of stay-at-home feminists. Yes, that’s right, you can find them on that link from Ms.magazine. And it was feminists who elevated motherhood as being worthy of scientific study. You know what else they found? Human motherhood is damn hard. Being a female is damn hard. Being a feminist is damn hard, too. But if you can’t be one, consider backing off on the criticism. In fact, let’s cut each other some slack.

All feminism is saying is that people have the right to chase their dreams and to be equal in they eyes of society. No matter what your sex, dream chasing is hard, so why make it tougher with false notions about each other?

In a nutshell, there’s no reason not to be a feminist and certainly no reason to speak ill of it and certainly it’s irresponsible to pass along false information. Sorry Facebook “anti-feminists”, but your farts do smell.  Fortunately, wearing pants stops the germs.

Now if we could only cover up silly ideas about feminism and get people to stop seeing Facebook posts as news.

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The Importance of Being Grandma (or any other caregiver)

Mom and kay
My Mom, who passed away 4 years ago next week, helps her granddaughter learn to tell time with an analog watch.

When a young woman is burdened with a suckling infant and cannot fend for her family, she turns for support, not to her mate, but to a senior female relative — her mother, an aunt, an elder cousin. It is Grandma, or Grandma-proxy, who keeps the woman’s other children in baobab and berries, Grandma who keeps them alive. She is not a sentiment, she is a requirement. Kristen Hawkes, grandmother expert

My maternal Granny was the ultimate fountain of love and homemaking. She taught me to knit and crochet and bake from scratch. She loved to treat me with my favorite foods such as radish roses (just a regular radish wasn’t special enough) and cheesecake. She adopted puppies and kittens, fed the birds, and snuggled babies. My dad’s mother was adventurous and traveled and loved to learn new things. She had a supply of brain enhancing puzzles and toys and took me to museums and historical sites. She was quick to buy me things to expand my horizons such as lovely rocks (accompanied by a sheet of scientifically accurate information). Both lived long happy lives after their child raising years had ended and had a profound affect on me.

Many scientists have asked the question “Why do humans have menopause?” The very long postmenopausal lifetime is something unique to human females. In the plant and animal kingdoms, success is measured by how many offspring you can create so why do humans have a built in “stop” mechanism? Perhaps it’s because there’s more to life or at least to human life than just numbers. To love and to care and inspire is just as important.

Less is more. Less children of your own means a greater ability to take care of grandchildren and other youngsters you might love. Grandmothers allow their adult children to function and be better, less frazzled parents. There appears to be an advantage to having no young children when your own children begin to have children.

Chimps do not undergo early menopause and they have a survival rate to age 40 of just 7% in the wild! Not only do chimp babies have a poor survival rate, once childbearing is over adult chimps go down hill rather quickly. Compare this with humans who have a 70- 90% chance of surviving infancy no matter how harsh the conditions followed by an up to 40% chance of living to 90 after that!

Motherhood expert Sarah Hrdy noted that human babies require many calories, much attention, and a variety of caregivers. Mothers can’t do it alone—they need alloparents, including friends, aunts, teachers, and grandparents. Grandparents take better care of their grandchildren than the parents do. Kids who are cared for by grandparents have fewer injuries than kids cared for by parents. Children who have many “parents” also develop better empathy and the ability to see the world from multiple vantage points.

Historians looking at birth and death records from 1720-1874 found that having a living maternal grandmother halved the risk of dying as a baby back in the days before modern medicine. Studies of other cultures show that grandmas have very important roles in society: watching babies, guarding crops from predators, and carrying baskets and bundles. In fact old women appear to keep up with young women in tasks requiring physical activity.

Pressures of modern life can increase postnatal depression and grandmothers can help keep this away. New mothers feel a sudden loss of freedom and miss connections with friends and co-workers. Yet figuring out what to do with baby if mom needs to go out causes anxiety too. Even in the laboratory, if a mother rat feels she cannot control what happens to her babies she will become depressed! In the human world we have Grandma to the rescue. Parents can go out and leave baby with a known commodity. In fact, if your own mother can’t be with you after your baby is born, health care professionals now suggest hiring a post partum doula to act as a stand in mother to keep those baby blues away.

When I had my first child, I surprised myself. I left a high paying job for one with half the salary and moved across the country to be near my mother. Many times I’ve questioned my sanity about this decision. Now I understand that my actions were perfectly normal.

Mom and Ro
Mom and a great-grandchild delight in each other’s company. Interactions with many caregivers can help boost empathy in children.

 

Liberation Cakes from 1972

As I was decluttering, I found a wonderful stash of cookbooks with recipes I doubt you’d see today. I thought I’d share two of them and a touch of history.

They are both based on using boxed cake mixes. These handy mixes were invented in 1948 by Charlotte Cramer Sachs. (She was a prolific inventor.) With the introduction of cake mixes, cakes went from celebratory to common place. Food companies touted the release of women from the drudgery of cooking–freeing them to think and question and be full human beings. Push back made women feel guilty about doing anything but housework.

There is some feminist theory about this that’s pretty interesting.  We could talk all day about the guilt that’s heaped upon women. I know that I spent much of my early life trying to be a scientist and keep up with the housework and all of the duties expected of me had I been a traditional woman. Once I had kids, that began to fall apart as it was impossible. But let’s move on to the recipes.

Root Beer Angel Cake:

Prepare 1 package of angel food cake mix as directed except substitute root beer for water.

Prepare a frosting from 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted, 2 cups confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup crushed root beer candies. Add root beer a tablespoon at a time  and stir until the proper consistency.

Mock Pistachio Cake:

1/2 cup slivered or diced almonds

4 drops green food coloring

1 package of angel food cake mix

Shake almonds and food coloring together in a plastic bag

Prepare cake according to package directions. Fold in the green almonds before baking.

If desired, add a glaze of confectioners sugar and 1-2 tablespoons of water to cooled cake.

***

We may look at these today and be appalled at how lazy or unhealthy they seem. However, put them into perspective: they allowed women to be both free and creative. They let women appear busy, as society demands, and yet maybe have time to read a book or even take a class at a local college or work and get their own credit card. (Although women couldn’t have their own credit cards until 1974.) You might even call them a stab at the freedom that still eludes most homemakers. And yet, as some have pointed out, for many women they simply filled time with meaningless and even unhealthy female busywork. 

Women have more choices today. Let’s keep it that way. Make the cake or go to the bakery or give up sugar altogether. It all depends on what you want to do on the road to your freedom.

IMG_3948
Vintage 1972. Freedom without the guilt, maybe.

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Birth control, gold crosses, and women’s rights under Hitler

Historically there have been many times that birth control was banned by governments. Hitler banned all forms of birth control– although his soldiers could have condoms wrapped in plain brown wrappers to “keep them healthy.” After all, syphilis was called the “Jewish Disease.”

Adolf disliked confident women, finding them unfeminine. Working women and women who were childless were scorned under his regime. He saw children as being akin to warriors for his cause and saw motherhood as the only calling a woman should have. It was even illegal to talk about birth control. He put forth laws to encourage marriage and his government paid cash bonuses for children born between 1933 and 1936. In addition, a mother got a medal upon the birth of her fourth and sixth child. A woman was awarded a gold cross for bearing her eighth child. Medals were awarded yearly on his mother’s birthday. On Dec. 16 the crosses were handed out. They were worn around the neck on a ribbon.

mother8
Would you have 8 kids for this? What every mother needs–an ugly cross to bear…I mean wear.

Abortions were considered crimes against “the body and the state” and were banned–the penalty was death!  But if the woman wasn’t white, doctors did not enforce this ban. Later, non-Aryans were encouraged to have abortions while they were strictly illegal for others. Although feminists put up resistance–and were jailed or sent to concentration camps– most German women agreed with Hitler and saw him as a savior. They were thrilled to be a part of something greater than themselves. However, his policies didn’t have much impact on the population.

Countries that fought against him benefited from the labor of their women and in England condoms were so common that they were used as waterproof covering on military microphones. As history proved, it doesn’t pay to oppress your women or ban your condoms.This could be why feminism stands strong in Germany today but as always, faces challenges from the ultra-right.

Birth control banned in the United States!

cool-must-see-black-white-historic-moments-children-saleThe idea that birth control is lewd and promotes bad behavior has a long history in the United States. Bans or partial bans were a part of our history from the 1870s to the 1960s and there is one figurehead presumed to be responsible for it all.

Morality crusader Anthony Comstock was at first assumed to be a buffoon or eccentric who was overly concerned with the morality of other people. He was from rural Connecticut but began his career in New York City because, of course, cities must be regulated and punished for they are filled with debauchery and filth. Unfortunately,while most city people laughed at this absurd notion and his antics which included chasing prostitutes with umbrellas, he was taken seriously by the country folk and by a few rich men including wealthy ultra-conservatives such as Samuel Colgate and J. Purport Morgan. Colgate was a prude and Morgan wanted to see banking deregulated. They decided that America needed a purity movement and politicians–who would also give them the legislation they wanted– to go with it. They hired Comstock to lead the purity movement which would help get their guys elected. It worked.

Backed by a corrupt Congress, Comstock was able to push through the Comstock Act which was the law of the land from 1873-1915. This legislation prevented the mailing, selling, teaching about, producing, or discussing any form of contraception. Comstock himself hated condoms and condom sellers in particular. He said that they had to be hunted down like rats. Fortunately, the underfunding of police and government forces allowed for home businesses creating condoms to pop up and condoms became black market items.

Noting their oppression, women took it upon themselves to give each other educational lectures about birth control and some of these educators were highly popular and experts at eluding arrest. As a nurse, Margaret Sanger became alarmed by the number of poor women dying from illegal abortions. She wrote pamphlets about birth control and became a hero to most married women of her day. It was well understood that too  many children inadequately spaced risks the health of both the mother and the child. Also, children of older, well-educated mothers have better survival rates and are healthier. Sanger became the first woman to openly run an illegal birth control clinic.

Sanger was from a large family and blamed lack of birth control for her mother’s death. She had greater fervor than Comstock did. Her work eventually overturned his laws and she helped develop and promote birth control pills. She even coined the term “birth control.” She lived to be 89–fifty years longer than her poor mother. Most of her success came in the last decades of her life. Never underestimate the power of a passionate little old lady! Sanger followed her own advice and had just two healthy sons who interestingly enough became football players and one had a career a coach. Comstock had no children–his detractors claimed he was a eunuch–but stood as an inspiration to ultra-conservatives for decades after this death. Here’s another interesting tidbit about Comstock, he praised women for trying their hardest to look good for men–their lords–but was against corsets because they might interfere with pregnancies and reduce milk supplies. Ladies, it’s all about the babies!

Today there is more data than ever that delaying and limiting childbirth produces children who are stronger, smarter, and even taller. If you are or plan to be happy with the number of children you have and look forward to an active and productive retirement, you can thank Sanger. And be on the look-out for modern day Comstocks!

A Quick and Questionable Post About Wearing Gloves

img_3119
No longer considered taboo, condoms even have their own day of celebration.

If you’ve read the back of Mixed In you know that the plot involves condoms. This is nothing new. Literature about condoms goes way back. In 1655 “seed catchers” made from linen cloth tied on with ribbons  were celebrated in L’Escole de Filles (The Philosophy of Girls) which was both a novel and a play. In this popular work, the suggested use of a condom was to spare the woman. This was a revolutionary idea because they were only used as a disease protection device for men. The hero in the condemned but popular tale wore a condom. Thus, the association of heroes wearing condoms and scoundrels not wearing them was forged.

As the popularity of condoms spread throughout the 17th century, so did euphemisms for them. During Shakespeare’s time naughty slang words began with “qu” which was pronounced “k.” For example, a male’s private part was a “quipped” and a woman’s a “quaint.” Shakespeare used the word “quondam” much as one might used “condom.” He later used the word “glove “in this way and “glove” became the English term for condom for many years after. Let it be noted that gentlemen wore gloves out of respect for ladies.

This wasn’t the end of quondams as a topic for literature and conversation. In 1709 the Second Duke of Argyll waved one about in Parliament and blamed them for allowing gentlewomen  and women of quality–this means women who were financially independent– to be “debauched.”He wanted them to be outlawed. Fortunately, he was an unpopular fellow so his rant simply helped spread the word about quondams. In this same year, a poem about them called “Almonds for Parrots” became popular followed by “Ode to a Condom” which praised them for preventing big bellies, bubos (syphilis), and squabbling brats.

During the 18th century, women were the primary condom sellers and producers. Mrs. Phillips was a popular condom merchant in London with a shop near the Strand in the early 1700s. She made her wares from sheep caecum and brimstone (sulfur) vapors.  After 1843, rubber condoms became the norm.

As you can see, condoms have long been used, admired, and written about fondly.

I’d like to credit this book for the information used in this post with additional support from this one.

Periodic betrayal or clueless man?

thIn every profession, the newcomers rely on the old guard to help them make their way. There are many tales, as that of The Tragic Triumph of M.S. Tswett, where the established powers fail to recognize the achievements of the outsider. Sadly, science is a human endeavor and one can’t write about women in science without mentioning bias and harassment. My observation is that this is most common in that bastion of male dominion, physics. In a recent study of women in astronomy, 82% of them had heard sexiest remarks, 57% had enjoyed verbal sexual harassment, and 9% physical harassment. To put it into perspective, part of getting a Ph.D. is to put up with the abuse of the powerful, but this shouldn’t include sexism. When you reply on those who sexually harass you for approval and letters of reference, it’s a powerless place to be. This is nothing new.

Lise Meitner is a famous case of sexism and betrayal. This occurred at the hands of a male colleague who she considered a close friend. Did this happen hundreds of years ago? No. Less than 100 years ago, in the 1940s science saw perhaps its most infamous blackguard in the person of one Nobel prize winner, Otto Hahn.

Dr. Meitner earned a doctorate in physics in 1905. In 1918, she and her lab partner, Otto Hahn, discovered protactinium. They began a series of experiments designed to make a heavier element than uranium, the largest natural element. They did this by hitting uranium with subatomic particles known as neutrons. Instead of getting larger, the uranium got smaller. It was surely puzzling.

Lise was born to a rich Jewish family and had to flee to the Netherlands during this time of Hitler’s power. However, she had plenty of time to think and wrote to her partner, Hahn, about a new process that they were observing: fission.

Hahn published and later won the Nobel prize for his discover of fission. Did he take the trouble to mention his lab partner of thirty years, who interpreted the results of the experiment for him? No. He did not. In fact, he spoke badly about her behind her back. His excuse: She was in exile when the famous paper had been written. She had won a “Woman of the Year” prize. Wasn’t that enough for her? She was portrayed as having fled Germany with the secret of the bomb and giving it to the Allies. For this, Hahn saw her as a traitor. This whole treatment shattered her self confidence.

Lise herself spoke of the overt sexism she faced. She said that being a woman was “almost half a crime.” She was sad about her treatment by Hahn, but never did despair about not getting the Nobel Prize for her discovery. It had been used to make a weapon and for this she held remorse. Hahn himself never rested easy with it. To honor Lise, element 109 was named Meitnerium. Is there a Hahnium? Well, it was once proposed as a name for element 105, but in the end, this element was named Dubnium after a town in Russia. At least on the periodic table, there’s no place for a sexist jerk.

 

Male vs Female: a mistaken notion

A new study confirms: male and female brains are remarkably similar. The idea of gender similarity isn’t new. A pioneering paper by Janet Shibley Hyde (U of Wisconsin-Madison) came out ten years ago and has been supported by subsequent and previous research. In this paper, she finds a few gender differences such as  muscle mass and in some tasks such as throwing (men excel) and sexuality (men masterbate more for example, or at least, they did in 2005). She also mentions that cancer may behave differently in males and females.

However, men are not better at math or abstract reasoning, women are not more caring or moral. Adolescent boys are just as vulnerable to self-esteem issues as are adolescent girls.Girls are not more social. Boys are not better at higher order thinking. Both men and women act heroically. Men are slightly more aggressive but not by much. As these studies point out, the idea that men are from Mars and women from Venus is not based on biology. In fact, that idea is hugely harmful. It can lead to low expectations for communication between men and women. It can cause young women to forsake math and science.  I was urged to do this by the high school counciler since supposedly women did not have the brains for it. The idea that just girls have self-esteem problems leaves vulnerable boys overlooked.

Harping on gender differences goes back to  1879, around the time people also thought that there were racial differences that mattered.  As early as 1918, this notion was being questioned. Scientists couldn’t find the cognitive differences. This didn’t stop the book Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus from selling over three million copies. The author of that book even maintains a relationship advice site and sells nutrition products from it. I was given a copy of it by a boss.I’m not sure why. Bottom line: it’s crap. Feel free to defy expectations.

Ogle vs bogle

A new study confirms the obvious–men size women up by how they are built. Women even do it to each other. We’ve all caved in to this notion that a woman’s value is in her body. But read the article further. What kind of women embrace this objectification? Those with low self-worth. It’s a destructive pattern–look good or be worthless, get insecure about your worth as you age. You’re not going to win. As a young woman, my high school guidance councilor discouraged me from getting a degree in science. Women don’t have the brains for it, he said. I’m glad I didn’t listen. In science, your data is what people look at. In fact, scientists who look too slick bring out my suspicions. Yes, books are judged by their cover elsewhere. I’ve even heard people in business laugh about not hiring someone because of their shoes. This makes me happy to have gotten that chemistry degree. I know when my data is good and I can get good data even on a bad hair day. There’s something freeing about putting on those safety goggles and saying “Screw you world, for the next few hours, I’m not even trying to impress you with my looks. I’m going to boggle you with what I discover.”

New species of spider and a discussion on sexuality

I’m not the first one to wonder why in humans, it’s often the females who adorn themselves. It’s not natural and you need to look no further than newly discovered Eresus hermani

to see yet another example of this.  Which one do you think is the female?

ladybird-spiders

You guessed it. The one on the left. According to biologist Paulina Mena “Evolutionarily speaking, sexual selection has to do with investment in reproduction. The mode in nature is that females invest more in making gametes and in many cases in parental care than males. This means that females maximize their reproductive success by being choosy. This is what leads to the elaborate adornments, bird songs, dances, etc. in males. They are trying to be picked.”

Of course,as my anthropologist/sociologist friends point out, not all human cultures put an emphasis on female adornment. In some cultures, males and females are equally adorned or not and in others, the men are the fancy ones.  Jeff Bass points out that “There is a general observation that there tends to be less gender equality (or more female dis-empowerment) in societies based on intensive agriculture.” This possibly comes as women are less central to economic production, and is less of a factor in industrialized countries where there’s plenty of work for women to do. In this case, adornment is less important.

When males and females look different, it’s called sexual dimorphism. (Sexual dichromatism is the term for different coloration between males and females.) As far as humans go, we don’t have exaggerated sexual dimorphism. Some studies have suggested that when males and females look similar to each other, there is less fighting and competition among males. Is grooming oneself, trying to look different, encouraging competition? If we were a gender neutral society, would we be more peaceful? (more on this topic in the next post)