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10 Everyday Sexisms and What Do You Do About Them

 
Posted: 07/31/2014 4:44 pm EDT Updated: 4 minutes ago
CONFIDENT WOMAN

This post is updated from an earlier version that appeared on Role Reboot.

Research shows that most people don’t see sexism even when it’s right in front of their noses.

“Women endorse sexist beliefs, at least in part, because they do not attend to subtle, aggregate forms of sexism in their personal lives,” wrote Julia C. Becker and Janet K. Swim, the authors of this study about the invisibility of sexism. “Many men not only lack attention to such incidents but also are less likely to perceive sexist incidents as being discriminatory and potentially harmful for women.”

How do you think about and respond to these 10 examples?

1. Religious sexism and discrimination. Do you really believe women are incapable of religous authority? This ritualized silencing of women is practiced by practically all major religions which, with minor exceptions, bar girls and women from ministerial leadership. That means access to the divine is mediated exclusively by men and their speech. This is legally unchallenged discrimination and its effects go way beyond places and practices of worship. From the moment a girl realizes that she is not invited to participate in clerical rituals because she is a girl, she learns that her voice is powerless and not respected. So do the boys around her. But, hey, at least we pay to undermine the public good through tax credits and subsidies. What if you objected? And stopped supporting this discrimination?

2. Double standards — lots of them. We live with an infinite number of hierarchy-building double standards based solely on gender, which restrict women’s freedom and impair our ability to lead secure, rewarding, autonomous lives. 50 of these are explored in Jessica Valenti’s book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut. They range from expecting girls to exhibit more self-control and politeness to grossly different treatment of men and women when they age and when they use their bodies to express themselves, to distorted ideas about boys and girls “natural” capabilities.

3.  Chivalry, otherwise know as benevolent sexism, is part of our “manners.” A man who opens a door for you and doesn’t mind if you do the same for him is one thing. But, one who categorically refuses your offer speaks to a much bigger problem. Benevolent sexism, the kind that is passed off as “protective” and “gentlemanly,” is a core characteristic of how masculinity (and by binary contrast, femininity) are constructed in conservative cultures. Studies have shown that themore entitled people are, the more likely they are to hold sexist beliefs — which says an awful lot about #WomenAgainstFeminism. It’s defined as “the negative consequences of attitudes that idealize women as pure, moral, pedestal-worthy objects of men’s adoration, protection, and provision.” A lot of this starts in childhood and comes under the mantle of teaching girls and boys to be “ladies” and “gentleman” instead of just civil and kind human beings who care for one another equally. In other words, what many people think of as chivalry, gentlemanly and “real man” behavior. The negative effects on women are well documented, particularly in the workplace.

There is a well-documented correlation between benevolent sexism and women’s acceptance of biased gender roles. Take the ways in which denial of the wage gap is expressed. For example, Phyllis Schlafly recently announced that closing the pay gap (she admitted it was real) would result in women being unable to find husbands. Ideas like this are deeply related to systemic support for an ideal worker who is male and a single breadwinner. That idea is a recurring theme of conservative policies about work and gender.

Our not seeing sexism where it is evident enables people with power to speculate out loud that “money is more important for men” and not lose their jobs for incompetence. I want you to imagine a political today saying money is more important for Jewish people. Or Black people. Or tall people. The pay gap amounts to $431,000 over a lifetime. Men make less than women in only seven of 534 job types, so, of course, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander recently demanded to know what gender gap legislation would do to help them. Benevolent sexists are definitively hostile to women’s workplace success. If we don’t challenge this very quiet form of sexism then we make sure it pays, but only a very small portion of the population. How much is chivalry worth to you? Because you can, after all, open doors on your own. Giving yourself a raise however, is impossible.

4. The high costs of “staying safe.” Every day women absorb, and are expected to pay, the costs of the safety gap. This gap costs us time and money and limits our movement. It can limit our employment opportunities, because some jobs can become very dangerous in an instant if you are a woman. Just ask reporterstruck driversmigrant workersactivists.

Ask yourselves, men, do you feel safe on your neighborhood streets? Do you choose where and when you shop or commute carefully? Do you have parking strategies, like not parking near vans? Do you use your keys as a weapon or take other similar measures? Do you avoid paying for a gym because you can exercise outside with no problems? We teach our children that these things are “normal” and to be expected. Talk about the costs to you with the people around you.

5.  Sexism in media is entertaining. “Family-friendly” media marginalizes and objectifies girls and women, creates damaging ideals of masculinity for boys, and sustains mythologies that support a violent, male-dominated status quo. Not only do we live with this media, but most people, genuinely otherwise concerned with their children’s well-being and future livelihoods, don’t actively challenge entertainment companies or related media to do better. When you see a movie and there are 20 men for every one woman (usually just one or two) on screen, do you say something? Do you think about the fact that that’s 20 times the number of onscreen jobs for men than for women? Or what that imbalance means on and off screen?

6. Women pay more for “our” products just because we are women and considered not “standard.”  A Jezebel article put it like this a few years ago: “Being born a woman is a major financial mistake.” Marie Claire published a similar list. Until recently gender pricing for insurance, which resulted in women paying up to 31% more for apples-to-apples coverage, was perfectly legal. Think I’m kidding? Here’s a 10 pac of Bic Cristal ball point pens for $5.89. Here’s the $10.14, six-pack version “for her.” Stop buying this sh*t.

7. Our language is profoundly biased, related to our social structure and affects the way we think. We pervasively use male generics and that has negative effects. I do it all the time — I can’t seem to break the “guys” habit. We still use male words, usually to denote positive categories, like “mankind,” but female terms for negative ones, “hos,” and “sluts.” We don’t, for example, sit kids down and talk to them about the social harms of “b*tch,”even when used affectionately. Women are routinely referred to as “girls” (childlike and dependent) and men “men.” This is part of a larger problem with the infantilization of adult women. We’re more likely to be referred to as animals, and with a purpose. It goes on and on. But, words are important — if only because they show the dynamic interplay between ideas. This may sound trivial until you consider that Japan has gendered terms for all three pronouns, whereas the Nordic countries are trying to introduce gender-neutral ones. Why does this matter? Well, Japan is the least gender equitable place when it comes to men and women’s labor and the Nordic countries the most. I’m not suggesting causality, just significant cultural correlations that we are not immune to.

8. We engage in prejudice against men that inhibits equality. I’ve seen women take babies away from their fathers in parks in order to change their diapers because “men aren’t good” at that sort of thing. Or maybe you’ve listened to men call themselves their children’s “babysitters,” or sat through television ads that portray men as incompetent idiots, slobs, sexist dolts or children when it comes to taking care of domestic life. More dangerous, however, is the repetition of rape and abuse myths that endanger boys and men by perpetuating discriminatory ideas about who gets raped — drunk girls who ask for it or make the mistake of stumbling into dark alleys.

9. We pretend street harassment, the public regulation women and LGTB people either doesn’t happen or doesn’t matter. I’d warrant that very few people talk to their daughters or non-gender conforming sons about street harassment before it happens. The effects of this harassment and really can’t be underestimated.

10. We let our schools teach sexist lessons and perpetuate gender hierarchical systems of organization. First, our education system erases the contributions of women in history and fails to provide an accurate portrayal of the past or sufficient role models. Girls go into our schools with assuredness and ambition, but they don’t leave that way.

Second, schools are filled with social norms that, if left unexplored, undermine diversity and equality, for example, dress codes enforcement.

Third, many remain structurally based on complementary models for men and women, from boards, which tend to be run by more men (because, you know, that’s where the hard job of money is done) to everyday volunteering and PTA involvement(mainly, still, women). School administration and coaching continue to be male dominated in an industry, education, that is made up mostly of women. So, children are immersed in educational environments that continue to sideline women’s historical labor, that sexualize girls with outdated rules about appearance and morality, that provide gender hierarchal examples of social structures and, for good measure, where classroom dynamics have been shown to fail at fairness in ways that hurt both boys and girls.

By the time boys and girls leave high school and enter college, boys are twice as likely to say they are prepared to run for office. I know hardworking individual teachers trying their hardest to offset these effects, but as institutions and cultures, many of our schools remain profoundly patriarchal. What if you challenged your school to make paying attention to core gender issues a priority instead of dancing around symptoms like homophobic and mean girl bullying, math problems, boy crises and more?

***

This is a short list. Setting aside the real physical harms that people can and do encounter, living with everyday sexism is like fighting a low-grade infection for your whole life. When women take note of sexism during their daily lives — for example, talking openly about street harassment or workplace bias — and name it for what it is, they stop accepting it as “normal.” For female politicians dealing with biased commentary and political opponents all too comfortable in the boys’ club of the public sphere, openly confronting sexism works. When men start to notice, when they think about the differences, they can empathize. Its the first step to understanding, as Jamie Utt put it, that “as it currently exists, masculinity is fundamentally an expression of patriarchal oppression.” But, before this can happen, women have to tell their stories and register their legitimate objections and people have to listen and understand why its important. Prevailing cultural attitudes continue to minimize gendered harms.

However, women are clearly in a double bind because calling out sexism can result in real penalties. A recent study very depressingly showed what we all know: Women who advocate for equality, in the workplace, for example are actively penalized for doing so.

The sad fact is that while it is polite to express sexist ideas, confronting them is considered the height of rudeness and humorlessness and this social politeness prohibition is a significant impediment to positive, everyday change. When a man at a neighborhood party comments openly and rudely on my breasts or when another in a meeting interrupts me incessantly, it is me, not them, who is considered hostile, “strident,” and unpleasant for saying, “My face is up here,” or “Would you please stop interrupting me?”

The fact is, we are engaged in a tidal process of awareness-raising that requires everyone to look at the role that sexism plays in their lives. Are you acknowledging it when it happens, and what do you do about it if you do?”

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50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act

http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2014/07/02/50th-anniversary-of-civil-rights-act-the-numbers/?google_editors_picks=true#facebook

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10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

“This article updated from original, which appeared in Role Reboot.

“Stop interrupting me.” 

“I just said that.”

“No explanation needed.”

In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

This irksome reality goes along with another — men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.

These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.

The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And — as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born — how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.

This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestThe man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally, a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.

In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60′s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him I was writing a book about gender and media and he said, “I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I’d be happy to help you.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech and parity in culture, he drifted off.

It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak moremore often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classroomsboardroomslegislative bodiesexpert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women’s testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women’s being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in courtadopt what is often categorized as “[white] women’s language,” they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them “rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible.” Silence might be an approach taken by women to adapt to the double bind, but silence doesn’t help when you’re testifying.

The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role that gender (and not biological sex) plays. For example, I have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, disruptively interrupts and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of a one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess the child is a boy based on the fact that these speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” The child is a girl, however. She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than the average girl speaker. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps her confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).

The first time I ran this post, I kid you not, the first response I got was from a Twitter user, a man, who, without a shred of self-awareness, asked, “What would you say if a man said those things to you mid-conversation?”

Socialized male speech dominance is a significant issue, not just in school, but everywhere. If you doubt me, sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship. It’s significant and consequential.

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” In general, I’m loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world’s responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

“Stop interrupting me,” 

“I just said that,” and 

“No explanation needed.”

It will do both boys and girls a world of good. And no small number of adults, as well.”

 

I experience this every single day which is why, when I participate in online comment boards, I use the user name “CJones” so that no one knows whether I’m male or female.

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Rethinking the Placebo Effect: How Our Minds Actually Affect Our Bodies

 

“In 2013, Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted a mind-bending debate on the nature of “nothing” – an inquiry that has occupied thinkers since the dawn of recorded thought and permeates everything from Hamlet’s iconic question to the boldest frontiers of quantum physics. That’s precisely what New Scientist editor-in-chief Jeremy Webb explores with a kaleidoscopic lens in Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion(public library) – a terrific collection of essays and articles exploring everything from vacuum to the birth and death of the universe to how the concept of zero gained wide acceptance in the 17th century after being shunned as a dangerous innovation for 400 years. As Webb elegantly puts it, “nothing becomes a lens through which we can explore the universe around us and even what it is to be human. It reveals past attitudes and present thinking.”

Among the most intensely interesting pieces in the collection is one by science journalist Jo Marchant, who penned the fascinating story of the world’s oldest analog computer. Titled “Heal Thyself,” the piece explores how the way we think about medical treatments shapes their very real, very physical effects on our bodies – an almost Gandhi-like proposition, except rooted in science rather than philosophy. Specifically, Marchant brings to light a striking new dimension of the placebo effect that runs counter to how the phenomenon has been conventionally explained. She writes:

It has always been assumed that the placebo effect only works if people are conned into believing that they are getting an actual active drug. But now it seems this may not be true. Belief in the placebo effect itself – rather than a particular drug – might be enough to encourage our bodies to heal.

She cites a recent study at the Harvard Medical School, in which people with irritable bowel syndrome were given a placebo and informed that the pills were “made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes.” As Marchant notes, this is absolutely true, in a meta kind of way. What the researchers found was startling in its implications for medicine, philosophy, and spirituality – despite being aware they were taking placebos, the participants rated their symptoms as “moderately improved” on average. In other words, they knew what they were taking wasn’t a drug – it was a medical “nothing” – but the very consciousness of taking something made them experience fewer symptoms.

Illustration by Marianne Dubuc from The Lion and the Bird

This dovetails into recent research confirming what Helen Keller fervently believed by putting some serious science behind the value of optimism. Marchant sums up the findings:

Realism can be bad for your health. Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.

It is well accepted that negative thoughts and anxiety can make us ill. Stress – the belief that we are at risk – triggers physiological pathways such as the “fight-or-flight” response, mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. These have evolved to protect us from danger, but if switched on long-term they increase the risk of conditions such as diabetes and dementia.

What researchers are now realizing is that positive beliefs don’t just work by quelling stress. They have a positive effect too – feeling safe and secure, or believing things will turn out fine, seems to help the body maintain and repair itself… Optimism seems to reduce stress-induced inflammation and levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. It may also reduce susceptibility to disease by dampening sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter governs what’s called the “rest-and-digest” response – the opposite of fight-or-flight.

Just as helpful as taking a rosy view of the future is having a rosy view of yourself. High “self-enhancers” – people who see themselves in a more positive light than others see them – have lower cardiovascular responses to stress and recover faster, as well as lower baseline cortisol levels.

Marchant notes that it’s as beneficial to amplify the world’s perceived positivity as it is to amplify our own – something known as our “self-enhancement bias,” a type of self-delusion that helps keep us sane. But the same applies to our attitudes toward others as well – they too can impact our physical health. She cites University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, who has dedicated his career to studying how social isolation affects individuals. Though solitude might be essential for great writing, being alone a special form of art, and single living the defining modality of our time, loneliness is a different thing altogether – a thing Cacioppo found to be toxic:

Being lonely increases the risk of everything from heart attacks to dementia, depression and death, whereas people who are satisfied with their social lives sleep better, age more slowly and respond better to vaccines. The effect is so strong that curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking.

Illustration by Marianne Dubuc from The Lion and the Bird

Marchant quotes another researcher, Charles Raison at Atlanta’s Emory University, who studies mind–body interactions:

It’s probably the single most powerful behavioral finding in the world… People who have rich social lives and warm, open relationships don’t get sick and they live longer.

Marchant points to specific research by Cacioppo, who found that “in lonely people, genes involved in cortisol signaling and the inflammatory response were up-regulated, and that immune cells important in fighting bacteria were more active, too.” Marchant explains the findings and the essential caveat to them:

[Cacioppo] suggests that our bodies may have evolved so that in situations of perceived social isolation, they trigger branches of the immune system involved in wound healing and bacterial infection. An isolated person would be at greater risk of physical trauma, whereas being in a group might favor the immune responses necessary for fighting viruses, which spread easily between people in close contact.

Crucially, these differences relate most strongly to how lonely people think they are, rather than to the actual size of their social network. That also makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, says Cacioppo, because being among hostile strangers can be just as dangerous as being alone. So ending loneliness is not about spending more time with people. Cacioppo thinks it is all about our attitude to others: lonely people become overly sensitive to social threats and come to see others as potentially dangerous. In a review of previous studies … he found that tackling this attitude reduced loneliness more effectively than giving people more opportunities for interaction, or teaching social skills.

Illustration by André François for Little Boy Brown, a lovely vintage ode to childhood and loneliness

Paradoxically, science suggests that one of the most important interventions to offer benefits that counter the ill effects of loneliness has to do with solitude – or, more precisely, regimented solitude in the form of meditation. Marchant notes that trials on the effects of meditation have been small – something I find troublesomely emblematic of the short-sightedness with which we approach mental health as we continue to prioritize the physical in both our clinical subsidies and our everyday lives (how many people have a workout routine compared to those with a meditation practice?); even within the study of mental health, the vast majority of medical research focuses on the effects of a physical substance – a drug of some sort – on the mind, with very little effort directed at understanding the effects of the mind on the physical body.

Still, the modest body of research on meditation is heartening. Marchant writes:

There is some evidence that meditation boosts the immune response in vaccine recipients and people with cancer, protects against a relapse in major depression, soothes skin conditions and even slows the progression of HIV. Meditation might even slow the aging process. Telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, get shorter every time a cell divides and so play a role in aging. Clifford Saron of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues showed in 2011 that levels of an enzyme that builds up telomeres were higher in people who attended a three-month meditation retreat than in a control group.

As with social interaction, meditation probably works largely by influencing stress response pathways. People who meditate have lower cortisol levels, and one study showed they have changes in their amygdala, a brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.

If you’re intimidated by the time investment, take heart – fMRI studies show that as little as 11 hours of total training, or an hour every other day for three weeks, can produce structural changes in the brain. If you’re considering dipping your toes in the practice, I wholeheartedly recommend meditation teacher Tara Brach, who has changed my life.

But perhaps the most striking finding in exploring how our beliefs affect our bodies has to do with finding your purpose and, more than that, finding meaning in life. The most prominent studies in the field have defined purpose rather narrowly, as religious belief, but even so, the findings offer an undeniably intriguing signpost to further exploration. Marchant synthesizes the research, its criticism, and its broader implications:

In a study of 50 people with advanced lung cancer, those judged by their doctors to have high “spiritual faith” responded better to chemotherapy and survived longer. More than 40 percent were still alive after three years, compared with less than 10 percent of those judged to have little faith. Are your hackles rising? You’re not alone. Of all the research into the healing potential of thoughts and beliefs, studies into the effects of religion are the most controversial.

Critics of these studies … point out that many of them don’t adequately tease out other factors. For instance, religious people often have lower-risk lifestyles and churchgoers tend to enjoy strong social support, and seriously ill people are less likely to attend church.

[…]

Others think that what really matters is having a sense of purpose in life, whatever it might be. Having an idea of why you are here and what is important increases our sense of control over events, rendering them less stressful. In Saron’s three-month meditation study, the increase in levels of the enzyme that repairs telomeres correlated with an increased sense of control and an increased sense of purpose in life. In fact, Saron argues, this psychological shift may have been more important than the meditation itself. He points out that the participants were already keen meditators, so the study gave them the chance to spend three months doing something important to them. Spending more time doing what you love, whether it’s gardening or voluntary work, might have a similar effect on health. The big news from the study, Saron says, is “the profound impact of having the opportunity to live your life in a way that you find meaningful.”

Philosopher Daniel Dennett was right all along in asserting that the secret of happiness is to “find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Each of the essays in Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion is nothing short of fascinating. Complement them with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on the science of “something” and “nothing.”

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June 30, 2014 · 6:51 pm

Watch a Brave Woman Teach a Man a Lesson for Sexually Assaulting Her on the Subway

“In 2010, Nicola Briggs felt a man rub himself against her while riding an uncrowded subway train in Manhattan. Briggs turned around to find, to her horror, that the man had exposed himself and was wearing only a condom.

While this type of sexual assault is startlingly common, Briggs’ story took a unique turn. A tai chi instructor, the 5-foot-tall Briggs fiercely confronted the perpetrator in the middle of the subway car.

“Oh, you’re getting f—ing arrested. I’m not leaving your side,” she told him, enlisting the help of other passengers to keep him in check…”

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June 24, 2014 · 6:58 pm

7 Things I Wish…

7 Things I Wish Parents Would Stop Teaching Their Children:

That nudity is inherently sexual
That people should be judged for their personal decisions
That yelling solves problems
That they are too young to be talking about the things they’re already starting to ask questions about
That age correlates to importance
That interacting with someone of the opposite sex is inherently romantic
That the default for someone is straight and cisgender

Source: http://goddess-river.tumblr.com/post/88498498959/7-things-i-wish-parents-would-stop-teaching-their

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June 22, 2014 · 6:44 pm

1) You are allo…

1) You are allowed to take up space. You are a human.

2) You are allowed to have a voice.

3) You are allowed to leave whenever you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

4) You deserve more than someone who doesn’t know how to respect you.

5) You are allowed to put your own needs first.

6) You are allowed to love yourself.

— 6:11 p.m. (Six reminders for bad times)

Source: http://expresswithsilence.tumblr.com/post/87848616484/1-you-are-allowed-to-take-up-space-you-are-a

 

Applicable to so many social justice issues.

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June 22, 2014 · 5:44 pm