Monday, March 27, 2006

Linda Hirshman: Stay-at-home mom vs. working mom

This post is in response to Alison's post and Linda Hirchman's words.

I disagree with Hirshman in that she is essentially saying that the only choice is to be a working mom. The modern-day woman has the freedom to choose whichever option, stay-at-home mom or working mom.

That said, I do find something wasteful and unwise in women spending years (and lots of money) to get specialized degrees (e.g law, engineering, medicine, etc) but then doing absolutely nothing with them, by choosing to stay at home. Still, it is their prerogative. However, people are happier when they pursue their interests. I assume that if one pursued law, one had a passion for it. Motherhood does not mean abandoning one’s interests. The two can co-exist. During my childhood years in Nigeria, my mom worked and was readily available to me. I plan on being like her, if I ever become a mother.

The problem here is a social structure that more or less forces one to choose to be a working mom (with no time for mothering) or a stay-at-home mom. Our work structure, as it stands, is designed for people without reproductive interests. Women being the sex that gestates and delivers babies face a problem in adjusting to the working environment. A woman, when she is pregnant and after birth, needs some time to bond with her child and to ensure both her health and her child’s health.

I believe that for women to truly say that they have a choice as to what kind of mom they’ll be, the options, stay-at-home mom and working mom, need to have about the same social (and maybe even economic) value. Moreover, the working structure needs to make some changes to accommodate the fact that women do give birth and so need time to recuperate and to bond with their newborn. We need to actively involve men in childcare as well. It is NOT cute or “manly” that a man does not want to (and is unskilled to) change his child’s diapers or walk his child in a stroller, in the park. A child is not made by one person alone.

I believe women do need to be in the workplace, to be role models for others and to make sure that women’s interests and needs are represented in the community. I also know that it helps for children to have their parents ( mommy and daddy, not just mommy) at home to some degree. Until our society actively acknowledges and responds to women’s diverse reproductive role (e.g by maybe allowing new moms to work from home, if it’s appropriate, etc), moms will always argue about who made the right mothering decision.

As an aside, I think it is a bit ridiculous for Hirshman to suggest having only one child, just for the sake of fitting into the workforce. Life or the pursuit of happiness isn’t all about making money or advancing one’s career. One cannot measure the amount of joy and pleasure that each child has the very real potential of adding to one’s life. Besides, when one is old and gray, it helps to have children (as in more than one) at one’s side in different capacities. One child can only do so much. One child can only be so much.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

A formula for medicine?

In college, I took an interdisciplinary course called “culture, society and disease.” This course dealt with factors that affect society’s perception and determination of what constitutes health. It addressed the issue that medicine is not just about caring for the sick, that societal factors determine who is sick, how the sick is treated, who gets any available treatment, and even what treatments are effective or available.

Prior to this class, I described medicine or healthcare with one formula: Illness plus treatment equals to medicine, and treatment involved using a physical, chemical or biological agent. The years spent in a developing country reinforced the power of this formula. I was aware of how limited resources could affect medicine but that was the only limiting factor I knew about. The concepts I learned or was made aware of in this course made me reevaluate my view of medicine.

I thought about the placebo effect, how it is beneficial purely by the power of reassurance and by relief felt by a person for having taken an action towards getting better. It was interesting that sometimes just feeling better could equal getting better. I also thought about the issue of noncompliance— why people fail to take their medications despite the absence of significant side effects. I remembered my reluctance to take any medicine when I was a child; I did not want to be aware of my ill health, which taking the medicine seemed to do. There was more to medicine than just "treatment" as I had understood it.

My formula for medicine proved to be overly simplistic. Even the very idea of having a formula for what medicine is and does is simplistic; medicine adapts and changes. Learning how to treat illnesses and ways to improve health also means learning about people, how they think, how they function, and how their surrounding influences them.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

It is great to be a girl!

Note: This post is not about male-bashing; men are God's creations too.

If you look at a girl (ignoring some social disadvantages) it is self-evident that a girl is a special kind of human, which is why, in my theory, there are so many social forces (albeit unconsciously) against her.

Physicially, she has, without a doubt, the more aesthetically pleasing body. She is dynamic and exciting in her appearance. She could wear a gown, a skirt, shorts, pants, you name it. She could wear her hair long or short. And she has ready access to clothes and accessories in all shades of the rainbow. Boring-looking, she is not.
-----Let's not forget, that her body is custom-designed to give forth life, without which no one here would be here. Even as she complains about her period, her ability to undergo this periodic process has many biological advantages to her body's functioning.

Emotionally, she is more free. She enjoys all the benefits of being fully socially and emotionally involved. Emotionally-constipated, she is not.

Character-wise, she is the one with a more God-like disposition. God calls her a helper, just like he calls himself a helper. Quite God-like (which is not to say she's God), she is more ready to love unconditionally (have you heard the phrase, "Monkey no fine but im mama like am"?), more patient, more nurturing, etc.
-----She is so valuable that the bible instructs her husband that he should treat her with respect and consideration, so that his prayers would be effective.
-----Moreover, the bible says that a man has to leave his parents to be united with her, which is why, personally, I don't understand girls who chase after guys. I so much prefer to be pursued, which does not mean sitting on your bottom and counting the holy minutes until he finds you. For goodness sake, girls, live out your dreams and goals, and he'll find you on your way.

And if you need to hear more about why being a woman is so advantageous, see 'X' Factor Boosts Women's Health, Longevity, by E.J. Mundell.

Quoting Psalm 139:14, "I praise you [God] because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

Don't I know it.
If you are a girl, give yourself a big hug. Guys, you can go ahead and do so too.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Looking forward to seeing your doctor?

Medicine should be, by definition, “patient-medicine.” However, it is tending to be disease-focused. Understanding the disease and trying to eradicate it is a means of “helping” patients, but it is not the sole means. I want to be a doctor, but I don’t like going to see a doctor, because I think “there is nothing wrong with me.” Ideally, I want a doctor who would know me enough to think, “hmn, I haven’t seen this person in a while,” and one who would call to say “shouldn’t you book an appointment for a check-up so I can update myself on what’s going on with you.” After all, preventative medicine is the best medicine. Regular visits to the doctor helps in making a more accurate diagnosis, since a doctor would have seen a lot of what his or her patients’ “normal” is. The patient-doctor relationship is probably the only kind of relationship where it is acceptably one-sided. But should it be? Does it have to be?

A doctor should not just do body repair, but body maintenance as well, which helps to ensure that the body runs as efficiently as possible. Of course, this brings up the issue of people who cannot afford to visit their doctors regularly. Heck, many people have no means to pay for a visit to the doctor, and these people often have to endure being REALLY sick before they see a doctor (and it's usually an ER doctor) . I remember I signed up for student health insurance, which pays 80% of all associated cost, which was fine by me because I figured that I was healthy. But I ended up not renewing it because I was tempted to delay visits to my doctor--I would have to pay 20% of the total cost when I go for my check-up, and who knew what that 20% would mean for the meagre money in my pocket.

One's health is probably one's most valuable resource, because without it one's claim to other resources is significantly weak or even non-existent. Yet access to quality health care is a luxury that many cannot afford.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Summer, I await thee

I really dislike the cold weather. In the years that I have been here, my body refuses to pardon the weather, and each winter brings numerous complaints from my body. I am a warm weather girl, always has been and, apparently, always will be. Sometimes I am jealous of the people whose bodies almost instantly fall in love with the cold weather, despite being from a warm climate. My body's loyalty to the warm climate is strong, which makes for some miserable winter days.

As the temperature goes down, stepping outside my building becomes a laborious task. I feel restricted in my layers of protection. The heater in my apartment is turned to the max, but I still hug my comforter as if to make it my second skin. I remember one day in February, as I sat in class, I noticed that everyone had taken off their Jackets, everyone but me. I sat with my hat still on my head, with my jacket still on and zipped up, and I felt quite comfortable. But the boy in front of me seemed to be burning up from seeing me in my layers. "Aren't you hot?" he finally asked. "No, I am quite comfortable." I answered.

I cannot wait for summer; that has always been the time for me. Yes, summer, because spring is too unreliable--one day it's cold, another it's warm. March feels quite colder than it should be, maybe it's because I waiting so excitedly for summer. My darling summer, free my body and mind from all this cold, this ugly cold.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphors - TWO

In illness as metaphor, Sontag claims, “illness is not a metaphor, and that the most truthful way of regarding illness—and the healthiest way of being ill—is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphorical thinking.” Given the very definition of a metaphor, any word or concept can be used as a metaphor. The use of illness as a metaphor is inevitable because illness is a metaphor; it is a metaphor for a culture’s view about ill persons, their personalities, and experiences grounded on the social condition of their era. These metaphors are not just inevitable; they are sometimes necessary for people’s well being when they have succumbed to an illness.

The dangers in using illness metaphors emanate from their cultural definition. The meaning that a culture attaches to an illness, especially an incurable one, determines how the ill person is considered and what metaphors are used. Sontag notes that in the pre-modern view, the ideal state of a well-balanced character is one where expression is limited. Accordingly, a disease expresses the character of a person, implying that the people cause their diseases by expressing themselves too much or too little. This view has negative implications (as Sontag notes) for a cancer patient whose disease is believed to come from his or her repressed passions and for a tuberculosis (TB) patient (before the etiology of TB was discovered) whose disease was thought to come from his or her excess of it.

While blaming the patient is never the way to go about treatment, Sontag does not even ask what the purpose of these metaphors are in the first place. Illness metaphors are not random; society assigns them based on its observations of the characteristics of the ill persons. Take the case of TB. Afflicted people were noticed to be euphoric and to have increased appetite for food and sex. They were thought to be lively because of their rosy cheeks, which looked like a sign of health. TB was also noticed in the more reckless and sensual individuals. This brought in the notion of “more” than normally observed, or excess. The treatment then is reduction of the excess, so people were told excess expression is the cause of their illnesses, but not as a way to blame them, but rather treat them by advocating reduction of those passions. Moreover, for this view to have prevailed at the time, it must have worked to some extent; a classic example of “the placebo effect.” Studies have shown that when people believe that something will work for them, it does work for them. While this 19th century view may have gathered some negative interpretations, they are only side effects of an effective metaphor.

Illness metaphors can shape people’s perceptions of reality and the way they interact with it, as well as serve as a way to alleviate the ill from the pain of such realities as having an incurable disease. A society’s reluctance to tell patients the truth about their illness, Sontag says, is because society has not yet come to terms with the inevitability of death. She does not, however, explain why society has not yet come to terms with death. Death directly questions people’s sense of control and their expression of free will. Metaphors are developed to protect people’s definition of “self.” If people were to truly face the inevitability of death, people may discount the future in any decisions because tomorrow is not a certainty--leading to a variety of reckless and potentially damaging decisions and actions. In addition, people might be hesitant to name or call something a disease when they do not know its causes, and, consequently, people may not take their condition seriously.

Illnesses, like cancer, where there is no single cause, put more pressure on a culture to define it, and a culture does so based on its value and the experience of the ill person. Illnesses are then used as metaphors in response to this pressure. These metaphors represent the culture’s ignorance about the particular disease, which is why when the etiology of the disease is known (as Sontag observes), the metaphors more or less vanish as in the case of tuberculosis. Metaphors then are only ways we deal with illnesses whose etiologies are not yet known. This claim is further supported by the observation that diseases whose etiologies were partially known like syphilis had fewer metaphors associated with them.

Illness metaphors are also ways of preventing disease, or of maybe even discovering disease etiologies. For example, in the text, Machiavelli uses illness metaphors that call for the prudence needed to control serious disease early on in the disease stage. In the case of syphilis, for example, the metaphors of morality attached to it probably decreased the level of risk behaviors that people engaged in because having syphilis was a sign of immorality at the time. Immorality was an important method for assessing a person’s character, and the threat of syphilis would deter people from the presumed correlated behavior, such as prostitution.

Certain illness metaphors have worked to make the ill person feel better about him or herself, rather than badly as Sontag’s argument seems to suggest. In the text, Shelly comforts Keats saying, “ this [tuberculosis] is a disease particularly fond of people who write such good verses as you have done.” As Sontag notes, tuberculosis metaphors were romanticized; they depict a TB patient as a sad person, who is able to feel such sadness because of the person’s particularly sensitive nature, and it made patient seem more “interesting.”The tubercular look even became the standard for physical appearance.

Illness metaphors are also used as a mode for positive change in the way society functions. They are metaphors used to judge society as repressive. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper,” the speaker uses her hysteria as metaphor for her feeling of oppression from her husband and her environment, using the yellow wallpaper as a means of communicating these feelings.

Sontag argues that only when a disease has been de-mystified, that is, when its etiology has been discovered, can it be morally used as a metaphor. This statement further suggests that Sontag’s claim that illness is not a metaphor is rather a plea for the disuse of metaphors because of the negative effects of using them when the cause of a disease is unknown. Sontag focuses on the negative aspects of metaphoric usage based on her observation of its use in western cultures. She does not evaluate metaphoric use in other cultures, where it is likely to play a different, more obvious positive role. Medicine and science are heavily relied upon in western cultures where elitism dominates. Since elitism plays a role in how a mysterious illness is defined, it therefore plays a role in the metaphors that are used and even the effects of both the illness definition and the metaphors associated with it. For example, when AIDS first appeared, it was believed to be a gay plague, as a punishment for immorality. This definition maintains the elites-over-the-rest-of-the-world attitude that prevails in western cultures. However, when the disease spread to include a variety of groups, this belief decreased. The point here is that in western cultures, the relationship between groups of people is relatively discrete, which makes it easier for people to be isolated, especially the sick.

I acknowledge Sontag's very important concern, and I agree that the use of illness metaphor needs to be sensitive to its effect on the patient. However, thinking about illness without using metaphor is either impossible or undesirable, and its metaphoric use will endure until humans can develop a panacea, which would make metaphors in this context unnecessary.

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Susan Sontags' Illness as Metaphors - One

One thing that struck me in Tamara Ball's article is the "view of disease as bad, or worse yet, of people with disease as bad." I don't think anyone consciously admits it, but it seems that it's sometimes true. In Susan Sontag's book, Illness as Metaphors, she argues against the use of illness metaphors for this reason--illness metaphors tend to be negative, so people with an incurable illness, for example, might be prone to internalizing the "badness" of their disease as their badness for having it. This makes me wonder why one rarely sees, in public, the bald head of a cancer patient; the head tends to be covered up in some way. I imagine that some patients cover their heads out of the need to maintain their privacy and deter people from poking into their personal lives. For all the various reasons that patients cover their heads (and I'm sure all the reasons are self-protective in one way or another), I wonder whether another reason is out of a feeling of shame that they have the disease.

In a world where people often feel like they are playing the survival game, no one wants to appear weak or vulnerable (which begs the question, "why should someone appear weak for being sick?'). But more importantly, no one wants to be the object of people's pity, probably because "pity" is a sort of announcement that "Oh, sorry, too bad you can no longer play at the same level as us." I know that if I were in a cancer patient's shoes (this is not to say that I know the magnitude of what cancer patients go through), I would want to cover my head, to hide this insulting disease, because of an aversion to people's pity, or maybe even out of wanting to prevent people from feeling uncomfortable around me. But why shouldn't I be free to bare my bald head, if I so choose, without having to worry about negative feelings? Do patients who do bare their heads derive some benefit, mentally or otherwise, from doing so?

Like anything else, our body progressively breaks down. Some parts of us will need repair at one time or another, and to various extents. Here I have to acknowledge our society's unrealistic and implicit expectation that we be in tip-top shape all the time. I mean, let's be serious. How many percentage of people will not be worried about possibly losing their particular job or position, if they are sick for more than a period of a few consecutive days? A capitalistic work structure does not tolerate illness. Now imagine being a person with a chronic illness in this structure. That person's mind, fueled by society's (faulty) values, is tempted to think "Why me?" "What's wrong with me?"

So for this and other reasons that Sontag mentioned in her book, the use of illness metaphors will tend to add more to a patient's already heavy load. But does this mean abandoning illness metaphors entirely? What is the purpose of illness metaphors? Are they always negative?

Until my next post.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Words: to say or to write or both

The spoken word. As I mentioned in my bio, back home in Nigeria, I had a reputation for telling stories. I was quite fond of creating stories and recounting them to others. There was something about having people listen to your every word as they try to interpret what your every non-verbal expression foretold about what their ears would soon hear. It came to the point where if something happened, and I was one of the witnesses, people would prefer that I tell them what happened--I suppose I put a lot of drama into my stories. Anyway, those were the good old days when I could boldly stand in front of an audience. As an adult, I have acquired quite a bit more outward shyness. But don't be fooled.

The wriiten word. I did not actually get into the habit of writing things down until late in my high school years. When I did start, writing was a personal affair—I went on secret dates with the characters in my head, and I wrote stories that would shock or horrify an audience. I started realizing the constraint that the spoken word had been, in that your words has to bounce against an audience for it to live—the story in your head does not exist unless you tell it to someone. So I started enjoying the freedom that the written word offered me, which was to express ideas, to let them develop and go wherever, with the solid surface of my paper as my audience. My words could be expressed in tangible form whether or not other people heard it. I liked also that I could revisit what I wrote, exactly the way I wrote it (you can’t do that with spoken words unless you recorded it, but that can be expensive). I like that the written word was like a record keeper, a track of my progress that I could always refer to.

But spoken words carry an undefeatable advantage: instant connection to and response from one's audience; this is, after all, the purpose of every kind of word.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Loving this body--my favorite

Most of us don’t have a long list of TRUE favorites—for something to qualify as a true favorite, then one must have sampled all the basic possible items in the category in question. A favorite color is a true favorite because one, in the course of living, has perceived or experienced all the basic color forms. By the way, my favorite color is blue, with green following in second place, and red in the third place.

Today, I want to put the spotlight on a few of my other true favorites, in the category of the human body. As one who has studied the human body (through studying anatomy textbooks and dissecting a cadaver),

-My favorite muscle is a cute little muscle in the ear called stapedius, which is one of the two muscles in the ear that help prevent damage when you are bombarded with loud sounds.

-My favorite cartilage is called arytenoids, where your vocal cords, which are important in speech production, attach to. I like this cartilage because of its unique shape, and it is just a cute little thing.

-I don’t have a favorite bone, but if I had to choose, I’ll say the pisiform, one of the eight bones in the wrist joint. I like it because it sticks out from the rest of its neighbors, unafraid of being different.
***The body is truly amazing, not only in its appearance, but in its design. I have yet to see anything that equals it in the intelligence of its very being.
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Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Crazy Woman

Every so often, I come across a poem that I can glimpse something new from, even after reading it a few dozen times—a poem that excites my mind and heart each time I read it. I find that I can often chew on such a poem and make it a part of me, a part of my experience, or even a part of an understanding of myself. Such delightfully good poem that makes my heart refuse to let it belong solely to the poet—the poet and I become one.

The Crazy Woman by Gwendolyn Brooks is such a poem—a wonderful, little gem of a poem. At once defiant and obliging, then confined and free, but ultimately an explosion of a strong will, one that speaks heartily and with a fortitude of pride, and one whose craziness is both its source of power as well as its expression of that power and will. The Crazy Woman. I feel like being her today.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The girl with the beaded waist

As a child, one of my nicknames translates into “the beaded waist.” My mom put beads on my waist because my buttocks, apparently, stuck out too much, and the beads were supposed to help minimize this intrusive perkiness. So, with my beads, whenever I run, you could hear the noise from the friction between the beads. While I soon stopped wearing the beads, I am still quite attached to that nickname. So it was no surprise that starting in my junior high school years to the present time, I resumed wearing waist-beads (albeit off and on).

The beads that I have now are yellow and black, and they have been on my waist for many months, thanks to the strong strings and clasps. I am always on the lookout for exotic beads. I even have some semi-precious beads collecting in a bottle, waiting for someone to string them into waist-beads that can withstand being on my waist for 24 hours a day, for years.

I feel strangely attached to these beads, which now seem like a part of my body.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Oku Obim

Hello, welcome to my blog. This is my first official post.
To satisfy your curiosity, Oku Obim means "the saying of my heart" in my native (Nigerian) tongue. This blog will be dedicated to voicing anything that interests my mind and heart, and maybe you'll find these things interesting as well.

Given my schedule, I cannot predict how often I'll post something. It could be daily, it could be weekly, or who knows. But since this blog is another excuse for me to write, I hope to post often.

Until the next time.

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