Saturday, May 27, 2006

Hail the Graduate!

The eldest junior Gruntled graduated from high school with great ceremony and a fine speech. She called upon Captain Planet to remind her fellow graduates that "the power is theirs." And they danced all night.

The best joke from the senior speeches: "Yo mama is so fat, she went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and Spain claimed her for as part of the New World."

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Dad Revolution, Part Two

By guest bloggers Kim Hall and Anne Guagliardo from the family life class.
(Part two of two)
This concludes the series of guest blogs from the family life class - my thanks to all.

In Austin Murphy’s How Tough Could it Be?, the author exposes his negative view of stay-at-home dads by assuming that the only way for a man to achieve domestic success is to follow the path set by stay-at-home moms. Obviously, this is problematic in itself as men must define their role in their own terms. For instance, most men who provide primary childcare find that obsessive cleanliness is not a necessary feature of the staying in the home. It was even seriously suggested at a convention for at-home dads that “household toy cleanup be conducted with a rake." These fathers also found that they were able to hold onto a lot of their traditional roles and were not set in their ‘fathering’ ways all the time. On the weekend or after work, most dads have no problem letting their wives take over as the primary caregiver. The imitation of stay-at-home moms could never produce fulfilling, long-term results for these men.

The advantages of fathers taking the stay-at-home role are incomparable for both the men themselves and their entire family. Stay-at-home dads often comment that this job changes their character in a very positive way. Men become more caring and understanding, as they are more attached and committed to their role, but the fathers are not the only beneficiaries of their new job. Their wives, who are usually spending most of their time at work, feel less guilt and worry knowing their husband is caring for the children. These women are able to focus more on their career, which, in turn, creates a larger income for the entire family. The equalitarianism of the marriage also benefits both parents. For example, in ‘traditional roles’, if a child wakes in the night the mother is 80% more likely to go tend to the problem. With reversed roles, the likelihood of each parent taking care of the child at this point is completely even. Not only does this demonstrate a more involved father, but it also confirms that the mother is not being replaced in the home. Increased contact with their fathers benefits the child as well. Children who have a close relationship with both parents are less likely to use drugs and become pregnant as teenagers. Children with stay-at-homes dads also perform better at school that those with less attachment to their fathers.

Although there are many advantages of stay-at-home dads, this role reversal has its downside. Isolation seems to be the “biggest hurdle for at-home dads." Even though there has been a recent increase of stay-at-home dads, the number is still relatively small. These fathers, who are often ashamed of their job, are reluctant to reach out to other men in the community who are in the same position. Instead, these men usually isolate themselves from the community of stay-at-homes, father or mothers. The children are often affected by a lack of stimulation and connection with others. Another problem of stay-at-dads is the difficulty faced when trying to return back to the workforce. Employers often question the man’s previous job by either assuming that it is simply a cover-up for unemployment or an alternative to his inability to handle a workload. Mother’s guilt can also be problematic with stay-at-home dads. With the cultural norms as they are, women sometimes feel that being the primary breadwinner, while their husbands are doing ‘her’ job, is unacceptable. These women often envy their husbands, wishing to reverse these roles once again.

With a goal of equality of the genders, the social stigma of stay-at-home dads must be replaced with open-mindedness. What is best for the family is most important. One should not be limited to traditional views and a fear of social change. As humans change and grow, society is forced to adapt by throwing out the idea of a ‘social norm’ in hopes of finding a reasonable resolution in a case-by-case process.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What Men Really Want, Part Two

By guest bloggers Angie Bohnen and Laura Walters from the family life class.
[I got a little ahead of myself yesterday - this is part two of Tuesday's post.]

Overall, what men seek in women is the indication that they are fertile. However, what men seek in women and what women think men seek can often differ. A study done in 1993, found that men tend to have a preference for women with a waist- to- hip ratio centering near 0.70. Psychologist Devendra Singh argues that the waist-to-hip ratio can be viewed as a reliable marker of age. Before puberty, boys and girls show a similar fat distribution. After puberty, boys lose fat from their buttocks and thighs. Androgens (especially testosterone) cause them to gain fat in their abdominal region. Estrogen is released in girls and this causes them to gain fat in their hips and thighs, which may be an independent criterion of fertility. A study performed on Dutch women found that a 0.1 unit increase in waist-to-hip ratio led to a 30 % decrease in probability of conception per cycle after adjustment for age, fatness, reasons for artificial insemination, cycle length and regularity, smoking, and parity (Zaadstra et al, 1993). This means that a woman with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.80 instead of Singh’s advised 0.70 would have a 30% lower chance of becoming pregnant. Singh conducted a study on the waist-to-hip ratio of Miss America pageant winners and Playboy centerfold winners over the past thirty years. Although both models and beauty contest winners got thinner over the time span, their waist-to-hip ratio remained exactly in the 0.70 range. This information serves as evidence that although the idealized female body types may have changed over the past decades, the waist-to-hip ratio has remained the same.

Knowing that men prefer a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.70, women should come to the realization that men actually prefer a more average sized body frame. Although women are often led to believe, by such influences as the media, that men prefer super skinny women; this is not the case. Waist-to-hip ratios that are below 0.70 could serve as evidence that a woman is not fertile. On the other hand, when women are pregnant, their waist-to-hip ratio becomes much greater that 0.70. If a woman has a ratio that is much greater than 0.70, it mimics pregnancy and therefore may render her less attractive as a mate or sexual partner.4

Overall, women should be thankful that men prefer a waist-to-hip ratio of around 0.70. The waist-to-hip ratio is one that indicates not only physical attractiveness, but also is an indicator of long-term health status. In trying to attain or maintain a waist-to-hip ratio of around 0.70, women make themselves attractive to men, but more importantly will be maintaining a healthy size. Diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, stroke, and gallbladder disorders have been shown to be linked with the distribution of fat, as reflected by this ratio. Women who are much larger or much smaller, are indicative of poor health.

Men have consistently found a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio as attractive in women over many decades. This ratio is not only an idealized number, but also, as Zaadstra et al demonstrated, it is an indicator of health and fertility; therefore, women should not resent it. In actuality, women should embrace it as nature’s way of helping them attract mates and be healthy and fertile.

[Works cited:
Zaadstra, B. et al. 1993. Fat and female fecundity: Prospective study of effect of body fat distribution on conception rates. British Medical Journal, 306: 484-487.

Buss, David M. The Evolution of Desire. Pp.55-57. Basic Books. New York, 1994.]

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Dad Revolution

By guest bloggers Kim Hall and Anne Guagliardo from the family life class.
(Part one of two)

Over the past few decades, women have begun placing more emphasis on the advancement and progression of their career. These women often assume the husband and having children will eventually follow suit. Since the feminist movement, the number of these high achieving women has increased drastically, which has caused a simultaneous increase in the number of childless high achieving career women. According to David Buss in The Evolution of Desire, women most often seek male mates who are more achieving than themselves. Thus, the selection pool for the high achieving career women is limited as there are fewer men available. Even the businesswomen who end up finding a mate often are childless due to their overwhelming schedules. Sylvia Ann Hewlett in Creating a Life found high achieving women are continuously increasing, which, in turn, increases the number of childless couples.

A possible solution may be a role reversal of the men and women. High achieving women must begin looking for men who are not as high achieving and would be more likely to consider a majority of the childcare duties. If more men would be willing to take on the nurturer role and let the woman become the primarily breadwinner, the number of high-achieving women with children would likely rise. Ideally, if this role swap of husband and wife occurred at the same rate as the increase of the high achieving women, most women in the workplace would be able to ‘have it all’, the job and the children. Some fathers have already started to take on this role of nurturer. The career sacrifices of these men in order to raise their children have created a movement in a positive direction.

Although stay-at-home is naturally followed by the word mom, a slow, steady stream of acceptance towards fathers who choose to raise their children in the home has brought the alternate possibility of child-raising to light. By March 2002, there were 189,000 children with stay-at-home dads, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Although this amount seems completely over-shadowed by the whopping 11 million stay-at-home moms, there has been an apparent increase in this recent role reversal over the past decade. There has been an 18% rise of stay-at-home dads within eight years, from 1994 to 2002. With this sudden revolution of societal norms, these men are faced with a constant battle for “acceptance and understanding in a stay-at-home mom world.”

The traditional roles of women and men are thrown out the window with this rise of nurturing fathers and ruthless businesswomen, but one must wonder what has caused this reversal of societal norms. One possibility is the repercussions of feminist movement. As women attempted to gain a foothold in the ‘man’s world’ and quest for equality, men were forced to react to this increase in competition and initial role reversal. The slow movement of gender equality in the business world pushed towards egalitarianism in all areas of societal life, such as in the home. With more commonality of women in the workplace, a prioritization of the male career seemed highly illogical. Instead, the family must carefully choose the best option for the entire family, which is increasingly the stay-at-home dad as in the United States where two out of five women out earn their male counterparts.

Another spark for stay-at-home dads may have been the alteration of the public view of these men. Before 1980s, stay-at-home dads or at least the acknowledgement of them were a rarity in pop cultural. At least until 1983, when “Mr. Mom” starring Michael Keaton made stay-at-home fathers more well-known. Although it featured a “bumbling dad with virtually no clue about how to raise children” and put an almost negative spin on these men, the movie created an admission to stay-at-home dads as a career choice. Ten years later, “Mrs. Doubtfire” shed a softer light on the issue of men raising their children. Even more recently, television shows such as “Daddio” and “My Wife and Kids” show an even more acceptable version of the stay-at-home dad. Whether this alteration in the public view helped create the cultural movement or the media reflected the change at the time may never be known, but either way the increased acceptance is notable in all areas of today’s society.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Men Really Want

By guest bloggers Angie Bohnen and Laura Walters from the family life class.
(Part one of two)

Sociology of Family Life began with probably the most interesting topic to present day college students, sex. David Buss, in The Evolution of Desire, introduced us all to sex. A more intricate form of sex than what was learned in elementary school, Buss informs us of the development of sex, starting with our ancestors. One sub-theme explored in the book is what men want. Buss makes it clear that men want beauty and that all men have standards of what beautiful is. Beauty encompasses many characteristics such as full lips, lustrous hair, clear and smooth skin, and body shape. The idea of body shape is of utmost importance in today's society due to the alarming rate of females who partake in eating disorders in response to the sociocultural pressures that emphasize small equals beautiful.

Body shape and size are the most variable characteristics of beauty and vary from culture to culture. For example, some cultures view beauty in the form of a plump body rather than a slim body. In the United States, the rich distinguish themselves through a thin body. Men have evolved to prefer women with features of status, and thus have developed the mentality to seek thinness. There are huge discrepancies, however, as to what women think men want and what men actually look for in women. In chapter three, Buss cites a study performed by Paul Rozin who investigated women’s and men's perceptions of the desirability of plump versus thin body types. Women were asked to indicate their ideal body image and the ideal body image that men want. Women consistently chose images that were thinner than average. These results indicate that women believe that men desire thin women. Another study that investigated these differences was that of Drs. Wendy Stuhldreher and William Ryan (1999). The researchers analyzed the actual and ideal body images of undergraduate college women. The conclusions of their study showed the same female gender pattern. This pattern was that women not only perceived themselves as being heavier than they wanted to be, but also thought of themselves as heavier than what men found attractive. What the women did not know was that the undergraduate men in the study were actually attracted to a heavier figure than what the women chose to be ideal.

Distortion in women's body image is an extremely important health concern. Mossavar-Rahmani, Pelto, Ferris and Allen (1996) found a positive correlation between inaccuracy of body size and dieting. Women who think they are bigger than what they are tend to diet more frequently. Further conclusions of the Stuhldreher and Ryan study include patterns of women wanting to lose weight, recent dieting to lose weight, avoiding fast food, and avoidance of high fat foods. Also common to those who wanted to lose weight was the use of diet pills, laxatives, and purging after meals.

It has been discovered that distortions in body size and shape begin to develop in childhood. It has been documented that young girls favor more thin bodies and adjust their eating towards that form. Gustafson-Larson and Terry (1992) found that 60% of fourth grade girls wanted to be thinner and participated in weight-related behaviors. As a result, some of these girls will inevitably develop anorexia or bulimia later in their lives. Why does this happen though? Certainly, it must not come from the male population as reported studies have shown that men prefer a heavier body type than the actual ideal form that women choose. Men actually tend to like what women most dislike.

[The cited articles are:
Stuhldreher, W and Ryan, W. Factors Associated with Distortion in Body Image Perception in College Women. American Journal of Health Studies. 1999; 15:8-13.
Mossavar-Rahmani, Y, Pelto, G. H., Ferris, A. M. & Allen, L. H. (1996). Determinants of
body size perceptions and dieting behavior in a multiethnic group of hospital staff
women. Journal of The American Dietetic Association, 96(3), 252-256.
Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.]

Monday, May 22, 2006

Does "Medium" Show the Best Marriage on Television?

The Washington Post had a story this week on the upcoming television season, which is almost devoid of functional families. I have noticed that there have been almost no competent fathers on television in the past decade, and one of them, Steven Camden on "Seventh Heaven," wrapped up the series last week (though another network may bring them back one more time).

The Gruntleds watch quite a range of shows, driven in part by the disparate interests of the kids as well as the parents. Still, I may have missed a few good family portrayals. But a look at the list of most popular shows reveals just about zero strong marriages.

My nominee for the best marriage on television: the DuBoises of "Medium." The main gimmick of the show is that Alison DuBois can communicate with the dead. The best part of the show, from my perspective, is the portrayal of their marriage and the ordinary travails of a two-career couple raising three kids. Even if one of the careers involves ghosts.

I would welcome other nominees for strong marriages on television today. And let me say that I don't think the Sopranos are anyone's role models.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"The Da Vinci Code" is a Competent B Movie. Period.

Dan Brown ingeniously combined the "buried treasure" plot with the "secret conspiracy" plot. As a buried treasure movie, it is better than, say, "National Treasure" or "King Solomon's Mines." On the other hand, when they eventually film "The Rule of Four," that has the potential to be a richer thriller.

Conspiracy theories have the advantage of providing an enemy worth fighting, which every good thriller needs, while at the same time explaining why you have never heard of them before. Their fatal flaw, though, is that the more the audience knows about how human history is actually shaped, the less likely they are to believe that there is one organizing intelligence behind it.

Still, some people like conspiracy theories because they bring history down to a scale they can grasp. The Priory of Sion has been exposed as a hoax as thoroughly as the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were, but some people still believe in both.

I was surprised at the politically correct twist in this particular conspiracy plot. According to "The Da Vinci Code," the church's conspiracy to suppress the sacred feminine also, somehow, is behind the oppression of people of the "wrong color," or who are just "different." I think the casting of a well-known anti-religious gay activist to articulate this point was not accidental.

So, to give the film its due, the lead actors did a decent job, the plot moved right along, and the settings were glorious. A fine popcorn movie. It is not in any way a serious critique of Christianity or the church.

[SPOILER WARNING: Don't read further if you don't want to know an important bit at the end of the movie.

I thought that Dan Brown missed an opportunity in his choice for the final codeword. "Apple" is cute, in context, but pedestrian. He made a lame effort to tie it back to Eve, but he had not set up the Magdelene/Eve connection sufficiently. I thought the codeword was going to be "Sofia." This would have tied the central woman of the movie together with a sacred feminine image that really does have some currency in the church.

And while we are talking about missed opportunities in holy grail movies, I thought "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" would have been much better if Dr. Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) had remained in the cave as the knight guarding the grail.]