Saturday, December 15, 2012

Women and Heart Disease

My grandmother was in the hospital two weeks ago due to a variety of health concerns that had left her on the verge of collapse.  She’s okay now (thanks to everyone who has been supportive through this!), but my family learned from her doctors that she has likely suffered a minor heart attack sometime in the past weeks.

We were shocked to hear this.  Heart attack?  There had been no signs-- no chest tightening, no irregular heartbeat, no arm pain, nothing.  

That is when the doctor informed us that women actually experience different heart attack symptoms than men.  A heart attack in a man presents itself in the ways enumerated above.  Women, however, are more likely to experience shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness as symptoms of their heart attacks.  My grandma had experienced several of these symptoms recently, but had no idea of their deeper significance.  And she's not alone-- heart attacks in women are often misdiagnosed and it is not unusual for a woman to be sent home when presenting her symptoms.  The symptoms we are taught to look for often do not appear in women at all.  In fact, 43% of women do not ever experience the primary tell-tale sign, chest pains, during a heart attack, even though many emergency room doctors still consider this the primary symptom.

This has huge implications for women's health.  Without knowing something is wrong (assuming she survives an initital undiagnosed heart attack), a woman will delay crucial treatment and lifestyle changes necessary to prevent her heart disease from progressing.  As heart disease is the number one killer of women, the importance of this cannot be underestimated.

For many years, the medical establishment didn’t believe women could even experience heart disease, because cases and symptoms were never observed or recorded.   Even after this realization, research continued to be conducted only on male subjects and women's treatment was systemically delivered less aggressively than treatment for male patients.  Unsurprisingly, women showed a much higher incidence of mortality from heart disease.  It is only within the last 10 years that the scientific community finally acknowledged and began steps to remedy the gender bias in heart disease research and treatment.

Yet, women still have a higher mortality rate from heart disease due to the lingering effects of this gender bias.  While enormous steps have been taken to close the disparity, our culture still assumes a male patient and perspective on this issue.  We need to escape this mindset if we are going to fix this problem.  It's common sense: we must research and acknowledge the unique needs, lifestyles, and biochemistry of women if we are to provide the best life outcomes for women.  

An important first step is simply to spread awareness.  I was not aware of the ways that heart attack symptoms present differently in women, and I'm sure that I am not alone.  This needs to be common knowledge, so please spread this information to the women (and men) in your life!  Let's start talking.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Can We Still Have Fair Reporting in an Age Without Twinkies?

To the dismay of snack-lovers and pre-diabetics everywhere, Hostess will be shutting its doors for good.  The maker of such treasured staples as the Twinkie and Snowball announced on Friday that it will close its 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers, laying off over 18,000 employees in the process.  

The company has gone through rough patches in the past years, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy twice and shuffling through 7 different management teams over the past 10 years.  Despite these facts, the company has placed sole blame for the closings on a strike by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.  Hostess CEO, Gregory Rayborn, released a statement declaring "We deeply regret the necessity of today's decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike."

Trumpeting the headline, “Hostess to close, lay off 18,500 after 'crippling' union fight,” Fox News has readily endorsed this version of events.  Throughout their article, which appeared on Friday soon after the announcement, Fox intentionally created a heavily one-sided narrative that pits the beloved, well-intentioned folks at Hostess at the mercy of cut-throat, greedy unions.  

If you don't believe this is a biased account of events, take a closer look:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is Time Really Money: Work Time, Motivation, and Productivity

While conversations over the domestic economy tend to focus on the macro-level (tax cuts, outsourcing, policies that impact small business), we often neglect to look at the equally critical goings-on within the workplace.  We forget that the unique relationships among employers, employees, culture, and structure occurring daily in the office directly impacts the amount and quality of work being done there.  Therefore, on par with any macro-economic policy touted by our presidential hopefuls, these micro-level dynamics are fundamentally indicative of the nation’s economic productivity.

So the question is: what creates the most productive workplace?  

Harvard Business School lecturer, Robert C. Pozen, argues that for too long the answer has been time.  It is an antiquated and specious notion that equates longer working hours with greater effort and success.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Update... I'm alive

Just wanted to say that I will be up and posting again in the near future.  I've spent the last month starting a new job, studying for the GREs, and applying to graduate school.  But have no fear, readers, it's all over!  Return soon for new content!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sex as Civil Resistance

In Togo this week, the women's faction of a civil rights coalition is encouraging women to stage a week-long sex strike in order to demand political reforms.  According to leadership of the group, Let's Save Togo, the strike, which began yesterday, will place pressure on Togolese men to demand the resignation of President Gnassingbe and put an end to a political system which allows unlimited electoral terms.

​This campaign leaves me somewhat conflicted.

On the one hand, in an era which glorifies electoral politics at the expense of the wide spectrum of political activity, this example of civil disobedience is truly exciting.  It is made more remarkable by the fact that women are organizing as a political force on the basis of their sex, following in a grand tradition which spans from the March on Versailles during the French Revolution to the Chilean March of the Empty Pots in 1971 to the reproductive-rights protests currently occurring outside the Republican National Convention in Florida.

On the other hand, the sex strike is problematic for several reasons:

First, it assumes that in order for their concerns to be heard, women must pressure their men to pressure the government-- women's voices, in and of themselves, hold no value.  And the only way for women to exert such pressure on the men-folk is through their bodies, as opposed to intellect, reason, moral suasion, etc.  Even as they engage in serious political activity, women are once again reduced to their sexual and biological functions.

Secondly, any type of coercion, including sexual coercion, dilutes the moral force of the issue, itself.  Using gimmicks and tricks to gain support is ineffective and generally weakens the cause in the long run.  

Finally, using sex as a weapon is damaging to all individuals in society.   Withholding sex to gain something, commodifies sex, itself.  It engages all participants in a type of prostitution.  Furthermore, this type of action reinforces the antedeluvian notion that sex is some "gift" that women exclusively hold--- perpetuating damaging myths about girls, virginity, purity, and the mother-whore dichotomy--rather than a mutually-enjoyable activity between two (or three or four) individuals.

​For once, I don't intend to resolve this ambivalence.  But I do wonder what the consequences of this kind of political activity are, and am left pondering that age-old question, "Do the ends justify the means?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Legitimate" Abortion: What We Should Be Talking About in the Akin Fiasco

Everyone is talking about the insensitive and ignorant remarks made last week by Missouri House Representative Todd Akin, who, when asked to defend his stance against abortion even in the case of rape, claimed that pregnancy as result of rape was practically impossible.  Supported by the latest research from Pseudoscience CrazyNutJob Weekly, Akin stated that "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

I'm not going to delve into what a bonehead this guy is-- the 24 hours news circuit is covering that pretty well.  I do want to use this conversation to take a step back and examine the way we talk about abortion in this country.

​A very long-standing pro-choice response to anti-abortion arguments is "Well, what about abortion in cases of rape or incest?"  (This is where Akin got himself into hot water).  It's an easy talking point to invoke, because pretty much anyone with a heart will admit that a pregnancy under such horrifying instances, in which a woman had no choice to have sex in the first place, and therefore is in no way responsible for her pregnancy, is an exception to the "no abortions ever" rule.
I understand that the intention of asking  "What about cases of rape?"  may have initially been to expose a logical inconsistency* in the pro-life argument (which has been futile given how comfortable people are living with cognitive dissonance).   But this is not the way it's being used: pro-choice politicians regularly frame any argument for abortion rights in terms of victims of rape and incest.  It's a cheap way to draw sympathy to the cause, and it's insensitive to actual rape and incest survivors.

​Furthermore, the tactic is truly dangerous and disempowering for women, because the implication is that abortion needs to be available just in case.  All other reasons for abortion rights are considered secondary and illegitimate.  The voices of all women who choose abortion outside of rape or health concerns, or support the right to one, are silenced.  The discussion leaves out the myriad of reasons why abortion rights are essential: so that women can control their lives and bodies, so women can choose the number and spacing of their children, so that families can make responsible decisions, so that women for whom contraception and education are not readily available have some protection. 

Abortion is a sensitive issue, for sure, but until we start acknowledging the real needs of women regarding their reproductive health choices, women will never be able to lead free and self-fulfilled lives.  It starts when we agree on the basic principle, with no equivocation or euphemism, that women should be able to do whatever the hell they want with their bodies.  Period.

*If you truly believe in the personhood of a fetus, as many pro-lifers do, it really would not matter how the pregnancy was derived.  That pregnancy would still be perceived as a human child and to abort it would be murder.  I don't agree with this, obviously, but this is the logic of the argument.   If pro-lifers are willing to equivocate in the instances of rape, I believe, then their reason for being against abortion cannot be because they believe human life starts at conception, as is commonly argued.  Consequently, one can assume, that anti-abortion regulation is really intended to control women's behavior.  In other words, if you don't choose to have sex (in the case of rape), you can have an abortion, but if you did choose to have sex, that option is off limits because... how dare you be such a hussy!  Akin is actually one of the few who is logically consistent in his views.  He went onto say in his notorious interview that, for cases of pregnancy resulting from rape, " I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Breast Regards: The "I (heart) Boobies" Bracelet Ban

In 2010, Eastern Area Middle School in Pennsylvania suspended several middle school students for wearing the "I (heart) boobies" breast-cancer fundraising bracelets.  The students then did what any self-respecting tween with money will do-- took the school district to court, claiming the ban on the trendy wrist-wear violated their freedom of speech.  While the federal judge ruled in their favor last year, the school district appealed to the federal circuit court, which recently determined it will hear the case in front of the full 14-judge court.  

As a former teacher of young teens (which Science has proven to be the most annoying age EVER), I empathize with the teachers and administrators at this school.  There is nothing like delivering a beautifully poetic and painstakingly-rehearsed lesson on the pythagorean theorem, only to be interrupted by a cacophony of giggles and snorts of "haha BOOBS!"  Yet, at the same time, it is difficult to tell a teenager who is supporting their mother, sister, aunt, etc. who has battled cancer that their particular form of support may be inappropriate for the classroom.  

Regardless of this quandary, which will soon be settled in the federal courts, the situation gives us an opportunity to examine a very problematic media campaign.

The Keep A Breast Foundation, a breast cancer awareness nonprofit in California, introduced the "I (heart) boobies" rubber bracelets in 2004 as part of a strategy to involve younger generations in the fight against breast cancer.  With their bright colors and semi-risque phraseology, the bracelets made breast cancer fun and sexy (because what's sexier than a debilitating disease?). Since then, the bracelets have become a fashion craze among teens and tweens across the country.  

But at what cost?

While the campaign has successfully reached a previously untapped demographic, it is popular only because it sexualizes a very serious disease and objectifies women’s bodies.

Think of it this way: the bracelets do not say “I (heart) women.”  The message is not that women are awesome, that we should concern ourselves with saving women's lives.  No, the message is that boobs are awesome, that we should worry about saving boobs.   It reduces women's complex lives down to a highly sexualized body part.  Consequently, the breast-cancer-battleground shifts from promoting women's health to protecting men's desire to look at, play with, and otherwise enjoy breasts.

If the end goal of breast cancer awareness, education, and research is to improve the health and well-being of women, then this type of outreach is counterintuitive.  Sex may sell, but the cost-- reinforcing a system of male gaze and privilege-- is simply too high.