Thursday, May 2, 2013

Issues about women are not always "feminist" issues

This article is really poorly argued, and the opposing side is not represented well at all (instead, it is straw-manned). The article states that gynecologists are divided, and then simply dismisses those who are concerned as "unknowledgeable". Bull. Gynecologists HAVE to know about the safety and risks of medication THAT THEY PRESCRIBE. They are liable for this--i.e., they can get sued by a patient otherwise. What a complete facepalm moment.

The risk in changing BC to over-the-counter IS the health concerns, which this article just completely neglects (and even misrepresents). E.g., certain types of BC DO have a significant chance of raising BP, and can raise it to dangerous levels-- this is why women with hypertension have to be really careful in taking it. (So no, it's not safer than Sudafed, what a ludicrous claim). And given that people are not always aware of their conditions and that these conditions develop randomly at some point, it is still wisest for them to see a dr before taking medication. And pharmacists are not drs. They cannot diagnose or even discern whether a woman has some kind of condition (hypertension) which is something that has to be established through lab tests, normally.

Do people not remember all the class-action lawsuits against various types of birth control that happened a few years ago? (

I think the better thing to do is keep BC as a prescripted medication, but perhaps make the dr's visit free, since that seems to be the real trouble. Everyone should go to a doctor yearly anyway, which is why we should just have free universal health-care, but that's "socialism"...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Schools need to remember their priorities

Seriously, wtf is wrong with schools. In place of actually giving students education (, schools create a dysfunctional atmosphere that legitimates sexism and bullying ( These schools elevate the status of student athletes and denigrate the status of women and other students, who are harassed, bullied, and assaulted by athletes and other students. If schools can't handle the dual responsibility of educating and providing organized athletic opportunities to their students, then the latter needs to go. There's always gym class.

One mother in this article said, "Boys need to be taught to respect women no matter what they're wearing, and that's a big deal." Damn right. Why are people like this not in charge of schools? Who the hell are these schools hiring?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What we take for granted

This week, we are reading about oppression and privilege,  two topics of great interest to me and that are seldom fully understood, as McIntosh notes in “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. The theme, especially brought out by McIntosh and Marilyn Frye (“Oppression”), is that it’s hard to notice privilege when one is the privileged group, and hard to notice oppression when one is not a member of the oppressed group. This is why, for example, some men don’t understand why women find cat-calling offensive. They think that it’s complimentary: they would love to have women complimenting them as they walked by! (I have heard this many times from men.) But women don’t take it as such: we worry about it, and we can feel threatened by it. We don’t want to be sex objects for random men, but that’s what we turn into. And it doesn’t have to do with how a woman dresses, either. Women dressed “conservatively” will still be harassed if she is found attractive. (Consider this )

And this article is clearly meant to demonstrate the privilege that many of us have who have lived in neighborhoods with fairly reliable grocery stores:
Yet the evidence it presents does not give a convincing case. Let me note outright that I do not disagree with the message of the article. People should have access to sanitary local grocery stores. But this article is far too incomplete, and if you look at the comments, people simply don’t understand the problem because of the poor communication of the article. What I will be elucidating in this post is not that the article is wrong, but incomplete. It does not go far enough. It describes only part of the problem, and so is misinforming people about the injustice certain communities ACTUALLY face-- they are far greater than what this article suggests.

When I first read the article, several things sprung out at me. First, how many trips a week to the grocery store 3 mi away is Olga restricted to? It makes no mention of how often she works, or other time-drains she has that makes such a trip difficult, which would make the argument more compelling. Second, let’s say she can go only once a week, due to time constraints, which is probably likely. Why not use a backpack to carry groceries home? They are more durable and can carry quite a few groceries. I have used one in biking to and from grocery stores. Third, she mentions some of the things she buys: orange juice, Rice-A-Roni, etc. Why not buy orange juice concentrate and a bag of rice? A box of rice-a-roni takes up quite a bit of space, and is only half full! Not to mention it is grossly unhealthy,  especially if it is flavored/ “seasoned”—packing in quite a bit of sodium for the little nutrition it gives. And this brings us to the other point of the article, the unhealthy children on a bad diet.
But the article doesn’t talk AT ALL about why the children are unhealthy!! Are we just supposed to infer the cause from a badly organized collection of details, that don’t even yield a complete narrative?
As a working class woman, I know the reasons normally given for eating unhealthy: it’s convenient, it’s quick, and it’s cheap. All but the first are just false, and actually even the first is false most of the time. It is quicker and cheaper to make a homecooked meal with healthy ingredients than to go to any kind of restaurant and wait for your food. Let’s look at each point separately.
Cost: Take the cheapest meal you can get out. Fastfood, dollar menu. Presuming that you get a burger and fries, you are at $3 per person already. Let’s say it’s a family of 4. You’re paying at least $12 for one meal, no leftovers.
Or you can make a huge pot of chili: beans are maybe $2 for a big bag, or for a big can. Then you get a couple of peppers and an onion, $2. And that’s really all you need. You can throw in a lb of hamburger for $5. So $9, and that will easily feed all 4, and is easily healthier—and it’s CHILI. So it’s not even all that healthy.

Time: You have to travel to go to any kind of restaurant. You have to wait to get your order at any kind of restaurant. You can save on time by making enough food to have leftovers, which you can store in your freezer or fridge. It takes little extra time to double or triple recipes.
Convenience: See above. And if you’re short on time, as I am, you can buy pre-cut vegetables and fruit for little extra than you would pay otherwise. It’s still cheaper than eating out.

By now, you’ve probably guessed I’m a privileged white woman, and right you are! But the privilege is not in my location, not entirely. The privilege is in that I KNOW EVERYTHING I JUST WROTE. I have learned it. I have learned it primarily from my mother, the brilliant chef-on-a-budget that she is, but I also have had the opportunity to take nutrition classes, and have easy access to information on the internet about healthy eating.
So I previously asked, why does Olga make these choices? She has other options available to her: she can carry items in a backpack (even if she couldn’t carry it in the store, she can leave it at the guest counter and pack items in after she shops) and she can buy healthy items that take up just as much if not less space. But does Olga know she has these options? Does she know that she can report the local store for health code violations, so that her community could get a decent one in there? Even no store is better than one that ROBS people. (In fact, she probably could sue that store.)
And this is why this article is incomplete, and why people who are privileged (as I am) may have difficulty seeing what the problem is. More than being starved for healthy food options, that community is starved for information and adequate attention from the larger community. The article doesn’t make its case, and in the end it is these kinds of articles that prevent people from seeing the whole picture, prevent us from locating the causes of unhealthy eating and reduced opportunities for leading a healthy life. This is the point Marilyn Frye makes so brilliantly with her birdcage metaphor. It is not one wire that keeps Olga and other members of her community oppressed: the problem is not JUST that the grocery store is 3 miles away. There are a host of other wires: lack of information, lack of interest by officials, lack of enforcement of rules on the local store, etc. We need to stop acting as though there is only one thing causing this kind of systematic injustice against people.
Best of luck to you, Olga. I hope that one day your community will actually have its needs recognized and fulfilled.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When will people learn?

Just the other day this past week, I was hanging out with a couple of friends and we were watching a Ricky Gervais stand-up. I really enjoy his movies, but hadn't seen his stand up, and when he went off on this series of jokes (above video), I was very annoyed. Some of the rest of the stand-up is funny, but it just floors me when people spout off vitriol about any group of people, especially when they don't know ANYTHING about the topic. He's not a scientist. He's not a nutritionist. He's not a fitness expert. And moreover, he's not taking evidence from any of those fields into account in formulating his own opinion.

I've been reading Patricia Churchland's Brain-wise (2001), and I have to say that I love that Churchland addressed the issue of obesity being explained by leptin receptor malfunctioning. The explanation is this: Leptin, a hormone released by fat cells, basically controls feelings of hunger and the sating of it. But leptin receptors can be mutated, and we can predict how overweight a subject will be based on the kinds of mutation of the leptin receptors (shown in mice studies). Churchland states, "If a person is born with the db mutation of the leptin-receptor gene, and if, in consequence, he feels as ravenous at the end of dinner as at the beginning, it seems inevitable that he will overeat. More precisely, it seems reasonable to assume that such a person will have less control over his eating behavior than a person with the standard version of the leptin receptor" (218). In other words, at least SOME cases of obesity will be explained by leptin receptor mutations. Does this explain all cases of obesity? Probably not. But rather than jump on people for having lack of will-power, we should instead find out if it really is the case that they lack "will-power" (and what the hell does that even mean?) before publicly ridiculing them. If we educate ourselves and seek to understand others, then we might actually be able to do some good in the world and help others. It might not seem as satisfying at first as cracking a joke at their expense, but I'm sure we can all pull through that hardship together. Bullying needs to stop, among adults (seriously, we have to hear this crap from ADULTS?) and children.

I actually didn't know the details of obesity before reading that, but still I find it frustrating that people seem never to learn that mocking groups of people based on some specific feature is just wrong, and science always shows it to be ignorant and intolerant in the end.

End rant. QED.

Teaching Review

On Friday, the professor for the class for which I am a TA sat in on one of my recitations and gave me feedback. Normally this section is fairly talkative, especially for its size (it's very small-- about 7 students), but not so that day.
The professor gave me a lot of good feedback. One thing he mentioned that I really do want to work on is that I am very much the reference point for my class. As such, it makes it hard to get cross-discussion going, even when I verbally try to encourage it. Instead of discussing with each other (as I wish would be done), it's mostly that comments and questions are directed at me, and I am the one to respond, even if it's a response that asks others to respond.
I want this to change, and I'm open to suggestions. One classroom strongly resists rearranging based on the structure (McBride has to be the worst building ever constructed. No windows, classroom in rows, awkwardly placed chalkboards, etc.). Yet I think I may take the couple minutes to have them rearrange the room with me, despite that it will be a pain. Maybe I will have to do this only for a few weeks, is my hope! So I'm hoping to restructure the classroom, and then actually sit in the classroom. I figure I will give some guidelines for how discussion should run, and then hopefully let them have it.

Has anyone tried this before? Are there recommendations for somewhat removing yourself from the classroom, so that students don't feel constrained by it?

Don't work too hard!

I think this article brings out some points important to remember for any person, graduate students included. I think it's especially important for being a good teacher. Quite often, I have to juggle different responsibilities, and I have to say, planning for recitations does take time, and there are times when I will find myself trying to rush through it. Yet I know that lowers the quality of my work. I think this article makes a good point that we need to take time to breathe, relax, etc. so that we can be at the top of our game.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Anti-Teaching as Learning

Michael Wesch's article "Anti-Teaching" and the corresponding video by the same educator ( definitely provide many points to consider in teaching. In fact, his points transcend the topic of teaching to also gesture at difficulties communicating the value of disciplines that don't seem instrumentally valuable.

In his article, Wesch makes this claim: "Focusing on the quality of learning, rather than the quality of teaching transforms the entire educational agenda." As a philosophy teacher, this is a balance that I struggle with frequently. Any student will take away something different from philosophy s/he reads, so the student is truly an important element in her learning. Yet too often my focus is on the quality of my teaching: am I being true to the philosopher? Am I providing an accurate, fair, and charitable interpretation of the philosopher's work? How much should I indicate where there is weakness in arguments and provide alternatives, versus allowing the student to figure things out for himself?

My goal in teaching philosophy is always the same, each term: provide critical thinking tools for the students to be able to apply to their own lives. I really believe that Socrates spoke truly when he said "The unexamined life is not worth living." It is the closest thing to a personal motto that I have. But at the same time, a substantial part of the students' grades are understanding the material, so that must be a concern in my teaching. I struggle to find the balance between providing students with what they need to achieve a good grade in the course and what they need to become philosophers in their everyday lives.

To that end, I really like the suggestion of reaching out with technology to students, as Wesch emphasizes, and as was discussed in the previous class with Gardener Campbell. This summer I will be teaching my own course (very excited!) and I am making participation count for the grade, despite it being an online class. I plan to have a class blog in which students should take concepts and skills learned in the class (which is a logic class) and apply them to things they come across in their lives: new articles and editorials, memes on facebook, tv shows or movies, even conversations. I want students to apply what they're learning: in my opinion, that's the best part of philosophy. It's why I wanted to go into this field and teach it to others: philosophy transformed the way I saw the world (and made it so much better!).

It's somewhat more challenging as a T.A., though. I don't have the liberty to make blogging a requirement, and so I need to figure out ways to bring these passions into the classroom. In my situation, I don't have all the technological tools at my disposal that can be so helpful in reaching out to students. How can we get the same effects just by using discussion, chalk and chalkboard, pen and paper? If the students aren't into discussing, it is quite difficult to get things moving!