Archives for Gender
This week I read one of the most interesting pieces of literary journalism I have come across in a while. Lisa Miller published an article in New York Magazine about people who have children at advanced ages—meaning people in the fifth decade of life. The article raises a number of concerns about the uses of medical technology employed to have a baby later in life. As I have written about here and elsewhere, medical technology can seduce us into believing that we do not have limits. Although Miller’s piece raises a number of important controversies about having children later in life, I was reminded of an issue rarely discussed in the coverage of assisted reproductive technology and the media in general, that of women and men who decide they do not want children. The hype about having babies often misses the fact that people are increasingly choosing not to have children.
A press release on 9-22-11 reports that older women are more likely to die of breast cancer. This finding may not be so surprising as age can be a factor in the outcome of many diseases, including cancer. The finding is striking however, because at least some older women are not receiving the same care as those who are younger. The research team led by Professor Christos Markopoulos noted that they “observed that radiotherapy was administered less frequently and administration of chemotherapy sharply decreased with increasing age. Thus, it is most likely that under-treatment of the elderly may explain the worse age-specific breast cancer outcome found in our study." Others have found similar results when looking at women being treated for breast cancer. It’s hard to know exactly how to interpret these studies. Breast cancer is a complicated disease and a number of factors can impact prognosis. Additionally, age and co-existing medical conditions can make certain treatments more risky in the elderly. I certainly do not know as much as oncologists who make treatment decisions on a regular basis. On the other hand, I am aware that many cancer trials exclude elderly patients.
A recent report by AARP, as described in the North Carolina publication The Progressive Pulse, finds that in North Carolina alone, 1.2 million residents cared for a family member, partner or friend with a chronic illness. That’s a lot for one state. Regarding the entire country, the AARP Report notes that “in 2009, about 42.1 million family caregivers in the United States provided care to an adult with limitations in daily activities at any given point in time, and about 61.6 million provided care at some time during the year.” Almost two-thirds of caretakers are women.
Physical pain is one of the least understood perceptions in all of emotional life. Pain is deeply personal and hard to define. A lack of knowing how someone feels, however, does not mean that you cannot be supportive. Loved ones play a tremendous role in the experience of pain. Good relationships can be a buffer against the limitations caused by chronic pain. Patients with chronic pain are charged with a number of options regarding managing their condition. Medications are one option, but it is a common misconception that medications cure chronic pain. Medications dull uncomfortable sensations, but in many cases, pain does not go away. There are also a number of behavioral things patients can do to help minimize suffering. This can be a blow to some patients who themselves hope that medicine can provide a cure to their disease.
You may have been hearing about rising rates of divorce among married, heterosexual baby boomers. While I am an advocate for any adult couple choosing not to stay together for any reason, the current rates of divorce in this cohort are striking. The Star Tribune reports that a quarter of all divorces occur in persons married more than 20 years and overall, rates of divorce are rising among straight boomer couples. Although certain high profile divorces have recently brought this issue to our attention, many of us know couples that have been together for decades that have decided to throw in the towel. We are also aware of stereotypes that might impact current divorce trends: middle-aged men seeking younger wives and women who feel that they have put up with enough. In thinking about these statistics, however, it is helpful to look beyond stereotypes.
Although many of us deal with losses as we age, weight is generally not among them. In fact, pounds on the scale are a frequent reminder that one's metabolism is no longer as efficient. Like all adults in the U.S., boomers are afflicted by grim health statistics; many are in poor health and/or are overweight. Yet, a number of people do a lot to prevent obesity. They exercise, limit carbohydrates, and eat fruits and vegetables. I see a number of adults who are struggling with their weight, some of whom say they have to practically starve themselves to lose a few pounds. If you ask nutritionists, they will likely say this latter claim is false. If one eats the right things, they might argue, then anyone can lose weight. It may be that some people who engage in the right behaviors to manage weight are still heavier than they want to be. A study, reported by Stephanie Pappas, suggests that obesity is increasing in animals, though it is unclear why. Although too many calories, combined with lack of exercise, is still thought to explain why humans carry around extra weight, David Allison and his colleagues found that a number of animals, from monkeys to mice to dogs, are larger. For example, male mice increased their weight by over 10 percent and male macaques by over 7 percent in a decade.
At the gym, I love to watch music videos, not only because I enjoy contemporary music, but because the stunning women on the screen inspire me to spend a few extra minutes on the cross trainer. As I watch youth-obsessed entertainment, I often get the disquieting feeling that what drives most of our culture are young people’s aims to appear sexy, in the hopes of hooking up with one another. Of course, this idea is a stereotype. However, youth, beauty, and sex are what drive much of our economy, advertising, and more importantly, how we define meaning. Is ageism a problem? That depends who you ask. Likely, if you ask someone over the age of 50, they will say yes, particularly if the person you ask is a woman. As reported in a piece in the London Observer , in 1965, the chief executive of the cosmetics and skin care company Elizabeth Arden stated, “We don’t want to be connected with older women.” The author of the article, Geraldine Bedell, goes on to describe how not much has changed. This appears to be only somewhat true.
Men and women think differently. Though this is hardly news to those of us who have ever interacted with someone of the opposite sex, a recent survey demonstrates just how varied our views are. Women perceive themselves as feeling old at a much younger age then men do. According to a survey, conducted, curiously, by Avalan Funeral Plans in England, women reported feeling old at the age of 29 and men reported a similar sentiment at the age of 58. Men tended to link feeling older with decreased sexual performance, while women focused on changing looks. For example, women were more likely to report feeling senior when noticing grey hairs and a "turkey neck." We women are hard on ourselves.