“Reality Bites Back:” 10 Questions for Jennifer Pozner (VIDEO)

November 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Media, Television

Some of us first met Jennifer Pozner in the 1990s, when she was monitoring media sexism for Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting. Now, WVFC talks to Pozner, founder of Women in Media and News,  about  her new Seal Press book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV.

Tell us about the new book and how you came to write it.

When I started Women in Media and News in 2001, I knew that it couldn’t just be about more women in media. We needed to analyze representations of women in media, and call out the worst offenders. And by then, this then-new form called “reality TV” was already worth watching. Mike Darnell, the Fox exec who first put together Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire, had already boasted that “we knew the National Organization for Women would hate this.”

But I really got a sense of what was going on when The Bachelor premiered. I saw  all these women lining up, competing to be the prettiest, skinniest white girl, chosen by a guy they just met. I saw that the classic templates of backlash against feminism — dividing women against each other, getting women to devalue themselves — were being played out for fun and profit. He alsoThe show’s  executive producer, Mike Fleiss,   laughed that “it’s always fun to watch girls crying.”

So I started tracking exactly what was going on with these shows.  By now, I know I’ve transcribed hundreds of hours of these shows — including three seasons of Flavor of Love, 14 of America’s Next Top Model.

Did you ever think the industry would grow the way it has?  Is it worse now?

Whenever I heard people say that these shows wouldn’t last, that they would be a passing fad, I thought: They don’t get the economics of this. Anything that is so cheap to produce and comes with the prospect of millions of dollars worth of product placement advertising per episode — they weren’t going to give that up. They don’t even need to get high ratings — they just need enough people to see the shows that would also be exposed to the embedded advertising

Those first five years were when the templates were created: the dating show, the career challenge, the fashion shows, the makeup shows, the shelter and leisure shows. Since then there’s just been a massive expansion, to include all sorts of niche markets. For example, VH-1 in 2006 gave us Flavor of Love [starring rap star Flavor-Flav], and now we have dozens of shows featuring people of color of both sexes. That gave the producers tons more stereotypes to play with, from classic “exoticization” of women of color to multiple preconceptions about men, Asians, and bisexuals (for instance, Tia Tequila).

Now, what we’re seeing is a fusing of some of the most successful — and sexist — shows. For example, E! network is about to debut a show called Bridalplasty, where women compete for the plastic surgery of their choice before the wedding. That’s four shows put together: Extreme Makeover, The Swan, Say Yes to the Dress and Platinum Weddings.

But haven’t we gotten more savvy about recognizing what’s “real” and what isn’t?

If you ask most people if they think reality TV is real, they’ll say no. But people don’t realize the kind of stagecraft that goes into those shows.  They don’t know about frankenbite editing — a widespread practice, where they splice together pieces of what someone said. Maybe a woman said, in answer to a question, “I really don’t want to get married before I graduate college, but he is good looking” and what we hear is “I really want to be married. He’s so good looking.” The main conceit of the whole thing is  that these are real people, but producers can and regularly do take something black and make it white. If you’re hearing something in voice-over, that’s your first clue that it could be manufactured, or taken completely out of context.

Your book makes the case that these shows, shaped around messages that demean women, have real-life effects on women’s actual power.

I don’t think it’s a one-to-one impact — you know, watch The Bachelor, your salary goes down. But I do think that these are divide-and-conquer tactics. If we’re exposed, even half-jokingly, to weeks and months of women as catty gold-digers, domineering moms, desperate pathetic losers — how can it not affect our willingness to trust other women? It can affect our social and  sexual lives if we lose our ability to rely on other women for support, for organizing a union, for help if we’re being abused or defrauded.

Any hope for shows that focus on actual skills, like Project Runway or So You Think You Can Dance?

I like Runway too, but did you ever notice that one of the highest compliments they can give is “It looks expensive?” These shows are built around hyperconsumption. The only way to be happy is to shop, and — as What Not to Wear emphasizes — consumption of the advertisers’ products. It’s no accident that Bravo’s explicit pitch to companies is about the Bravo viewer as “affluencers,” people with money who get their peers to spend it. And it escalates in times of anxiety. In 2007, just as the housing bubble popped, the Rachel Zoe Project was all about how we shouldn’t be saving for a rainy day, and NYC Prep followed a bunch of rich kids described as being in “the top 1% of the elite.”

Let’s talk about the audiences for these shows. Are Women’s Voices for Change readers — typically, women over 40 — a big part of the audience?

In general, most of what you see on reality TV is a result of media companies targeting their programming younger and younger — and mostly white. Except for the beauty shows, though there women of color often find that ethnic features are considered a liability, with black women’s lips being reduced and Asian women’s eyes being changed on cosmetic surgery shows, black and Latina women and girls having their natural hair straightened or shaved off on modeling shows, and so on.

And when you get to so-called “older” women, they use all the old stereotypes. There’s that show Who Wants to Marry My Dad? where this forty-something man was considered a real “catch” but the women competing to date him were much younger. Yet when a cable reality show finally debuted with an “older woman” who was all of 40 — horrors! — what was the show named? “The Cougar.” And it was billed sort of as a joke. Just as that scripted show Cougar Town pretends Courtney Cox is anything but a stone fox.

Could you talk a little about the way “reality TV” is permeating our culture? What do you see happening?

Most of what I have comes as responses to the work I do, and it’s very anecdotal. We will not really know what it is until we have serious studies, like the ones that have been done about fictional shows or Barbie dolls. But I can tell you that the way women perceive these shows has shifted as these shows became more pervasive.  When started doing multimedia lectures with students in 2002, the women were very critical: “What would motivate a producer to do this? Do they think we’re stupid?” When I make the same presentation now, eight years later, I’m talking to the generation grew up with these shows. And now the kind of question I get is: ” If I dieted, you think I could get on Top Model?” These are college students. But these shows have now, for a decade, told us how to give up our intellect and just make sure we’re pretty.

In the book, you  look at the way the “reality TV” industry works to make  violence against women–both real and implied–seem like the normal order of things.

I got a lot of questions about Ryan Jenkins, a semifinalist in Megan Wants to Marry a Millionaire, when the supermodel he married turned up dead — so much so, that the only way she could be identified was by her breast implants. Reporters asked, “Is reality TV creating murderers?” But Jenkins had a history of domestic violence when he was cast — and we know that wasn’t unusual! We’ve seen men with restraining orders, even a history of jail time, packaged as “Prince Charming” by reality producers simply for their money and their handsome appearances. That doesn’t even count the verbal/emotional abuse of women on most of these dating shows. These shows insist it’s more important to find a man than have dignity or be treated with any sort of respect.

You also write about the product placement. How does that link to sexism?

It’s important for people to realize that this programming isn’t created for audiences. It’s for  advertisers, who influence casting, characters, and the kinds of challenges you see in shows like Survivor or The Apprentice.  That’s why even though Tyra Banks says she wants to empower women of color, all her nonwhite models are straightening their hair, treating it, adding extensions…. Or the shampoo-branded hair salons on Runway.

Advertisers don’t have to squeeze their regressive ideology or their shilling/persuasion into commercials in between your favorite shows anymore. Instead, they can collaborate with producers to turn entire reality series into commercial for their products, rolling out all their messages over a season.  And so many of their messages are gendered — whether it’s ‘You need to get a bigger house and clean it’ to the assumptions on the plastic-surgery shows.

What can we, as self-aware women with a stake in this society, do to counteract these trends?

I’m so glad you asked.  To educate our peers, the Reality Bites Back website has a Fun With Media section including Reality TV Bingo, drinking games, Mad Libs and my own satirical video webisode series, “Reality Rehab with Dr. Jenn.

To me what’s most important for us as women is to become media-literate ourselves, and to get involved in changing the media landscape in some way. There are more than a dozen examples of ways you can make structural change or create indy media alternatives in the book, and that’s just for starters. You don’t have to do everything, but we should all do something. A resource guide on the Reality Bites Back website that will point you to organizations that can help you get involved. Choose a strategy that energizes you, and work to transform the media. We need to join together to beat Goliath. And we can.

Ten Questions for Lisa Genova

October 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Books

lisagenova1.  What are you working on now?

I’m writing my second novel, Left Neglected. This is a story about a woman in her mid-thirties who is like so many women I know today—multi-tasking all day long, trying to be everything to everyone at work and at home, trying to succeed at everything, spread extremely thin. One typical morning, racing in her car on her way to work, she tries to make a call on her cell and takes her eye off the road for one second too long. And in that blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her over-scheduled, high-achieving life come to a screeching halt. She suffers a traumatic head injury.  Her memory and intellect are intact.  But she has lost all interest in and awareness of the left side of everything.

The left side of the world is gone.  She has Left side Neglect. She finds herself living in a bizarre hemi-existence, where she eats food only on the right side of her plate, reads only the right half of a page, and can easily forget that her left hand even belongs to her.  Through rehabilitation, she struggles not only to recover the very idea of left, but also to recover her life, the one she had always meant to live.

Still Alice final2. Your first novel, Still Alice, went from being a self-published labor of love to a national resource, especially for families touched by Alzheimer’s. How did you do that?

Oh, what a difference a year makes!  In 2008, I was selling copies of Still Alice one at a time out of the trunk of my car.  And I was guerrilla marketing it online—at my website, amazon.com, social networking sites, blogs—trying to reach as many people as possible, trying to create a buzz.  As David Meerman Scott would say, I was trying to create a World Wide Rave.  A literary agent eventually heard this buzz, and the book then sold at auction to Simon & Schuster, who published it in January of 2009.  They continue to reach a far wider audience than I ever could have from the trunk of my car.  It debuted at # 5 on the New York Times Bestseller list (and is still on the extended list this week), and it’s in its 17th printing with somewhere around 400,000 copies in print in the US.  It’s also been translated into 17 foreign languages.

3. What was your biggest challenge in completing it?

I didn’t find completing it difficult.  I didn’t mind “killing my darlings” in the editing process (the scientist in me felt right at home reading my own book with a ruthless and analytical eye), and I felt very comfortable drawing a line in the sand, declaring it done.  There was no agonizing. The biggest challenge was getting it published.

4.  What do you do for fun or relaxation?

I love yoga, a hike on the beach with my husband.  If I had more time, I’d love to get back to dancing and acting.

6.  Last movie or play you saw?

Romeo and Juliet at the Monomoy Theatre this summer.  I have a one-year-old and a nine=year old; I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies.

6.  Best part about being your age?

Best part—everything still works.  I don’t mind getting older—it sure beats the alternative!

7.  Have you ever wanted to revinvent yourself? Do you feel you did, going from neuroscientist to novelist?

I think after my divorce, I started becoming increasingly fearless.  I wanted to proceed in whatever was next in my life more consciously aware of the life I wanted to live, the me I wanted to be.  When I got divorced, I asked myself this great question, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would that be?”  My answer didn’t send me back to my old job as a strategy consultant for the healthcare industry.  I decided to write a novel instead.  And I’d always wanted to learn how to act.  So I became an actress as well.

8.  What do you know now that you didn’t when you were younger?

Inner peace.

9.  What’s next for you?

I have a two-book contract with Simon & Schuster, so I’ll be writing two more novels within the next couple of years.  I’ll also continue to talk to audiences about Alzheimer’s, to increase understanding and awareness and to help raise funds for a cure.

10.  What do you value most in life?

My family.

Actuary Barbie Goes Shopping

March 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Fashion, Musings

by Patricia Yarberry Allen

I have a daughter-in-law who is just perfect. She is 5’7 and looks great in clothes.  She is witty and a shameless mimic. And she will be an actuary, when she takes her last exam in May.  She already has some initials after her name, but she gets more after this exam.  She has been studying and taking exams for five years: killer exams that deal with risk evaluation, economic theory, statistics, spread sheets, finance, and dissecting out the hidden from the big ideas that have almost ruined our economy.

These are exams that almost everyone fails periodically.  I do not know how she has survived.

So before she goes to the mat this one last time, I proposed a girl’s-only afternoon shopping adventure in the city.  My son is in law school and they have less than no money with all that debt, so a new spring suit seemed like a great gift to prepare her for the next round of 24/7 studying and working full time.   She suggested that we go to Bloomingdales, since she had read that they were ready to make it possible for shoppers to afford new spring clothes and we both wanted to see the Barbie exhibit.  We started at 2:00 and finished at 7:00!

We began on the fourth floor and found a mature, classic, charming and useful suit. It was navy. You see, actuaries must dress so as not to be noticed.  No pink.  No orange.  No apple green.  I would be a naked actuary.  (Buff is a nice actuary color after all. ) She waxed enthusiastic about how she could wear this suit to a lunch and she could wear it to actuary events.  Because it was navy.

Once we knew we had a safe choice, then we really began to shop.  Two hours on the third floor and I talked her into trying on a great pale pink and beige tweed, that looked Chanel but was “Chanel-not” as some of my catty friends would say. She looked great.  But, then she began the risk-benefit thing.  “I will only wear this to a special lunch or a bridal shower and for Easter.  I could NEVER wear this to work or to an actuary event.”  Not enough value for the money.

Nanette Lepore, by Patrick Mullan Leporejacket I had been thinking that Nanette Lepore would be a good choice for her. I love her clothes and buy her moderately priced, amusing and appropriate suits.  Lepore is certainly herself in mid-life, but she has that sense of fun combined with elegance that allows her to design with a bit of whimsy, often using muted colors but countering with a small flourish in unexpected places.  If she designs for your body shape, you look pounds lighter and years younger without the cougar ick factor.  But — I was having a moment where I could not remember her name.  I described her clothes to various sales associates on the 4th and 3rd floors but no one made the connection.  I had Ines de la Fressange stuck in my forebrain and I could not extract Nanette Lepore.  I knew that Bloomy’s had a big collection of her clothes; I just could not find them.

So we moved down to the second floor where there are lots of interesting clothes, but too many were odd.  We were losing steam at this point having no calories for hours but we were on a mission.  We corrected each other’s choices in the nicest way.  “Too much blue in that green for you, Pat”.  “Do try this one on, sweetie.  Often clothes don’t look good on the hanger but I can really see you in this.”  No crabby behavior from either of us.  And I would normally have been taken to Bellevue after four hours at Bloomies.

Then we stumbled onto the unlabeled Nanette Lepore section of the second floor.  “I found her!” I screamed.  People moved away.  Even in Bloomingdale’s there is some standard of behavior from crazed shoppers that I had just exceeded. But, I had been looking for Nanette for four hours.  I was overjoyed.  And I was right.  Everything looked great on my daughter-in-law.

Leporeskirt Beigelepore We found two perfect suits.  One was black tweed with totally awesome details on both the skirt and the jacket.  The skirt was a pencil skirt with black trimming placed just so, inviting the eye to the right places.  The jacket was short, stopping almost above the waist, with the same black trimming vertically down the center.  The other had a trumpet skirt and a jacket that pretended to pass as a normal ladies suit jacket with lapels, until the eye was drawn to the nipped-in waist and amusing back.  But it was beige and that was an acceptable actuary color.  We bought them both but nothing else after our long afternoon of looking for a bargain that would look great.

I knew that I was having an important experience with my daughter-in-law this long afternoon that was both fun and exhausting.  I knew that this shopping expedition was just a metaphor.     I was using shopping to teach my daughter in law how to succeed in a man’s world.

I was passing along secrets about how to subvert toxic work environments by wearing a clever suit that was still in the right actuary color chart, but would allow her to express her wit and to consciously use clothes as a small secret piece of performance art. I was teaching her how to have power.

Christiandiorbarbie Throughout our archeological dig at Bloomies we encountered lots of Barbie dolls who were on display to celebrate Barbie’s 50th birthday.  Many were collector’s items safely behind bullet proof glass cases.  There were Barbies dressed by designers whose clothes are carried by Bloomingdales (see here for more like Christian Dior Barbie, left).  Full-sized mannequins were dressed to look like Barbie in some of her signature clothes.  They looked so real I almost spoke to one.

We loved the Barbie dolls. But the best part of the day was that I had an afternoon with my own Barbie.  Actuary Barbie, who knew?

News Mix: One Nation Under Google; Americans Delay Retirement; Ronni Bennett on Elderblogging; Happy Birthday Jane Goodall; Power Surge – Debating Menopause

One Nation Under Google: “Online, ‘We the people …’ takes on a whole new meaning,” writes the Washington Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas, in this engaging look at how the internet has changed political participation and our understanding of issues.

Americans Delay Retirement: “As the falling real-estate and stock markets erode their savings, many aging Americans are delaying retirement, electing labor over leisure in uncertain times,” reports the Wall Street Journal. It’s a fact-filled piece full of housing market and employment data.

Jennifer Levitz writes:

According to economists and demographers, a huge exodus from the work force should be happening. The first of 78 million baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, passed the 60-year-old mark two years ago. And 2008 was expected to be a banner retirement year, with the oldest boomers reaching 62 — the earliest age for collecting Social Security. When the first boomer drew a benefit on Feb. 12, the Social Security Administration described it as the start of “America’s silver tsunami.”

The giant gray wave is still an inevitability. But it has run into a breakwall. Investment advisers and retirement planners at more than a dozen firms, including Charles Schwab Corp., Edward Jones and Merrill Lynch & Co., say they are seeing large numbers of older workers put off retirement as the housing and stock-market troubles have deepened.

Plus: WSJ is hosting a discussion on savings and delayed retirement.

Elder Blogs and Blogging: Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By is appearing tonight on the “Brian Lehrer Live” show (7:30 p.m. EST) to discuss elderblogging. New Yorkers can watch on Time Warner CUNY-TV channel 75. Not in New York? Watch the live video feed or catch the program later on Lehrer’s video blog.

Happy Birthday Jane Goodall: She turns 74 on Thursday, but Jane Goodall retains a wide-eyed wonder about the world. In this Q&A with the Chicago Tribune, Goodall discusses environmental policies, her research and her legacy.

Power Surge: Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias and reporter Judy Gerstel debate the pros and cons of menopause. Says Gerstel:

[M]aybe I’ve just been lucky with menopause but I think women make too much about the symptoms. Like pregnancy, it’s temporary. It’s really only about one out of 10 women who suffers so much she needs drugs to manage. C’mon, toughing it out isn’t so terrible. But you know what can be pretty awful? Being seen as “an older woman” – which often means not being seen at all.

News Mix: Women’s Bylines Welcome on Adultery; Debater Henrietta Bell Wells Dies; Patricia Clarkson on Getting Good Roles; Kate Christensen Wins PEN/Faulkner

March 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Books, Movies, Newsmakers

Women Get Bylines on Adultery, Prostitution: The National Women’s Editorial Forum notes that all four New York Times op-ed writers
on Wednesday were women.

“The names of women rarely appear as bylines,
and when they do, there is usually only one, most often one of the
Times’ two female staff columnists,” writes Sui Lang Panoke. “So,
imagine how ecstatic I was to see that all of the four op-eds posted in
today’s New York Times featured women authors. Then I discovered the
topic to which the entire page was devoted: the Eliot Spitzer sex

Pioneering Debater Dies: “Henrietta Bell Wells, the only
woman, the only freshman and the last surviving member of the 1930
Wiley College debate team that participated in the first interracial
collegiate debate in the United States, died on Feb. 27 in Baytown,
Tex. She was 96,” reports The New York Times. The film “The Grate Debaters,” released last year, tells the story of the team.

Q&A with Patricia Clarkson: The 48-year-old Clarkson talks about her film and theater roles and finding great parts for women over 40.

“The Great Man” Wins: “Kate Christensen has won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction for her novel ‘The Great Man,’ whose ironic title refers to a recently deceased painter but whose focus is on the women in his life,” reports the Washington Post. Annie Dillard was one of the other four finalists for her novel “The Maytrees.”

Christensen, 45, was doing the laundry in her Brooklyn home when she got the news of the award, which was announced yesterday.

“I’m really shocked,” she said in a telephone interview. To her,
an award like the PEN/Faulkner “always seemed unattainable.” Among
other reasons, in the 28 years it has existed, only four other women
have won.

“It’s me and John Updike and Philip Roth. I was like, do women actually win this thing?” Christensen joked.


WVFC Q&A with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

February 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Politics

Women’s Voices for Change spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about issues before Congress and her perspective as Speaker. Our questions and her responses follow below. Please add your comments at the end.

Women’s Voices for Change
: Based on the presidential primary results so far, what is your take on the public’s response to the field of candidates? What campaign messages do you think are resonating most?

Nancy Pelosi: If anyone thought of young people as apathetic or disinterested in their government, the presidential primaries this year proved them wrong. Young people turned out to vote in record numbers and strongly influenced the outcomes of the races.

We saw this across the country, starting in Iowa where youth turnout at the polls tripled compared to 2004 all the way to Tennessee, where youth voters quadrupled their turnout. Americans, regardless of their age, are excited about the Democratic field because they offer a break with the policies of the past seven years.

WVFC: What are your top legislative priorities for 2008?

Pelosi: First and foremost, we must strengthen our national security by rebuilding our military’s readiness and reestablishing America’s moral leadership in the world. Both have been undermined by the Iraq war. We will never stop fighting to bring an end to the war.

Read more

WVFC Q&A with Presidential Candidate John Edwards

January 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, Newsmakers, Politics

As part of our ongoing interview series with presidential candidates, Women’s Voices for Change spoke with former senator John Edwards about his health care plan, specifically how it will benefit women and older Americans. Our questions and his responses follow below. Please add your comments at the end.

Photo: johnedwards.com

Women’s Voices for Change
: How does your health care plan differ from those proposed by the other Democratic candidates, particularly Senator Clinton’s? Why do you think your plan is the best option at this time?

John Edwards: We desperately need truly universal health care in this country — we can no longer afford incremental steps. We have to stop making promises about "increasing access to health care" when we know with certainty those words mean something less than universal care. Who are you willing to leave behind without the care she or he needs? Which family? Which child? We need a truly universal solution, and we need it now.

I was proud to be the first major presidential candidate to offer a detailed plan to provide truly universal health care. And I’m proud to still be the only major candidate who not only has a plan that will provide coverage for every man, woman and child in America, but who has also given the American people information about how I will ensure that everyone will be covered.

Under my plan, businesses will either cover their employees or help pay their premiums. The government will make insurance affordable through new tax credits and by leading the way toward more cost-effective care. New "Health Care Markets" will give families and businesses purchasing power and a choice of quality plans, including one public plan. Finally, once these steps have been taken, all American residents will be required to take responsibility and get insurance.

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WVFC Q&A with Presidential Candidate Barack Obama

December 19, 2007 by  
Filed under Health, Newsmakers, Politics

As part of our ongoing interview series with presidential candidates, Women’s Voices for Change spoke with Sen. Barack Obama about his health care plan, specifically how it will benefit women and older Americans. Our questions and his responses follow below. Please add your comments at the end.

Photo: barackobama.com

Women’s Voices for Change
: How does your health
care plan differ from those proposed by the other Democratic
candidates, particularly Senator Clinton’s? Why do you think your plan
is the best option at this time?

Sen. Barack Obama: I have a universal health care
plan that will cover every American and bring down the cost of a
typical family’s premiums by $2,500 — more than any other proposal in
this race. Some of the other candidates have criticized me because they
believe that the way to achieve universal coverage is by forcing
everyone to buy health insurance, which is what the Clinton and
Edwards’ plans do. I disagree. I believe the reason people are
uninsured isn’t because no one’s forced them to buy health care, it’s
because no one’s made health care affordable. That’s why my plan does
more to cut the cost of health care than any other proposal in this

I believe that if we truly want to solve the health care challenge,
we need a president who can bring Democrats and Republicans together,
stand up to the drug and insurance industry lobbyists, and create an
open, transparent process so that the American people can participate
in the debate. That’s how I expanded health care coverage in Illinois,
and that’s how I’ll do it as president.

In Massachusetts, which has begun implementing a mandate of the type
Sen. Clinton proposes, they are already doing one of two things with
the people who still haven’t purchased insurance: They are either
telling people who can’t afford it that they don’t have to buy it after
all, or they are fining people for not buying it. Sen. Clinton has not
explained which of these two things she would do.

Read more

Health Round-Up: Majority of Centenarians Are Women; Understanding the Studies on Weight and Nutrition; Can a Tummy Tuck Improve Health?; The Future of the Female Condom

November 16, 2007 by  
Filed under Health

Yesterday we told you about geneticist Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch, who died this month at the age of 100. Did you know that approximately 40,000 Americans are 100 years old or older, according to
the New England Centenarian Study — and that 85 percent of these centenarians are women?

Elena Conis at the L.A. Times has more on this study. While diet and lifestyle are considered factors in longevity, evidence
from homogenous populations suggest that good genes have something to do with it.

Another interesting point:

The researchers have also concluded that some people simply age more slowly than others. One indication: Women who were able to conceive and give birth naturally in their 40s are four times as likely
to reach age 100 than women who last gave birth in their 30s or earlier.

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Deaf, Dumb and Blind? Taking the Viagra Risk

by Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD | bio

Viagra As fellow blogger Douglas McIntyre (with whom I share a laptop at home) notes, there’s a new Pfizer ad campaign for the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra that is blanketing television and websites:

It is a nauseating vignette of several men, about 50 years old, singing the praises of the ED-drug while playing a guitar, piano, and bass. “Viva Viagra” indeed.

Now word comes that Viagra and other ED drugs can make some men hard of hearing. That may be a blessing when one of the “Viva Viagra” ads comes onto a TV or PC screen.

In an alert from FDA Medwatch, the agency wrote that it had informed healthcare professionals of reports of sudden decreases or loss of hearing following the use of PDE5 inhibitors Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. In some cases, the sudden hearing loss was accompanied by tinnitus and dizziness.

Perhaps Pfizer’s investors will be listening for news of the next Viagra side-effect.

Read more

WVFC Q&A with Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton

October 25, 2007 by  
Filed under Health, Newsmakers, Politics

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last month unveiled her health care plan and reached out to Women’s Voices for Change for an online Q&A about how the plan will benefit women over 40. Our questions and her responses follow below. Please add your comments at the end.

Hillary_clinton_2Women’s Voices for Change: The introduction to your health care plan states that the plan ensures "working families will never have to pay more than a small percentage of their income for health care." Tell us what you imagine the situation will be for single women, particularly older women with fixed incomes.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Right now, the uninsured are carrying a heavy burden in this country, and older women bear a disproportionate share of that burden. About 13 percent of women age 55-64 are without health insurance. Many women in this age bracket become uninsured when their husbands become eligible for Medicare and lose their private insurance. 

My American Health Choices Plan will ensure that they have access to high quality care at a price they can afford. Due to their age and pre-existing conditions, these women often face difficulties obtaining the health insurance they need. Under my plan, insurance companies will not be able to discriminate based upon these factors. 

But today, even women who have insurance are struggling to pay the bills. Twenty percent of women reported in a 2004 Kaiser Family Foundation study (PDF) that they did not fill a prescription because of the cost. Particularly for those living on a fixed income, out-of-pocket health care costs remain a sizeable share of the budget. More than a quarter of all seniors reported spending at least $100 per month on their medication, and 8 percent reported spending $300 or more each month.

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A Plan to Do Better

October 25, 2007 by  
Filed under Health, Politics

by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Here is what we know: Our national health care system is broken. In 1994, 39 million people were uninsured. Today, some 47 million Americans wake up each morning without health insurance. Of those, some 21.5 million are women, women who cannot get the basic care they need and deserve. Every day, I hear from the women who put real faces to those numbers.

When I announced my health care plan in Iowa, I spoke about the mother of one of those brave women. Six years ago, Lisa Scott’s daughter, Janelle, began having chest pains and blackouts. She was sick for almost a year. Janelle requested a chest x-ray, but she never received it, because while she was working two jobs, she didn’t have health insurance, and she couldn’t afford to pay for it out of her own pocket. One week later, at the age of 18, Janelle died. Her death certificate listed the cause of death as unknown, because Janelle was never able to afford a proper diagnosis, a diagnosis that with care might have saved her life.

So let’s ask ourselves the fundamental question: Should any American die because they cannot afford a doctor’s diagnosis? I say no, not in America.

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Agents of Change: What Would You Do?

October 15, 2007 by  
Filed under Health, World

by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

Reading the Q&A interview with Jimmy Carter published in the Oct. 8 issue of Time magazine, I was particularly fascinated by one of the issues, an extraordinary description of change within a society.

In response to this question from an Illinois resident, “Did you ever envision becoming so prolific a builder of latrines?” Carter responds:

Ethiopia has one of the highest incidences of blindness on earth because of trachoma, which is caused by filthy eyes. To eliminate flies, we taught people how to build very simple latrines. Women have adopted building them as a kind of liberation movement — there had been a rigid taboo against a woman relieving herself in the daytime — so although we thought we’d have about 10,000 latrines, we’ve passed 340,000. Now instead of my being famous for negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt, I’m famous in Ethiopia for being the No. 1 latrine builder.

This was news to me — that Ethiopian men can relieve themselves at will and yet Ethiopian women must wait until dark. Imagine the shame and the physical discomfort women experience.

Working toward a single purpose, eliminating a preventable disease that causes blindness, the Carter Center coincidentally triggered a quiet gender revolution.

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Menopause Minute: Musical to Close Early in London, Questions About Soy and a Common Complaint

July 3, 2007 by  
Filed under Health, Menopause

A weekly look at menopause and related issues in the news …

“Menopause The Musical” has posted early closing notices in London, according to WhatsOnStage.com. The 90-minute musical aimed at baby boomers made its debut in Orlando, Fla. in 2001 and has played to sell-out audiences around the United States. It opened in London in April of this year and was initially booked to run through August but instead will close July 14.

“Many publications, understandably, sent women to review this American import, but producers are probably wishing they hadn’t,” reports WhatsOnStage.com. “Most male critics were far kinder than their female counterparts who found it, to varying degrees, patronising, sexist and insulting in its depiction of women.”

Here’s a round-up of London reviews. You may recall that Germaine Greer wasn’t all that fond of it. Neither is WVFC’s own Patricia Yarberry Allen.

Time and Newsweek both look at the most recent study on hormone replacement therapy that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that women who have had hysterectomies may see some heart benefits if they take estrogen in their 50s. The study, however, does not apply to women who still have their uterus, as estrogen alone can cause uterine cancer.

“Taking estrogen pills is not completely without risk — even young women
face an increased chance of venous thrombo-embolism (potentially fatal
blood clots),” writes Pat Wingert of Newsweek. “But the lead author of the new study, Dr. JoAnn Manson, Harvard professor and chief of prevention medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said these results should be reassuring to women without ovaries and uteruses who want to use low-dose hormone therapy during their 40s and 50s to treat hot flashes and other symptoms.”

The spring issue of Terrain magazine, a publication of the Ecology Center of Berkeley, Calif., features stories that are critical of soy and how it has been marketed to menopausal women — including this story on the over-processing of soy and soy components and a Q&A with Kaayla T. Daniel, Ph.D., a certified clinical nutritionist who has been writing and speaking out against soy for years. Those interested in learning more about the debate may want to look through these letters written in response to a 2004 article Daniel wrote for Mothering magazine, where there’s some criticism of her research. (Via Utne, which excerpted the Terrain stories in its July/August issue. The issue also a good story about moving away from processed foods toward a whole food diet.)

Two articles in the June 25 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine note that the class of antidepressant medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may be associated with an increased rate of bone loss in older women and men.

Menopausal women are more likely to suffer in silence over painful intercourse than consult with their doctors, according to a UK online survey. The results, though non-scientific, are not surprising. But what many women don’t realize is that relief is available. Ask Dr. Pat recently covered the treatment of a patient with this common complaint.


Women Center Stage Festival in NYC

June 25, 2007 by  
Filed under The Arts

Women Center Stage, a multi-disciplinary festival featuring women artists whose work calls attention to human struggles globally, kicks off tonight in New York.

Featuring panel discussions, films, plays, music and comedy, the festival run through July 17, with most events taking place at the Culture Project (55 Mercer St., between Broome and Grand).

To celebrate the opening, Jennifer Buffett moderates a conversation tonight between and about women making serious change in the world: Aisha al-Adawiya (Women In Islam), Gloria Feldt  (activist, author, former president of Planned Parenthood), Carol Jenkins (Women’s Media Center), Idelisse Malave (Tides Foundation) and Letty Cottin Pogrebin (activist and author). The conversation starts at 7:30 p.m., with a party to follow.

Tickets and information are available at here or by calling TheaterMania at 212.352.3101.

Future events include:

– Samantha Power, author of "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, and Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran," discussing the power of the individual in making real change in the world

– Girls Life Adventure, a free workshop for teenage girls created by viBe Theater Experience and Girls Write Now

– Readings on violence against women presented by Eve Ensler’s V-Day

– The showing of "Town Bloody Hall," a 1979 film by Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker that chronicles the evening of April 30, 1971, "when local literati and feminists packed New York City’s Town Hall to watch Norman Mailer, who had just written ‘The Prisoner of Sex,’ grapple with a panel of passionate feminists." Hegedus will be joined by Jill Johnston, who was on the Town Hall panel, for a Q&A following the film.