Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Thoughts about Gender

I have been contemplating this post for several days. I can already see my husband's eyes rolling in his head as he reads it. I got into a conversation on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, something that I can't avoid doing from time to time despite the fact that Twitter is a terrible place for any real intellectual discourse. Who can be eloquent and clear in only 144 characters? Most of us seem to have trouble with that with much more space, or at least I do.

An issue related to the term "cisgender" came up, a term I'm not really fond of. It started me thinking about gender roles and concepts in general.

First, I want to clarify my use of terms. I'm sure you are already aware of this distinction, but I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding about what I write next. The words sex and gender are often used interchangeably, but they aren't actually the same thing. A person's sex is their biological male or femaleness, it only describes the reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics that they are born with and develop in puberty. Gender is the societal expectations for each sex. The roles, behaviors, personality traits, and attitudes expected from a person with male or female sexual organs. These concepts are largely stereotypical and puts everyone in nice safe boxes. I can't say the behavior of men and women is totally a concept of society because of the scientific evidence shows that there are physical differences in their brains, this is a product of many years of evolution and our roles eons ago. I don't believe however, that we need to let such things continue to define us in modern society.

I am rather an odd person in many ways, when I think of myself, the first thing that I think isn't that I'm a woman. I know that I am female, but for me it's not a defining aspect of myself as a person. I don't think of myself as a women first. It doesn't define my interests, views, personality, or opinions (most of them at any rate), so for me it is a secondary characteristic though it's one of the first thing other people notice. As an adult, I have frequently questioned my "girl card" points. I have given birth to a child (I look forward to the day that the men who wish to can experience this joy for themselves), so I'm definitely female, but I wonder how "girly" I am.

My "Girl" Points
  • Went through the horse crazy stage as a kid
  • Baking
  • Cross-stitch
  • Liked pink most of my life (not my favorite color now)
  • Blubber like a baby at movies, tv shows, and books
  • Like dancing
My "Not Girl" Points
  • Don't care about shoes
  • Don't like shopping
  • Don't like jewelry
  • Don't like chocolate (want it, maybe, once a year)
  • Don't want flowers as a gift
  • Don't like romance novels (though I had a phase as a teen)
  • Love scifi/fantasy and horror
  • Not overly sentimental
  • Would rather do yard work than housework
  • Don't like make-up (wear it for work so I don't look like a ghost)
  • Was never boy crazy
  • Never did the squeally, screechy girl thing
  • Never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom
  • Don't care about fashion 
  • Bread winner
  • Linear thinker
  • Analytical/logical thinker
I realize a lot of the things listed above are based on stereotypes, that's all that our concepts of gender really are: a series of  societal expectations that have nothing to do with people as individuals. I think this is detrimental to individuals and society. My mother took a test in high school to see what she should do with her life, this was in the 60's, and they added a letter to her name which made it seem she was male. With the male name, she was told she should be a mechanic or engineer. Well, they sent the same test in with her real name and she was told she should be a teacher or nurse. Today, we call this sexist, and it is, but it has to do with these stereotypes society has about men and women. Some of them have eased up, some continue just as strongly.

Men are just as trapped by these stereotypes as women. My husband was a stay-at-home dad for 7 years. I got all kinds of disapproving looks and comments because I was the bread winner and things were tight for us. If he had been the one to work, and I had stayed at home, no one would have questioned it even if finances were tight. I pointed this out to someone once, their comments ceased. The concepts are so endemic that we don't even realize that we hold these views until it's pointed out. People also seem to think that the word sexist only applies to treatment of women. People are sexist against men, too. Men can be incredibly nurturing people and parents, though traditional gender roles express a different opinion. If a man wants to be a nurse, it's been assumed that he's feminine (therefore also gay) or not smart enough to be a doctor. Admittedly, this attitude has lessened in the last few years as more men enter the profession. Men that want to teach young children face this sexism as well, but it's not assumed that they are gay rather that they must be pedophiles.

I am saddened that some in forward thinking communities are still trapped by these concepts of gender roles. I know that some people don't understand why others aren't comfortable with the label "cisgender". I can't speak for all, but I can speak for myself. Just like many don't like the labels that have been applied to them because of the stereotypical concepts that come with that box, the same happens when labels are applies to others. Some have already attached stereotypes to anyone that is "cisgender". I don't believe in "default", I don't believe in "normal"; I just believe in people. Such labels only serve to separate and divide us, because the labels become more important than the fact that we are all human.




Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Getting a Pet and Puppy Mills

Our Jester dog
 I recently read Bones in Her Pocket by Kathy Reichs which addresses the horror of puppy mills. At the end of this novella, she included an exceptional letter about such mills. I am including her letter here, which I have already posted on my Facebook page, with her permission. Please read it and carefully consider where you get your next pet.



You Can Help Stop Puppy Mills



As a forensic anthropologist I’m daily faced with the malice humans cause one another.  As an owner of five rescue animals, I’m distressed by cruelty to all species.  Occasionally, these paths intersect.  Bones brought to my lab turn out to be a sackful of puppies, weighted down by a rock.  It’s hard for the heart to understand such brutality.  And nothing is more merciless than a puppy mill.

A puppy mill is defined as a ‘factory farm’ for dogs.  Some are legal and some are illegal.  Government regulation is lax, if it exists at all.  The ‘crops’ are raised in cages, often in the minimum legal space allowed.  Females are bred as frequently as possible, and discarded when no longer fertile.  It’s a life with no joy, no love, no hope.  The dogs are sick, starved, and sad.  They have never played on the grass.

Thousands buy dogs from puppy mills annually, most believing they are getting their pet from a responsible breeder.  Inhumane breeders owners seduce people into “puppy love,” either in pet stores or through online photos. The Humane Society estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills across the country.  Collectively, they sell 2 million to 4 million puppies nationwide each year from facilities where breeding dogs remain caged their entire lives, sustained solely to provide offspring sold for profit.  My home state of North Carolina is one of the worst offenders, with no state-required inspections and no laws governing breeders who sell to the buying public.

You can help prevent animal abuse.  Here are eight things you can do to stop the horror of puppy mills:

  • Adopt your next pet.  The perfect pet is waiting for you at one of the thousands of shelters and rescue groups across the country. If you want a particular breed, you can locate one by contacting a breed-rescue organization.
  • Don't buy a puppy online or from a pet store. If you buy a puppy, you’re most likely supporting the puppy mill industry.  If you must buy, please do your research to be sure your puppy isn’t from a mill.
  • Take action against pet stores that sell puppy mill dogs.  Ask pet store owners to consider switching to a humane business model. If the store refuses to change, hold a peaceful rally or written campaign in protest.
  • Advocate for stricter breeding laws. Write or call your city, county, state and federal officials and ask them to take these issues seriously. These communications influence legislators. To help change your city, county, and state laws, sign up to receive action alerts from Voices for No More Homeless Pets at yourvoice.bestfriends.org.
  • Speak out in your community. Write to the editors of newspapers and local news about puppy mills that keep their animals in unacceptable conditions.
  • Elect animal-friendly candidates. Ask candidates if they support regulating commercial breeders and what they would do about puppy mills.  Let them know you support stricter puppy mill regulations and you vote.
  • Raise awareness and/or donations.  Organize a walk, conduct a bake sale or car wash, or set up a table at local events to raise awareness and funding for animal rescue and breeding regulation.
  • Don't give up. The fight against puppy mills and inhumane breeders has been going on for decades.  Things won't change overnight, but we’ve seen progress. If you educate just one person about the horrors of puppy mills or convince just one person to adopt rather than buy a pet, you've made a difference.

 
Having a pet is a great thing! We love our cats and dogs. My family adopted our dog through a shelter to be an emotional support animal for my husband. We'd have taken his brother, too, if we could have afforded it or had the room. Our cat was adopted from a friend of a friend because her owner was moving out of the country and didn't have time or money to do the necessary paperwork to take her beloved animal with her.


As many of you may know, Jester was hit by a car about a year ago. Thanks again to all of you that helped with his emergency vet bills, you will never know how much it meant to us.

My husband and I have only ever bought one pet, that was our first cat. All of the rest of the animals that we have had, have been adopted. Most of these were through acquaintances that just wanted the animal to have a good home with loving people. When we had to leave a pet behind in a move, we've always made sure to find them a home rather than take them to a shelter (adult animals are too hard to adopt).


The point of all this is that when you are looking for a pet, you should adopt rather than buy. There are many animals in need of homes, if homes aren't found for them, they are put down. If you must buy PLEASE do in-depth research on who you are buying from. Most breeders are puppy mills, they are in it for the money, it's BIG business. I am adding my voice to Kathy Reichs, research, speak up, speak out, and adopt first!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, MD

I won an advanced copy of this book by Martin J. Blaser, MD from Goodreads. I have been interested in the affects that the overuse of antibiotics for a while, we've always been careful to avoid taking unnecessary medication. Most things pass on their own when the virus passes through your system.

Blaser explains so many things about antibiotics and his research that I'm not sure how to boil it down to fit in a review. He does a great job of looking at the side effects we've already seen from antibiotic usage around the world. Most of us know about drug resistance bacteria and disease, but it goes beyond that. The FDA finally announced that hand sanitizers do more harm then good, glad they caught up with the science (it took long enough).

Our immune systems and growth are being impacted as well. The use of broad spectrum antibiotics not only attacks the harmful bacteria inside our bodies but the bacteria that helps us digest various foods and regulate our immune responses. The bio-diversity of our bacteria is being negatively impacted by our obsession with cleanliness and getting rid of all "germs". We have neglected to realize that the bacteria contained within us (which actually make up most of our mass) evolved with us.

Blaser has linked the use of antibiotics with the increase in obesity, not just in the U.S. but all over the world. This includes areas where the western diets has not been adopted but the use of antibiotics has. The increase in height all around the world can be connected with the use of antibiotics as well. 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are sold to farmers specifically for the purpose of causing their livestock to grow faster and fatter while eating less. We then consume the meat containing these antibiotics. Though progress has been made on this front with 25 companies recently agreeing to reduce the sale of antibiotics to farmers.

His reasoning is sound and though the microbiome scientists haven't linked specific bacteria with obesity, allergies, asthma, etc. they have found very strong correlations. The sudden outbreak of allergies to commonly used foods strangely coincides with the dramatic increase in antibiotic use.

Ways you can help:

1. Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Don't get them every time you or your child gets an ear infection (Over 80% are caused by viruses.). Check to make sure that your doctor doesn't give your newborn antibiotics automatically at birth without a specific cause. Most people are unaware of this practice in US hospitals. It's only necessary 1 in 200 cases, so 199 kids are getting unnecessary medication. Ask your dentist to not give you antibiotics unless there is an eminent risk of infection. After taking antibiotics you are more at risk to get sick from another infection, (strange that this isn't on any of the warning labels.) sometimes up to as long as 3 years later.

2. Stop using hand sanitizer. There is a layer of helpful bacteria on your skin, using hand sanitizer kills it off and increases your risk of disease and infection. Even the FDA has realized the negative impact of hand sanitizer use.

Other things that need to be done to improve the situation involve restricting the use of antibiotics on farm animals, paying pediatricians better so they can take more time with each patient to ensure a better diagnosis, better training for pediatricians, better tests for determining bacterial/viral infection status, better antibiotic development focusing on directed antibiotics, plus other methods to fight diseases.

I have barely scratched the surface of what Dr. Blaser had to say, I highly recommend this book.

Happy reading!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bucket List Item #19 - Accomplished!

Yesterday, I got to fulfill #19 on my bucket list. I met Kathy Reichs. (That number does not reflect any priority, just the random order of how things popped into my head as I made the list.) She and her son, Brendan, are doing a book tour for Exposure, their new YA novel from the "Virals" series. These books feature Tory Brennan, the niece of Temperance Brennan.

The location of the book talk/signing was a small, independent bookstore in Minneapolis called Wild Rumpus. Wild Rumpus is a magical and enchanting bookstore focused on young readers of all ages. They have a kid-sized door built into the adult door, a multitude of store pets including cats, chinchillas, and birds. I truly wish I didn't live an hour away from this place, I'd be there all the time. If you live in the area, please give them your patronage, if you live far away order from them online. (We need to support the independent bookstores.)

While we were waiting for the book talk to begin, the Girl got on to me for being to excited about meeting Kathy and acting too much like a giddy teenager. I told her it's allowed for me to get excited. I admit to gushy about meeting Kathy and the awesome bookstore, but there was no jumping up and down or squealing.

Kathy and Brendan were friendly, articulate, and even funny. It's obvious that they enjoy writing and working together, though it has its challenges. They encouraged questions about the Virals series, the Temperance series, and the Bones tv show. Kathy talked about not really wanting to do a cameo on the show, until she heard David Duchovny would be directing the episode. It's nice to see a famous person get just as starstruck and excited to meet someone as I am to meet them.

I got Bones are Forever signed, while the Girl got Exposure signed by them both. I wish I could have asked her more questions or been able to discuss science with her. Though I would have probably been too nervous to be a thoughtful conversation partner.

I did learn that "Bones" has been picked up for another season, the next Temperance Brennan novel will be out in September, and the next "Virals" novel will be about next year (probably April).

Many things are still hectic in my life, but I have completed one and a half of the things on my bucket list in less than a month. That isn't a bad start to a new year.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century by Kevin Fong

I've always been interested in science and medicine, but I admit that reading the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs helped draw my attention to this Goodreads giveaway for this book. The technical details about forensics in the series reawakened my desire for actual knowledge rather than my more casual interest of the past. So upon seeing Dr. Kevin Fong's book comparing and paralleling extreme medicine and exploration, I was intrigued.

Right away, I could feel Dr. Fong's passion for both medicine and exploration. The book is well organized and easily understandable. Dr. Fong is good at using analogies that make the body processes and affects on the body comprehensible. There are 9 different areas of focus, and all are kept to an easily readable length.

The first area of exploration is ice, we learn about Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated but crucial expedition to the South Pole and what happens to the body during hypothermia. Dr. Fong takes us through some of the technologies developed to allow us access to such temperature extremes so that we may learn more about our planet. And in the final segment about ice, we learn of the first time that doctors used hypothermia as a medical tool to save a live.

In the section on fire, we learn how World War I doctors and pilots provided the basis of modern day plastic surgery and why burn injuries are so dangerous.

In the heart section, I was shocked to learn that the heart was forbidden territory for a very long time, and that the field developed so quickly. There are many interesting personal stories in each section, that put a human face on these explorations into new medicine and environs, but if I share them here I'll be doing Dr. Fong's work for him.

Trauma and intensive care are closely associated with hospitals in my mind, and with each other. These two sections trace the development of each specialty. Our current procedures for triaging injuries in emergency situations comes from the personal tragedy of Dr. James K. Styner. He went on a crusade after his family was in a plane crash, and the local small town doctors didn't know how to prioritize cases. He had to function as his children's own emergency doctor while ignoring his own injuries. The inside look at the SARS epidemic and seeing how intensive care units were started was also interesting. I didn't know half of the side effects of polio, I guess my generation is lucky that way.

This passage from the water section gave me the shivers, the thing to remember is that Dr. Fong really did this. Imagine how terrifying it would be if it wasn't a training exercise.
"The water is rising fast now, already up to my waist, and every fiber of my body is telling me that I should unclip that harness and punch through that window. But to do that would be fatal. Free of the seat, I'd be swilled around the cabin by the inrush of water; finding my way to the exit and then locating the metal bar that jettisons the window would be impossible. If I'm to survive this, I have to wait. The water continues to bubble into the cabin. It's at my chest now, and the whole vehicle is overbalancing, skewed by the weight of the engines and rotors above, turning upside down in the darkness. The water is up to my chin as the cabin starts to rotate. These are my last few breaths, and I'm still strapped into my seat, resisting the urge to get the hell out of there."
The sections on Orbit and Mars, look at the medical challenges of space travel. Dr. Fong is an astrophysicist as well as a medical doctor, and he was lucky enough to get training at NASA on dealing with astronauts medical issues. I knew about the weakness they feel after an extended space stay, but knowing the reasons for it and how it's combated put a new perspective on things. Seeing the technologies that are being developed so that long term space travel can be achieved, along with the possible health issues resulting from a trip to Mars made me see why we haven't done it yet.

You would think that space travel would be as far as medicine could go, but it's not. The final frontier section looks at elderly medical care. It looks at how the body's systems slow down, and the delicate balance that doctors need to find. The judgement they need to decide whether it is more humane to treat the health issues or to let things run their course.
 
From the outside, progress often looks like it happens smoothly and is planned in advance. I like that Dr. Fong points out that leaps of progress are full of stops and starts and are often accidental. That we focus on the successes rather than the failures and the cost of getting to the successes.

Happy reading!