Archive for May, 2012

This bonus content post is me participating in the Feminist Friday series hosted by Transatlantic Blonde, co-hosted this week at Circus Queen. Follow the link below to read other bloggers’ entries, from the current and past edition.

True to form, I’m weeks behind everyone else on anything topical, but I finally read the book everyone has been talking about: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Which meant I finally had an opinion on the cover story that Newsweek ran about it that, back in April. Look! Here’s the cover. Note the claim that “Surrender is a feminist dream.”

Here’s the text of the article, “Spanking Goes Mainstream,” by Katie Roiphe.

(Regarding the actual book as a work of fiction, meh. They did the whole domination/rape/romance thing better in the 1980s as costume drama, where you at least got descriptions of fancy dresses and usually learned a little bit about history, too. 50 Shades of Grey is nothing new, and not a particularly interesting example of its genre. But I’m not here to write a book review. Let’s move on to the Skepticism part of the program, in which we examine what profound and well-argued insight compelled Newsweek to put a picture of a pretty naked lady on its cover.)



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Turns out that women can take a joke. Almost all of them (because who wants to speak in absolutes, right?) have a sense of humor, and even most of the ones who don’t can identify a joke on paper and in situ, either by careful (if speedy) grammatical analysis or by gauging the reactions of the people around them. In fact, sometimes women joke with each other, in public, in front of people, even in front of men. There is plenty, plenty of evidence that belies the common complaint that women don’t have a sense of humor, or can’t take a joke. And yet, this unsupported factoid has legs within the skeptical movement, and trots itself out every time a woman complains about a sexist or misogynist joke appearing in the skeptical discourse and asks people to cut it out.

Defensiveness ensues. And accusations, and lots of things, all revolving around the topics of It Is Perfectly Fine to Tell This Joke and I Don’t Really Mean It It’s Just to Be Funny and How Can You Not See That It’s a Joke? Let’s pick these apart one by one.

How Can You Not See That It’s a Joke?
Women can tell that it’s a joke. (See first paragraph.) But pretending that they can’t is a deflection strategy that enables men to criticize women for their behavior instead of taking responsibility for their own. The thing is that the women just don’t think the joke is funny. Their reasons for not thinking a sexist joke is funny include (but are not limited to) that they are hurt or embarrassed by jokes at their expense, that sexist jokes told in an environment of mostly men perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women, and that dismissing a woman as having no sense of humor is just another way to silence her (by shaming her, by inventing a flaw and then criticizing her for having it, usually in front of a group).


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By Sonia Shah

Long Story Short: I believe every word in this book about the ethical perils and injustices of medical testing, but I’m not sure at all what to do about it.

Why I Chose This Book: I’m not really tuned in to the new releases, and a lot of what I find to read crosses my path indirectly. This time, however, I crossed this book’s path directly: I was wandering through the library seeing if something would catch my fancy, and this book was one of the ones placed on a library shelf, propped on a bracket facing outward. It was about a topic I could read with a critical eye. It was about a topic that seemed rife with controversy and might teach me something. It was written by a woman, and then had this unexpected “Foreword by John Le Carre,” which was intriguing enough (by seeming completely out of the blue) to seal the deal.* And we were in a hurry to go, so I just grabbed it and checked it out and didn’t pick it up again until a few days after I’d brought it home (a detail that becomes important somewhere around the 950th word of this book review).

*I really scratched my head about this one, but some Internet searching revealed that he’d written a novel more or less about the same thing–The Constant Gardener–so there you have it. Also, it’s mentioned on the very first page of the preface, which I had forgotten about until I was flipping through the book today to write this review.

The Book’s Strengths: I thought this book really covered its material well. It analyzes the process whereby drug manufacturers identify and test drugs on human subjects, how it chooses which populations to test them on, the history of the drug-testing industry, the government regulations that enable and hamper (different regulations) the process, the ways pharmaceutical companies “spin” results, the cavalier attitudes towards “informed consent,” and international efforts to establish and protect test subjects’ rights. It covered all this information in an efficient, readable way, and each of ten chapters covered a distinct topic within the broader themes. There were lots of interviews, lots of documented research, and plenty of end notes and a long bibliography. I learned a lot and probably had the exact emotional reaction I was supposed to have; set against what I’ve picked up over recent years about marketing drugs right to patients and the revelations about how things like, say, statins are not really benefiting many people and may be harming more (and other things about Viagara, and all the different allergy medicines, et cetera), and the context of corporate greed and abuses that also make the news, Shah makes plenty of sense to me.


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