Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why You Might Want to Refuse the PSA Test for Prostate Cancer Screening

If you are a man of a certain age (say, over 40-45), you have likely had at least one prostate screen in your regular exams (and if you haven't, DO IT NOW). The old school test is the digital rectal exam (DRE), you know, the one where the doc inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your arse and feels for the size of the prostate gland. Most men dread this part of the physical. Once prostate specific androgen was discovered (by Richard Ablin, in 1970) and a blood test was developed, PSA screens became the most popular diagnostic tool.

The problem is that PSA screening is not a very effective tool. Dr. Ablin, and a lot of other researchers, worry that "the use of the PSA test has led to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, with millions of unnecessary surgeries, complications and deaths." There is considerable research to support this concern.

This is from "Prevention of Prostate Cancer" (Algotar, AM, Stratton, MS, Harryman, WL, and Cress, AE); Fundamentals of Cancer Prevention, D. Alberts, L.M. Hess (eds.), 2014.
Treatment of clinically silent cancers is termed “overtreatment” (Klotz 2012 ). Estimates place the cost of this phenomenon in excess of $31 and $55 million respectively (Heijnsdijk et al. 2009 ).
After extensive review of literature, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) has issued a grade D recommendation (“discourage the use of this service”) for screening with PSA (Force 2012 ). This means that the USPTF believes there is moderate or high certainty that screening with PSA has no net benefit or that the harm outweighs the benefit. This grade D recommendation applies to healthy men of all ages, regardless of race or family history. (p. 495-496)
Perhaps the most scathing review of PSA testing in recent months comes from Dr. Ablin himself, in a New York Times editorial, The Problems with Prostate Screening (Nov. 25, 2014).

In this editorial, he dissects some serious issues with two major studies - European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer, and the so-called Swedish Goteborg study - both of which support the use of PSA tests to reduce prostate cancer deaths. These studies appeared in highly prestigious journals, The New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet Oncology, respectively.

The researchers in the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC) have refused to make their data available to outside researchers, despite government and charity funding of the project. This is a HUGE red flag. More troubling, however, is that this project transferred 60% of the data from the Swedish Goteborg Study, which is unique "among country-specific studies in showing an almost 50 percent reduction in prostate cancer deaths for screening recipients." Without this data (which is an outlier in PSA research), there would not have been any clinically relevant survival rate in the ERSPC study.

Another HUGE red flag is that several of primary researchers in the European study have interests in the PSA screening industry. This is from Dr. Ablin's editorial:
Finally, several senior authors of the European trials, and their American supporters, have potential conflicts of interest that relate to payments from companies involved in marketing PSA tests, or in holding patents in the PSA and prostate cancer diagnostic space — relationships documented by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, in the forms that accompany the PSA-study publications and in disclosures found in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
None of this serves the men who rely on prostate cancer screening to protect them and identify possible tumors as early as possible (early detection = much higher survival rates).

In the end, the decision to get a prostate cancer screen (of whatever type) should be made by the man in discussion with his physician. For men who are not in high-risk groups (high risk groups include African-Americans, first-degree relative with prostate cancer before age 65, and so on), the American Cancer Society does not recommend prostate cancer screens.

For myself, I have chosen to go with the DRE in my physicals, and I made this choice in conversation with one of the leading researchers in prostate cancer, Dr. Anne Cress of the UA Cancer Center (and a friend of mine). This feels like the best choice for me.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

University of Virgina Suspends ALL Fraternities Following Rolling Stone Article

On November 19th, Rolling Stone published a deeply researched article, called A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA, that related the horrific - and not uncommon - experience of Jackie, a college freshman at UVA who was brutally and violently raped over a period of 3 hours by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi frat house.
Jackie had taken three hours getting ready, straightening her long, dark, wavy hair. She'd congratulated herself on her choice of a tasteful red dress with a high neckline. Now, climbing the frat-house stairs with Drew, Jackie felt excited. Drew ushered Jackie into a bedroom, shutting the door behind them. The room was pitch-black inside. Jackie blindly turned toward Drew, uttering his name. At that same moment, she says, she detected movement in the room – and felt someone bump into her. Jackie began to scream.

"Shut up," she heard a man's voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn't some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they'd return to the party.
"Grab its motherfucking leg," she heard a voice say. And that's when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men's heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.
It only gets worse from there.

Kudos to Rolling Stone for investigating and reporting this story - this is what responsible journalism looks like.

Fortunately, the story went viral. The revelation allowed many more young women to come forward with their stories. Here are two of their stories - see Rape at UVA: Students Say Jackie Was Not Alone for the remainder.
I was also raped at UVA in a frat house in 2013. I reported it through the Sexual Misconduct Board at the University and had it tried in 2014. My evidence included texts calling for help, police testimony consistent with mine, and numerous witnesses. But the University still found him innocent. I found Nicole Eramo very unfeeling as well — sociopathic, almost. She later told me she didn't believe the studies that showed rapists, in particular, were repeat offenders of this heinous crime. It was a very negative experience to go through — to be raped and then told that your offender was innocent. I even left clothing as I ran out of the frat house that the University gathered as evidence and it was never returned to me. Not that the clothing was important. It wasn't. The police discouraged me from pursuing it criminally, saying that I didn't have enough evidence to win. They also told me that I should be cautious about pursuing this formally, since court proceedings and news articles related to my case could spread publicly on the Internet. For privacy reasons (I didn't want future employers to Google me and see that I brought forward rape charges), I decided to pursue justice through the University. But the outcome of this process was painful and disappointing. I will never stop wondering why UVA so often expels students for academic lying, cheating, and stealing but has never once expelled a student for rape.

I am so sorry for what happened to you, Jackie, and I wish I had been brave enough my freshman year to report what happened to me. But fearing the very same things – backlash, no consequences – I chose to stay quiet. I support you, I am proud of you and what you did is going to change lives. You are forcing an administration to admit its wrongdoings, and you are getting national attention, which will help to stop this misogyny, violence and pain from affecting more people. I know that feeling like a martyr is never going to feel as good as the girl you were before this happened to you, but your struggle has significance and you are needed in this world.
Then the unexpected happened on Friday (Nov. 21), the UVA administration suspended ALL fraternities and their activities until the beginning of the Spring semester in January, at which time a panel of students, faculty, alumni, and "other concerned parties" will offer recommendations for how to stop these incidents.

Here is the beginning of that article, which includes the full statement by the University's President.

UVA Suspends Fraternities Following Rolling Stone Campus Rape Investigation

"The wrongs described in Rolling Stone are appalling and have caused all of us to reexamine our responsibility to this community," UVA president writes in letter suspending fraternities

Joel Hawksley/For The Washington Post via Getty Images - Graduating students stand to have their pictures taken in front of the Rotunda at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. on May 18, 2013.
By Rolling Stone | November 22, 2014

Following Rolling Stone publishing Sabrina Rubin Erdely's harrowing report "A Rape on Campus," which detailed a pattern of sexual assault among the fraternities at the University of Virginia, many women who attended UVA emailed Rolling Stone sharing their own similar stories. After "A Rape on Campus" went viral, the school itself acknowledged the Rolling Stone article by promising to make changes to their student sexual misconduct policy. Now, the University is taking even more stern action.

President Teresa A. Sullivan announced in a letter to students and alumni that the school's fraternities have been suspended effective immediately. The suspension will last until January 9, 2015, which marks the beginning of the spring semester. In that time, "we will assemble groups of students, faculty, alumni, and other concerned parties to discuss our next steps in preventing sexual assault and sexual violence on Grounds," Sullivan writes.
In my opinion, the only way this is going to change is to take drastic steps - the Fraternities at UVA should remain closed for the rest of the school year, with the students placed in residence halls are allowed to move into off-campus housing.

The administration needs education on rape, date rape, toxic masculinity, and the rape culture that exists on campuses around the country, but especially in some fraternities. The people who turned a blind eye to these events in ignorance or in fear of bad publicity need to be educated on how alcohol and drugs, toxic masculinity, and entitlement and privilege can lead to these type of gang rape situations.

Further, any future rapes that are reported and verified will result in the permanent closure of a given fraternity. Period. 

This needs to be the basic policy on EVERY campus in the country, not just UVA.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Diane Abbott - The Crisis of Masculinity

From the Institute of Arts and Letters:
With rapid economic and social change leaving Britain’s men behind, Labour politician Diane Abbott imagines brave solutions to an impending social disaster.

The Crisis of Masculinity

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All Good Things . . .

I have been doing this blog for more than six years, mostly every day. I have loved the reading and sharing that goes into a blog, as well as the opportunity to preach my beliefs about masculinity and gender. But, for a variety of reasons, it's time to do something else.

I'm not shutting down the blog, but any posting will be occasional or related to a specific and relevant current event.

I have made this decision for Integral Options Cafe as well (which has been a daily effort for nearly ten years).

THANK YOU to all of you who read this blog and especially to those of you who have engaged in conversation here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fitness Friday - Fitness News You Can Use (Sunday Edition)

Due to a browser crash (apparently Firefox is unstable with 100+ tabs open), this week's Fitness Friday is a couple of days late, but the posts are still fresh.

Lots of good stuff this week, including research on fat intake and body composition, garlic for a healthier prostate, impact of antioxidants on muscle growth, the many benefits of creatine, complexes for muscle fat loss, and how time under tension can increase strength and muscle size.

Weight gain? The kind of fat in your diet helps determine how much muscle mass you build up

If you gain weight, the kind of fat in your diet partly determines the amount of fat and the amount of muscle in your newfound kilograms. The unsaturated fatty acids in sunflower oil stimulate the growth of muscle; the saturated fatty acids in palm oil – found in many processed foods – lead to an increase the amount of fat. Researchers at the University of Uppsala in Sweden report on this in Diabetes

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Garlic, prostate cancer and Death Receptor-4

Garlic, prostate cancer and Death Receptor 4

The more leeks, onions, chives or garlic that men eat, the less likely they are to develop prostate cancer. Epidemiologists at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing discovered the prostate-cancer inhibiting properties of the Allium vegetable family when they gathered and reanalysed data from 9 big epidemiological studies. They looked at data on 132,192 men in total.

Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2013;14(7):4131-4.

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Do Antioxidants Impede the Benefits of Exercise?

Breaking Muscle
Craig Marker - Contributor - Psychology and Research
More Articles from this Author

Antioxidants have been shown in multiple studies to impair the benefits of exercise. But newer theories of antioxidants propose that the reactive oxygen molecules thought to be so harmful actually set in motion important reactions in the body that make us stronger in the long run.

RELATED: Antioxidants Have Mixed Effects on Performance

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Creatine: A Versatile Supplement

Creatine is one of the few supplements that has stood the test of time. I can recall first taking it when I was in high school over 20 years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s the most well-research supplement in the literature, with thousands upon thousands of articles on the topic. HERE is a Wikipedia link to creatine in case you’d like to learn the basics. Over the years, I’ve stumbled across some interesting research on creatine. I decided to compile some of these study abstracts together into an article. When sifting through the entire body of research, it seems that creatine does not enhance testosterone or growth hormone output (one study showed increased growth hormone, but several others have shown no effect), does not work as well in the elderly as it does with younger subjects, does not reduce muscle damage (one study showed that it did, but several others showed that it did not), does not improve the plasma-lipid ratio during aerobic training, and does not alter insulin sensitivity.
However, creatine does indeed lead to some very favorable outcomes. It’s also very safe and well-tolerated. In the abstracts below, you will note that creatine....
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Note: despite the title of this post, guys will definitely benefit from these complexes.

3 Complexes for Rapid Female Fat Loss 

by TC | 11/04/14

Here's what you need to know...

  • CrossFit generates a lot of controversy, but everybody agrees that it does great things for the female body. Not interested in CrossFit? Do complexes.
  • Complexes provide the same kind of exertion, the same type of fat burning and strength building, and they require very little equipment or time.
  • Complexes are simply a series of movements performed with a barbell, dumbbell(s), or kettlebell(s) where you finish each rep of one movement before quickly moving onto the next movement.
  • They can be done after your regular workout as a fat-burning, muscle-shaping finisher. However, they're so effective, many women would be better off replacing their entire workout with complexes.
CrossFit? No Thanks.

CrossFit has its fans and its detractors, but the one thing everyone seemingly agrees on is that the women who do it look pretty darn good.

As powerful a lure as looking pretty darn good might be to a lot of non-CrossFit women, the idea of joining a "box" probably freaks many of them out. It could be that you were never one to join sororities in college and the notion of all that rah-rah stuff and allegedly friendly competition makes you get frown lines around your mouth.

Maybe CrossFit comes off just a little bit too much like a cult and you're in no mood to give away all your worldly possessions and swear allegiance to its founder. Others might cringe at the idea of doing all those bunion-pounding sprints. Or, it could simply be that you don't know how to do some of those Olympic lifts.

If it's the last option, you're not alone. There are thousands of female (and male) bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts who can't do a proper snatch, clean and jerk, or muscle-up on gymnastic rings. Either they didn't learn how do to them in gym class, no one in a commercial gym taught them, they didn't bother to seek out a qualified coach, or they were just plain klutzy and were worried about impaling innocent bystanders.

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Create Tension, Build More Muscle 

by James Chan | 11/05/14

Here's what you need to know...

  • High mechanical tension is the primary stimulus for muscle growth. The more tension you create within a muscle, the more size you'll build.
  • The tension must be long in duration, at least 20 seconds.
  • The tension must also be high throughout the entire range of motion.
  • Set extenders accomplish all three things – they create high tension for a long time throughout the entire range of motion.
  • Set extenders are when you hit a muscle group with a series of two or more exercises done in consecutive order with little or no rest.
Why are some exercises better for developing muscular size than others? 

Ultimately, high mechanical tension is the primary stimulus for muscle growth. The more tension you can create within a muscle, the more size you'll build. To maximize muscular growth, the tension has to meet the following criteria....

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gender-Neutral Pronouns: When ‘They’ Doesn’t Identify as Either Male or Female*Jh8Phhs/binary.jpg

Interestingly, this is from the Washington Post. I didn't even know this column existed.

Gender-neutral pronouns: When ‘they’ doesn’t identify as either male or female

By Steven Petrow, Columnist, Civilities
October 27, 2014

Dear Civilities: Recently, a young woman I know explained to me that she now considers herself to be “genderqueer,” which is a new phrase for me. My first question is: What does she mean by that? I also understand that she no longer uses female pronouns to refer to herself (i.e., “her” and “she”) but prefers “they,” “them” and “their” because, as she told me, they identify her as a person, not as either a man or a woman. She has asked her friends to adopt that language, too, but maybe I’m old school, because I find it odd and grammatically incorrect to say something like, “Oh, they went to the movies this afternoon,” in reference to one singular person. What is the right thing to do, and say, in this circumstance?” — Name withheld, Washington, D.C.

A: My first reaction is: Wow, this is complicated. But really, it’s not. Language is about respect, and we should all do our best to recognize how people wish to be identified, whether it is using their preferred name or a pronoun spelled any which way. In other words, do your best to adjust to changing times and terms, and address people the way they ask you. Or more bluntly, use a person’s preferred gender pronouns even if they are unfamiliar to you and not in the general lexicon. (This would only apply to those who make such a request; our own pronouns remain the same.)

But this latest evolution of the English language has felt awkward to me as well, as I have witnessed my inner Strunk and White struggle with what I first saw as “political correctness.” My first step was to learn more about “genderqueer,” which the National Center for Transgender Equality explains as a “term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female.” Jacob Tobia, a recent college grad who identifies as genderqueer, also helped me:
“Genderqueer people see gender not as binary with men or women, but as a spectrum that ranges from masculinity to femininity. Most genderqueer people identify somewhere between or outside of conventional masculinity or femininity.”
Jacob Tobia is a recent college grad who identifies as genderqueer.

Jacob (whom I’ve known for years) prefers the pronouns “they” and “them,” and so here’s how I would write about Jacob: They have a gender identity that encompasses both male and female, and their attire ranges from pencil skirts, high heels and lipstick to blazers, bow ties and facial hair on any given day.

This past week I attended a presentation at Duke University’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, whose name was the LGBT Center but was changed to reflect a more fluid understanding of gender. At the outset, the speaker asked the audience to introduce ourselves and declare our preferred gender pronouns. Most of us stated an adherence to the traditional — “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” — but several individuals chose gender-neutral pronouns, “they/them/their.” One person preferred to use “ze” (“ze smiled”) and “hir” (“I work with hir”).

Clearly, there’s change afoot in the language to refer to gender identity, and this clashes for some people with strong feelings about established rules of English. On my Facebook page, when asked for input about this question, many expressed views along these lines: “The letter writer needs to follow the rules of grammar and pick a singular. You can’t just toss the rules on a whim.”

I think it’s wiser to take a longer view on matters of language evolution. It’s not as if this is the first time the language we use to describe gender has prompted debate. Think back to the early 1970s when the term “Ms.” was introduced as an alternative to “Miss” and “Mrs.”

There was vociferous opposition to that change by linguists and etiquette experts. But it made good sense because it obviated the need to guess a woman’s marital status. To this day, the Economist magazine’s style guide states: “The overriding principle is to treat people with respect. That usually means giving them the title they themselves adopt.” And then it calls out “Ms.” as being “ugly.”

Linguist Dennis Baron at the University of Illinois points to the evolution of the word “you” as another example: “Purists object that a plural pronoun like ‘they’ can’t be used as a singular. But they are wrong: ‘You’ began its life as plural (the singular second person was ‘thou’). Then ‘you’ began serving as singular as well. . . . Today we use ‘you’ to refer to one person — ‘Are you talkin’ to me?’ — without worrying about number. And for most people, ‘they’ works the same way.”

Even the “they” and “them” debate itself has been going on for some time. Baron referred to an 1878 issue of the Atlantic magazine arguing that tired old “he” and “she” needed replacing: “We need a new pronoun. The need of a personal pronoun of the singular number and common gender is so desperate, urgent, imperative, that according to the established theories it should long have grown in our speech, as the tails grew off monkeys.”

There you go, folks — the history. Now without my Strunk and White sword to fall on, I’d add only that grammar evolution should be bolstered with respect. My friend Jacob is not a pronoun, but a person. And if they want me to refer to them with a gender-neutral pronoun, I will do my best. You should, too. (As for “ze” and “hir,” I’ll try, but I’m still going to need a little more time to learn how to pronounce them.)

~ Steven Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities. View Archive

E-mail questions to Civilities at (unfortunately not all questions can be answered). You can reach him on Facebook at and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

MIT and CalArts are the Latest Colleges to Expose the Rape Crisis

Apparently, it's not only jocks and frat boys who contribute to America's rape culture - geeks and nerds do, too. This sad article is from Jezebel.

One addendum to this story, and others like it, needs to be made clear - we need to start asking college men about their unwanted sexual experiences. While most guys would be too ashamed to call it rape (stereotypes still dominate), a LOT of young men have sex against their will, either through intoxication of coercion. In one study (conducted at a University in Chile), 1 in 5 young men reported unwanted sexual experiences (USE) since the age of 14, another 9.4% reported USE prior to age 14 (Lehrer, Lehrer, and Koss, 2013).

In another study:
In a sample drawn from 12 U.S. colleges, 22.2 % of male participants reported some form of USE over their lifetime, with 8.3 % reporting severe USE (involving threats and/or force) (Tewksbury & Mustaine, 2001).
The 1 in 5 number seems to be accurate across nationalities. It's time we begin looking at this more closely in the U.S. media - the numbers of male victims are too similar to those of females to keep on ignoring this problem.

MIT and CalArts are the Latest Colleges to Expose the Rape Crisis

Anna Merlan
10/28/14 4:15pm

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has released a new survey about sexual assault at the university, and it makes us feel all sorts of things: the now-familiar depression and rage, of course, but also, somewhere deep down, a tiny, unfamiliar tendril of tentative optimism.

The depressing and rage-inducing part is that about 17 percent of women and 5 percent of men said they had been sexually assaulted during their time at MIT. (The full survey can be found here. The school polled nearly 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The survey was sent to nearly 11,000, but only about 35 percent responded). And, like the other studies, this one also found that most of them didn't report those incidents to an authority figure. The study's authors write, "Close to two-thirds (63%) of respondents who indicated they had an unwanted sexual experience at MIT told someone else about the incident(s), but fewer than 5% reported the experience(s) to someone in an official capacity."

These numbers correspond pretty closely with a similar survey released by the University of Oregon earlier this month, as well as a Department of Justice study released in 2007. Despite how fervently rape apologists like George Will stick their fingers in their ears and try to yell it away, all the available evidence suggests that about one in five women are raped or sexually assaulted during their college years, and few of them want to report it. A full 72 percent of the people at MIT reporting they'd been sexually assaulted said they didn't report because they "did not think the incident(s) was serious enough."

The survey also pointed out some pretty encouraging campus attitudes about rape. A solid 83 percent of students understood that an incident can be rape or sexual assault even if the victim didn't verbally say "no." The majority also understood that rape doesn't happen "because people put themselves in bad situations," and nine out of 10 students agreed "most MIT students would respect someone who did something to prevent a sexual assault." Things seem to be progressing nicely in terms of generational awareness of how rape works: recall, if you will, that Bill Frezza is an MIT alum. He wrote that obnoxious, quickly-deleted Forbes piece stating that "drunk female guests" and their bewildering rape allegations could destroy the fraternity system. But there's still some confusion about consent: more than half of the respondents agreed with the statement, "Rape and sexual assault can happen unintentionally, especially if alcohol is involved."

"Sure, the data tells us things that we maybe didn't want to hear," Cynthia Barnhart, MIT's chancellor, told the New York Times. One of the most disturbing, she added, is that "there is confusion among some of our students about what constitutes sexual assault."

The MIT survey indicates how seriously the school is taking the problem, and the fact that they're willing to publicize the results says a lot about their commitment to transparency.

But it's also becoming increasingly clear that when schools won't address their sexual assault problem, students will do it for them: last week, around 150 students at CalArts, a small liberal arts school near Los Angeles, staged a mass-walkout to protest how the school had handled a rape allegation last year. According to Al Jazeera, who first reported the story, the student, a freshman, was raped in a bathroom by someone she'd briefly dated. The school, she alleges, asked a number of bizarre and insulting questions during a two-month investigation of the incident. From Al Jazeera:
[S]he said school administrators asked her questions about her drinking habits, how often she partied, the length of her dress, how oral rape was even possible, whether she climaxed and whether climaxing was an issue when she'd been with her alleged rapist before.
The perpetrator was ultimately suspended from school for one year. The victim has filed a federal title IX complaint against the school with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, alleging they mishandled her complaint.

Anna Knecht Schawrzer, a CalArts student who helped organize the walkout, says the student protesters are pushing for a new campus policy, one she hopes could become a model for other schools nationwide.

"I want CalArts to be known for a culture that promotes sexual respect," she says. "To make this possible, we as a community need to construct an architecture that facilitates accountability and health." They're recommending, among other things, a better and clearer campus sexual assault policy, a staff member solely devoted to addressing these issues, and better training for all staff and faculty on how to handle sexual assault reports.

MIT, meanwhile, has a lot of data, but seemingly hasn't quite figured out what to do with it. For now, they've set up an email account to take suggestions. The survey's authors write, at the very end of their report: "If you have ideas now about how MIT can reduce the incidence of unwanted sexual behavior on campus and improve the support the Institute offers when it does occur, please contact"

MIT's Simmons Hall; Image via Graysky/Flickr

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Masculinity Myth: Here's What Women Really Want
and he's an effing criminal for crying out loud.

I find these "studies" interesting - what a woman finds attractive looking at pictures has little (if anything) to do with what kind of man they would actually go out with (or more). Consistently, studies show that women who are ovulating prefer more traditionally masculine looking men (from Discover News, Aug. 18, 2010):
Starting in the 1990s, studies began to show that in the days before ovulation women start to become more attracted to men who have deeper voices and more chiseled, masculine and symmetrical faces. According to some studies, that may be because men who look like George Clooney are more likely to have dominant social roles, better genes and stronger immune systems.
Woman in relationships experience an even greater increase in their desire for highly masculine men during ovulation - and ovulating women in relationships are also more likely to cheat on their partners than non-ovulating women.

Unless this variable was controlled for in the study below (from Mother Nature Network), it is meaningless (even if it makes us less masculine looking guys feel better).

The masculinity myth: Here's what women really want

(Hint: It's not what Hollywood has been telling you.)

Mon, Nov 03, 2014
Jenn Savedge, Author of parenting books blogs about raising children and health issues.
In theory, masculinity signifies health and strength — but that's not the whole story. (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

If old stereotypes are to believed, women like their men oozing with masculinity. But a new study flips that thinking on its head, revealing that what women really want in a man might be far from this tired depiction of masculinity.

Even though it had never been proven, the stereotype of women liking masculine men has been around for so long that it was considered true by default. Experts theorized that masculinity signified health and strength, thus it was more appealing to potential mates. But a recent study conducted by British researchers at Brunel University in London has revealed that the appeal of more masculine men only holds for women from Westernized, urban communities. Throughout the rest of the world, women prefer feminine-looking men to their more masculine counterparts.

For starters, the team attempted to define "masculinity" in terms of appearance. They compiled data using computer simulations to merge photos of men’s and women’s faces into composite, “average” faces of five different ethnic backgrounds. They edited the photos of the men to make some more "masculine," and others more "feminine." To do this, they calculated the differences between the male and female faces. To make a photo more masculine, they increased these differences. Conversely, to make an image more feminine, they minimized the differences.

Then they showed the images to both urban and rural residents of 12 countries and from different ethnic groups. Participants were shown three sets of photos from models of five different ethnic groups. They asked each of the 962 subjects which of the faces they found most attractive. In urban areas, they got the response they expected. Women consistently found the men with the most masculine traits to be most attractive. But the responses of the remaining women shocked the researchers, as they seemed to prefer men with more neutral or even feminine-looking faces.

Researchers theorized that maybe city-dwellers have developed the masculinity preference as a means to make a snap judgment about a man's health without any other background information.

Either way, the study flies in the face of the age-old notion that women prefer manly men, or that the roots of this so-called preference could be found throughout history.

More likely, the masculinity myth is just another urban legend.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

How to Build a Dick (The Social Construction of Genitalia)

From The New Inquiry, Vishnu Strangeways takes a social constructionist view of how we understand and co-create the idea of gentalia. Even at the level of biology, where XX and XY are most common (46.XX, 46.XY) there is no clear sexual binary but, rather, a collection of standard alignments, as well as a collection of variations . . . including 47.XXY (at risk for Klinefelter syndrome), 47.XYY, 48.XXXX, 48XXXY, 48XXYY and 48XYYY; and although increasingly rare, also 49XXXXX, 49XXXXY, 49XXXYY, 49XXYYY and 49XYYY.

Further, even in "normal" XY and XX individuals, the expression of secondary sexual characteristics can vary considerably (size, shape, alignment, coloring, and so on). There is no specifically "normal" genitalia, only a spectrum that incorporates a range of normal. Intersex people add a whole other layer to this, partly because it is not always obvious at birth and may not show up until puberty, if at all.

Consider these statistics:
Not XX and not XYone in 1,666 births
Klinefelter (XXY)one in 1,000 births
Androgen insensitivity syndromeone in 13,000 births
Partial androgen insensitivity syndromeone in 130,000 births
Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasiaone in 13,000 births
Late onset adrenal hyperplasiaone in 66 individuals
Vaginal agenesisone in 6,000 births
Ovotestesone in 83,000 births
Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause)one in 110,000 births
Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance
progestin administered to pregnant mother)
no estimate
5 alpha reductase deficiencyno estimate
Mixed gonadal dysgenesisno estimate
Complete gonadal dysgenesisone in 150,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or
along penile shaft)
one in 2,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona
and tip of glans penis)
one in 770 births
Total number of people whose bodies differ
from standard male or female
one in 100 births
Total number of people receiving surgery to
“normalize” genital appearance
one or two in 1,000 births

Add to that, then, the discussion below about how we create our ideas of genitalia from conversations with peers, from sex education, from media, or (increasingly) from pornography, and the range of possible expressions is so staggeringly large that the "sexual binary" becomes laughable.

How to Build a Dick

By Vishnu Strangeways
October 27, 2014

Rorschach test, card #2, 1921

At the level of identity, genitals are made neither in the womb, nor in surgery, but in the mind.

Thinking critically about ­genitals—how they look, what they are, what they mean—feels like repeating a familiar word so many times that it starts to sound weird and implausible. The physical properties of genitals feel certain, but the material of this certainty is often hazy guesswork, drawn less from experience than from the imaginative processes that give our ideas of things substance in the mind.

As we grow up, many of us build our idea of genitals from a patchwork of clumsy childhood discoveries, chaste textbook renderings, and the aesthetic valorized in mainstream porn. This early understanding of what genitals should look like can even survive encounters with bodies that don’t correspond to it. Reality apparently doesn’t always have sufficient power to undermine our fixed and abstract mental images. It’s as if the idea of genitals is more real than their physical form, or the latter is real only insofar as it confirms the former.

This is partly because commonplace concepts of gender treat biological sex as determinative in a violent logic: Genitals means sex means gender. Essentialist accounts of gender appeal to medical science to reiterate a mind/body or gender/sex binary, without considering how scientific truth claims are shaped by the paradigm from which they have emerged. These accounts are often at odds with some of the physical realities they describe, such as the prevalence of sex chromosomes beyond XX/XY, or external genitalia that don’t resemble traditional archetypes of penis-testicles and vulva-clitoris-vagina.

When I studied anatomy, we learned the prescriptive architecture of biological sex as if it were inevitable fact. Yet our textbooks included depictions of bodies that didn’t conform to the supposedly universal forms, presenting them as strange and pathological. In medical school, few people could see that the very existence of these bodies was an effective critique of the certainty of biological sex. Outside the framework of my studies, I became increasingly suspicious of normative standards of sex and gender. Armed with experiences and critiques drawn from elsewhere in my life, I grew more and more critical of how medicine understands and processes gender by excluding those bodies that cannot be coherently inscribed into the present gender regime.

Even by medicine’s own scientific account, the human body does not automatically provide us with a strong distinction between “maleness” and “femaleness.” In early fetal development, the cells that go on to form reproductive tracts and genitals are initially indifferent, regardless of the embryo’s sex chromosomes. The building blocks for all reproductive and genital eventualities exist in the early embryo concurrently, waiting for cues. For the first trimester the external genitals remain indistinguishable: Each anatomical aspect has the genetic potential to be another with the right encouragement (glans of penis or glans of clitoris, surface of penis or labia minora, scrotum or labia majora, or in variable combinations of neither).

When a baby is born, if doctors think its genitals deviate from the expected norm, its body is surgically reconfigured. These bodies that differ from the genital ideal are often seen as aberrations. When we try to reflect objectively on how bodies are understood as “male” or “female,” we can see that the popular understanding of genitals as either/or doesn’t reflect the reality that the potential forms of external genitalia are in fact unpredictably multiple.

The idea that genitals have multiple potentials and that we can build them to fit our idea of them is important when it comes to genital reassignment surgery. This elegant surgery reconfigures anatomy on an aesthetic, functional and sensual level. Metoidoplasties, for example, bring forward the clitoris and unite it with skin from the labia to form a functional penis and scrotum. Phalloplasties involve taking skin from the arm or abdomen to produce a functional penis that, with an implanted device, can sustain erections capable of penetrative sex. In both phalloplasty and metoidoplasty, the presence of a former clitoris as the new penis head provides the same arc of sensation that transmits as sexual pleasure. In vaginoplasties where a new vagina is formed, the head of the former penis relocates to become the clitoris, while inversion of the remaining penile skin and scrotum produces a fully sensate vagina. (These are technical terms and don’t necessarily reflect the patients’ preferred terms for their genitals.)

Not all trans people choose surgical treatments, but for those who do, studies demonstrate that genital-­reassignment surgery is very effective. Individuals report relief of the symptoms of their dysphoria, low rates of regret, and high levels of patient satisfaction. The data that demonstrates this may rely on grim cost-benefit analyses of medical interventions, but they clearly show that gender treatments make a difference in the lives of many trans people. Gender surgery, like all surgery, reconfigures a body’s capacity to meet its own needs and, as such, can mean as much or as little of anything to anyone. For many I’ve seen, it can offer some liberation not only from dysphoria but also from the oppression they face when navigating gender in social contexts—being able to use gendered toilets without the fear of violence, or having the type of sex they want to have. Post-gender critiques that remonstrate against gender surgery for upholding physical gender norms re-enact the oppression they pretend to fight. I suspect they arise from an inability or refusal to conceive of others’ gender dysphoria. These critiques imply that trans individuals are to blame for somehow inadequately dealing with oppression.

It’s clear that there is no universal experience of dysphoria. Many trans people experience no genital dysphoria at all. For some, dysphoria is concentrated around noticing the incongruence between the gender they understand themselves as and the gender they are assigned. For others, dysphoria exerts itself as a visceral weight that can cause as much pain as physical injury, an unconscious process in which the body is the passive recipient of its distress.

Critics of gender surgery may be right that the link between genital anatomy and gender is dubious, but trying to deny trans people important surgery puts the emphasis in entirely the wrong place. In fact, more careful thought shows that the bodies of cis-gendered individuals have an equally problematic relationship to biological sex. Cis people’s identification of their anatomy with their gender also relies on the residual power the idealized forms of genitals have in our imagination. These forms are only attempts to capture reality, and are not reality itself. At the level of identity, genitals are made neither in the womb, nor in surgery, but in the mind.

Some accounts of the social construction of gender still maintain biological sex as a kind of underlying basis, to be either tolerated or changed. But the more I read and the more I see, the less certain I am about biological sex. Perhaps the body doesn’t automatically suggest gender as much as we think but has to be given a gender in order to operate in the world. If biological sex is less a case of a simple binary with pathologized aberrations and more like a spectrum, where does the binary originate from, how does science uphold it, and what motivates it to do so?

It could be that it arises from a tendency to explain the most things in the simplest possible terms, which would make sense given the relatively low prevalence of non-XX/XY chromosomes and ambiguous genitalia at birth. But even by this account, the perception of some people’s genital anatomy as normal relies on a socially upheld idea of gender. Bio-essentialist theories of gender are, ironically, inadequate as descriptions of the human body; all they account for is the persistence of the social construction of gender.

Born-this-way gender biology is a historical accumulation of empirical findings and personal subjectivities, precariously held together by the veneer of objective reality afforded by scientific method. The male/female binary is perpetuated by the myth that sex chromosomes are XX or XY, and XX and XY are perfectly formed penises or vaginas, and perfectly formed penises or vaginas are boys or girls, with all deviations from this entering the realm of pathology. But the idea that the body exists objectively is false. External genitals, like all other aspects of gender, are the result of interpretation. They can be reinterpreted.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movember To Support Men's Mental Health (in addition to prostate and testicular cancers)

Okay, first an admission, I wrongly believed that Movember was beard growing, not just mustaches. But that is because I confused it with another men's health meme, part of the same Movember fund-raising effort, No Shave November. There's also Novembeard.

If you can grow it, let it grow! It's for a good cause (or causes).

Movember To Support Men's Mental Health

Trending News: There's A New Reason To Grow A 'Mo' This Movember

© Getty

Joel Balsam | November 1, 2014

Why Is This Important?

Because too many men suffer from mental illness and they could use a helping hand.

Long Story Short

This year, donations from guys who grow out their ‘stache for Movember will go towards fundraising and raising awareness about male mental health in addition to prostate and testicular cancers.

Long Story

The hairy truth is that too many men suffer from mental illness. According to data released on Movember’s website, a total of 38,364 Americans died by suicide in 2010 and over three quarters of them (79%) were men.

To make matters worse, men aren’t talking about it. According to researchers in the UK, almost a third of men are too embarrassed to seek help for a mental problem and less than a quarter talk to their doctor if they felt down for more than two weeks in comparison to a third of women.

Justin Coughlan, the Australian co-founder of Movember told the BBC that this is a huge issue men need to combat. “It’s the last piece of the puzzle,” he said. “It’s just so big and there’s such a need for it.”

For the 11 years since it began in 2003, the month-long campaign has asked men to grow out their moustaches for charity and awareness about prostate cancer and then testicular cancer. This year, men’s mental illness will be added to the list.

It’s hard to think of too many other annual charity campaigns that have caught on as well as Movember. Every year, millions of “Mos” can be found on street corners and in offices worldwide and the charity’s success is undeniable. Well over four million Mo Bros and Mo Sistas have registered to fundraise since the charity began and $559 million has been raised. Immeasurable is the amount of conversations people have had about men’s mental health and in the case of prostate cancer, how many have gotten checked. According to Movember, 75% of those who participate were more aware of the health risks they face and 50% told someone they should take action to improve their health.

If you haven’t done Movember before, all you need to do is have a fresh shave at the beginning of the month (you’re a little late, but today will do) and sign up for an account. Then, try and get funds to support your Mo and talk about men’s health. Easy peasy.

The stigma about mental illness, especially for men is something that absolutely needs to go, and if Movember can help take it down it will be doing a great service to men everywhere.

Own The Conversation

  • Ask The Big Question: Will you be growing your mustache out for Movember this year?
  • Disrupt Your Feed: Are there more worthy causes that Movember could be supporting?
  • Drop This Fact: Around 15 million American adults are diagnosed with depression each year.
Expand Your Expertise
  • Movember founder: Men can end up 'mentally broken' [BBC]
  • A Spectator's Guide to Movember and No Shave November []
More Conversation Ammo On AskMen