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When I was in my last semester of college, I took a class in American History after 1950. One of the first subjects we covered was the social movements of the 1960’s. Chief among them, of course, was the birth of modern feminism. The teacher began the class by asking everyone who considered themselves a feminist to raise their hands. This being a small liberal arts school, all the girls’ hands shot straight up. I was one of only two men in the class and both of us kept our hands down. The teacher asked why the two of us didn’t consider ourselves feminists. I answered that honestly I didn’t really know anything about feminism except for images of women burning bras and complaining about being oppressed. I admit to being a little ignorant about the issue. It seemed crazy to me to hear affluent, young white women complaining about being subjected to oppression when you compared it to the African-American marchers who were having dogs sicced on them and being sprayed down with high-powered hoses. How oppressed could they be really? The answer, as I would come to learn, is that women were and continue to be discriminated against to a degree that you would find shocking if you had really taken the time to think about it. To circle back to my original point, I didn’t raise my hand because I didn’t really know much about Feminism. So what is Feminism? Is it just affluent 19 year old girls seeing the dark hand of the patriarchy everywhere, or are there some very real issues that the movement seeks to address? And why, as men, should we care?

When trying to understand Feminism, you first have to have a little empathy for how hard it has always been to be a woman. From some of the earliest days of Western cultures, women have been regarded as property more than as people. A woman had little to no say in public affairs, no legal ownership of her children, and no form of agency against an abusive husband. Though we decry how often marriages end in divorce today, the availability of divorce was once almost non-existent to women. Regardless of how abusive a woman’s husband was, once they were married she was legally unable to get away from him. It wasn’t until 1993 (looking at you Oklahoma and North Carolina) that a man raping his wife was ruled illegal in all 50 states. Before then the view of many courts was once you married a man, you had no right to not have sex with him.

For the entirety of democratic history up until the early 20th century, women had no right to cast a vote. Imagine, as a man, that you lived in a society where you were not allowed to vote because the prevailing opinion was that you couldn’t be trusted with it and your spouse already spoke for you with their vote. Anyone regrettably married to a Trump supporter will realize what a load of bullshit that is. It took years of long, hard protests and civil disobedience before the United States, which prides itself as a beacon of democracy, extended the vote to over half of its citizens. Even the right to vote didn’t ensure that women were treated on the same basis of men. Women still earned less than men, and were effectively barred from the most prestigious occupations.

Feminism is divided by a lot of scholars into three “waves”. The first was the fight for the vote, when women began to take an active voice in politics en-masse. The second wave of Feminism is the traditional 60’s Feminism that I alluded to earlier. The second wave feminists took issue with the cultural stigmas that continued to ensure that women didn’t have the same rights as men. They fought against unequal wages and legal discrimination for women. In addition, most of the theories of patriarchy and culture-based discrimination dates from this era. This movement won a number of victories in addressing the rights of a woman to work outside the home and to retain legal custody of her children in a divorce.

Third-wave Feminism is in many ways a step back from the Feminism of the 60’s. It attempted to address criticism of second wave Feminism as being too militant and excluding women of color from the movement. It came of age in the 90’s to address the increasing visibility of issues like homosexuality and non-fluid gender roles. It also is in a lot of ways a movement that says women should not be expected to assume the responsibilities traditionally associated with men if they don’t want to. Where the movement of the 60’s would say a woman should work outside the home, the third wave feminists say “it’s up to you”.

So what is Feminism? Put simply it is the belief that a person’s gender should in no way subject them to unequal treatment, either deliberate or subconscious.  It challenges traditional assumptions of a male dominated culture that leads to that unequal treatment. It’s something that everyone should embrace. So where does that leave you, my penis-swinging brother? Hopefully, right where you were. Take a minute and consider whether, what I hope is, your desire to treat everyone fairly extends to women too. Ask, on some level, whether you have been making assumptions about what a woman can or should do based on gender. If so, consider how you can correct those  attitudes. Ask yourself how you can be part of the solution to the fact that women still make 70% of what a man does for doing the same job. If you can do that, you might just find that you are a feminist too.

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1 Comment
  • Ian MacLeod

    One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten was from a sharp lady whose comments I’d appreciated and respected who had her own blog. She was commenting on an article I’d written on Daily KOS: “I’m always so happy to come across a strong feminist man who really and truly GETS IT.” The article was “The Question of Choice Shouldn’t Be!” Abortion was back as a hot-button issue at the time, and that time I just had to weigh in. I was caring for my dying wife at home at the time, and was about as exhausted as it gets. That was a bright spot at a dark time. It’s great when someone you respect lets you know you’re doing something right!

    I’m glad to read about a young man who lucked out with a good teacher on this, and who was willing to learn. Too many of my fellows these days seem to have slid backwards, and they’d take being called a feminist as an insult. Little by little though humanity is growing up. Wish I could be around to see it.

Health

Scientists Develop New Type of Cell That Could Revolutionize the Treatment of Heart Disease

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Heart disease has consistently been one of the biggest killers of both men and women, with hundreds of thousands of families losing loved ones to the condition every year. But now a new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell has identified a possible breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease, offering hope to anyone suffering from a dodgy ticker. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Gladstones Institutes, who have discovered a way to make a remarkable new type of cell that could help damaged hearts repair themselves.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is overworked or the supply of oxygen is too low. A sudden attack can cause the loss of huge amounts of important muscle cells known as cardiomyocytes (CMs). These CMs cannot regenerate by themselves, nor can they be replaced because transplanted heart cells tend not to survive in the patient’s body. As you can imagine, this makes the treatment of heart disease quite tricky; since heart cells can’t regenerate or be replaced, the damage is usually irreversible. “Scientists have tried for decades to treat heart failure by transplanting adult heart cells, but these cells cannot reproduce themselves, and so they do not survive in the damaged heart,” said Yu Zhang, MD, PhD, one of the lead authors of the study.

To overcome this dilemma, the team investigated the possibility of regenerating the heart using progenitors—stem cells that have already been programmed to develop into a specific type of cell. In this case, they targeted cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), which are produced as the heart begins to form within the embryo. Using a revolutionary technique, the team were able to produce CPCs in the lab and halt their development so the cells remained effectively “frozen” until use. They called these lab-grown cells “induced expandable CPCs,” or ieCPCs.

Unlike adult heart cells, ieCPCs have the ability to replicate. If transplanted successfully, they could replace a patient’s damaged heart cells and possibly continue to self-repair. “Our generated ieCPCs can prolifically replicate and reliably mature into the three types of cells in the heart, which makes them a very promising potential treatment for heart failure,” said Zhang. To test this theory, the team injected some of the cells into a mouse that had suffered a heart attack. Remarkably, most of the cells transformed into functioning heart cells, generating new muscle tissue and blood vessels and improving the mouse’s overall heart function.

So what does all this mean for the treatment of heart disease? Well, it’s definitely big news. The cells used to treat the mouse were derived from skin cells, which means a patient’s own cells could potentially be used to treat their heart disease. The next step is to try and form human ieCPCs in the lab, and then follow up with human trials to see if the method is as effective. All going well, this could be a viable treatment for heart disease patients within the next few years.

Q: Is this the most important breakthrough yet in the field of heart disease research? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright 2016 David Carroll

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Sex & Relationships

Is Chivalry Dead? If it is, Good Riddance

The idea that (certain) men are noble protectors comes from the eras of rigid hierarchy. From the Middle Ages to the Victorian era and later, being a woman, a child, or poor meant having almost no power, which was a feature, not a bug. A chivalrous man believed that this situation made him responsible for those who couldn’t care for themselves.

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knight's helmet
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If you want to get technical (and who doesn’t?!) chivalry went out of style in about the 15th century when cheaper professional armies and gunpowder replaced knights as the standard for warfare. Nevertheless, we like to hearken back to days when being a gentleman meant avoiding your lady’s seductive advances and wearing plate armor. Good times.

Image: GIPHY

Okay, I’m being facetious. Being kind and considerate to fellow humans should always be encouraged, and it can overlap with what is regarded as chivalrous behavior.

However, the idea that (certain) men are noble protectors comes from the eras of rigid hierarchy. From the Middle Ages to the Victorian era and later, being a woman, a child, or poor meant having almost no power, which was a feature, not a bug. A chivalrous man believed that this situation made him responsible for those who couldn’t care for themselves. It is honorable all things considered, but better than the relief that the person controlling your life is a decent guy is the ability to control your own person and property.

The concept of chivalry seems to exist in the hazy past, like how the 1950s were the good old days instead of the days of potential nuclear annihilation. There’s this idea that once upon a time men were gentleman, women were ladies, and various behaviors underscored a more genteel way of living. What’s left out of this daydream is all the people who don’t neatly fit into the simplistic boxes of what manhood and womanhood are “supposed” to look like.

It turns out living in the present has its perks, including no longer having to adhere to crushingly rigid social and gender norms. We still have a long way to go, but in general it has become more okay to be who we are instead of following prescribed roles. Men can be primary caregivers, and women can be primary breadwinners. Men can be soft-spoken and abhor violence, and Ronda Rousey is a household name.

LGBTQ people are especially left out when it comes to chivalry. If you’re not part of a heterosexual gender binary, it’s hard to see how some of these rules are supposed to apply or make sense. Even if you are cis and straight, the rules of chivalry have become muddied.

Does it indicate a lack of respect if a man doesn’t stand when a butch lesbian enters a room?

What about a trans woman? Is there a threshold for how feminine she is perceived before you pull a chair out for her?
How old does a man have to be before giving up your seat on the bus is welcome instead of emasculating? If a young man with a cane, a female athlete, and a mumbling bag lady all get to a door at once, who’s responsible for holding it and who should go through first? Does this question even matter if it’s an automatic door (that vile aperture, creator of anarchy and vehicle of the breakdown of everything we as a society hold dear, that is, the importance of proper-door-holding proceedings)?

Despite what manners websites may say, there aren’t actually any solid answers because if chivalry were solely about consideration and good behavior it wouldn’t be so damn confusing. People wouldn’t be so pissed off if it were simply about being kind to each other. (Well, maybe pissed off differently.)

In some ways, chivalry is a way to reinforce gender roles under the guise of refined behavior. But we simply don’t have the same expectations anymore. A man picking up the tab for a date made sense when women’s earnings were severely limited (instead of just limited.) Opening doors and providing a steadying arm made sense when even sensible women’s wear was difficult to move in. Men providing jackets, holding umbrellas, and carrying heavy bags made sense when male physical weakness, especially compared to women, was a great source of shame. Making all the rules for courtship about straight people made sense when queerness was unspeakable.

I’m not saying that we live in a magical, accepting world or that the inequalities that made chivalrous behavior make sense are gone. That much is obvious, and perhaps that’s why there are those who insist it’s still necessary. But as we focus more on achieving equality and we open our eyes to the full spectrum of humanity instead of just “respectable” straight people, the rituals that soften inequality and shore-up outdated ideas have begun to fall away. That’s a good thing.

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Health

Study Shows Significant Increase in Life Expectancy, but Only if You’re Rich

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With more money and better access to resources, the wealthiest in society have always had an advantage over the rest of us when it comes to health. But with advances in medicine, healthcare and education, you’d expect that gap to be slowly closing, right? Not so, according to a study by the Brookings Institution of Washington D.C. which shows a growing disparity between the life expectancy of high- and low-income earners in the United States.

The Brookings researchers looked at two different population groups of individuals born in either 1920 or 1950 to see if there were any differences in longevity. The study showed that while average life expectancy has increased overall, it has done so at a lesser rate for those on a lower income. The most affluent 10 percent saw a 28 percent increase in longevity between the two study groups, while for the bottom 10 percent of earners the increase was a mere 3 percent. To put this into perspective, a wealthy man born in 1920 could expect to live six years longer on average than a poor man. But if born in 1950, that gap widens to 14 years. A similar trend was noticed in women too, with the gap widening from around 5 to 13 years over the same period.

The reasons for the increasing gap are as yet unclear, but it’s thought that lifestyle choices may be an influencing factor. The researchers believe that, generally speaking, affluent people tend to take more of an interest in their nutrition and engage in exercise, and are less likely to smoke, abuse illegal substances or become obese. Given the cost of healthcare and health insurance in the US, it’s entirely plausible that there’s some kind of link between the growth of income inequality and this widening gap in life expectancy. Not only are the poor getting poorer, they’re living shorter lives as well.

It’s also worth considering that higher income earners tend to delay retirement, allowing them to continue earning a salary and contributing to their pension funds. Lower income earners tend to retire earlier, which means they receive smaller regular payments as their pensions and Social Security funds are more spread out. The upshot of all this is that higher income earners tend to fare better in their later years, and are more likely to be able to afford life-extending healthcare and medicine right at the time they need it.

Given that life expectancy is increasing overall, policymakers are faced with the dilemma of what to do about the growing strain on Social Security. Trimming benefits is a possibility, but the team at Brookings offer a bleak vision of how this might affect the welfare of low-income retirees:

They will receive lower monthly payments from Social Security when compared with earlier generations of low-wage workers who retired at the same age … the gains in their life expectancy will not compensate them for the cut in their monthly benefit check

Q: What can be done about the growing income and life expectancy gaps? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

This article was originally published February 29, 2016.

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