Garageband and Sounds of Equality

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This isn’t a fancy or sophisticated audio track. It’s small collection of sounds taken from the November 8, 2013 rally at the Hawaii State Capitol during the marriage equality bill hearing, SB1. I video recorded both the opposition (heard as the drummers) and the supporters after the House passed the bill (heard as singing Hawaii Aloha).

Stitching together these two tracks took a little longer than expected. Mostly because there were multiple little steps along the way I didn’t anticipate. For example, the original file is in movie format so I used iMovie to extract the sound files, then imported the sound files from Garageband. (I had various Youtube video tutorials up during this process and I already forgot a lot of the steps.)

After putting the two sounds together (fading out one and fading in the other), I exported the audio file as an mp4 into iTunes. WordPress wouldn’t upload an mp4 file so I searched the Internet on how to convert an mp4 into an mp3. After doing that, I realized that WP doesn’t upload mp3s either. But now I know how to convert mp4s to mp3s.

I saved the mp3 file in Google drive and created a hyperlink for anyone interested in listening to my modest creation. The result, “Sounds of Equality.”  I thought about adding other sounds (more because I wanted to play with the preset noises and instruments that come with Garageband) but decided against it because the two files are instrumental and musical enough.

Relational Databases and my Fantasy Project

sql-cartoonI’ve worked with, and created both relational and flat databases during my public health career. It never occurred to me to consider constructing databases and mining them for any humanities type projects until this Digital History course. For my class project I’ll likely be working with a flat database, where the categories and fields are not related to one another. I don’t know if I have enough data or time in the next month to construct a relational database using structured query language (SQL). Also, it may not be relevant for the project’s scope, which looks qualitatively at language and discourse around menopause in the postwar decades.

That being said, in my dorky academic fantasy, it might be interesting to expand this project and look at women’s medical records at the time (if they exist and I could get a hold of them) and mine the data. (I’ve always been a fan of mixed method approaches for research projects.)

Filemaker Pro, SPSS, and Access are three types of SQL-based relational databases I’m familiar with. In my fantasy project, I’d probably use Filemaker and train an assistant to enter data from the medical records. (Of course I’d have written an awesome grant for a bottomless pool of money to hire all the monkey data crunchers I needed.) We would need to set up the database tables (categories) and construct the relationships between the tables. Off the top of my head, an initial set of tables might look something like this: DEMOGRAPHICS: age, race, household income range, education; LIFESTYLE: sedentary, moderately active, very active; NUMBER OF CHILDREN: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; SYMPTOMS: hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings; headaches; TREATMENT: Premarin, estrogen only pills; vaginal suppositories; progesterone only pills; ONSET OF SYMPTOMS: <35, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60+, never; GEOGRAPHY: East Coast, Midwest, South, West coast; DENSITY: urban, suburban, rural)

We could also import other contextual databases such as census data (again, if they are digitized, neatly organized in an excel spreadsheet, and available for use). With these tables and datasets, I could query the SYMPTOMS table with the TREATMENT table and see if there’s a relationship between the type of symptoms women had and their treatments. It might also be interesting to see if geography had anything to do with treatment plans. We could also look at whether age relates to the types of symptoms most frequently reported. These would be fairly basic searches.

But in this fantasy research project, I don’t know if I would start with the database itself. I’d want to qualitatively look at the language used to describe certain symptoms or treatments, for example. The term “hot flash” may not have been used universal. Other words such as “flushed,” “blood rush,” or “heat flusters” may have been used instead. I would have to create conditions on these words so that when “hot flash” (or any related word) is queried, all options come up. I would also consider putting quantitative conditions on symptoms (or even treatments) that could organize individual patients by the number of symptoms they experienced or the number of kinds of treatments they have received. For example, if one woman experiences vaginal dryness and headaches, she could be assigned “2” for symptoms.

One issue that these Atlantic and New York Time articles don’t explicitly discuss is about data preparation. Having worked with (and been a data entry monkey for) large-ish datasets (5,000 plus participants), I’m painfully aware of the importance of cleaning up and preparing datasets for research. Was the data entered correctly? How did you spot-check the entries? After the import process are the variables aligning correctly? Are there double entries of the same person? How do we group clusters of variables or separate variables out? What kind of predictive power do our numbers have? Do we need to collect more data? Are the variables fixed or continuous? How do we account for and properly code no values or nullified responses in certain categories?

“Fixing” data is a pain but so much of data mining and creating relational databases is hinged how “clean” the dataset is or how well prepped it is for certain types of analysis. With Filemaker and other relational datasets, it’s also to create restrictions on categories while entering individual data (rather than importing a dataset) to ensure that the data going in is “clean” and complies with range of responses you’re looking for.

One last aspect of working with databases that could be further examined is the effect of confounding variables. This semester, I’m also working on a qualitative project about morality and breastfeeding culture. The government and reputable health organizations have advocated for breastfeeding making claims about better health outcomes for children such as reduced risk for diabetes, obesity, autism, cognitive performance, etc. In Joan Wolf’s book, Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood, she argues that many of these studies didn’t adequately consider confounding variables such as the mother’s prenatal health and lifestyle. For example, she argues that women who breastfeed were likely physically active and ate organic food prior to having children. This lifestyle difference alone can contribute to healthier breast milk and predict the child’s strong likelihood of being active, therefore preventing obesity and diabetes.

With all research methods, it’s important to consider their strengths, limitations, and hidden assumptions. Regarding quantitative methods and using relational databases, I’m still stuck on viewing them for scientific and social scientific research. I’m curious to see more examples of how it can be used in the humanities considering its strong tradition to not use quantitative methods.

Word Searches and Database Management

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With stop words filtered out

As we’ve entered the second half of the semester, I’m increasingly thinking about how to arrange, present, analyze and set up my project for the Digital History course. This document introducing tabular data analysis provides some interesting options and considerations. I’m working with about 30-35 magazine articles from the 1940s to 1960s. They are either photocopied, photographed, or scanned (among the ones I physically have). For this semester, I’m realistically going to set up a flat file database to put the material up. The text analysis software, is an interesting option to explore as well considering, my analysis will look at discourse and language used to describe menopause in the postwar years. However, my biggest barrier to using text analysis is the quality of my copies. When I first collected these articles, I was working on a standard seminar paper. My intent wasn’t to digitize them and build a small database. As a result, many copies are barely legible, sentences are separated into different scans and photos, and depending on my photocopying skills that day, text closest to the magazine’s spine stretches and fades. One option is to put these documents through optical character recognition anyway and see what comes up. Another option is to transcribe these articles, either through typing them or reading them into a voice transcribing software. I’ll have to brainstorm further options to move my projects beyond a flat file database.

In the meanwhile, I played around with Voyant Tools and searched words in this blog. The results are not as exciting as I’d hope. My most frequently used words tend to not be significant ones such as “and,” “the,” “to,” “a,” “my,” etc. But I do notice “women” is moderately large in the word cloud. I do find it useful to select words and trace its frequency. Perhaps this blog isn’t the most useful document to analyze, but it was an exercise worth doing to see the tool’s potential for my own research.

YJP808’s photostream

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DSC03573DSC03563DSC03561DSC03558DSC03555DSC03547YJP808’s photostream on Flickr. London and Paris 2012

I’ve used Creative Commons photos from flickr a handful of times but never thought to contribute my own. Perhaps it’s because I have limited time and choose to spend it writing than uploading photos; but upon thinking about it further I realize I also don’t fully understand what it means to share creative and intellectual work.
Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture offers insight on how the Internet changed how culture is created and shared. He argues that content and culture is increasingly “owned” with minimal questioning. Also, the access to use “culture” perpetuates hierarchies:
To build upon or critique the culture around us one must ask, Oliver Twist-like, for permission first. Permission is, of course, often granted – but it is not often granted to the critical or the independent. We have built a kind of cultural nobility; those within the noble class live easily; those outside it don’t.
I’m curious to know more about the relationships between the Internet, copyrights, permissions, and Creative Commons. As a future scholar and hopeful writer, I want to know how these laws impact my work, ability to publish, and how I protect (to varying degrees) what I put out there.

On Spatial and Geographical Tools

From arcGIS Server 9.3 Help

From arcGIS Server 9.3 Help

As a spatial and visual learner, I’ve been curious about GIS (Geographical Information Systems) since I first learned about it during my time as a public health program evaluator, several years ago. Although our evaluation team never built a GIS database (while I was there), we discussed its potential in relation to some of our projects. For example, how could this database system add to our project evaluating fruit and vegetable food quality in select distributors across urban Honolulu? We also looked at street walkability and measured pavement quality (if a sidewalk existed), lighting, buffers between the walking space and road, signage, among other features.

In the larger public health context, I find spatial mapping an invaluable tool. Ian Gregory brings up a sample project investigating infant mortality rates from 19th century Britain in this blog post, which compares urban and rural locations and their changing rates of infant mortality. I also remember seeing conference presentations that visually represented increasing obesity rates in America, by state, over the past century. While these “obesity maps” of America were jarring, the data served largely to visualize a health epidemic, which then served as a segue into a discussion on particular interventions to combat the situation. In these instances, the visual map, which looked at geographical and temporal factors, served little more than a shock factor. It would have been more interesting and perhaps more meaningful to layer additional variables, such as socioeconomic factors, urban versus suburban versus rural sprawl, access to types of food establishments, etc. As Richard White argues in What is Spatial History? tools for spatial history are a means of doing research, not the end point.

While statistical tools can tell us the correlation between BMI and percent likelihood of chronic fast-food consumption, a geographical relationship between communities with overweight and obese individuals with their lived environment offer additional insight. For example, it can show us the ratio between types of food establishments and grocery stores. It can also show us whether those areas are conducive for walking (safety, lighting, buffers from road, etc). A geographical relationship may also show us a historic relationship between increasing rates of obesity with increasing rates of encroaching corporate food industries. Does it matter how many blocks away you live from certain establishments? Is there even a relationship at all with BMI and fast-food restaurant proximity? With geographical datasets, a new set of questions can be asked to commonly researched projects.

For my own project, which I mentioned in my last post, I’m wondering how I can create a spatial or geographical component to it or whether that would even contribute to my research. I’m dealing a lot with language and discourse around white middle class women’s aging bodies in postwar magazine articles. I’m not entirely sure how spatial history can be part of my research tool-set (for this project) but I’ll keep open to the possibility.

“Change of Life” Pathologizing Menopause

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From Good Housekeeping September 1967

In my Digital History course we’re moving onto the “doing” or hands-on part of the course. It’s a bit overwhelming but also incredibly exciting. In many ways I feel as though my imagination is the limit for this project, and then I return to reality. Taking two other demanding courses and teaching Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays is more limiting than my humble imagination.

So I’m reaching for a low-ish hanging fruit. Not necessarily in terms of “easiness” but in terms of producing a project that would be more cohesive, build-able, and with a decent amount of data, rather than starting from scratch. I’m hoping to create a digital manifestation of a previous term paper titled, “Pathologizing Menopause: Surveillance Over Aging Women’s Bodies.”

As with many papers, after turning them in, all I can think about is how I want to change, rearrange, and further edit my work. This digital history project will offer just that opportunity in a much more creative way.

Even before sifting through my primary sources (magazine articles from the 1940s to the mid-1960s about menopause), I’m expanding and narrowing my scope simultaneously. On the one hand, I want the digital expression of this project to also address how the language to describe menopause is historically contextual and has changed since the postwar era. Tracing the language used to describe (or pathologized) a condition is especially important for my project not just for purposes of analytical inquiry, but important for data organization and search functions. On the other hand, keeping narrow my primary sources allows me to make this semester project manageable.

Back to terminology, on the simplest level, the term “change of life” was equally, if not more, prevalent in the early postwar years. For a large part, the discourse around menopause had a mysterious aura to the naturally occurring condition. Also, many articles explored the ways menopause can be adverted completely. So terms like “prevent,” “cure,” and “avoid” were pervasive. Tracing the evolution of these terms give historical context on how menopause was constructed as a disease and also significantly impact how I set up my data for visitors.

With this project, I’m primarily interested in illuminating how the postwar years was a rich time in American history when women’s bodies were scrutinized and pathologized, which appropriated a “normalizing” rhetoric that enabled heightened surveillance and medical intervention over them. My hope is to trace a fairly recent genealogy that sheds light on how society does or doesn’t pathologized women’s bodies today.

In the spirit of open collaboration, I’m going to try to set the project up to allow contributors and discussion. Depending on my level of success, I’d like to expand the time frame beyond and preceding the post war years, respectfully, as well as including other historically pathologized “conditions” like menstruation, hysteria, pregnancy, and homosexuality.

I’ll be blogging about my successes and challenges with this project along the way.

My spatial brainstorming mapmap thus far via VUE:

 

Digital Humanities and the Future of my Academic “Work”

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社  [From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社 [From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Although, I have problems with David Bell’s tendency to over essentialize an issue against print monographs in the academic sphere, I do find the conversation about new ways to view academic “work” exciting.

I’m especially interested in bridging the knowledge and accessibility gap between academic research with the public, so some of Bell’s arguments for the Internet’s democratizing potential resonates. But I don’t buy that digital tools are as democratizing or decentralizing as the authors of From Counterculture to Cyberculture suggest; however, the conversation about increasing public access to research and knowledge, and the notion that academics should consider a larger audience is appealing.

Bell’s essay also questions the value and feasibility of printed monographs. This is quite unnerving for a humanities academic.

“They are also passing the cost pressures on to those authors they do accept; it is becoming routine in some fields for university presses to demand subsidies of $5,000 or more to publish a book, and to insist on strict limits on length. In some fields, the printed academic monograph seems dangerously close to extinction.”

Before taking this Digital History course the notion that the academic monograph is in danger didn’t register on my radar. Isn’t this a cornerstone for tenure? I definitely want to be part of a larger dialogue within my department and the university to understand the direction in which we’re headed. My professional well-being relies on what the academe constitutes as “work.”

But how do we begin to redefine the notion of “publish or perish”? Will it look different in different fields? Arguably, digital projects vary to a far greater degree than books and printed work, so is it necessary to establish some sort of standard or protocol to submit non-monograph work? Is the notion of a standard counter-productive to the digital age’s “decentralizing potential”?

“[S]cholars are, after all, professional readers” Bell asserts. But according to this essay it seems as though “reading” is taking on new meanings as well.

I started browsing the University of Hawaii’s digital collections to get a sense of this new kind of work humanities scholars are moving toward. This project on Japanese commercial graphic designs from the 1920s caught my attention; I love looking at early 20th century advertisements and never had the opportunity to look at a collection of them from Japan.

In addition to the 1920s graphic designs, what interested me about this digital archive was this tiny little link at the bottom of the home page. I wanted to know more about the open source software the collection works with.

From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

This hyperlink lead me to another set of interesting digital archives and projects formerly inaccessible to the public. Streetprint.org’s goal “is to make formerly inaccessible texts and other artifacts available in an exciting new way to researchers, students, and the general public alike.”

These are the kinds of projects that make me excited about where humanities work is headed within the digital evolution. My venture to other sites via hyperlinks also speak to Bell’s (among other scholars’) argument about non-linear and infinite learning potential guided by the reader’s interests. This project also brings up questions about open source work, which seems to be a hotly contested issue within this larger conversation about academic work in the digital age.

As I addressed in my post last week, I’m overwhelmed with more questions than a definite understanding of what digital humanities is and what it means for my professional future as well as my stress level.

Information Technology: Friend or Foe?

It wasn’t until this week I really started appreciating the academic crossroad I currently exist in. This predicament is in reference to how the digital age is inevitably shaping and challenging the world of learning and what we consider academic quality work.

As a doctorate student I need to start concerning myself with publishing papers or producing a monograph (as expected in the humanities). What I didn’t consider until now is that the advent of the digital age is challenging conventional notions of “publish or perish.”

For example, in his essay “How to Read Hypertext: Media Literacy and Open Access in Higher Education” Richard Rath (a University of Hawaii history professor) juxtaposes the conventional peer review and print publication process with the growing movement for open access scholarship via information technologies. Rath foregrounds this juxtaposition in the context of struggling university presses as well as a need to teach critical media literacy. What I find exciting about this discussion is for its potential to critically evaluate how the proverbial “ivory tower” serves (or doesn’t serve) the public.

Also, information technologies potentially offer greater access to academic knowledge. I’m cautiously optimistic about the anti-hierarchical and decentralizing potential for digital tools like the Internet in academia especially.

Beyond academia, in the book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Fred Turner writes a history of, and relationship between, information technologies and resistance dating back to the cold war, predating the Internet. Turner follows the careers of key pioneers such as John Perry Barlow and their approach to the digital world as analogous to westward expansion:

“By summoning up the image of the electronic frontier, Barlow transformed the local norms of the WELL, including its Whole Earth-derived communitarian ethic, its allegiance to antihierarchical governance, and its cybernetic rhetoric, into a universal metaphor for networked computing” (162).

Upon reading this I immediately think of the Indian Removal Act. Obviously, I’m not taking this analogy literally but the frontier parallel conjures questions about the digital divide. For example, who’s left out, forgotten, or eradicated in the digital landscape? Who’s writing the digital history and how does it matter? Are we adopting “manifest destiny”-like attitudes in pursuit of claiming digital space?

These questions may seem esoteric or overly meta-analytical but I’m genuinely concerned about them. An architecture friend of mine who looked at technology in elementary schools (for his dissertation) once told me that we’re not really using technology in innovative ways that drastically change our way thinking. Rather, teachers often use, lets say, a smart-board to replace the whiteboard; or instead of turning in a physical paper, it’s turned in electronically.

This anecdote reminds me that technology’s counterculture potential in academia (and to a larger extend the world) is equally met with its ability to reinforce existing structures.

Online Identity Crisis

I’ve grappled over this issue before – how to create/maintain my digital identity. In hindsight, I wish I wrestled with this online from the get-go rather than in my head and notebook (or in a course assignment requiring me to blog on the topic). For starters I would have spent more time productively blogging than feeling paralyzed over how to articulate my pseudo professional status. (Which by the way I’ve settled on “professional student,” “educator,” “PhD student,” and “masochist” depending on my mood that day.)

I first started seriously considering my online presence after joining a small word-of-mouth group called “permanent beta.” This was a few years ago. We are a group of women that gather once in a while to bounce professional concerns off of each other (I’m the only academic). Almost every meeting we chat about online presence and social media issues. Two large takeaways I got from this group are that our online identity isn’t fixed and that it’s better to actively take charge of it than passively hope we look okay in internet-o-shpere.

This Stanford piece on virtual identities had me at the first sentence, “First impressions have gone virtual.” Among two other very interesting courses (American Sexuality and Autobiographical Writing) I’m taking Digital History, which once again brings me to consider my online identity. Here are a few self-inflicted roadblocks I’ve faced preventing an active investment in my online identity (and by extension blogging more frequently):

  • I have no idea when I’m going to graduate so I assume I won’t need to worry about this for a while.
  • I’m not aiming for a traditional career path so I don’t know how to tailor my profile, “about” section, Linked-in, etc.
  • Speaking of Linked-in, I have small insecurities about having quit my full-time project management job to go back to school (read: I don’t have a “real job”) so I’ve avoided signing on and updating my profile.
  • Re: blogging. My audience and biggest fan is my husband. After that, an occasional friend. Writing into the digital abyss is taxing on the creative spirit.
  • Time! I’ve never worked so many long hours in my life. When I’m not reading or writing for school I feel guilty. It feels a bit self-indulgent to spend time building up my online self.
  • My Facebook privacy settings are on pretty high. I’m safe right?

That felt good to write.

And now the things I’m doing (or will do) to address the issues above:

  • Take a digital history course where weekly blogging and research on digital identities (practical and meta-analytical) are mandatory.
  • Make a list with all my social media accounts and update each profile. Assign a due date (within the next two weeks) and ask a friend to look at it.
  • Write a post now! (Which I’m doing.)
  • Remind myself that I can change or update my profiles anytime. Just like real identities I have many ways of being me and they’re rarely fixed one way.
  • Regularly follow other bloggers and digital historians/humanists.

Speaking of which, here are some blogs I follow that keep me interested and inspired. One relates to digital learning, the other is an interesting digital history project on American Foodways, and this last one is about being a PhD student and creative writer. And for those struggling to be an effective blogger (like I am), this article might be useful.

Rather than starting a new blog (for the Digital History course) I’ll be using this one to write about my academic experience this semester. There’s something nice about building on an existing blog instead of starting, yet another one, from scratch.

I leave you with this bootleg video of a scene from The Office. Dwight Schrute in Second Life.

Time for Gender Equality in the Workplace – For Men

Many women (including myself) are faced with the family-or-career tension to varying degrees. We’ve read about these stories in The Atlantic, New York Times, and most recently on Slate.com. Many of us know this issue personally. Maybe we aren’t literally choosing a career over a family (or vice versa) but perhaps we’ve pushed back when to start “trying,” switched to a less rigorous career path, taken a small hiatus from the rat race, or immersed ourselves in work resulting in little time to meet a potential partner in the first place.

While these articles provide valid points about uphill battles women face entering the academic sphere (or other traditionally male-dominated fields) they speak to a specific subset of women – privileged, high-powered, highly ambitious, often married (or with a partner), etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but examples and stories from executives, academics, or other powerful women suggest that this issue is most fraught among women at the top.

Not all women (and I’d venture to say most) are trying to be the next CEO or tenure track professor but many are still faced with varying degrees of “choosing.” The onus is usually on the woman to arrange a career situation that will accommodate a family. For women who have a choice to take on “second tier” jobs (such as adjunct professor) still find themselves in much better positions than the vast majority of women. For single parents (like my late mother) choices become a precarious word.

These rallying cries for better job opportunities among extremely privileged women of reproductive age just aren’t getting me revved up even though I am one of them (doctoral student). It takes focus away from addressing cultural expectations about who should be responsible for raising children. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said in the TED video above, “we’ve made more progress in the workforce than we have at home.” This is true but we’re measuring career progress against male-established standards such as job position and type, pay, and advancement opportunities.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with this but there are other ways to measure progress in the work place.

What’s missing is the imperative to change cultural expectations for working fathers. When it comes to making gender progress in the child/home front, we can’t expect change without addressing the work front as well. Why is it that few jobs offer family leave for men? Why do men face greater stigma for leaving work to assist with childcare? Why are men expected to return to work almost immediately after their child is born? These are only a few concerning questions I’ve started to discuss with my husband recently.

I believe an increasing number of men, such as my husband, want to be more involved in raising children and worry about how to navigate a hostile and intimidating work culture toward family-oriented fathers. If we want our husbands and partners to take on more domestic or “traditionally female” roles (so we can focus on our careers), shouldn’t we (men and women) also advocate for structural changes in the workplace for men?

Science Prolonging Women’s Reproductive Years

If you could prolong your reproductive years would you? How do you feel about women having children even later in life than we already do?

A few days ago NPR had a segment about new research working toward the ability for women to regenerate their eggs similar to how men regenerate their sperm.The implications for this study are substantial especially for individual women, who for varying reasons, have reproductive challenges.

While the extraordinary capabilities of science and technology are undeniable, this study brings up a few concerns.

First, who benefits from women being able to prolong their reproductive years? Second, are we addressing the right concern?

As sociologist, Barbara Katz Rothman said to NPR, “we’re creating as a world one in which it’s increasingly hard for people to have children when they’re young, and then saying, ‘But wait, we have solutions, technology – we can do it when you’re older.'”

I couldn’t agree more. We’re already inundated with celebrity magazine showing us how women well into their 40s are having children, giving a false sense of our reproductive years. While technology enabling us to regenerate our eggs is an incredible discovery, I worry this sidetracks our mission to help society make it easier for women to balance career and family.

Not only that, girls are getting their periods at a much younger age (like 8 or 9) and women are waiting to have children (like 30+) which is increasing our lifetime exposure to estrogen and monthly cycles (increasing frequency of cellular division in the ovaries). Some researchers are attributing these factors to increasing rates in reproductive cancers. Does prolonging our fertile years benefit our individual health?

Science and technology are not inherently detrimental to progressing women’s reproductive concerns. They often give us options, choices, and babies when our “window” of opportunity starts to change shape. What is concerning is the unequal time and energy we put into supporting women who are both family and career oriented. With new reproductive breakthroughs we neglect to address the reason why reproductive technologies are necessary in the first place. What if women didn’t have to postpone starting a family for their career or vice versa? What if women didn’t risk losing their job or related medical benefits for starting a family? Perhaps addressing these concerns aren’t as flashy as medical breakthroughs.

Birth Control is Not a Woman’s Issue…Apparently!

Did you know there are aspects of birth control that aren’t women’s issues? Apparently, to the congress panel hearing on Obama’s proposed policy change to have religious institutions provide free birth control to their employees wasn’t about women’s health, rather it was about religion. WOW! According to social conservatives and the ever so trustworthy Fox News this reasoning justified an all male panel.

At the very least, if we go along with the “religious” and not “women’s health” argument, aren’t the users of birth control and the benefactors of this policy WOMEN? At first I was outraged but now I’m finding small joys in this kind of clearly ridiculous behavior in congress. As one volleyball coach used to tell me. “Let the other team make the mistakes.”

Unfortunately, I think Obama made some concession when he retreated and said to enforce his policy the health insurance provider level. Maybe that was his red herring strategy to push for more than what he wanted to achieve so attaining his covert goal looks like a compromise.

In case you haven’t seen this video floating around the internet.

Controversies of Hired Help – An Affluent Woman’s Concern

How do you feel about the need among middle and upper class women to hire domestic workers to help with household duties? Growing up in a poor single parent immigrant household, members of my immediate family were more likely be the help than hire the help. Now that I’m a middle class educated woman surrounded by similarly affluent women, I find myself listening to conversations about hiring or dealing with domestic workers. Some of these conversations are uncomfortable.

My husband and I are “DINKS” (dual income no kids) and we live in a small condo. The stresses of domestic work are minimal. When we’re up to it, we can probably clean our house top to bottom in less than an hour. (We’re rarely up to it.) It almost goes without saying that since our parents’ generation women have been active participants in the public sphere having careers and bringing home significant portions of the “bacon.” Yet the responsibilities of private and domestic work (childcare, cleaning, and cooking) haven’t shifted to the middle as drastically.

Often when women choose to focus on one arena of their lives, they do so at the expense of the other. It’s not so black and white though. Many women attempt to balance both career and domestic responsibilities at varying degrees (some women, like my mom, have no choice other than to balance both) but at some point or another ALL of my friends who are moms or are attached have felt guilty about not being a good enough mother/worker/partner. To “have it all” – a career, time with family, and a clean house – many affluent women hire help.

A vast majority of these helpers come from developing countries, or are immigrants, or are working class/poor women. They most likely don’t get work benefits, aren’t part of a union, have physically demanding tasks, get low wages, and have their own families to care for as well. I just read a book (for class) called “Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work” by Rachel Salazar Parrenas who addressed some of the significant sacrifices these women make to enable affluent women in developing nations to “have it all.” Often these migrant workers are faced with hard choices to either leave behind their family so they can provide for them economically or to remain in a cycle of third world poverty. Additionally, these workers have very little job security and protection, and are at the mercy of their employers which has led to exploitation and abuse.

Clearly, reading this book inspired today’s post as it got me thinking about how affluent Western women, who hire substantial domestic help, are on one hand assisting these women by giving them employment but on another hand perpetuating a cycle of inequality by accepting the terms of these worker’s poor laboring conditions and turning a blind eye to their personal sacrifices.

As I aspire one day to “have it all,” I worry about how I’m going to achieve that. At one point or another, I may very well be tempted to hire regular help for childcare or household duties. Fortunately, my husband and I discuss division of domestic labor very openly and we feel satisfied (most days) with how we’ve shared those responsibilities. But we also don’t have a screaming, crying, all consuming baby. We already know his work doesn’t give family leave nor do they expect his work performance or commitment to decline as a result of becoming a dad. Society has progressed to accommodate women in the workforce but it hasn’t quite figured out how to relieve men of their career duties to help at home. Until then, the controversial need to hire help won’t start to lessen.

I’m also fully aware that I’m only able to have this conversation because of my tremendous position of privilege. Considering my humble beginning, this topic brings up a lot of internal conflict.

Thoughts?

Men Who Change Diapers DO NOT Change the World. They Change Diapers.

 

Within one week, I’ve seen a bumper sticker reading, “Men who change diapers, change the world” three times.  There’s nothing new about this bumper sticker.  In fact I first saw it four years ago and thought to myself Yeah, that’s kind of a cool message.  We should applaud those men.

Now I’m bothered by it.

It took me a day to figure out what I didn’t like about this message and it came to me when I was doing the dishes cleaning up after my fiancé.  Before I proceed with my explanatory rant, I want to mention that I feel incredibly fortunate to have a partner who’s actually quite good about housework and very open about discussing what’s working and what’s not.  But no one is perfect.

And so my rant…

When I first moved in with my fiancé (two years ago and then boyfriend), we were okay about sharing household chores.  I’m sure part of it was about impressing one another and proving that we weren’t going to be one of those couples that fought about cleaning duties.  Neither of us were messy people to begin with anyway.  A few months later, my fiancé started pointing out every time he did the dishes, watered the plants, vacuumed, mopped the floor, or folded the laundry.

I was irritated to hear him announce all his household contributions suggesting I should do more.  And in the most mature way I said back to him “Oh, you want to keep score now?  Wanna know what I ALWAYS do?” I then proceeded to list all the chores I’ve done that day and the day before that and all the things I do that he never notices.  Mature right?

Well this continued for months and I grew more pissed.  Not because he was doing so much less than me (in fact we share housework quite equally) but because he wanted acknowledgment for things we both do (and even for things I do most of the time, like putting away the dishes).  He felt like he was doing more without realizing it just seems like that because I don’t announce every time I clean.

After enough bickering, we had an honest talk about where his score keeping was coming from.  He admitted not being proud of his tit-for-tat-ness and said he never had to be responsible for anyone but himself.  He was looking for encouragement and support for a challenging transition out of bachelorhood into cohabitation.  I love him for being so honest.

I don’t blame my fiancé for this struggle.  It seems as though our egalitarian intentions haven’t quite caught up with reality.  From a young age, my girlfriends and me were socialized to play house, play with baby dolls, and take care of others.  My fiancé and his buddies likely were not.  Also, we’ve observed our moms doing most of the cooking, cleaning, and diaper changing.

Between my generation to my mother’s there have been huge changes in women’s societal roles.  Educated women today have more career options outside of teaching, nursing, or being a secretary.  We are also expected to be significant income contributors.  On the flip side, it’s becoming more common for men to be stay-at-home dads and to significantly help with housework and raising children.  But it’s not as well supported or expected.  My past post on the need for more fathers’ day goes into it a bit more.

While I can appreciate that many good liberal men struggle with how they were brought up (watching women clean and change diapers) and how quickly gender roles have evolved, I just can’t bring myself to award “gold stickers” for every dish that’s cleaned or t-shirt that’s folded.

So when I read the bumper sticker “Men who change diapers, change the world” the second time around I cringed and thought that this was the ultimate ego stroking.  Encouragement is one thing but insisting that men who share child raising responsibilities are somehow extraordinary seems counter productive to the sticker’s intention.  Men who change diapers are great parents.  And so are the moms who change them as well.

If we keep our expectations about diaper changing and doing dishes low, won’t dads just live down to them?  Besides, I’ve yet to see a bumper sticker that says “Women who bring home the bacon save the universe from utter destruction.”