Genetic counseling, as the previous two posts in this series suggest, has a lot to offer for navigating the tricky decisions things like prenatal testing and preimplantation genetic diagnosis raise. Well, in this post I’d like to make things a little more complicated. Enter the sheer messiness of history. I still believe genetic counseling is the best approach we have right now for helping prospective parents with hard choices, but it has a complicated — and not so distant — past that continues to shape counselors’ ways of interacting with clients.
While doing research for a new project, I was doing some reading about sexually transmitted infections and came across a couple of interesting articles about the HPV vaccine and Planned Parenthood. The article on the HPV vaccine deals with the concern over the vaccination increasing the sexual activity of young women. And the article on Planned Parenthood surrounds the controversy over whether or not the organization would remain part of the state-run Women’s Health Program in Texas. My interest in these articles stems from my research in the gendered aspects of healthcare, particularly in relation to sexual transmitted infections. Also, I am originally from Texas and I think it is inane to restrict access to affordable healthcare resources.
So, I have pertussis. You may know it better as whooping cough. Believe me, the irony of a gender and medicine historian catching a 19th century disease is not lost on me. It’s hard enough to be a graduate student, a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor), a wife, and a mother of two, but throw in a good old-fashioned Oregon Trail disease, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a semester.
Questions in public discourse surrounding the issues of human gender and sexuality seem to revolve around (unchallenged) binaries of female and male, and hetero or homosexual. Now, that they exist in this form currently and shape our lived experience is absolutely true. That they have always existed, however, in the guise(s) that they do now is not, and it can be dangerous to assume the unchanging nature of these constructs when talking, particularly, about social policy.
I am a child of Sesame Street. My afternoons in daycare began with “Sunny days. Sweepin the clouds away. On my way to where the air is sweet. Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” I had my favorite characters. Oscar the Grouch made me giggle as he told everyone to “scram!” Grover’s silly antics brought smiles to my face on the gloomiest days and I always counted along with the Count. I cannot say I was ever a huge fan of Bert and Ernie, but I did like it when Ernie got on Bert’s last nerve. I was a fan when Mr. Hooper and Kermit the Frog were regulars, and I became a fan again, when Elmo’s cuteness made my kids’ eyes light up. But there was one character who was always a favorite and that was Big Bird. His gigantic proportions never overshadowed his kindness So, when Mitt Romney said during the first debate, “I’m sorry Jim. I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m gonna stop other things,…I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too,” I instantly thought I had heard it wrong, but then I quickly realized that Romney did indeed say Big Bird was on menu for Thanksgiving. Romney’s comments are incredibly sad because Big Bird, and everything he stands for, such as kindness, honesty, toleration, sharing, generosity, hope, and curiosity, are all the qualities that we, as Americans, supposedly value. So, in many ways, we all are Big Bird because he represents the best of America and by making him a political target, Romney essentially places the bull’s-eye on the backs of most Americans.
Hands up if you’ve heard of The Second Sexism?
For those, like me, whose spidey-senses may be tingling at a mention of the title, but draw a blank regarding its substance, The Second Sexism is a book released earlier this year by philosopher David Benatar concerning what he sees as the disadvantage and discrimination faced by boys and men as a result of their sex. Benatar’s contention is that there exists a second form of sexism affecting males which is not only under theorised but remains largely undiscussed. The importance of this conversation, he contends, is that only through an awareness of the operation of all forms of sexism can we, as a society, begin to overcome it.
While a quick Google search (the first port of call for any accomplished scholar) confirms that I seem to have arrived at this party a little late, thankfully the notion of a second sexism is incredibly interesting and while the book lays down some serious gender talk, it also offers some food for thought as to the unique skills inherent in the historical discipline.
Once again, pregnancy is in the news! (What’s that you say? Discussing the pregnant body (particularly those belonging to celebrities is one of America’s favorite national pastimes. Pregnancy is also, of course, a common feature here at Nursing Clio. Okay. While pregnancy may “always” be in the “news”, there have recently been some interesting twists on celebrity… Read more →
I remember my first time fondly. The year was 2010. It was a hot summer day in downtown Denver and I was excited, yet nervous. Would I know what to do? Would I be good at it? What if it was boring? Would I get to wear those cool white gloves? Ah yes, the first trip to the archives is always a special time in a grad student’s life (Hey – get your mind out of the gutter!). I was an MA student at the University of Wyoming and I had traveled down to the Colorado State Archives to do my thesis research on female juvenile delinquency in Progressive-Era Denver. On my way to the archives, I imagined what my first research experience would be like – perhaps I would be sitting in an old, dusty room with only an antique lamp to illuminate my precious manuscripts and documents. Maybe I would make friends with the elderly archivist, who would surely offer me a hot cup of tea. The possibilities were endless!
There is a lot of controversy over Mitt Romney’s latest “off the cuff” comments he made to a room full of donors:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. These are people who pay no income tax. My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Let the memes commence! Of course, there have been a lot of reports refuting these so-call facts and rightly attacking Romney for his misconstrued perceptions of who does not pay what. (BTW, Romney, how much did you pay in taxes for the last 10 years? Just asking.) I’ll let them hash out how wrong Romney is and always will be.
I want to concentrate on one line: “My job is not to worry about those people.”
Surprisingly, I have been asked that question on more than one occasion. I have had students ask me during class and once after a conference presentation. The last time I was confronted with this question was in my summer class, when an earnest young student asked, “If you take the racial prejudice out, what’s wrong with eugenics?” The student continued to press his point: “What’s wrong with a program that has the goal of improving the human race and now that genetics is so advanced, surely we could make sure that people have the best genes and traits. Wouldn’t that make for a healthier, happier population?” Hmm. So much to think about here. A program that uses cutting edge science to improve the human race by ensuring that individuals have only the best genes or traits so that people will be healthy and happy? Indeed, what is so bad about that? Who can say, “NO” to having the best genes, being healthy, and being happy? This is precisely the reason why eugenics was fairly easy “to sell” in the early twentieth century. For the sake of brevity, let’s set aside the vast complexity of the science of genetics and pretend that we could just pluck out the “bad” genes and insert the “good” ones on DNA strands so that in a few generations we might have a utopian world filled with people swimming in the luxurious, healthy, and happy waters of the “best” gene pool. At this point, I have two questions. What determines which genes or traits are the “best,” and in this program of improving the human race, who makes the determination of which ones are the best? Me? You? Or what about a panel of experts? Afterall, we are talking about using science and a panel of objective scientific experts seems like an appropriate choice to make these important decisions. Or is it? While we ponder that for a moment, let’s take a look back.