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Feminism for the Other 99%
Like the rest of the country, feminism has undergone one percent-ification. The most discussed books on women’s lives speak to privileged women while usually assuming, if only by default, to speak about women in the generic.
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is valuable, for her demographic--well-educated, professionally-oriented women with a lot of choices in life--and she has a vital message to send to them, that perhaps they shouldn’t be opting out on their futures before they even have children, or get married, and they should embrace ambition. But the book should be understood as attuned to her demographic. And, framed by the fact that she’s the CFO of a behemoth corporation of the new economy.
Tiger Mother, another huge bestseller, speaks to the hyper-parenting of this same professional, well-educated, affluent demographic, the one that has the luxury of browbeating and micro-managing their children’s lives to the doorsteps of Yale or Harvard.
Naomi Wolf’s Vagina speaks obliquely to the privileged, or so it was criticized. Who else in their right mind would have the dilatory notion to vagina-gaze like that, oblivious to the non-intra-vaginal universe of women mired in the dismal economic and political crises of the early 21st century? The whole premise was so solipsistic, so Zen pop cultural spa, so… 1%.
Wisdom about “girls” who are leading what an old boyfriend of mine used to call “sad sack” lives, comes via the eponymous HBO drama and its Harvard-educated, deeply-therapized, affluent creator Lena Dunham; Barnard President Debora Spar writes a memoir about wonder women who are trying to do too much at once—pursuing dazzling careers while having children.
The one-percentification of feminism has happened even in porn. You’d think that sex work was the most emancipatory career path, to hear it spoken of, as if everyone is tending to wealthy, suave clients and becoming a porn “star.”
From the vantage point of the top 1% of sex workers, things are coming up roses.
One of the odd moments in Sandberg’s journey up the bestseller list was her surprise and genuine bewilderment that not all women embraced her as a role model.
Ms. Sandberg, one reason might be because you’re the corporate power structure. Most women are not in your shoes. They are under your heel. You’re what the left used to call The Man… or The System…or The Establishment…or The Boss (Wo)man…
An Ur insight of left politics is a thunderous silence in the 21st century: Capitalism and corporations are not sources of liberation. Rather, they create modern forms of oppression and grinding inequality. This is such an elementary premise of left politics that one is embarrassed to have to specify it.
Today, however, class is making a euphemized resurgence. Suddenly, everyone is chattering about “Income Inequality.” I think that means, “class,” perhaps even “class conflict.”
Here are some books—a very small sampling—of feminism for the other 99%:
Where the (Other) “Girls” Are:
Jennifer Silva, Coming Up Short, brilliantly looks at young American adulthood, but in the working classes. She was inspired to write this book because she couldn’t square the narrative about a dithering, choice-laden generation with the lives of poor and struggling Americans. Among other fascinating insights, Silva finds that despite all the structural changes in the economy, young, poor, working-class Americans tend to blame themselves for their own failures. They’ve internalized a pop psychology message that success is all about “attitude” and being positive. Sadly, ideas of collective action, organization, or political activism have no place in this self-critical logic.
Who Cleans Sandberg’s Office?
Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild, Global Woman, is a good starting point. It’s an anthology of jargon-free essays, mostly by sociologists, about the female underbelly of globalization—all of the women who provide domestic and childcare services to the affluent women of wealthy countries, and sexual services to its men. Domestic care happens somewhere in this world, by someone, in private spaces, even as the bestseller list is dominated by well-lit views from the corner office.
It’s also worthwhile to revisit Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, her “undercover” journey through largely female service sector jobs.
When Eliot Spitzer Isn’t Your Client, and You’re not the Mayflower Madam:
Gail Dines, Pornland, is an oddly brave feminist work—brave in that it ventures to argue a position that would have sounded like feminist common sense 40 years ago: Porn is an economy in which sexual entrepreneurs exploit women for someone else’s profit, and the product has gotten more extreme and misogynistic over time. This trajectory obviously doesn’t describe all porn, but a troubling percentage of it. Simple, right? With wit and energy, she strips away the feminist and non-feminist romantic fantasies that attach to sex work. She reveals it to be no better than, and in many respects worse than, all of the other intrusive, badly-paid, dead-end, and degrading jobs that women, and men, too often pursue to stay alive.
Over 27 million humans today are trafficked and laboring in a state of near-slavery. Some of these humans are victims of sex trafficking. British author Sophie Hayes’ memoir, Trafficked, of her coercion into prostitution at the hands of a debt-ridden, long-time boyfriend, will make you rethink the complexities of consent, and the notion that sex trafficking is just an uptight, bourgeois invention, or bogeyman.
Memoirs by women born with a plastic spoon in their mouths:
Welfare Brat, Mary Childers’ memoir of growing up on welfare in the Bronx is brilliant in its rendition of the psychological tensions between family loyalty and class mobility, as the author realizes early in life that education is her way free of the grip of poverty. She experiences what Richard Sennett called the “hidden injuries of class,” in her sense of loathing and self-loathing for her own impoverished upbringing, but also attachment to a heroic mother who occasionally triumphed over grim odds.
Adrian LeBlanc’s Random Family is flat-out one of the most meticulously researched, keenly observed, exquisitely-narrated studies of poverty, women, and the drug culture—anchored by one New York family and its romances (West Side story this is not). Based on a decade of immersion research, LeBlanc’s book elegantly puts paid to the most vicious clichés of “welfare to work” and welfare reform, while simultaneously telling a gripping story.
With or Without You is Domenica Ruta’s memoir of a boom and bust childhood with an erratic, drug-addicted mother who has high hopes for her daughter and who occasionally strikes it big financially, but can’t translate those aspirations or resources into a stable, consistent home. Of particular interest here is the author’s toggling between the chaos of her life with her mother and her visits to the world of her father’s placid, suburban home.
What about the Men?
Susan Faludi’s Stiffed is still a valuable compilation of men’s declining, limp fortunes, and their origins in structural changes in economy that have betrayed women as well as men. It strikes a less 1% tone than Hannah Rosin’s more recent work, The End of Men. It would come as news to American women living in socially conservative, fundamentalist, patriarchal sub-cultures where women are advised to “voluntarily submit” to husbands; where female extramarital sexuality is treated as dirty and polluted; where virginity is fetishized and sexual violence all but ignored when not blamed on the victim, that we have reached the end of men. In much of the country neo-patriarchy is alive and kicking, even as men’s economic and educational wherewithal decline.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>