Archive for March, 2011

Expulsion, abandonment not the solution for teen pregnancy

March 24, 2011

I don’t understand the “if you put pregnant teens on the streets, it’ll teach them a lesson” mentality. In response to a letter to the editor in The Washington Post that discussed what schools can do to reduce teen pregnancy rates, one commenter illustrated that mentality and had this to say:

It is not the place of the schools or of my tax dollars to support “teen moms.” Girls who get pregnant should be expelled from public schools as an example. If we’d stop coddling this trash and supporting them with our tax dollars, the problem would solve itself. There’s a reason that the problem has gotten worse with the creation of the welfare system.

What great arguments: (1) schools are NOT a place to support children; (2) pregnancy should be punished; (3) pregnancy is on the same level as other reasons for expulsion; (4) helping them get an education is “coddling”; (5) the problem will solve itself if we just throw kids out on the street and ignore them; and (6) the welfare system worsened teen pregnancy, not the fact that teen moms will need to use welfare more when you take away their education and tools for advancement in life.

This mentality never ceases to amaze me. Schools are a place where children need to be supported — and it’s also a place where they should be educated on things like health and sex, but many people still don’t want to embrace comprehensive sex education — people still believe that telling kids not to have sex will be good enough, or if we teach them about it then it’ll pollute their minds, and then when they get pregnant because the school system hasn’t actually educated them about sex, we punish the students for not knowing any better. There is social culpability there.

The Guttmacher Institute is loaded with statistics about teen sex education and pregnancy. Most teens are taught about abstinence, HIV, and STIs, but one-third aren’t taught about contraception. About one-fourth of teens who learned about abstinence didn’t learn about birth control. About 86 percent of the drastic drop of teen pregnancy rates since 1990 is because of better contraceptive use. The statistics scream that education about how to properly use contraception leads to results, yet the statistics also show that not all teens are getting that information.

And really, pregnancy should be punished with expulsion? Here’s one example of what kids get expelled for, which is pretty characteristic of most schools: bringing a dangerous weapon to school; bringing alcohol or drugs to school; assaulting a school employee; or being charged or convicted with a felony. Really, pregnancy is on the same level as bringing a weapon to school or assaulting someone? Those are activities that are endangering other people at the school — plus, why should it be within the school’s jurisdiction to police premarital sex?

And then we arrive at the welfare system argument. This commenter’s desire to restrict teen moms’ access to education would leave them without the tools necessary to go to college or get a decent-paying job — so when she must turn to government assistance, the commenter wants to complain about that, too, even though the reason she needs welfare is because her education was taken away from her. Sounds like the people who want to tell women they can’t have abortions and then complain when they need government assistance to raise those babies. If you’re going to take away women’s choices, don’t be surprised when they don’t have many options or opportunities to choose from.

Instead of focusing on how much they disagree morally with whatever action (which isn’t criminal in the eyes of the law) and wanting to punish them on moral ground using the tools of the state, people need to separate the two and do what’s best for the women who are pregnant. And using them “as an example” is not what’s best for them — it’s what is best for serving the selfish purpose of people who want to punish them. And for teens who aren’t going to know about safe sex unless someone tells them, it’s better for them to be prepared and know about contraception. Teens are always taught that abstinence is the only way to 100 percent prevent pregnancy — but they need to know that if they don’t choose to abstain, there are still other ways to prevent pregnancy.

And of course, the one thing lacking from this commenter’s assault on pregnant teens is that only the pregnant teens should be expelled — what about the fathers of these children? Should they be expelled, too? After all, they must’ve been involved in the act, so shouldn’t we be taking away their ability to provide for themselves and advance in society, too? I’m sure it has nothing to do with the double standard that women are shamed for having sex outside of marriage, while men are expected to do so and therefore escape punishment on the “boys will be boys” ticket.

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Nuclear reactor crisis in Japan: FAQs, diagrams

March 15, 2011

Are you confused about the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan? Looking for some background info? Here’s a list of links that provide information about nuclear reactors generally, the nuclear reactors specifically having problems in Japan, what exactly a meltdown is, and other common questions:

1. How a Reactor Shuts Down and What Happens in a Meltdown, via The New York Times

This is an interactive, multimedia slideshow that helps explain what happens when a nuclear reactor shuts down, what happened in Japan regarding the shutting down of the nuclear reactors, and what would happen in an actual meltdown. The image is very helpful, since the main association most people have with nuclear power plants are the large cooling towers, but the reactor itself.

2. Japan’s nuclear emergency, via The Washington Post

This is a slideshow that is a little different from the Times — the illustration isn’t as crisp, but it provides more information on how the cooling system works, what caused the explosions, and what the worse-case scenario would be in the event of a meltdown. It also has a map comparing where nuclear power plants are located with geographic seismic activity.

3. What exactly is happening with the Japanese nuclear reactors?, via Grist

This is a great overview, in very simple terms, of how a reactor works, how the earthquake and subsequent tsunami affected the nuclear reactors at this Japanese plant, what the worst-case scenario would be, and what is currently being done to prevent a meltdown. No graphics, but very straightforward and informative explanations.

4. Mini-FAQ About Japan’s Nuclear Power Plant Crisis, via TreeHugger

What I like about this post is that it addresses the question, “Can Japan’s nuclear power plants explode like a nuclear bomb?” There are other general FAQs as well, but I think the confusion about what a meltdown is just leads people to assume it would be a mushroom cloud — here’s the answer (full of jargon but the first sentence is key):

Thankfully, it is physically impossible for a nuclear power plant to explode like a nuclear bomb. It simply doesn’t have the right kinds of materials: A fission bomb uses highly enriched uranium or plutonium (90%+ of U-235 or Pu-239), while a nuclear power station generally uses Uranium that is only enriched to around 5% (sometimes up to 20% in smaller research reactors). A nuclear power station also lacks all the other mechanisms that are necessary to create a nuclear explosion (like for example the implosion or gun-type assembly configurations that allow supercritical mass to be reached).

I considered adding some links to news stories regarding the nuclear reactors, but the situation in Japan is evolving so rapidly that articles become outdated within hours. I hope these links provide some helpful foundation though, as many news articles I read initially discussed nuclear reactors, cooling systems, and meltdowns as if their workings were common knowledge.

Female columnist promotes rape, slut-shaming, lies about PP

March 4, 2011

Victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and feminist-bashing are abhorrent coming from men, but they are exponentially worse coming from women. This column from The Daily Collegian, the college newspaper for the University of Massachusetts, was actually briefly taken offline because it was so offensive. (I’ll throw out a trigger warning right now.) The author is a young woman who believes that sometimes women deserve rape, contraception doesn’t affect abortion rates, and “feminist liberation” has turned everyone into nymphomaniacs. Shall we chronologically take a look at some of the claims?

1a. Planned Parenthood isn’t a charity

Author Yevgeniya Lomakina jumps right in, making blatantly wrong claims about Planned Parenthood and its services:

It is a business. It is not, however, a charitable organization, as it is portrayed by its many supporters. Their services are not free, although they may be cheaper than regular hospitals.

Actually, it is a charitable organization. A section 501(c)(3) organization that files tax forms in accordance with its tax-exempt, charitable status. I can see how this information would be difficult to find, considering it’s on the Planned Parenthood website, alongside the actual tax forms they file.

Also, did you know that “charitable organization” doesn’t mean that you just give stuff away for free? You see, it’s charitable because it offers low-cost services to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. It’s actually really helpful, because low-income women can get cancer screenings, prenatal care, pap tests, and contraception at reduced prices. I’m pretty sure the condoms are free, though.

1b. Planned Parenthood posts misleading/false information on its website

After proving that Planned Parenthood is in fact a business because it doesn’t do everything for free, the author next points out a glaring error in the numbers on the Planned Parenthood website:

According to the American Life League, Planned Parenthood performed 289,750 abortions in 2006. The number rose to 324,008 in 2008. However, the organization’s website misleads in reporting that abortions constitute only 3 percent of its services. In reality, it performs about 23 percent of all abortions performed each year in the U.S.

Now the numbers here are right (see the 2006-2007 annual report and this 2008 fact sheet), but they aren’t misleading or contradicting each other. The difference is that the 23 percent is Planned Parenthood’s abortion services compared with other abortion providers’ — the 3 percent is Planned Parenthood’s abortion services compared with other services within itself.

2. Sex is now shameless

The author writes:

Sex has become a service, like any other, but without fiscal exchange or shame.  It is no longer associated with love, marriage or a committed relationship.

Really? Because I’m pretty sure that sentence is 100 percent slut-shaming, as is the entire column.

3. If you wear a short skirt, you deserve to get raped

By far, this assertion makes my blood boil more than anything:

If a young woman wears a promiscuous outfit to a party, then proceeds to drink and flirt excessively, she should not blame men for her downfall. She made a decision to dress a certain way, to consume alcohol and should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Far from being a victim of rape, she is a victim of her own choices.

Pardon my French, but that is fucking ridiculous. There is NO scenario in which a woman deserves to be raped. There is no time when a man has the right to force a woman to have sex with him against her will. There is no skirt length, alcohol level, or flirtation level — nothing. And it’s this kind of bullshit that blames women for wearing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing or drinking the wrong amount instead of pointing the finger at the rapist.

But our author is not the cold-hearted person she seems, as she does think rape is bad:

This is not to say that rape is inexistent. Sexual crimes should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Rape exists, just not if you’re sexually active or flirtatious or wearing clothes that show too much skin. It’s only a crime when it happens to someone who has made good, moral choices, and then the rapist is a criminal. This makes me want to slam my head into my desk about 348 times.

4. Having sex with men is giving them the “upper hand”

The author writes:

With the easy accessibility of noncommittal sex, men have gained or recaptured the upper hand in relationships. Women, instead of acclaiming “sexual liberation” have received, at the least, a bad reputation.

Read my recent post about this idea of men having an “upper hand” because women will have casual sex with them. Also, let’s note the additional slut-shaming. You know, the “bad reputation” only comes because people associate women having casual sex as bad, and men having casual sex as good — they have the “upper hand” when they get it.

And why is women trading commitment for sex any better than women trading sex for sex? Why are people so attached to the notion that men won’t commit unless you withhold sex from them? Why is this entire article blaming women for wanting to have sex and giving men a pass for wanting to having sex?

5. Abortion and the morning-after pill are the same thing

An often-used political ploy is juxtaposing two things in hopes that the reader or listener begins to associate them with each other, without the speaker ever directly linking them:

Abortion is also viewed in a different way. For many, it is no longer a last resort for victims of rape or in other emergencies. It is simply regarded as “Plan B.” In a Planned Parenthood YouTube advertisement for the “morning after” pill, a woman states the scenarios in which the product may be useful.

Note the transition from abortion as a “Plan B” to the morning-after pill, commonly called “Plan B.” This is likely an attempt to lump together morning-after pills with abortion, but the morning-after pill is not the abortion pill. They are completely separate, and the morning-after pill doesn’t terminate pregnancies. The morning-after pill is over-the-counter; the abortion pill is not.

6. Birth control doesn’t prevent abortions

The author says it plain and simple:

More contraception does not translate to fewer abortions.

If you look in the aforementioned Planned Parenthood data (1b), there could be a correlation between less contraception and more abortions — in 2008, more abortions were performed but less contraception was given out at Planned Parenthood. Also, I can guarantee that less contraception will not translate to fewer abortions.

And actually, the abortion rate generally has been going down in recent years:

1980: 1,297,606
1985: 1,333,521
1990: 1,429,577
1995: 1,210,883
2000: 857,475
2005: 820,151
2006: 846,181
2007: 827,609

And considering contraceptive use has increased over this time frame, I’d say more contraception does translate to fewer abortions.

__________________

I’m glad the newspaper apologized for the article, and I’m also glad they put it back online. Even though their apology covered that it was reprehensible to suggest women are responsible for being raped and that other claims were inaccurate, I couldn’t help but expand on that further. Because despite the editors’ apology, it still somehow managed to get published, so we can’t gloss over the content that was originally deemed passable, and we have to look at it a little more critically.

Breaking news: Young, unmarried women are easier than ever

March 3, 2011

I always love being reminded that, if women had their way, we’d marry the first guy we met to ensure we didn’t become lonely spinsters. Not men, though — as this article from Slate points out, guys are getting their way, and their way is sex — lots of it, and without having to even charm ladies or promise them any kind of commitment. Let’s take a look at this article’s assertions about heterosexual relationships, dating, and sex, and point out where the article is terribly misinformed, shall we?

1. If women ruled relationships, marriages would be on the rise

It’s a good thing the author advises the reader to “call it sexist, call it whatever you want,” because his entire article is founded on the idea that men want sex, women want marriage, and any data derived about sex and relationships must be interpreted through this stereotypical and played out lens. Here’s the foundation:

But what many young men wish for—access to sex without too many complications or commitments—carries the day. If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on.

This is sexist against both men and women — assuming that men just want sex and women just want marriage. Under this very scientific premise, a drop in marriage rates obviously must mean that men are winning the battle against women, who are always on the attack and trying to cage them and force them into settling down and not having all that random sex.

Perhaps the author failed to realize other causes for the decline in marriage, such as high divorce rates (cautionary tales for young people), people going to college and focusing on a career rather than getting married right out of high school (it’s true, women are choosing to delay marriage), women being financially independent (choosing not to be financially dependent on a man), cohabitation, and a decline in religion. So while this author chooses to say that a decline in marriage rates is an obvious sign that men are, to quote Charlie Sheen, “winning,” it’s more likely that rates are declining because society is changing.

2. Outdated studies from the ’70s and ’80s speak for today’s youth

It’s baffling that this guy uses studies from the 1980s and applies those findings to the present — 30 years later. Thirty years ago, my mom was my age — the other day, she used the term “necking,” and when I told her that young people today would call that “making out,” she told me that “making out” was something much different and closer to sex. So maybe using outdated data to back up your thesis is not a great idea?

Here’s one example:

In one frequently cited study, attractive young researchers separately approached opposite-sex strangers on Florida State University’s campus and proposed casual sex. Three-quarters of the men were game, but not one woman said yes. I know: Women love sex too. But research like this consistently demonstrates that men have a greater and far less discriminating appetite for it.

This study was published in 1989, using data gathered in 1978 and 1982. All this demonstrates is that 30 years ago, men were more likely to sleep with complete strangers than women — why is sleeping with strangers the measuring stick for sexual appetite?

3. Women are battling pornography for sexual power

According to the author, women — though having a weak appetite for sex — should theoretically have power in the sexual relationship because the guy is always ready to go, but he has to wait for the woman to agree. But this power is threatened by porn:

And yet despite the fact that women are holding the sexual purse strings, they aren’t asking for much in return these days—the market “price” of sex is currently very low. There are several likely reasons for this. One is the spread of pornography: Since high-speed digital porn gives men additional sexual options—more supply for his elevated demand—it takes some measure of price control away from women.

Since when is pornography and masturbating an additional sexual option? Men could masturbate before the digital age, so pornography — though offering a helpful stimulus — is simply a masturbation aide. If a guy wants to have actual sex, with an actual vagina, he’s likely not going to be as satisfied by doing it alone. I doubt women fear masturbation as a form of retaliation for not putting out enough — in case you didn’t know, women can masturbate, too.

4. The amount of sex you have should be directly correlated to how successful you are in life

The author keeps trying to put forth the idea that sex is a game, and men have the upper hand because, despite being generally less successful than women, they are still having lots of sex:

The terms of contemporary sexual relationships favor men and what they want in relationships, not just despite the fact that what they have to offer has diminished, but in part because of it.

I guess that with fewer men in the workforce, in college, and with their salaries on the decline, the standards are generally going to drop, and women are going to be forced to choose from a dating pool that isn’t as successful as it used to be — this means women are going to have to lower their standards when on the prowl.

Or, could it just mean that women aren’t necessarily always prowling for a guy who is rich? Maybe because women are more successful and independent, they know they won’t be financially dependent on a man so don’t highly prioritize income? Isn’t it funny how a man could date a woman who isn’t super successful and wouldn’t be labeled as “settling,” but a woman dates someone less successful than she is and suddenly she’s given something up?

5. If you give out the milk for free, he’ll never buy the cow!

The author would also like to remind you that women, you’ll never find love and marriage if you keep putting out so easily:

Yes, sex is clearly cheap for men. Women’s “erotic capital,” as Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics has dubbed it, can still be traded for attention, a job, perhaps a boyfriend, and certainly all the sex she wants, but it can’t assure her love and lifelong commitment. Not in this market. It’s no surprise that the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who are married has shrunk by an average of 1 percent each year this past decade.

This is just … what? Am I reading this wrong, or is he also implying that women are trading sex to get jobs, too? And that giving out the milk for free isn’t going to find her love and a husband? And that men only marry women to have sex? I thought they could just watch porn and masturbate for that?

______

The overarching theme is that sex is a commodity that women “sell” to gain long-term commitment from men, but the pickings are so slim these days that women are willing to “sell” their bodies without even asking for things like flowers and jewelry and marriage in return, which is a “win” for men but a “loss” for women — yeah, that’s sexist and misguided on a bunch of levels. It also takes agency away from women by implying that they wouldn’t choose any non-Disney-princess-fairy-tale life, so they must be miserable, desperate, etc.

How about this: Young people are more open to casual sex than 30 years ago, when that “frequently cited” study was conducted. Young people aren’t marrying as early because they go to college and settle into careers first. Young people cohabitate. Women aren’t always on the prowl for a rich husband, because they can make their own money.

Or maybe I’m the one who is misinformed, and porn really is to blame for all of this.

Birth control pills shouldn’t be OTC without medical advice

March 1, 2011

A recent study found that over-the-counter (OTC) access to birth control pills improved overall usage of the pill, but at the expense of the women’s health. OTC birth control pills in theory aren’t a bad idea, as more women could have access to them, but it would be irresponsible and dangerous to allow them to be OTC without some type of medical oversight, such as a conversation with the pharmacist.  

Don’t get me wrong — women need easy access to birth control pills. Nineteen percent of women don’t have health insurance — nearly one in every five women — so making the mandatory doctor visit to snag a birth control prescription isn’t convenient or cheap for many women. Being able to go to CVS or Rite-Aid and get birth control pills would give these women — and others who forget to schedule appointments or perfectly time appointments for refills — drastically improved access to birth control pills, without a doubt.

But birth control pills are not created equal, so women shouldn’t choose these pills themselves, without any medical advice whatsoever. Birth control pill brands each contain different combinations of hormones, which affect each person’s period and health differently — this is why some type of medical expertise is essential to prevent negative, dangerous health side effects (think of all the commercials for birth control pills that warn, “don’t take this pill if …”). The study did highlight this problem, and stated that there were “more negative side effects and health consequences” for women who took birth control pills without a prescription.

Medical supervision is also necessary so that women get a birth control pill that fits their needs. Not everyone takes birth control pills for pregnancy preventation, and those that do might also be looking to birth control pills to alleviate other problems, such as acne, cramps, mood swings, heavy periods, and lengthy periods. A medical professional can better assess what pill fits your needs than continuous trial and error can.

Also, medical professionals are necessary to explain proper birth control pill use. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard of pregnancy caused because, although the woman was taking birth control pills, she wasn’t using it effectively. Some of this is likely related to women not getting refills properly because of the mandatory doctor visit, but some of this is simply related to poor communication between doctor and patient. If communicating proper use is already a problem, taking medical professionals out of the equation will only make it worse.

Birth control pills — though tiny and colorful — shouldn’t be taken lightly. Access to contraception is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, but removing the medical aspect completely would only create new problems, likely leaving women with more health problems — which is especially bad because uninsured women would be most likely to use OTC birth control pills, but would also be least likely to have affordable and easy access to a doctor if those pills caused health problems.

Charlie Sheen’s bosses should’ve stepped in sooner

March 1, 2011

After reading this insightful article about how Charlie Sheen’s public, violent behavior toward women didn’t get him fired but insulting his boss did, I began to wonder about the connection between work productivity and personal problems. Should employers or co-workers get involved in an employee’s personal problems? Sometimes, yes. In the spectrum of personal problems, the problems that can lead to the harm of that co-worker or someone else at the hands of that co-worker do merit intervention.

Sheen’s behavior is a perfect example. Initially, Sheen was still showing up to work on time — but in the midst of that, both Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller accused him of physical and verbal abuse, with Mueller claiming that Sheen put a knife to her throat. That didn’t happen on-set, but it speaks to Sheen’s violent character — someone who could seriously hurt another person, even one of his co-workers (he later allegedly threatened a hired escort, too). But, the violence and negative publicity financially was a win for the network, as ratings for Two and a Half Men went up as a result.

But, eventually, Sheen stopped being a “functioning” addict/abuser. Production was halted because of his absence from work, staff members weren’t getting paid, and the rest of this season’s shows and production schedule were canceled — only after Sheen publicly embarrassed his boss by insulting him. Too bad his boss didn’t see the violent way Sheen acted behind the scenes as equally embarrassing.

Are employers supposed to be watchdogs for any and all personal problems? Of course not. But if they (1) could lead to someone being hurt and/or (2) affect work performance, then an employer shouldn’t hesitate to step in. Some people think the NFL shouldn’t have suspended Ben Roethlisberger at the beginning of last season because the sexual assault allegations against him were dropped, but I didn’t mind — as the ones who pay him lots of money to play football every season, they wanted to send him a message that they weren’t going to tolerate behavior that would negatively affect his work performance. (And in my own wishful thinking, that behavior that would harm women wouldn’t be tolerated, either.)

And there is simple human decency. No one has the right to abuse anyone else — not even if they are married and in their home — and it’s irresponsible for all his bosses to know that several women have accused him of manic, violent episodes, and to then continue to write him checks for $2 million an episode because he shows up to work; in this case, they could have taken preventative actions to help ensure both his well-being and the well-being of the people around him. Instead, they chose to milk his violent outbursts and the attached publicity for all it was worth, until the people getting hurt were the bosses themselves.

Sheen, in an interview with TMZ, said that what someone does on the weekend isn’t the business of his or her employer, and said that if he were in charge of a “star,” he would do whatever made the star happy because Hollywood is a business and the star makes the money. Of course, that’s Sheen’s point of view — that because he brings in the ratings (more so when he makes headlines for attacking women or going on drug benders), people should cater to him. Unfortunately, his employers did that for way too long.