Thursday, December 15, 2011

DoMENeering the Workforce

By Nicole Carcel and Michele Gottlieb

It’s just another Sunday night in as three young, educated women sit and contemplate their career futures. As the conversation gets heated and inquiries posed, our pondering seems to revolve around the same question: why do men still seem to dominate the workforce despite equal rights?

Here’s a test to further exemplify our point: who comes to mind when asked to name a top fashion designer? Filmmaker? Politician? Chef?  Most, if not all responses were more likely than not a man, even in industries that have become notorious by centuries of predisposed expectations to be solely for females, such as cooking and fashion, have become male dominated.  So what, we wonder, is the reason for this imbalance? If we live in a modern world where women outnumber men and equal rights have long been in fruition, what is the reasoning behind the thought process that inflicts us all? Why are so many of us conditioned to believe that men are still the domineering sex when it comes to the working force?

And even when you can find an industry where women hold dominance, such as modeling, the women are merely objectified as sex icons to sell products…back to women! The goals of which are to make women feel inadequate in sex appeal, focusing on the low psychological esteem of women everywhere.  Now, we have to wonder if this male-dominated mindset is a genuine reality or merely just the way we’ve all been predisposed to think in modern society.  Are we all conditioned to think that men are the best in all industries, or at least the forerunners as industry leaders because they really are quality producers? Or have we all been targeted as marketing subjects to believe so? 

Furthering our perplexity are the recent statistics depicting the shift in balance within the workforce. In a surprising article entitled The End of Men, posted by The Atlantic, the percentage of women vs. men actually holding down careers has shifted.

 Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences. 
The statistics described in the article indicate that women have made tremendous leaps and bounds and are, in reality, capable of achieving just as much if not more as any male counterpart. It seems the answer to our questions lies in the simple truth that men or women alike, we are all literal industry heads in our, well, heads. Our individual selves, regardless of sex, are capable of achieving anything and everything, and also believing anything and everything we may be conditioned to believe.  

Are men really the industry leaders or are we just taught to think so? We pose this question to you to ponder on your own accord, using your own mental capacity, essentially internalizing your role in society’s makeshift tier of power. Is there really a glass ceiling or is it just a figment of all of our intertwined imaginations? That’s for you to decide.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Fetal Origins"

Annie Murphy Paul:
Learning before birth
(CNN) By Annie Murphy Paul

When does learning begin? As I explain in the talk I gave at TED, learning starts much earlier than many of us would have imagined: in the womb. I was surprised as anyone when I first encountered this notion. I'm a science writer, and my job is to trawl the murky depths of the academic journals, looking for something shiny and new -- a sparkling idea that catches my eye in the gloom.

Starting a few years ago, I began noticing a dazzling array of findings clustered around the prenatal period. These discoveries were generating considerable excitement among scientists, even as they overturned settled beliefs about when we start absorbing and responding to information from our environment. As a science reporter -- and as a mother -- I had to find out more.

This research, I discovered, is part of a burgeoning field known as "fetal origins," and it's turning pregnancy into something it has never been before: a scientific frontier. Obstetrics was once a sleepy medical specialty, and research on pregnancy a scientific backwater. Now the nine months of gestation are the focus of intense interest and excitement, the subject of an exploding number of journal articles, books, and conferences.

What it all adds up to is this: much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life -- the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the chemicals she's exposed to, even the emotions she feels -- are shared in some fashion with her fetus. They make up a mix of influences as individual and idiosyncratic as the woman herself. The fetus treats these maternal contributions as information, as what I like to call biological postcards from the world outside.

By attending to such messages, the fetus learns the answers to questions critical to its survival: Will it be born into a world of abundance, or scarcity? Will it be safe and protected, or will it face constant dangers and threats? Will it live a long, fruitful life, or a short, harried one?

The pregnant woman's diet and stress level, in particular, provide important clues to prevailing conditions, a finger lifted to the wind. The resulting tuning and tweaking of the fetus's brain and other organs are part of what give humans their enormous flexibility, their ability to thrive in environments as varied as the snow-swept tundra in Siberia and the golden-grassed savanna in Africa.
The recognition that learning actually begins before birth leads us to a striking new conception of the fetus, the pregnant woman and the relationship between them.

The fetus, we now know, is not an inert blob, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will soon enter. The pregnant woman is neither a passive incubator nor a source of always-imminent harm to her fetus, but a powerful and often positive influence on her child even before it's born. And pregnancy is not a nine-month wait for the big event of birth, but a crucial period unto itself -- "a staging period for well-being and disease in later life," as one scientist puts it.

This crucial period has become a promising new target for prevention, raising hopes of conquering public health scourges like obesity and heart disease by intervening before birth. By "teaching" fetuses the appropriate lessons while they're still in utero, we could potentially end vicious cycles of poverty, infirmity and illness and initiate virtuous cycles of health, strength and stability.

So how can pregnant women communicate to their fetuses what they need to know?
Eat fish, scientists suggest, but make sure it's the low-mercury kind -- the omega-three fatty acids in seafood are associated with higher verbal intelligence and better social skills in school-age children. Exercise: research suggests that fetuses benefit from their mothers' physical activity. Protect yourself from toxins and pollutants, which are linked to birth defects and lowered IQ.

Don't worry too much about stress: research shows that moderate stress during pregnancy is associated with accelerated infant brain development. Seek help if you think you might be suffering from depression: the babies of depressed women are more likely to be born early and at low birth weight, and may be more irritable and have more trouble sleeping. And -- my favorite advice -- eat chocolate: it's associated with a lower risk of the high blood pressure condition known as preeclampsia.

When we hold our babies for the first time, we imagine them clean and new, unmarked by life, when in fact they have already been shaped by the world, and by us. It's my privilege to share with the TED audience the good news about how we can teach our children well from the very beginning.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Annie Murphy Paul.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sebelius contraception ruling a step back


(From CNN) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' directive overruling the Food and Drug Administration's decision to make emergency contraception available over the counter for all women, including girls under 17, was not only unprecedented, it was substantively without merit.

After a thorough and months-long review of the evidence, the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research determined that the contraceptive, Plan B One-Step, was safe and effective for teens, and that teens on their own understood what the product did -- and didn't do -- and how to use it. Based on these expert findings, the FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, concluded that Plan B One-Step was "safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of childbearing potential."

The FDA decision overruled by Sebelius would have made emergency contraception available, alongside condoms and pregnancy tests, on the shelves of pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers, giving women of all ages at risk of unintended pregnancy timely access to this safe and effective backup contraceptive method. And time is of the essence here: Although Plan B can help prevent pregnancy for up to three days after intercourse, it is more effective the sooner it is taken.

Sharon Camp
Sharon Camp
Plan-B contraceptive pill will stay prescription-only for girls under 17

Hamburg's concurrence with the recommendation to make the emergency contraceptive available over the counter was in line with the positions taken by the nation's most prestigious medical, scientific and public health organizations. The only groups opposing the FDA's decision were self-styled "pro-family" groups that oppose emergency contraception -- and most other methods of modern contraception -- outright.

Sebelius, who is not a scientist and who offered no evidence to contradict the FDA's conclusions, said she based her decision on her personal belief that adolescents as young as 11 might not understand how to use emergency contraception without guidance from a health care professional. To invoke 11-year-olds was not only inflammatory, but diversionary.
Morning-after pill and teens
Fewer than 1% of 11-year-old girls have had sexual intercourse, but close to half of girls -- most beginning at 15 or 16 -- have had sex by their 17th birthday. Under Sebelius' ruling, girls under 17 will be unable to obtain emergency contraception without a doctor's prescription. And if, as Sebelius insists, younger teens are unable to understand the label on this product--which the evidence suggests they can-- it follows that they also wouldn't understand the labels on countless other over-the-counter medications that can have severe, even fatal, side-effects if misused -- which this product does not.


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