Musings on the Value of “Awareness”

Leah D. Smith (Director of Public Relations, Little People of America)
Joseph A. Stramondo (Assistant Teaching Professor, Health Administration Department, Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions)

A middle-aged man who decided to commute to work through the city via his bicycle on a cool, autumn day casts a glance to the side as he is stopped at a red light. Out of his peripheral vision, he catches the tell-tale bulb flash from a cell phone camera, so this time he is certain of what has happened. The young man sitting in the passenger seat of the car next to him smirks and gestures with his friends as they laugh at being caught snapping the photo of the man with dwarfism astride his bike.

A busy, thirty-something working professional’s meeting schedule doesn’t allow her to take time in the middle of the day to see her primary care doctor for the symptoms of the ear infection she has been dealing with for a week, so she goes to a walk-in clinic in the evening. Before she is even able to describe her symptoms, the physician interrupts her with aggressive questions about her stature, which she patiently answers, explaining that she was born with achondroplasia and has seen some of the best geneticists and orthopedic surgeons in the country. At the conclusion of the consult, along with the antibiotics for her middle-ear infection, the physician writes up a script for blood work, telling the woman that she needs to get the function of her thyroid checked because that may be the cause of her short stature.

Both of these stories are true and have recently happened to people close to us. They are two of a countless number of similar stories that are constantly told and re-told everywhere from family dinner tables to cocktail parties. When we were recently invited to write a guest post for the IJFAB blog about Dwarfism Awareness Month, we thought it best to provide a signal boost to these sorts of stories, simultaneously providing context for the rest of our argument.

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Posted in Disability & Ableism, Popular Culture & Media | Leave a comment

“Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man”

I look back on all my strenuous efforts, because I really did try, I tried hard to be a man, to be a good man, and I see how I failed at that. I am at best a bad man. An imitation phony second-rate him with a ten-hair beard and semicolons. And I wonder what was the use. Sometimes I think I might just as well give the whole thing up.

I find the stuff on semi-colons particularly wonderful. Read more at Brain Pickings.

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Left Out in the Cold: Seven Reasons not to Freeze Your Eggs

By Françoise Baylis (Dalhousie University)

In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) lifted the experimental designation on human egg freezing. At this time, it was careful to indicate that freezing technology should not to be used for elective purposes, particularly as this might give young women false hope. A 2014 fact sheet prepared by the ASRM confirms that “Even in younger women (i.e., < 38 years old), the chance that one frozen egg will yield a baby in the future is around 2-12%.”

These professional cautions are of no consequence to Facebook or Apple, however. Both of these companies have decided to include egg freezing in their employee benefit package. As an alternative, they could have decided to improve the health benefits offered to all employees. Or, to stay focused on the issue of reproduction, they could have included a full year of family leave in the benefit package. Instead, they chose to pay up to $20,000 for egg freezing. Now call me crazy, but I think this choice just might have to do with their corporate priorities – which include keeping talented workers in their 20s to early 30s in the workplace, not at home caring for babies.

Sadly, from my perspective, some describe this corporate decision in positive terms. They congratulate the companies for “taking the lead”. In this way, they both endorse the decision and encourage others to follow this lead. Already, Virtus Health in Australia has announced that it too will pay for egg freezing for its female employees. According to the Medical Director of Virtus “… if it’s good enough for Apple and Facebook, it’s good enough for us.”

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Posted in Pregnancy, Reproductive Technology | 1 Comment

Sorting Through Mixed Reactions to Malala Yousafzai
(Or: A Brief Rant on the Centrality of the Humanities for a Flourishing Democracy)

Malala Yousafzai first came to my attention when a friend posted a link to a video of an interview she gave on The Daily Show. He is someone for whose intellect and soundness of judgment I have great respect, and he praised her in remarkably extravagant terms. Obviously I watched the clip.

It left a bad taste in my mouth.

This was confusing. I was (and remain) in unconditioned support of her cause. At 17, she has probably already done more good in the world than I can reasonably hope to accomplish in my lifetime. Her presentation in the interview was near flawless: poised, self-possessed, and with clarity of purpose enviable by people of any age. All of this I tremendously admire. So what, then, was going on?

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Posted in Academia, International Aid & Development, Popular Culture & Media, U.S. Politics | 1 Comment

“Sarah Silverman Fights the Wage Gap”

In case anyone could use a little dose of humor (or — hey! — the opportunity to donate to a fine cause):

Yesterday, Sarah Silverman helped launch a crowdfunding campaign, The Equal Payback Project, to raise $30 trillion. Yes, you read that right. It’s the amount of money the 69-million-strong U.S. women’s workforce will lose over the course of their careers because of the disparity in women’s and men’s wages. (Currently, women make 78 cents to a man’s dollar.)

In the campaign’s video, Silverman will stop at nothing to earn her full dollar, even if it means gender reassignment (i.e., adding a penis). She sizes up the different penis shapes and colors—ranging from “The Frat Boy” to “The Seinfeld”—like any conscious consumer.

I link below to Ms. Blog rather than directly to the video as it helpfully heads off one pointed criticism (yes, the piece is totally insensitive to the trans-community, and she’s genuinely sorry, but somehow just never thought about that). Their post also contains the four-minute spot, featuring Silverman’s characteristically irreverent comic genius in fine form.

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Advocate for Girls’ Education Wins Nobel Peace Prize

More than 30 million girls worldwide are unable to go to school either because of gender prejudice or poverty. Considerable research indicates that educating girls improves family and community health and reduces violence.

Two years ago on October 9, 2012, Taliban gunmen shot Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she was coming home from school, targeting her because of her advocacy for girls’ education.

She survived and founded the Malala Fund which invests in education for girls in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, and Jordan.

Today Malala shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi, who campaigns against child slavery.

Congratulations to Malala and Kailash and to the Swedish Academy for recognizing their courageous work on behalf of children.

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Posted in International Aid & Development | 1 Comment

Women and Responsibility for Health:
Food, Physical Activity, and Feminism

Consider this new Kitchen Aid ad from 2013.  Notice anything?  The ability to make your own healthy food—made of quality ingredients and preservative-free—is emphasized, as is preparation skill and social activity: “…new knife skills… a fish you’ve never bought before… host Moroccan night.”   Notice anything else?

We will come back to the ad in a moment.

With all the hubbub about obesity in America, there is a renewed focus on everything from increasing access to fresh vegetables to making sure that kids and adults get more physical activity.  Despite the many arguments that it is institutional factors such as access to poor nutrition and lack of access to physical activity at school, or built-environment factors such as outside areas in which it is physically unsafe to run or walk or play, the responsibility for health is placed intensely on individuals.  In part, this is because American society is highly individualistic.  This is part of the problem: that the responsibility for change is misplaced when it falls only on individuals’ shoulders.  Another part is upon whose shoulders it often falls.   Women—whether as mothers, wives, daughters, or partners—are far more likely than fathers to be held responsible for their family’s health status.  This is chronicled in a 2010 Time article called Lady Madonna and numerous other  sources.   Now think again about the Kitchen Aid ad.  Who is the only person seen preparing food?  An adult woman (it is a small miracle in advertising that she is a woman of color).  Men appear solely as consumers of the healthy, preservative-free, homemade food.

Consider now how truly misguided it is to place responsibility for nutrition, physical activity, or obesity primarily on any individual, much less disproportionately on women.

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Posted in Food Ethics, Public Health, Weight & Body Image | 1 Comment

“A First: Uterus Transplant Gives Parents A Healthy Baby”

In what’s being hailed as a huge step in fertility and reproduction science, doctors in Sweden say a woman has given birth to a baby boy less than two years after she received a uterus transplant. The new mother, 36, had been born without a uterus, so another woman, 61, donated her womb several years after she had gone through menopause.

Read about it at NPR.

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Posted in Pregnancy, Reproductive Technology | 1 Comment

Free IJFAB Content!

Readers who are not long-time subscribers may be interested to know that the journal makes select content available to read for free. This includes the entirety of our first issue, Doing Feminist Bioethics, and select articles from subsequent issues. You’ll find essays by some of our regular blog contributors as well as by other important scholars in the field. The links can be found at our webpage.

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“Oh baby! Gender Reveal Parties and Proleptic Personhood”

If you don’t know what a “gender reveal party” is or why this phenomenon merits critical scrutiny, please direct your attention to this piece by frequent IJFAB Blog-contributor Tim R. Johnston.

Gender-Reveal-Party-12-450x300In fact, even if you are already knowledgeable of such parties and confident in your critically informed assessment of them, you should still check out the new blog on which the post is featured: The Second Shift: Academic Feminism After Hours. According to its own self-description,

The Second Shift is a new blog aimed at bringing academic feminist analysis (broadly construed) into conversation with politics and pop culture. We’re a group of thinkers interested in everything from race, gender, and LGBT politics to weightlifting and Murder, She Wrote. Some of us work in the academy, others don’t. What we all share is a commitment to feminist politics and to using feminist analysis as a lens through which to understand social and political problems.

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Posted in Popular Culture & Media, Pregnancy | 1 Comment

PIKSI – Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute:
A Summer Institute for Undergraduates

For nine years, PIKSI, or the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute, has been helping students from underrepresented groups develop the skills, confidence, and community needed to pursue graduate study in philosophy. Our students include women, people of color, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and people from economically disadvantaged communities.

PIKSI aims to change philosophy’s status as the least diverse in the humanities. Only 16% of full-time academic philosophers are women. Of the 13,000 professional philosophers in the United States, only 156 are black. The experiences of members of diverse groups can cast new light on traditional philosophical questions as well as raise new ones.

Learn more here–and make a donation if you can!

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Biotech Drugs In Colombia:
Are Colombian Bodies Really That Different?

As a feminist working on bioethics, I often turn to the reality of material singularity as a way to argue for more specificity in our dealings with the matter of living bodies. What do I mean by “material singularity?” This term attempts to sum up the way that matter, and especially living matter, is the source of irreducible difference (as feminists like Irigaray and Grosz, along with other thinkers like Deleuze and Guattari, argue). Because matter itself is the source of difference, each body is singular and unique. No body is universal and no body is exactly like another. The inherent singularity of living bodies is often overlooked in Western medicine, but it cannot be effectively ignored. We see this singularity, for example, in the ways that each individual body reacts differently to medications and treatment. Clinical research in various fields, such as toxicology and nutrition, makes use of statistical aggregates and averages to attempt to overcome these singularities, but the fact that these methods are necessary shows that the singularity of living bodies is in fact irreducible. Sexual difference is a major (but not the only) example of an irreducible difference in living bodies. The fact that there is now a push to pay attention to sexual difference in clinical trials, an issue discussed in several IJFAB blog posts last week, is a huge step towards recognizing the importance of material singularity for providing just and adequate health care.

This commonly overlooked aspect of bodily life that I am calling “material singularity” has also taken a surprisingly central role in an intense political debate that has unfolded over the last year between the U.S. and Colombia regarding healthcare access, costs, and social justice. Like many other Latin American countries, Colombia has been developing policies to regulate the development and use of biotechnological drugs. Biotech drugs are produced using living human cell lines and are used to treat a variety of conditions, from wrinkles to Leukemia and rare blood conditions. Since 2013, Colombia’s ministry of health has been working on legislation that would regulate the use of these medicines while also enabling Colombia to begin to develop its own biotech industry, with the goals of making these medicines more available to its citizens while lowering their costs. As in other places in the world, increasing access and lowering costs happens through the development of generics. This is where things get complicated, because, as it turns, out, living cell lines cannot be precisely reproduced, especially when the original cell lines are protected by patents.

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Posted in Access to Medical Care, Legislation, Research, Technology | Tagged , | Leave a comment