March against stoning in Iran

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani will be stoned to death in Iran tomorrow, 3 November; she has not been allowed access to her lawyer (who is also currently imprisoned and reportedly suffering torture) since mid-August.

According to news received by the International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution on 1 November 2010, the authorities in Tehran have given the go ahead to Tabriz prison for the execution of Iran stoning case Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. It has been reported that she is to be executed this Wednesday 3 November.

There is a protest march organised in Paris today. Marchers will meet at the steps of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran at 2pm. Read more here.

Homebirth: Mother v. Baby? More like Mother v. Medical Community

In july, we reported on the Guardian’s very ridiculous coverage of a very ridiculous meta-analysis of international data on homebirths that purported to show that homebirths are safer for the labouring woman, but more dangerous for baby.

Reader Wahine has just sent us links to a Lancet editorial about the findings, and its attendant angry letters. The editorial states that

Although home birth seems to be safe for low-risk mothers and, when compared with hospital delivery, is associated with a shorter recovery time and fewer lacerations, post-partum haemorrhages, retained placentae and infections, the evidence is contradictory for outcomes of newborn babies delivered at home.

The author goes on to claim that this is due to methodological problems, and continues,

Professional organisations, perhaps unsurprisingly, have issued contradictory policy statements regarding home deliveries.

This is followed by a list of various countries and their various contradictory policy statements. The author then goes on to cite the meta-analysis mentioned above, and conclude that, well, now we know it’s really unsafe for babies, everyone ought to fall in line and recommend hospital birth.

So… lots of different countries have lots of different healthcare systems, with lots of different approaches to midwifery, homebirth, and indeed birth more generally…and the evidence across all (or many) of these systems is (big surprise) conflicting (as it would be, given we’re not comparing like for like). And the fact that this ‘conflict’ is reflected in ‘conflicting’ international guidelines is…further evidence of confusion? What? Circumstances differ cross-nationally; so evidence differs cross-nationally; so advice differs cross-nationally. That’s a sign that the advice is good: that it reflects the applicable evidence.

So, alright, I’ve ranted about this already. Let me start a new rant. The author of the editorial concludes, no big surprise, that

Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk. There are competing interests that need to be weighed carefully.

And in letters there’s huge anger over this.

Reducing rights to mere interests that can be weighed changes the mother from the owner of to a mere factor in the perinatal decision process. This is directly deleterious to her right to self-determination. The weighing of interests, risks, and outcomes is part of a capable exercise of human autonomy, not the other way around.

Quite right. But here’s my further worry: the meta-analysis purports to show that standard practice (hospital birth) is less safe for the patient (the pregnant woman) than a viable alternative (home birth). This shows a problem with existing medical practice. And yet, seemingly across the board, the discussion has been (only) about whether and which way the patient herself might be at fault; what the patient ought to do; what rights the patient ought to have (NB. the rights discussion never seems to stray into the question of what the woman’s rights are wrt decent medical care; we only ever discuss her rights wrt maiming babies).

I don’t get it. Why aren’t we talking about what’s wrong with obstetrics? What the hell is going on here?

In related news, a midwife in Hungary has been arrested for assisting in home births. Read more here.

Sexist Jabs Harm Female Political Candidates (shocked?)

A new voter survey, put on by Women’s Media Center, the WCF Foundation and Political Parity, found that

Calling a female candidate such sexist names as “ice queen” and “mean girl” significantly undercuts her political standing and does more harm than criticism based solely on her policy positions [.]


The survey concludes that the advice often given to women — to ignore the attacks rather than risk giving them more attention — is wrong. Responding directly helped the female candidate regain lost ground and cost her opponent support.

The sponsoring groups have gone on to set up a joint initiative ‘called “Name It. Change It” designed to monitor and respond to sexism against female candidates in the media.’ Read more about the voter survey here, and check out Name it. Change it here.

Infantile Gender-Deviance: Your Heartwarming Tale for the Day

Elp-son—who is four years old—loves to be pretty. His favourite colour is pink, he loves fairy wings and glitter and nail varnish and dresses and pretty hair clips and so on and so on. For as long as he’s been expressing preferences about dressing, this has been the case. Lately, he has started to complain that children at preschool are being nasty, taunting him and telling him off for wearing ‘girl clothes’. We were, of course, very nervous about the situation, and couldn’t really figure what to do. (Parents seem to care a lot about gender indoctrination; how could we fight the teaching the other children were getting at home?)

We’re friendly with another family at the preschool, whose three year old son J also likes being pretty, and has also had trouble, though his trouble, alarmingly, came from a teacher, not from other children! So, knowing that they were in a similar circumstance, we told them about elp-son’s troubles. J’s mother immediately sprung into action: she decided to organise a boys-being-pretty day, and got in contact with another mother whose son was keen to be a fairy. (This boy’s mother is a social psychologist, as it happens, and was very enthusiastic about flaunting gender norms!) This mother told her about yet another child in the class whose pretty impulses were being stifled. That boy’s parents were contacted. And his parents brought in yet another child, whose parents went shopping especially for the occasion.

To date, the boys-being-pretty day has somewhat crumbled, because the boys involved couldn’t wait for a specific day to wear their pretty clothes: they wanted to wear them right away!  So in effect, we’ve ended up with (at least) a boys-being-pretty week.

I can’t decide what aspect of these events is the most wonderful: the exuberant efforts of J’s mum on behalf of elp-son; or the fact that every parent who’s been approached so far has greeted the initiative with enthusiasm; or the fact that as it goes on, more and more little boys are jumping at the chance to finally be pretty. (No, to be honest, I know full well what aspect I like best: with any luck, my beautiful, wonderful, magical little child won’t be bullied in preschool any more!)

But don’t worry: gender is still innate. ;-)

Thoughts on Sewing and Inatenness

We have nosy neighbours whose kitchen window is directly across from ours. Also, we are skint. So, I spent my weekend sewing kitchen curtains. First, I had to work out, given how much fabric I had–how long and how wide–how many panels to cut; then how wide to make the hems; how deep to make the channel for the curtain rod; and so on. And it suddenly struck me: curtains are, basically, just flat rectangles with finished edges. It must be mind-numbing to design a pattern for, say, a dress. start with a flat rectangle, make it into this shape: 
Now, this particular dress was probably made by an experienced and gifted professional, but not so for most of its lowly contemporaries, and those that came before it. Most dresses–and trousers, and shirts, and so on–would’ve been made in the home. And, prior to the second half of the 19th century, would’ve been made without the benefit of a commercially-produced sewing pattern.

William Jennings Demorest and Ellen Louise Demorest began the home sewing pattern industry in 1860 by holding fashion shows in their homes and selling the patterns. This was the beginning of the Mme. Demorests’ Emporium of Fashion. They published a magazine, The Mirror of Fashion, which listed hundreds of different patterns, most available in only one size. Patterns were of unprinted paper, cut to shape, and could be purchased “flat” (folded), or, for an additional charge, “made up” (with the separate pieces tacked into position). The latter version was intended to compensate for the absence of detailed instructions.

So, until the second half of the 19th century, the clothes of the common people were made at home, and, most likely designed by the maker. Who would have undoubtedly been…well…a woman (or girl). And this got me to thinking about women and spatial reasoning. Again, start with a flat square, and make this:

Or start with string, and get this:

I don’t even know what else to say. Suddenly, these women-can’t-reason-spatially claims don’t just seem sexist and wrong; they seem knowingly dishonest.

My curtains, by the way, look great. Well, much better than the nosy neighbours’ faces, anyway…

Childcare at Conferences: talking about it makes a difference!

Jenny Saul tells us that her colleague Steve Laurence has decided to offer help with arranging childcare for his conference as a result of our blog posts! Just yesterday, the Culture and the Mind: Norms and Moral Psychology conference web site has had the following addition made:

If you need childcare in order to attend the conference, then we are happy to help you try to arrange this.

Three cheers to Steve Laurence & the the folks at The Hang Seng Centre. (Now: everybody else follow suit. Easy as pie. Thanks!)

The Gay Gene: unintended consequences

Bioethicists are raising alarms over pregnant women being treated with a drug called dexamethasone—a risky Class C steroid aimed at female fetuses that may have a form of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH)—outside the context of IRB-approved clinical trials. Prenatal ‘dex’ treatment is known to carry certain health risks for mother and fetus (and sorry, I can’t seem to find a run-down of what those risks are, but they’re not the story, so just go with me that there are risks). Why take the risk?

The majority of researchers and clinicians interested in the use of prenatal “dex” focus on preventing development of ambiguous genitalia in girls with CAH. CAH results in an excess of androgens prenatally, and this can lead to a “masculinizing” of a female fetus’s genitals.

Risking the health of woman and fetus for the sake of avoiding ambiguous genitalia. Okay, seems dodgy, but we don’t know what the risks are; maybe they’re minimal. But then there’s more…

One group of researchers, however, seems to be suggesting that prenatal dex also might prevent affected girls from turning out to be homosexual or bisexual.

Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, and her long-time collaborator, psychologist Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, of Columbia University, have been tracing evidence for the influence of prenatal androgens in sexual orientation.

Yes. Now we see a problem. But alas it gets even worse…

And it isn’t just that many women with CAH have a lower interest, compared to other women, in having sex with men. In another paper entitled “What Causes Low Rates of Child-Bearing in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia?” Meyer-Bahlburg writes that “CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”

In the same article, Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that treatments with prenatal dexamethasone might cause these girls’ behavior to be closer to the expectation of heterosexual norms: “Long term follow-up studies of the behavioral outcome will show whether dexamethasone treatment also prevents the effects of prenatal androgens on brain and behavior.”

So, it’s not just that they may turn out to be lesbians: they may turn out to be lesbians who want to enter the workforce!

Researchers working on an interesting project tend to suggest how their work could have broader implications. This is no exception: the 2008 paper by Meyer-Bahlburg et al hints that variation in sexual orientation beyond the population of girls with CAH might also be partly explainable through prenatal androgen exposure. Such reasoning could lead to the pursuit of other “screening” and “treatment” methods for manipulating intrauterine environments.

While everyone has been busy watching geneticists at the frontier of the brave new world, none of us seem to have noticed what some pediatricians are up to. Perhaps it is because so many people are fascinated by the idea of a “gay gene” that prenatal “lesbian hormones” have slipped past public scrutiny. In any case, we think Nimkarn and New’s “paradigm for prenatal diagnosis and treatment” suggests a reason why activists for gay and lesbian rights should be wary of believing that claims for the innateness of homosexuality will lead to liberation. Evidence that homosexual orientation is inborn could, instead, very well lead to new means of pathologization and prevention, as it seems to be in the case we’ve been tracking.

Apples and Oranges are, On Average, Orangey

…if your study follows five hundred oranges and ten apples.

There’s yet another bang-up job of scientific/medical reporting in the Guardian today, entitled ‘Home Births are Good for Mother, Riskier for Babies, Study Says’. The article reports that a US study of home birth mortality/morbidity statistics shows that home births lessen the likelihood of interventions that are detrimental to the health of the mother, but triple the risk of death for the baby.

The researchers pulled together data from studies in the US and in Europe, including two from the UK. They considered a total of 342,056 planned home births and 207,551 planned hospital births.

So, what’s my problem with this? Well it’s simple: UK midwives are university trained and nationally certified. They are hospital affiliated and most NHS trusts have thorough, detailed home birth plans in place that, among other things, bring women/babies rapidly into specialist care in case of complication.

In the US, certification differs state-by-state, with some states allowing anyone at all, regardless of training (or lack of) to call themselves ‘midwives’; and midwives, as a general rule, have no affiliation with any hospital or obstetric team, which means that, if an emergency arises, american home birth women dial 911 and wait for an all-purpose ambulance to take them to a medical team with no prior knowledge of their circumstances, prenatal history, etc.

In short, the lot of home birth women in these two countries are practically as different as they could possibly be. Safety and efficacy conclusions based on averages across the two systems are *totally meaningless*–especially when we don’t even know how many studies came from each.  (thank you, Guardian! Bang-up reporting!)

Pregnant Women to be Tested for Smoking

The National Institute for Clinical Excellent (NICE) has issued guidance advising that, given the risks, pregnant women ought to be tested for smoking. …Yes. You read that correctly. NICE advise that all pregnant women should be given breath tests that can detect elevated levels of carbon monoxide, which will show the midwife/doctor that the pregnant woman either smokes, or is regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.

And I suppose this makes sense, given most pregnant women lack the capacity for language-use; so it would be terribly difficult to ask them whether they smoke. op! What’s that you say? They don’t? Pregnant women can usually both speak and understand some natural language or other?

Last I checked, smoking is harmful to lots of creatures–not just fetuses. In fact, I’m pretty sure that all mammals are negatively affected by carbon monoxide. Do we need to test *everyone*? No? Why is that? Here are some theories I’ve come up with:

  • Those pesky pregnant women lie more than other patients.
  • The health of other human creatures doesn’t matter as much as the health of fetuses.
  • Pregnant women speak too slowly for information on their smoking status to be acquired in a timely fashion verbally.
  • It’s a known fact that most pregnant women are out to harm their fetuses and need to be blocked from doing so.
  • Health practitioners are barred by law from asking the husbands/partners medical questions about the women, which precludes the possibility of acquiring accurate information about the woman (since, really, the head of the household is the only one in the family who isn’t a silly little thing).
  • Pregnant women have no right to privacy.

Have I missed any? OH wait. Silly me. (see? my husband should be writing this.) I forgot the most obvious one:

  • Pregnant women are simply the devious chunks of flesh wrapped around the real patient.

more from the BBC here.

FGM at Cornell & The Internet: update

We reported last week on (apparent) female genital mutilation and sex abuse committed against little girls by a pediatric urologist at Cornell University. The story has since gone viral, with a facebook group and all. This sort of thing makes me love the internet: regular, every-day people are able to find out about serious issues like this even when corporate media aren’t covering them, band together (virtually) and do something about it. Excellent!

…Unfortunately, Dan Savage reports today that this attention has led to death threats against the doctor in question, on the facebook page and elsewhere. I want to first make it clear that we at Feminist Philosophers (I assume I can speak for everyone) do not support such talk. And second, to hang my head more generally: interweb crazies coming after the man is only going to make him into the victim and distract away from the very important issues surrounding his work.