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This has irked me for a while, and since I just walked four miles through the rain now seems as good a time to complain about it as any.

I buy my groceries from Fresh Direct. They're an online grocery store in New York City. They're incredibly convenient. They've got an easy to navigate web site that lets you easily find what you're looking for, comparison shop between products, and add and remove stuff from your cart. The selection is better than any store in the area, and the prices are somewhat lower than you get at most neighborhood grocery stores. Fruit and vegetable quality used to be a little dicey, but they've improved significantly in the couple of years I've been shopping with them and now I get produce from them that's as good as when I hand pick it. They're also incredibly convenient for my schedule. I can shop whenever I like with them and usually get delivery the next day, plus I can schedule the deliver for any time between 5 in the morning and 11 at night. I still buy emergency goods from the local stores, but I no longer have to schlep a week's worth of groceries when I do the bulk of my shopping.

So, on whole, they're fantastic. But there's one thing that's irked me for the last two years. Go do their web page. Take a look around at their top menu bar. Roll your mouse over the different options and enjoy the animated icons. Do you notice something odd? Something problematic? Something that would lead to this post being placed in the "Gender Stuff" category?

The "Your Account" menu is represented by the universal pictogram for Woman. This bugs me on a number of levels. First, on the personal level, it bugs me in that I am not a woman, yet the interface seems to tell me that I ought to be. It excludes me. Second, it doesn't seem to be accurate when I move further outward to my group of friends. Almost everyone I know who buys groceries gets them from Fresh Direct, regardless of gender. I know a lot of guys who shop for groceries, I know a lot of guys who cook. I've had conversations with guys about where the best places to get groceries are. Making the Your Account icon a woman seems a bit thoughtless on Fresh Direct's part.

And, of course, it bugs me because it perpetuates the cultural assumption that cooking and grocery shopping is woman's work. Equitable division of housework is one of the largest obstacles in the way of economic equality between the sexes, and Fresh Direct sayin that someone shopping for groceries should be assumed to be a woman only reinforces unequal gender roles.

Again, it's just a small thing. I still shop there because it's a great grocery store. And arguably, by making grocery shopping less of a time sink, Fresh Direct lightens the house work load and makes equitable division less problematic. Still, the icon is silly and unneccessary and I wish that they would change it.

Losing Weight Like a Man

I picked up a copy of Prevention magazine recently and read with interest an article called "Lose Weight Like a Guy."  The pull quote is "He drops pounds overnight.  You gain just by glancing at cheesecake.  Here are 5 reasons for his success.  Steal 'em today and look slimmer tomorrow."  Sadly, the article doesn't appear to be on-line, though a previous article by the author, Denise Foley, on how women can restore their libidos is.  That second article also begins with a complaint about how guys don't have to worry about waning libidos, thanks to Viagra and such, so I think complaining about how easy guys have it is something of a schtick for her.

Anyhow, as a guy who has lost weight, I thought I'd be in a good position to judge the quality of her advice in the article.  So, here are the five reasons guys are better than girls at weight loss, and my thoughts on them:

1. Men Don't Crave Sweets

Ahem.  No.  Well, sort of.  The idea here is that women crave sweets, notably chocolate, while men crave meat.  Meat, it is argued, is a healthier craving because it's high in protein, and is thus more filling, and it's relatively low-density in terms of calories.  Sugary snacks aren't very filling and are dense with calories.  True enough, but I'm not certain how true the gender stereotype is.  I'm probably unusual in this, but I really don't crave meat at all.  Yet I DO get cravings, for sweets and for salty snacks, and this is where I think her theory falls down a bit.  Guys may not crave sweets as much as women do (maybe) but I get the feeling that they crave high-carb low-protein low-fiber salty snackfoods like potato chips more. 

2.  Men Don't Berate Themselves When They Screw Up

In my experience, yes they do.  I do, at least.  The premise is that beating yourself up when you screw up on your diet makes it more likely that you'll give up entirely.  Men, the article argues, roll with their little failures.  "It's not the end of the world," they say.  They accept their occasional lapses and move on.  Women cry, get emotional, and eat a bunch of chocolate, compounding their initial error.  This strikes me as bullshit gender stereotyping.  How you react to diet failures is affected far more by your personal psyche than by your gender.  When I screw up and overeat I'm far more likely to freak out about it and become depressed than I am to shrug and try again tomorrow. 

3.  Men Go for Weights with Muscle

This one has a bit more merit, and may be the best advice in the article.  The article argues that when men work out they tend to focus on strength training that bulks up muscles, while women focus on toning muscles with lots of reps on light weights.  The article maintains, accurately, that training for tone is a huge waste of time.  It doesn't really help build muscle mass and you'll get the same visual effect in far less time from strength training.  Plus, thanks to differences in hormones, women don't generally have to worry about actually bulking up the way that men do.  I feel this is one of the more accurate differences the article presents, if only because thousands of articles in fitness magazines have told women that they should focus on tone and avoid the possibility of bulking up. 

The article also provides a useful primer on strength training: use the absolute heaviest weight that you can do 8 reps of with the full range of motion.  It should be physically impossible to handle a 9th rep.  Once you're comfortable with that weight, bump it up to a level where you can do only 3 reps and work there for a while.  Always be sure, though, that you're doing the full range of motion when you do these exercises, or else you won't be working the right muscles.  For example, if you do a bench press, but only bring the weight down to the point where your elbows form a 90 degree angle, you're essentially only working your arms.  That's fine if your arms are all you want to work, but generally people do bench presses to work the chest, which requires you bring the weights down further.  This is a lot harder when the weights are heavier, hence the provision that you be able to do the full range of motion with whatever weight you choose. 

4. Men Don't Use Food as a Therapist

The article claims that women eat to medicate their feelings.  This is the longest segment of the article and has a number of facets.  First, men don't eat when they're upset (wrong).  Second, men work out or do other physical activity to get over stress and depression (depends on the guy, but not me).  Guys spend money to cheer themselves up, while women eat (I spend money, but it tends to be on food, so I don't think that counts).  Finally, men just don't get depressed, because they're not all emotional like women are (Um).  They make some good points about not eating out of depression, but I'm not really certain that men don't do this just as much as women do. 

5.  Men Don't Give Up Their Favorite Foods

This is another decent weight-loss tip wrapped in a spurious stereotype.  The nugget of truth here is pretty simple: Don't diet.  Make small-scale adjustments to what you eat, cut out a couple hundred calories per day, exercise a little more (or just do more physical activity, by parking at the far end of the lot or walking to lunch instead of driving) and stick with that.  You'll lose weight gradually, but it won't be painful and it'll stay off.  When you diet, on the other hand, you get quick results by setting unrealistic goals, you cave, your weight returns, and you're back where you started, with a lot of starvation and self-recrimination to show for it.  The article couches this all in gender terms; men do it right, women do it wrong.  I don't buy it.  I think it's more that men don't care as much about their weight and don't face as much societal pressure to slim down in the first place; it isn't so much that men know how to do it right, it's that a lot of men don't bother to do it at all. 

In the end, it's not a bad article in the sense of giving bad advice; most of the points it makes are pretty good (I'm skeptical about the pro-meat, pro-protein stance of the first point, though).  I just disagreed with the hook and the framing that these good dieting techniques are the province of masculinity.  Having said that, I may well be an outlier on this.  I'm not necessarily the guy most men would pick to represent the platonic ideal of the gender, so maybe it's unsurprising that I diet like a woman.  Still, I think the article could have been just as informative without the somewhat specious gender angle.

Blog Against Heteronormativity Day


I give up. I've been trying to come up with a post against heteronormativity all day and can't overcome writer's block. This doesn't mean I'm not against heteronormativity; I just can't think of anything interesting to say right now. For actual, new posts against heteronormativity, go to Blac(k)ademic, who's running Blog Against Heteronormativity Day.

As some small consolation, I'm re-posting an old heteronormativity-related enty I did a few months ago:

Breeder Centrism in Tort Law

In recent years a new type of law suit has arisen: the wrongful life suit, sometimes referred to as a wrongful birth suit. These suits are a species of medical malpractice. A doctor botches a sterilization, be it a vasectomy, tubal ligation, or whatnot. The party who received the operation behaves as though they were sterile even though they remain fertile. The result is a pregnancy. Wrongful life actions have been recognized by most states, and I don't believe any state has explicitly refused to recognize them. At trial everything is very similar to medical malpractice, the procedure is discussed, experts are brought in, negligence is argued over, and, if the jury finds for the plaintiff, damages are assessed.

The damages are where things get tricky. If the plaintiff had an abortion things are pretty pat. The plaintiff generally gets compensation for the cost of the botched sterilization, the cost of another sterilization, the cost of having the abortion, and any related medical bills and lost wages. There might also be emotional damages. Things get more expensive if the plaintiff decides to have the baby, then put it up for adoption. There, in addition to the above costs, the doctor (or the doctor's insurance company) generally has to pay all the expenses related to the pregnancy, including considerably more lost wages. Still, though, nothing particularly controversial.

What happens, though, if the plaintiff decides to keep the baby? Now the question is to what extent the doctor should be held liable for the cost of rearing the child. This is, after all, a baby that the plaintiff did not want, and that would not exist but for the doctor's negligence. The rule of thumb for torts is that the plaintiff should be "made whole," that is, the plaintiff should be put financially back in the same situation she would have been in had the accident never occurred. Kids are expensive. In order to put the plaintiff in as good a situation as she would have been in had the sterilization been successful, it follows that the doctor ought to pay the entire cost of rearing the child.

That, of course, is how things probably would work if wrongful life suits were treated like any other cause of action. In practice, courts have found a great many ways to avoid doing so. When considering tort suits, courts are often asked to decide which damages are legitimate and compensable and which are not. In this case, most jurisdictions (31 as of 1997) don't allow child-rearing costs when computing damages. Two jurisdictions (New Mexico and Wisconsin) do.

The courts have offered a number of reasons for ignoring child-rearing costs. First, the costs are too vague to assess. Who know how much it would actually cost to rear this child, and whether the plaintiff would actually put the money to that purpose? Because these costs are too indefinite, too expensive, and too long-term, the courts should not consider them. This doesn't stop courts from assessing vague, expensive costs incurred over a long period in other malpractice cases, but it is apparently a problem in these cases.

Another argument proferred is that the cost would be far too heavy a burden for the poor doctor to bear, just for one little mistake (Courts are quite fond of these sob-stories about the poor defendants forced to pay for their negligence. These stories are only persuasive until you realize that a court case is about deciding which of two parties should bear a huge loss. The poor doctor could not stand to bear the financial burden of raising this child! It therefore follows that the mother ought to bear the financial burden instead). The less-objectionable policy argument is that if you make potential damages too high, doctors will simply refuse to perform these operations out of fear of botching them. The cost of performing these operations will skyrocket, hurting those who would seek sterilizations in the future.

There are a few other, more troubling arguments that some courts have found persuasive. One is that the plaintiff assumed the cost of rearing the child when she decided not to abort the child or give it up for adoption. This facile argument handily ignores the moral dimension of those two alternatives. Abortion is obviously a sticky issue for a lot of people, and once you've decided not to abort the child, adoption isn't without its own problems. The pregnant party is between Scylla and Charybdis and the court is arguing that choosing one indicates the party prefers and accepts that option. They ignore the fact that the entire point of having the operation was so the plaintiff would not have to make that choice in the first place. A variant on the assumption of risk argument is that the plaintiff assumed the risk of pregnancy by having sex, regardless of whether the sterilization had occurred. This argument only makes sense if you see sex as a morally wrong act in and of itself. The doctor acted negligently in performing the sterilization, while the plaintiff had sex under reasonable the belief that it couldn't result in pregnancy. Unless sex itself creates culpability, there's no reason to look at the two parties and declare that the plaintiff should pay.

The other troubling argument ties into the ambiguity of the costs argument. While we don't know exactly how much it costs to rear a child, we do know it costs something. How do you move from the idea that we don't know exactly how much child-rearing will cost to the conclusion that we should not award any child-rearing costs at all? Enter the Bundle of Joy argument. The courts have argued that there is an indisputable joy in having and raising a child. The plaintiff, they argue, is trying to benefit from this joy without paying the attendant costs. Therefore, to get a fair assessment of the plaintiff's damages, we must balance the cost of raising the child against the joy the plaintiff derives from that child. Since it's so hard to measure these things, the courts decide to call it even and leave the damages at 0.

It hardly bears pointing out that this argument is intensely patronizing. It ignores the fact that the plaintiff was sterilized precisely to avoid having a child. She could have any number of reasons for doing so. Maybe she can't afford a child, or maybe, heaven forbid, she just doesn't like kids. Moreover, sterilization operations aren't exactly something you do on a whim. The plaintiff carefully examined her situation and decided that the costs of having a kid outweighed the benefits. She therefore paid for an expensive surgery to prevent it ever happening. The courts have looked at this and said, "Awww, you didn't REALLY mean that. Everyone loves kids! Now go have fun with your new bundle of joy!" The whole idea forces heteronormative breeder-centrism down the plaintiff's throat. You can't possibly not want a baby; who in their right mind wouldn't?

What's even more insulting, however, are the three jurisdictions, and I don't know which states these are, that actually include the Bundle of Joy factor as a weight against other costs. That is, you get all the aforementioned medical costs, and then the court determines how much joy they think the baby will give you, attaches a dollar value, and subtracts it from those costs.

The only argument I find at all persuasive is the concern that imposing higher tort liability on doctors will raise the cost of the procedure in the future. The doctor botched the operation and the plaintiff did nothing wrong in acting under the false belief that the doctor had done the job competently. The court should estimate the cost of raising a child to, say, the age of 18 and assess it against the doctor. The doctor's almost certainly in a better position to pay than the plaintiff; setting aside the likely disparity in incomes between the two, the doctor will have malpractice insurance to the hilt. There's no such thing as unwanted pregnancy insurance. The doctor screwed up, and the doctor should be responsible for the results of that mistake.

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