29 February 2008

Reason #128 Why it sucks to be a girl

Yesterday in class my professor pointed out an interesting set of statistics that just add to the list of grievances. It's pretty common knowledge that women are more prone to depression and other behavioral disorders than men. You'd initially think that it's because women have different social factors in their lives: balancing family with careers, childbirth, menopause, menstruation, sexism in the workplace, preoccupation with appearance (the list goes on interminably). Some might even claim that this is because women "experience" emotion in a different way from men. But there is growing evidence that this disjoint between the sexes is also biological.

Before puberty, boys and girls experience depression at similar rates, and some studies show that boys are at higher risk at this time. But once they hit puberty at around age 12, girls suddenly are twice more likely to be depressed. Studies point to a correlation between hormone changes and higher depression rates, but the exact cause is still unknown. From the Mayo Clinic:

"Although the exact interaction between depression and premenstrual syndrome remains unclear, some researchers believe that cyclical changes in estrogen, progesterone and other hormones can disrupt the function of brain chemicals that control mood, such as serotonin. Other research indicates that androgens — so-called male hormones that women also naturally produce at a lower level — may play a role. Still, because such hormonal changes occur in all women, but not all women develop depression, hormonal changes alone can't be responsible for the increased risk of depression in women. Genetic predisposition or other factors also may influence depression.

Social and cultural stressors may play a role, too. Although these stressors also occur in men, it's usually at a lower rate. Women are more likely than men to shoulder the burden of both work and family responsibilities, for instance. They're also more likely to have lower incomes, be single parents and have a history of sexual or physical abuse, all of which can contribute to depression, especially in women who've had depression in the past. In general, American women earn less money than men do. Single women with children have one of the highest poverty rates in the United States. Low socioeconomic status brings with it many concerns and stressors, including uncertainty about the future and less access to community and health care resources. Minority women might also face added stress from racial discrimination."

The problem is that whenever you cite statistics like this, or open your mouth to say anything at all about gender differences and inequality, you get branded as a bra-burning feminist. Here's the scenario: a friend offers to carry a bag of heavy groceries for me, despite the fact that he is already laden with six bags himself and the seventh would most probably cut off all circulation in his fingers. I'm only carrying four. Because I think that I am a competent and fully functioning human being, and I want to spare him a little pain, I say no thanks, I'll manage. I might have less muscle mass than him, but I have arms and legs, and I'm used to doing things myself. The next day, my friend asks me if I'm a feminist. Why does utilizing my basic capabilities as a healthy human being make me a feminist?

Okay. You got me. I'm depressed, and I'm a feminist.

21 February 2008

Checklists

Atul Gawande on how to-do lists are crucial for everything, especially medicine. In the New Yorker.

20 February 2008

Music makes the world brighter

Let me start off with this: I love music. Everything can go wrong in a day, you can wake up sick to your stomach, force yourself out of bed anyway, forget to eat breakfast, miss the bus, get caught in the pouring rain, fail an exam because you took it soaking wet, trip and fall on your face, screw up an experiment in lab, get annoyed by and annoy all of your friends, finally get over to the music building at the end of the day, and...

...still walk out of the practice room, hands tingling and aching, with a bounce in your step. There's very little that's greater than being caught up in the rush, the sway, the peak of a song. It's when all of your violin bows furiously fight for a grip on the string, when everyone sways together, when you look up and see the maestro looking directly at you with the most anguished look you have ever seen on anyone's face. You want to give it to him, you want to give it everything you have, but it's just not enough -- that's what music is, the most peculiar blend of pleasure and frustration. It's agonizing, it's torture, until you hit that one note, delayed by perfect fractions of a second.

Equally awesome: discovering a new band whose every song you love to death. My new band? Beirut. It's this one guy act (and his huge group of instrumentalists) who is an absolute europhile and makes music like he's a gypsy from Slovakia. But he's a 22 year old from Santa Fe, he recorded an entire album in his basement, and he plays ukulele, trumpet, piano, accordion, and I don't know what else. I love his voice, and I love the originality of his music. He definitely goes on my list along with Andrew Bird for the best musical finds of this year.