Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Good for the goose, not so good for the flock

A particular paradox has popped up in a couple different venues of my life lately, and I'm not sure what to do with it. The summary: The behavior that is most likely to help an individual triumph over difficulty is often the same behavior that disguises and enables the social systems that cause the difficulty.

Case #1: In my previous post on student loan debt and unemployment I quoted a commenter at Dear Sugar. The commenter was pointing out that Sugar's advice to keep your chin up, take responsibility for your own finances, and not get bogged down in blame was probably right for the struggling letter writer, but it was enabling to the predatory student loan industry and the ruthless corporations that are fueling a generational crisis.

Case #2: More recently, over at Feministe, guest blogger William wrote about the disgusting situation at the Anoka-Hennepin school district and how the school tried to dodge responsibility for the student suicides by blaming "mental illness" as if it had no connection to bullying and and systemic abuse. William was arguing that "mental illness" fails as a paradigm because it avoids looking deeply at the social and environmental causes of distress, instead focusing on symptom reduction in the individual. In my comments on the post, I noted that in my experience focusing on symptom reduction is often the best way to ease a patient's suffering and help them re-build a stable life. However, William is right that this approach tends to let the community off the hook.

Case #3: In my own struggles with depression and anxiety I have found that, while it can be satisfying to understand and name the family dysfunctions that contributed to my madness, it doesn't do much to reduce my symptoms in the present moment. Furthermore, my anger and frustration over environmental and social justice issues fuel my anxiety, and working in the environmental and social justice field does not in fact make this better. What does reduce the panic attacks, insomnia, and hopelessness is to detach as much as possible from my expectations for a better world.

So: Emphasizing our own agency and focusing on what we can control helps us feel hopeful about our ability to improve our situation, fights off despair, and targets our immediate needs. But it encourages us to ignore systemic problems, or blame ourselves for systemic failures.

I think what we need is a clear division of labor: X is focused on helping individuals manage and overcome their difficulties, and Y is focused on uncovering the systemic faults that foster those difficulties and fixing them. This leads me to the idea of occupational medicine for mental health, but I think that needs its own post.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

That Is a Great Idea

As previously stated, I've been reading I Blame the Patriarchy. I was going through older posts and happened upon this gem inspired by the recent spate of state-mandated rape bills:

Incognotter sent Spinster HQ a nice email expanding on the Do-It-To-The-Men-Instead theme (one of my favorite themes). She says:

I am beginning to think we are fighting for reproductive rights in the wrong way. If the point is to have big-government interventionism that negates bodily sovereignty as a “solution” to a perceived moral problem, then we should neuter all men at puberty and bank their sperm. It could be used consensually for the purpose of reproduction. No more abortion issues, no more birth control issues, much less war on women. If they had to face that they might suddenly reconsider this big invasive bullshit. Can you imagine the reaction to the realization that a woman had to sign her consent to get knocked up?

Twisty praised this idea as elegant, just, and diabolical, but after a couple days I kept coming back to the thought that this is actually a really good, practical solution.

If we step back a level and consider this as a voluntary public health program, it's genius. Male sterilization surgery is a simple, outpatient procedure. It takes 30 minutes, and an hour rest in the doctors office, and then you're done. It's relatively cheap too, and side effects are minor and rare. These days they can do it without making any incision at all. Hey adolescent dudes: one minor surgery and you will never have to worry about accidental pregnancy ever again!

The tricky part is the sperm banking. Currently that service is only offered by high-end for-profit companies, and it can be quite pricey. But I have to believe this is mostly profit. More research is required, but basically what are you paying for besides a labeling system and a deep freezer? Collecting sperm samples is pretty, uh, straightforward.

Besides cost, there is the question of viability. Some sperm do not survive being frozen, and it can be harder to conceive using previously frozen sperm. It seems to me that this could be worked around by storing a good collection of samples, and accepting that some men may have to use donor sperm or adopt (psst: this happens anyway).

Seriously, imagine an organization like Planned Parenthood that would offer, for a nominal fee, a combination of sperm-banking and sterilization to any man over the age of 15. Imagine that the program included some kind of certificate (my husband suggested a ring, which I find an excellent twist on the whole purity ring bullshit). As a woman, you could choose only to have sex with men who had taken responsibility for their own fertility. When you were ready to have kids, you would go together to the clinic to get pregnant.

I still have questions about costs, but I honestly think this is a win-win-win proposal. I can't imagine that most men really enjoy worrying about unplanned pregnancies, and it could make them much more attractive partners. Women would no longer bear sole responsibility for all the consequences of sex, and society would benefit hugely from fewer unplanned pregnancies, less abortion, and (rarely actually discussed) fewer unwanted babies and resentful parents.

Am I nuts? Would men use this service?

A Fount of Inspiration

I've been reading a lot of I Blame the Patriarchy lately, and it has my brain churning. Expect several upcoming posts inspired by Twisty and Co.

Also, for the record, IBTP has been a great entry point into radical feminism. While I still wouldn't describe myself as radfem, Twisty provides context and nuance that have helped me grok the reasoning behind her positions, and I've found myself surprised at how often I agree. Also, she's fucking hilarious.