Saturday, September 17, 2011

Female Aggression.


Recently there has been an increase in the number of news stories and reports of female aggression.  I find some of this information interesting, and some of it troubling.  This post is not nearly as well researched as my norm (the information appears harder to come by), but I would nonetheless like to explore the issue.  I have also consciously foregone including a nice, shiny picture to lead this post, because I feel it would be in poor taste.

To begin, it is worth exploring how female aggression usually differs from that of males.  Men, throughout their life cycle, are far more likely to resort to physical aggression than women.  It has been suggested that this could be due to some evolutionary strategy to impress females, but I digress.  Women are far more likely to "socially assault", if you will, their intended victims.  This usually takes the form of spreading distasteful rumours meant to tarnish the reputation and/or jeopardize the social relationships of the intended target.  This is particularly harmful because, in examples of children, this aggression often goes unnoticed and is not dealt with, it is far easier to break up a physical fight between boys.  One may also argue that it is a far more damaging form of aggression, we humans are geared to be socially accepted by our peers.  The lack of this acceptance can destroy a person's emotional well-being.  Louis C.K. sums it up eloquently, but filthily, by saying that "... women are nonviolent, but they will shit inside your heart."

Of course, this is not to say that no man has ever spread nasty rumours, or that women are never physically violent, but it is a documented trend.  However, this was not the main point of my post.  I have noticed an increase in the reports of domestic abuse with female aggressors.  While I have very little in the way of sources, let me say here that primary researchers in the field seem to be Archer, Straus, Desmarais,  and Ramirez.  These researchers have pointed out some other interesting and potentially problematic trends.  Outside the Western/Developed world, domestic violence is heavily dominated by male aggressors.  However, in developed nations, and in young heterosexual relationships especially, females are becoming the predominant aggressor.  If there is one aggressor in a relationship, it is twice as likely to be the female.  Further, the female is more likely to instigate violence.  As might be expected from Hollywood interpretations, men are more likely to choke or strangle, but women are more likely to use weapons, kick, slap, bite, punch, and commit what is defined by Straus and Ramirez as "severe assault".

This fact itself raises a host of interesting questions.  Dutton and Nicholls in 2005 reported that men were far less likely to report domestic abuse, and often did not regard the actions as a crime.  Do traditional gender roles influence this, because men could or should not be meaningfully harmed by a "weaker" sex?  Does it stem from the fact that women are less likely to actually cause physical harm despite the severity of their attacks?  Have we somehow legitimized female aggression with "benevolent sexism"?  This is, for the record, the belief that women are weaker than men, and should be afforded practical (holding doors, paying the cheque at dinner), and legal advantages or protections as a result.  Is this the reason that municipalities such as North Bay now report more female domestic aggression than male?

In fact, a YouTube video here shows a hidden camera segment by ABC News demonstrating the reactions of passersby to a woman publicly abusing a man.  The actions of the actors are largely dismissed as nothing serious.  The female actor was also privately applauded by a few women who saw the abuse taking place.  It is, to say the least, a strange phenomenon.

My main concern with this trend, however, is how it is handled by us as a society at large.  I cannot for the life of me remember where I read this, but it was written by a woman in national Canadian news publication.  The article took the position that there are not legitimate anger management therapies available for women.  When men take anger management classes, they are taught that their anger has the potential to harm others around them.  Their anger is dangerous; their anger needs to be controlled for the benefit of themselves and others.  In contrast, women taking the equivalent classes are taught that their issues are more environmental.  There are people and circumstances in their lives that cause them to lose control.  The emphasis is then placed on how to deal with these people and circumstances, and not so much on controlling the anger that dwells within them.

I would like to pause and say that I am not implying that women are more dangerous than men, and I do not mean to trivialize male aggression or battered women.  I firmly believe that domestic violence, regardless of the gender of the aggressor, is toxic and detrimental to society as a whole.  I also think that how we are dealing with it as a society could potentially lead to harmful situations, if angry outbursts are habitually attributed to environmental stressors.  Should time reveal that this gender-specific method of therapy be effective, you may consider my concerns relieved.  For the time being, I feel more in-depth studies might be of benefit, and potentially find a cause for this female aggression.  This assumes of course that it is a new phenomenon, and historic under-reporting has not skewed the available data.

I ask that you consider what has been presented here.  Perhaps discuss it with a friend or peer.  Awareness and critical public discussion may be key to developing a better understanding of a potentially unhealthy trend.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vaccinations (incl. MMR)


I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed this, but it appears that vaccinations have been brought up in the media lately.  I will lead this post with a disclaimer that I know comparatively little about vaccinations (my education has focused on physical science), but I feel that I know enough to write an informed post on the subject.  Prepare yourself for the starry-eyed wonder of a non-life-science type marveling at the human immune system.

I will start off by explaining the routine influenza vaccination, because I assume most vaccinations work on the same principle.  The vaccination itself consists of virus strains which have somehow been stripped of their ability to harm humans (preventing reproduction or harmful traits).  The strains represent different mutations of the influenza virus, the mutations representing different evolutionary strategies of the global influenza population.  Now, these two facts are important because they represent the rationale for most complaints I hear about the vaccine routinely given during flu season.

The most prominent (and baffling, in my opinion), is that "the flu vaccine gives me the flu."  No.  No it does not.  When the human body detects the presence of the influenza virus, it [sometimes] responds by the same mechanism it would in the event of a full infection.  That is to say, fever, aches, runny nose, et cetera.  The body then forms the necessary antibodies to prevent another infection from that specific strain of influenza (this will be important later).  However, rather than flu-like symptoms on week timescales, you might experience it for a day or two.

Another complaint I hear about the flu vaccine is "I got the flu shot, but I still got the flu!  Also, I hate monocles and top hats!"  Now, while the latter half of this statement is no doubt infuriating, take it as an indicator of the quality of person giving the statements.  This problem can represent that the flu shot only protects against ~90% of the influenza strains in the wild, however, it is often due to misattribution of sickness.  The most likely explanation for this is that people get sick with infections not due to influenza, but attribute it to the broadly misused term "flu" (as in "I have a stomach flu" meaning "I have diarrhea", or "I have a 24 hour flu" meaning "I have a short-lived bacterial infection").

Now, to the point of this post.  The MMR vaccine is a shorthand reference for Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccination which is commonly administered to small children.  A publication in a medical journal The Lancet in 1998 suggested that the MMR vaccine could cause autism in susceptible children.  A dozen papers to the contrary and twelve years later, The Lancet retracted the incorrect article, but the damage was done.  Misinformed (and potentially over-protective) parents everywhere attempt to refuse the vaccination for their children.  This is due largely to parents reading internet articles without thinking critically (but you can totally trust my blog posts, guys!), and the ready acceptance of anecdotal evidence (e.g. But Shirley has a cousin who's uncle's kids got autism from MMR!)

I have also heard the concept of the "free rider" or "herd immunity" hypothesis used in defense of going without the MMR vaccine.  The theory here goes that if a large enough percentage of a population is vaccinated against MMR, those un-vaccinated children are unlikely to contract the disease.  Naturally, this argument breaks down when one considers globalisation, and that these children are the only vulnerable ones in the larger population, and will probably get sick.

My room mate (with a B.Sc. in Health Science), also raises the argument that in the best interest of publicly funded health care, Canada and/or Public Health would not release a vaccination with any known risks or correlations (or at least not without signing a long and wordy contract identifying all risks of the vaccine).  It's a valid argument, especially considering that the Canadian health care system would then be forced to deal with higher health care costs associated with autistic children.

I admit that children go without getting vaccinated because their parents are trying to protect them.  I do not have children, and have not experienced the profound shift in thinking that parents undergo, but I still do not understand the opposing viewpoints on vaccinations.  All I can do is recommend critical thinking when you read.  It's a profoundly rewarding endeavor.

Note: For the record, the leading graph is the reason that children receive the MMR vaccine.