Archive for February, 2006

Winter cold

With the news that 2005 was the warmest year on record, I’m almost happy that it’s actually a little cold these days. Fortunately my preferences don’t influence the weather, because I’m not sure whether I would want 2006 to stay warm (for obvious reasons, and so that we continue getting stronger statistical evidence of climate change) or to get abnormally cold, to give all the poor ecosystems some relief (last year much of the arctic was 3 C° warmer than average(!) ).

Anyway, mostly that was a lead-up to show this picture:

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Feminism redux

It could reflect only my previous ignorance, but I feel like Feminism and women’s issues have been getting a lot of play lately. We had Mareen Dowd’s urban-white-successful-girls’ lament1 about how hard it is to find a husband. Then there was Linda Hirshman’s article in the American Prospect describing the “Opt-Out Revolution” (educated women dropping out of careers to be stay-at-home moms) and decrying the brand of feminism that says this is okay if it’s their choice (“choice feminism”). It was an excellent article, if extreme in it’s view that educated women ought always to put careers first, and try to marry dumber, younger, less successful men to make sure they continue to be the bread-winner.

The death of Betty Friedan stirred up the feminist discussion once again and propted Salon editor-in-chief Joan Walsh to enter the fray with “Feminism After Friedan“, which criticizes Hirshman’s absolutism and tries to find some balance in the debate over whether educated stay-at-home moms can be consistent with feminism.

Meanwhile, there was the Samual Elito confirmation. And, spouting bullshit about the “war on boys”, some conservatives are advocating affirmative action for boys entering college (the poor blokes aren’t the majority anymore), and aparently some colleges are already subtly practicing it. What’s more, they tell us all this education is only going get women a harder time finding husbands and raising families, and thus being happy.

There’s significant evidence that men don’t like women who are smarter. They don’t like women who are more successful. They don’t even like women who are funnier.2 What an astoundingly insecure lot we are. Yet somehow, marriage makes people happy (though kids, apparently, do not).

There’s a thorny conceptual challenge at the heart of this mess, which, like many feminists and humanists, I’m still struggling with to develop an opinion. It is fair for women, even successful and educated ones, to want a family and the fulfillment it offers. Unlike Linda Hirshman, I don’t think the workplace is necessarily a greater place for human expression than the home. Betty Friedan asserted that housework could not require enough thought or energy to challenge women. She seemed to think of life as essentially progressive, and that moving forward, leaving one’s mark on the world, is the full expressions of one’s humanity. Work is implicitly a progressive activity in her view, whereas home life is about living vicariously through the progression of your family. But there are a lot of jobs that are no less inane than tending house. And a lot of people feel raising and providing opportunities for their children is the ultimate progressive act.

On the other hand, if more women choose to accept traditional roles, fewer women are able to choose at all. There is still clearly a battle raging for gender equality, less so in the workplace and more so in the home, if one agrees with Walsh. Women seem to be in the position now of having career responsibilities and family responsibilities (or at least of desiring both), creating a tension that doesn’t exist for men, who have not been expected to shoulder much of the family burden. Conservatives advocate a “separate but equal” approach to gender roles. They say “family is what you really want; give back the career.” And those who “opt out” appear to agree. But this approach leads in a dangerous direction. We’ve seen how well separate remains equal before.

I expect there is some new organization of society which will eventually solve this problem — when there is a critical mass of stay-at-home dads, or when technology and labor reorganization (e.g. day care) have so reduced the burden of homemaking that neither parent is expected to stay home. And I would love to see what gender differences look like in absense of social conditioning (how much does biology really matter?). But I tend to believe Hirshman’s claim that feminism is stalled. How do we move toward this new paradigm? And how can women balance their lives in the mean time?

I hope for comments.

  1. “What’s a Modern Girl to Do? New York Times. October 30, 2005. [Lexis-Nexis]
  2. Strike previous three statements and replace with statistically precise and rhetorically clumsy analogues. []


Catching colds on airplanes

Viciousswackles passed this article on from BoingBoing. “Common cold transmission in commercial aircraft: Industry and passenger implications,” (Hocking and Foster, 2004) in the Journal of Environmental Health Research, reviews research on the number of passengers getting colds after flying. They reported that 20 percent of passengers who flew on a 2.5 hour flight (San Francisco to Denver) developed colds within a week, compared with a base rate of 3.5%. Depending on what you consider to be the period of infection related to flying, one is 5, 23, or 113 times more likely to get a cold when flying. The authors discount the conventional wisdom that infections result from recirculated air, but they contend that insufficient per-person flow of fresh air and extremely low relative humidity may be responsible.

Normally a layer of mucous in the nose and throat traps inhaled pathogens and cilia migrate them to the stomach to be destroyed by acid. But in very dry conditions the mucous lining dries out and this mechanism ceases, making one more suseptible to infection. The authors suggest that wearing a mask may help by increasing one’s local relative humidity. They also call for airlines to try increasing air flow and humidifying cabin air.