The Women’s Congressional Hearing (with apologies to Nellie McClung)

With apologies to the indomitable Nelly McClung

SCENE

[Interior of congressional hearing chamber. Behind a large and impressive wooden table sit three middle aged women in well-tailored suits, hands neatly folded in front of them.]

CHAIRWOMAN: Welcome, all, to this House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the insurance coverage of erectile dysfunction medication and religious liberty. The chair recognizes the esteemed panel.

Today we are here to discuss the recent White House proposals regarding pharmaceutical coverage. The Obama administration wishes to force private insurance companies to provide coverage for erectile dysfunction medications. I’d like to ask the panel to provide an opening statement.

REV. CHASTITY: Thank you Ms. Chairwoman. The Obama administration has put a stranglehold on religious liberty in this country by forcing all Americans to accept practices antithetical to Christian doctrine – that is, that we should all pay for men in this country to be having recreational sex. The Bible clearly condemns sexual activity that is not for procreation – in Genesis 38:9-10, it stats “He spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring…What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight.”

These men are sinful, and the people of America should not be held financially captive by the lustful, wicked ways of the godless left wingers of this country. Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We, as Christians, should not be forced by an overbearing government to fund mortal sins!

CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you, Reverend. I’d like to now ask the panel to comment on whether this medication could be seen to be medically necessary.

DR. PROSTATE: Oh, definitely not. Sexual activity is entirely optional. In fact, erectile dysfunction isn’t so much a medical condition as just a normal part of aging. Men have lived for centuries without drugs that allow them to have sex for purely recreational purposes and I certainly don’t see why they have suddenly been rendered unable of coping. Indeed, it seems that popular media portrayals of older men like Hugh Hefner as sexually active has lead to a move away from traditional values. There is really absolutely no medical reason why individuals would ever need to have sex beyond their child-raising years. It is excesses in the medical system like erectile dysfunction treatments that are sending health insurance costs skyrocketing.

I’d also like to preemptively counter the point that sometimes erectile dysfunction medication can be given for legitimate medical issues and say: the majority of erectile dysfunction drugs are given to people who want them for recreation, not people who need them. Sexually transmitted infections in elderly populations have been on the rise since the introduction of erectile dysfunction medications. Adding barriers to access will prevent people from being sexually active and prevent the spread of STIs. The best way to prevent erectile dysfunction is to abstain from sexual activity. Everybody wins and nobody needs to pay out of pocket for somebody else’s jollies.

CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you, Doctor. And now, could we have a final word from Senator McClung?

SEN. MCCLUNG: We have heard men speak out in support of the Obama administration’s proposed coverage, and although some may be well-spoken and seem capable, we must remember that men are ultimately weak at heart and easy to be persuaded into sexual activity by women and the media. Supporting the use of erectile dysfunction medications puts these vulnerable men at risk of being preyed upon by women, and promotes irresponsible usage of the medication. This could lead to promiscuity, STIs, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and other horrors that plague our modern society. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase the words of my great grandmother:

If men were all so intelligent as these representatives of the downtrodden sex seem to be it might not do any harm to allow them access to erectile dysfunction medication. But all men are not so intelligent. There is no use in allowing men to have Viagra. They wouldn’t use it. They would let the pills spoil and go to waste. Then again, some men would have sex too much…Giving men Viagra would unsettle the home….The modesty of our men, which we reverence, forbids us giving them Viagra access. Men’s place is in the workplace, not the bedroom..It may be that I am old-fashioned. I may be wrong. After all, men may be human. Perhaps the time may come when men will be responsible enough to have sex with women for reasons other than procreation–but in the meantime, be of good cheer. Advocate and Educate. [adapted from Nelly McClung, The Women’s Parliament]

[Thunderous applause erupts]

CHAIRWOMAN: Well said, Senator McClung. If there are no further opinions-

LONE MAN IN CROWD: Wait, don’t we get to-

CHAIRWOMAN: I’d like to thank the expert panel for their time and we will await the committee’s decision.

[The hearing chamber noisily clears out.]

END SCENE

If you have no idea what this is about, read here. If you are horrified that the words of a suffragette 99 years ago resonate today as much as they did then, SPEAK UP!

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Something doesn’t add up (Girls can do math, right?)

So let me get this straight. As early as 13 years old, Canadian girls are outperforming boys in reading and math, and are as good at science.

When they graduate high school, they are more likely than men to go on to have a diploma, certificate or bachelor’s degree.

There are more women graduating from university annually than men.

And of those graduates, the only programs where men outnumber women are Architecture, Engineering and Related Degrees, and Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences. There are more women than men with degrees in Agriculture, Physical and Life Sciences, Business, Education or Health.

And yet… and yet!

If you look at the hourly wages of permanent employees, Canadian women make an average of $19.94/hour while Canadian men make $23.97/hour! And if you say, well it’s unfair barganing practices, women can’t negotiate… then that should be controlled for by unionized jobs. Not the case: $24.01/hour for women while men make $25.55.

Given that the economic downturn was harder on men than women in terms of unemployment, helping the wage gap shrink, the mind boggles. I found an interesting bit of older information at Stats Can looking at the wage gap between women with and without children, which found that women without children earned 9% more than their counterparts with one child. “Aha!” you say, triumphantly as any good rhetorical puppet should. “It’s because they take a year off to have babies that sets them back in wages!”

Sadly, this is not the case, as the wage gap between the childless and mothers doesn’t begin until age 25, and if it were as simple as maternity leave, the gap would appear immediately. Interestingly, being more educated seems to exaggerate this gap.

Being good statisticians, they tried to elucidate why this gap might be there, and so they controlled for:
“age, years of education, work experience, marital status, full- or part-time status, union membership, employer size, family income (earnings from spouse and other family members as well as non-employment income), industry, occupation and management responsibilities…”
These factors taken out of the equation, there was still a statistically significant gap between childless women and women with children: 2% decrease with one child, and a 3% decrease for two.”

Is that it then? We tell our girls that they can be anything they want to be, we encourage them to do well in school and pursue the career of their choice. We tell them that they can have a family and a career – and then when they do, we punish them financially. Not because of how much experience or education they have, not because they’re part time, not because they enter lower paying industries. Just because they have children.

So, I guess it’s time to spread the word: tell your girls that they can be highly educated and have a high paying job… or they can have a family. And while we’re at it, tell your boys that they should be highly educated and have a family: They’ll make more money that way.

No Kids Allowed: Bigotry or practicality?

So I came across this article on ScienceDaily:

In a study published in the Indiana Law Review, Oliveri reviewed 10,000 housing advertisements from 10 major U.S. cities… Of the 10,000 ads she reviewed, she found that only five percent were potentially problematic or illegal.

The Federal Housing Act (FHA) prohibits housing advertisements from expressing preferences based on race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status. Even ads that mention no preference but give biographical information about the advertiser that includes race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status may violate the federal law.

… Oliveri said. “The overwhelming majority of ads that violate the Federal Housing Act discriminate on the basis of familial status, which is whether or not a potential tenant or roommate has children. Moreover, the vast majority of those who post discriminatory on-line advertisements for housing are placed by people seeking roommates…”

Oliveri thinks people in shared housing situations who are advertising for roommates should be exempt from FHA laws. She argues that preventing roommate-seekers from advertising biographical information about themselves or expressing such preferences for their desired roommate would disproportionately affect minority group members who want to differentiate themselves from the majority or who seek a roommate who is a member of a minority group.

What a ridiculous law. And what a ridiculously poorly worded article, especially since the title is “Online Housing Discrimination Primarily Done by Roommate-Seekers, Familial Status, Study Finds” and the fact that the lead researcher herself thinks it’s silly is imbedded several paragraphs down.

But seriously, who wrote this law? Having a roommate is like entering into a relationship: if you’re not compatible, it’s bound not to work out. If I’m a proud granola eating uber-feminist vegan, then maybe carnivorous Men’s Rights advocates should consider another arrangement. If I’m an outspoken atheist and my potential roommate is an evangelical young earth creationist (all sitcom potential aside), if I am outspoken enough about it to include it in my ad, I’m asking you to take that into consideration. If I don’t mention it, then it’s not a big deal. It’s no different than a profile on a dating website – you are simplifying your personality down to some quick and dirty facts in the hopes of attracting a compatible individual. It’s not discrimination: it’s saying “This is me. Can you deal with it?” Perhaps race/ethnicity/religion/marital status are irrelevant to that. Maybe not. Failing to be upfront about things that are important to your identity is only going to lead to pain and suffering in the end.

The marital status portion is even sillier. If I’m advertising for a roommate, that does not mean you and your family. Not you and your best friend and your cousin from out East. That means one person. If I’m saying explicitly in my ad: no kids, it means I don’t want to have to deal with kids. It’s my home, and although I respect your right to have children, that does not make them my problem unless I want them to be. People are allowed to say “No pets” for the same reason. If I’m allergic to pets or just really hate animals, I’m allowed to ask you not to bring them into my home.  If I’m a student studying long hours and I absolutely need quiet, or I’m offering to share a small space that truly cannot accommodate more than two people – then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say “no kids.”

Conversely, if someone listing an ad for a roommate, I think marital status is pertinent information. I would not feel comfortable renting a room in a house full of single men I did not know. I would feel much more safe, given a choice between the two, renting a room in the house of a married couple. These are, of course, broad brush strokes and subject to nuance, but I know the sort of lifestyle I have and would want to be living with people who had compatible lifestyles. If they have an 8 month old baby, that’s also pretty relevant information before I move in the door. In fact, if someone left this out of a roommate ad, I would instantly be wary and feel lied to. If you’re not being straight forward about who is living in the house, then what else are you hiding? “Oh, by the way, we have 6 kids” is worth noting up front just as much as “I’m a neat freak” or “I am a chain smoker” or “I have a tendency to crank Lady Gaga at 6 a.m. to pump me up every morning.”

Now, I don’t think that’s bigotry, but maybe someone could explain to me why I’m wrong?

Ethical family planning, or, In which I ask a lot of rhetorical questions I can’t answer.

Being of a childbearing age in a committed relationship leads to a lot of pressing questions of a child-bearing nature. I, personally, don’t find the concept attractive for a myriad of reasons (pragmatic and emotional). The most frequent excuse I give to the well-meaning baby-loving types is my genetics – I come from a family history of early onset cancers of a few different varieties, auto-immune disease, and genetic high cholesterol, in addition to my own general feebleness and frailty. My significant other has a similar family history, with inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes thrown in there for extra fun. Neither of us are particularly healthy specimens of our species, and I’m quite content with removing myself from the gene pool of an already over populated planet.

I have always thought to myself that truly, passing on my sad, feeble, recessive genes could nearly be called child cruelty, given the nearly inevitable poor health any such offspring would have. We live in the age of genetics, of genome sequencing, of really cool new breakthroughs that can accurately identify genetic predispositions to everything from HIV susceptibility to autism spectrum disorders to that thing that some people can do where they fold their tongue up all funny.

Doing this is a dominant trait. I can't do this (or other tongue folds.) Damn you, recessive genes! (Photo from volver-avanzar on Flickr)

In any case, it’s gotten to the point where numerous companies have popped up to do private DNA testing to “screen” for specific genetics (the majority of which are useless for determining your health, like your blood type, and the ability to fold your tongue, both of which can be determined in a cheaper and much more practical way.) In any case, there certainly exists the distinct possibility that in the not-too-distant future, everyone will be screening for genetic susceptibilities to disease, because we all certainly have them, and certainly they can be important for making family planning decisions. If you and your partner are both carriers for a particular risk factor, 25% of your children will receive a double hit of that risk factor, or worse, have full-blown disease. Some might question whether that is something that we should know, but I think that’s a silly question to ask. Sticking your head in the sand because you’re afraid of the implications solves nothing. People are welcome to make their own decisions for their own health, but when you are talking about the theoretical health of your theoretical child, I don’t think ignorance is appropriate. If you and your partner are both carriers of infant Tay-Sachs disease, a progressive and painful genetic condition which results in children typically dying horribly by three years old, you should probably take that into consideration when thinking about having children. Having a severely disabled child that you know that you will outlive is not a burden that every couple is prepared to take on. But what about if your children will be at increased risk for breast cancer or stroke? At what point do you switch from having a “healthy” child to a “sick” child, especially when the majority of us have multiple genetic risk factors and carry potentially lethal but extremely rare genes that we are simply unaware of? And if we are all genetically “sick,” then hasn’t the word lost all meaning?

Would your fear of passing on the BRCA1 (Breast cancer 1) gene play into your desire to have children? And if it would, are you equally worried about the alleles that we don’t even know about yet? And if it wouldn’t, at what point would it become a factor? And how much of a guarantee do you need before it becomes a consideration? Does 25% worry you, or does it need to get to 50% or 75% before you give it a prominent spot in your mind? What about 100%?

Even more interesting is an experience I had today with an individual with a serious genetic disorder. His life is full of doctors’ appointments and treatments to keep him alive, and 100% of his children will be carriers, in addition to having milder symptoms themselves. Would you have a child if you knew that it would be sick? And perhaps more importantly, if you were sick yourself and unsure if you would be able to be around to help raise them?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions – clearly, in a lot of situations, environment plays a large role, and that is something you can change to prevent issues. There is screening and increased vigilance for those genetically at risk. I think it is safe to say that carrying a risk factor for something that is by-and-large environmentally based, like cardiovascular disease, is something that wouldn’t prohibit most people from having a child. Being assured that all children would be miscarried or stillborn is probably something that would prohibit most people from having children, to save themselves the emotional trauma. There is a line between those, but where, and how much does it move between individuals, over time, over situations? And truly, how can you ever know what the right thing to do is without asking the person it will affect the most?

These are the sort of questions that run through my mind – feel free to answer them with your opinion and how you derived that answer. My feeling is that parents should be emotionally, physically and financially prepared to cope with a child with potential congenital abnormalities, but as long as they go into it with hearts and eyes open, who am I to interfere? And if they do not have the resources to care for a potentially ill child and so abstain from having children, who am I to look down my nose? I would say that it is morally undesirable to willfully have children with genetic problems is if that family is unable or unwilling to provide appropriate care and support for that child, much as you would say for any child, only accounting for the increased amount of care necessary. Apart from that, feel free to have kids when you like, with whomever you like, as many times as you would like.

Just, please, before you do: think of the children.