Thursday, July 30, 2009

Regina Benjamin or Why 'You're Ugly' Is Not A Political Argument

Regina Benjamin has been nominated by Barack Obama for Surgeon General. This is going to be a really important role to fill, given the current climate in health care and the expected surgence of the H1N1, or swine flu, virus next fall.

By all accounts, she is highly qualified to hold this post. She is a primary care physician, serving a population with a high poverty rate and little to no insurance that often cannot pay. She has gone without a paycheck in order to keep her health clinic running. A New York Times article states that she is owed about $300,000 in back salary. She is the first black woman to sit on the board of directors of the American Medical Association, and she is the first black woman to lead a state medical society, serving as president of the Alabama Medical Association.

So what's the problem? Regina is a bit heftier than some people would like. The argument against her is that, because she would be the figure head American health care, she needs to be the picture of perfect health. The logic then follows that since she is overweight, she is somehow promoting obesity and that she couldn't possibly do a good job as Surgeon General.

So what we have is a highly qualified primary care physician who also holds an MBA in business administration, has sat on the board of directors of the American Medical Association, has led the medical association for her home state of Alabama, and has dedicated her career to providing care for a low income/no insurance population. And the only thing people can talk about is her weight?

I will admit, as a woman, and especially as a fat woman myself, the attacks on Benjamin hit pretty close to home and I took this story more personally then I would otherwise. Bloggers and mainstream news shows speculated about her weight and dress size. It turned into some kind of carnival guess your weight game.

Here, Fox News interviews a douchebag in a 'No Chubbies' T-shirt about why Benjamin's weight is an issue at all.

Various analyses go on to speculate all kinds of things about overweight people. They're lazy. They have no self control. They don't take responsibility for their actions. They're unhealthy. They're somehow "promoting obesity" and won't someone please think of the children. Following that logic to its conclusion, should fat people be barred from any professional job, lest they be a poor role model for others, or should they only be barred from working in health care? On a similar note, would an overweight waitress be a bad thing, because it might send the message that it's ok to overeat?

It's insane. Yes, being overweight does put one at a higher risk for certain health problems - heart disease and diabetes to name a few. As a medical doctor, Regina Benjamin is well aware of the health risks of being overweight. It's impossible to tell from a picture exactly how healthy a person is. Benjamin is certainly a bit heavy, but I wouldn't call her obese. She looks healthy, but then again, you can't tell the state of her health from a picture. As for rest, with as many accomplishments as Dr. Benjamin has, she clearly isn't lazy.

As for providing a poor example of health, I think that she could be an excellent example. For instance, and this is just speculation, if she were to stand up there and say 'I struggle with my weight, too, but one of the cornerstones of being health is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of exercise' I think that would be a wonderful role model. It's not a huge secret that eating less crap and moving around more is healthier for you.

Since these vicious news stories have started swirling around about Regina Benjamin, I have been thinking about the kind of bodily scrutiny female politicians are subject to and it's kind of coalesced some thoughts I've had for a while. Even though I am told that sexism doesn't exist anymore, there is still this intangible feeling that women in power get picked apart based on their physical appearance much, much more so than their male counterparts.

Hilary Clinton? Ice queen, fat ankles, old lady, pant suits. She couldn't win. If she wore a skirt, she had cankles. If she wore a pant suit, she was matronly. When she tried to wear a pant suit that wasn't deemed matronly, she was called vulgar. There was no winning. And let's not forget rumors that she and Bill are together for political reasons only, they have a loveless marriage, and she's really a lesbian. Oh, yeah, and she's a ball buster, too.

Remember this?
Chelsea Clinton, just 13 when her father became president, was constantly called ugly. Rush Limbaugh once quipped on his short lived tv show about the White House dog, holding up a picture of Chelsea.

Janet Reno, another Clinton era public figure, was not spared either. Our first female Attorney General was a large woman, being both taller and broader than the average woman. She was constantly called 'manish'. During her confirmation hearings, rumors started flying about her being a lesbian and using call girls, along with drunk driving. Reno denied the rumors and an FBI investigation found nothing to substantiate them, but the lesbian/transsexual rumors continued.

John McCain famously managed to tie all three of the above together as a tasteless joke he told at 1998 Republican fundraiser. "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno." Just count the many, many ways that joke is wrong, without ever being actually funny. Got your check list out? Good. Let's see...picking on the physical appearance of Chelsea Clinton? Check. Janet Reno is really a man? Check. Hillary Clinton is a lesbian? You got it. Sigh.

It's not just woman on the left. Women on the right haven't fared much better. Ann Coulter, a far right pundit, is often called 'Mann Coulter'. Now, I personally loathe her hate filled work, but calling her 'Mann' is just fighting dirty. First, the insult infers that the most important thing about her is her physical appearance, then it throws in a heaping helping of homophobia. Come on, there are plenty of reasons to not like what Ann Coulter has to say. Her appearance is not one of them.

Being considered attractive leads to the same kind of scrutiny and is just the flip side of the 'you're ugly' coin. 'We still don't want to listen to what you have to say, but we do want to look at you'.

Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State under George W. Bush, was viewed as a strong, sexy, dominatrix. Sarah Palin, a former beauty queen, was often referred to as 'Caribou Barbie'. There was plenty of 'sexy librarian' references and, to top it all off, Hustler released a porno titled "Who's Nailin' Paylin?", featuring a Sarah Palin lookalike (I'm not linking to the porn, you're going to have to find that one yourself). Again, women in high profile political careers reduced to their physical appearance.

I think a good part of my frustration is that so many people refuse to believe that women are treated differently than men. I challenge anyone to find me an example of a male politician that has gone through as much scrutiny of the physical appearance as these women have. And I don't mean an article here or there on the cost of their haircut (although it does say something about our society that men are not supposed to spend money on their appearance). George W. Bush was accused of a lot of things from deception to incompetence, but his physical appearance was never brought into the fray, one way or the other. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinski, but it was Monica's appearance that was talked about.

There is no winning for women in politics. Either you are too ugly or just another pretty face. Women are told one of two things. Either 'shut up, you ugly bitch', or 'shut up and let me ogle you.' To not agree with someone's politics is one thing, but to just throw out 'you're ugly' is not an argument. It's intellectually lazy and it's something I would expect to hear on a grade school playground.

This Is What I Have To Put Up With

I am one of two people in my organization trained to do anesthesia machine maintenance. There are 26 hospitals in our 3 state region. Every 4 months we do scheduled maintenance on all of the machines. All of this means that there is an awful lot of traveling involved. Basically, 3 times a year I and another tech spend about a month on the road. We alternate weeks so that we're each gone for a week at a time, as opposed to a whole month.

The logistics of traveling to each site means that we need to be portable enough to load things easily in and out of a vehicle. The method that works well is to have 3 hard case tool boxes (they look like small suitcases), one each for test equipment, hand tools, and spare parts, loaded on a foldable rolling cart. I have become the keeper of the anesthesia tool kit. We're tight on space, so we have to be careful when packing things up. It's a bit like playing Tetris to get everything to fit, but if you put it all back neatly, you can easily access everything you need on a regular basis.

I share this tool kit with another tech. I do not know what he does when he's on site, but everytime the anesthesia kit comes back, it's a complete disaster area. I just picture him throwing things around the operating room like the Swedish Chef making a meal.

I talked with the tech the other day about putting things back neatly, especially the hand tools. The tools in question happen to be my own personal tools, and I get a little pissy when they walk away. Now, I asked nicely; I didn't chew him out or anything. I understand that it's late when he's done and he wants to go home, but asked him to please put everything back neatly, including any manuals he might take with him.

So, he says he'll put everything back in it's place when he's done and I send him off to do a repair. The next day, I walk into my office to find this.

Methinks he's messing with me. What you don't see in this picture is that the cart is also in the middle of my office, as opposed to the 3 feet to the right where it fits neatly out of the way against the wall by the cabinet.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One Week and Counting

In exactly one week, I will be having my eyes burned out with laser beams, or, you know, having Lasik surgery. It will be pretty sweet to be able to role over in bed, look at the alarm clock, and actually be able to read the numbers without squinting.

I've decided that since the whol procedure sounds like the plot to a James Bond movie, when they strap me to the table and point the laser at my head, I'm going to have to ask just what their evil plan is.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Creeptastic Revelation of the Day

Alternate title: No, I Don't Want To Be Your Friend

Back when I had a MySpace account, one of my sister's ex-boyfriends tried to contact me. At the time, I thought it was a little weird, but didn't think too much of it. He had apparently tried to contact her as well, but she wanted none of it; the relationship ended very badly years ago. Also, she is quite happily married now.

I was a little surprised to see that the guy found me on Facebook and tried to contact me. No, dude, I don't want to be your friend. I never knew you very well to begin with. You dated my sister when I was twelve. We don't have old times to rehash. I'm not going to pass on any messages from you to the Sis, who wants nothing to do with you. What could we possibly talk about?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mind the Gap

Well, my quest to be kind to my body and not eat so much crap is starting to pay off. I noticed this morning when I got out of the shower that the towel wraps all the way around me. Yay! No more towel gap.

Ironically, I think I actually consuming more food throughout the day than I did previously. Before, my crappy eating habits led me to eat various crap snacks (like chips and other over processed stuff) and just one real meal a day, so that by the time I got around to eating dinner, I was ravenously hungry. This led me to eat huge amounts of food before bed. Now I'm eating a bowl of cereal in the morning, a small mid morning snack (which I've dubbed my 10am banana), a reasonably healthy lunch, a fairly healthy dinner that I'm still over-portioning, and some kind of sweet dessert at night. Cupcakes are still my downfall, in all their sugary frosting goodness.

Now, if I could just get the hang of that whole moving around more thing. There's just not enough hours in the day. I need to work on not making excuses and just make room in my schedule for a trip to the gym.

It's nice to see some actual results from making healthier choices. I'll resist the urge to celebrate with a cake.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 successfully touched down on the surface of the moon and the world watched as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. It remains one of our greatest technological achievements.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, here is some footage from the event. The other astronaut seen in the video is Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot. Michael Collins was the third member of the crew and served as the command module pilot. He remained in orbit as Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Practice Safe Text

As I mentioned before, I'm trying the online dating thing. So far, it's not working very well. Prior to setting up my account, I sat down with a friend and we came up with a list of things that we need to have in our next relationships. You know, picky things like the guy needs to have a career and stuff like that.

So, after a little bit of the online dating thing, I'm going to add the ability to use proper grammar, capitalization, and punctuation. I never thought to add that quality before. Don't get me wrong, you don't need to be 100% correct all of the time (we all know that I'm not), but please at least make the effort.

Online dating is weird to begin with. The impression that you leave on the other person is left by the words that you type. For me, it's grating on my nerves and a huge turn off if your entire message is in all lower case, all capitals, or, even worse, contains RANDOM capitalization. Gah!