Archive for opinions

Missing Girls of Asia

The theme of The Economist from two weeks ago was “Gendercide,” and the magazine included a few features on the troubling situation on Asia’s “missing girls.” Though knowledge of China’s one-child policy is widespread, the pure statistics of the country’s gender imbalance are shocking.  For example, while an average of 103-106 boys per every 100 girls is considered “natural” (infant boys are more likely to die than infant girls), China’s sex ratio is currently as high as 123 boys to every 100 girls. As a straight up ratio, this may not seem like a large difference, but upscaled to China’s enormous population, these numbers are clearly problematic.

In addition to providing these statistics, the article also makes the argument that while the public is predisposed to blames China’s one-child policy for creating these vast differences, the numbers can’t be aptly explained by this law, and gender imbalance of the same scale is seen in many other Asian countries, not just China. The article claims that the growing availability of technologies that enable sex-selection, including ultrasounds and other fetal-imaging technologies, have created a situation where people in countries with high incomes, and strong desires for smaller families are applying increasing pressure on gendercide. So although the common belief is that “missing girls” are the result of “backward thinking” countries, the opposite is actually true. Income and wealth have been implicated in fostering attitudes of gender preferences, and the ability to make those preferences a reality.

The social implications of this situation are dire. Not only are men facing a much smaller population of prospective wives (which has subsequently led to men seeking wives from foreign countries), but the impact on crime, violence, suicide, and the economy are surprising, and potentially detrimental.

The full read is recommended, but below are some compelling quotes:

…Not all traditional societies show a marked preference for sons over daughters. But in those that do—especially those in which the family line passes through the son and in which he is supposed to look after his parents in old age—a son is worth more than a daughter. A girl is deemed to have joined her husband’s family on marriage, and is lost to her parents. As a Hindu saying puts it, “Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbours’ garden…”

…Mothers in some developing countries say they want sons, not daughters, by margins of ten to one. In China midwives charge more for delivering a son than a daughter…

…But in that decade, ultrasound scanning and other methods of detecting the sex of a child before birth began to make their appearance. These technologies changed everything. Doctors in India started advertising ultrasound scans with the slogan “Pay 5,000 rupees ($110) today and save 50,000 rupees tomorrow” (the saving was on the cost of a daughter’s dowry). Parents who wanted a son, but balked at killing baby daughters, chose abortion in their millions…

…An ultrasound scan costs about $12, which is within the scope of many—perhaps most—Chinese and Indian families. In one hospital in Punjab, in northern India, the only girls born after a round of ultrasound scans had been mistakenly identified as boys, or else had a male twin…

…The spread of fetal-imaging technology has not only skewed the sex ratio but also explains what would otherwise be something of a puzzle: sexual disparities tend to rise with income and education, which you would not expect if “backward thinking” was all that mattered…

…So modernisation and rising incomes make it easier and more desirable to select the sex of your children. And on top of that smaller families combine with greater wealth to reinforce the imperative to produce a son. When families are large, at least one male child will doubtless come along to maintain the family line. But if you have only one or two children, the birth of a daughter may be at a son’s expense. So, with rising incomes and falling fertility, more and more people live in the smaller, richer families that are under the most pressure to produce a son…

…For an example, take Guangdong, China’s most populous province. Its overall sex ratio is 120, which is very high. But if you take first births alone, the ratio is “only” 108. That is outside the bounds of normality but not by much. If you take just second children, however, which are permitted in the province, the ratio leaps to 146 boys for every 100 girls. And for the relatively few births where parents are permitted a third child, the sex ratio is 167. Even this startling ratio is not the outer limit. In Anhui province, among third children, there are 227 boys for every 100 girls, while in Beijing municipality (which also permits exceptions in rural areas), the sex ratio reaches a hard-to-credit 275. There are almost three baby boys for each baby girl…

…And, according to the World Health Organisation, female suicide rates in China are among the highest in the world (as are South Korea’s). Suicide is the commonest form of death among Chinese rural women aged 15-34; young mothers kill themselves by drinking agricultural fertilisers, which are easy to come by. The journalist Xinran Xue thinks they cannot live with the knowledge that they have aborted or killed their baby daughters…

…They calculate that about half the increase in China’s savings in the past 25 years can be attributed to the rise in the sex ratio. If true, this would suggest that economic-policy changes to boost consumption will be less effective than the government hopes…

…Ms Das Gupta points out that, though the two giants are much poorer than South Korea, their governments are doing more than it ever did to persuade people to treat girls equally (through anti-discrimination laws and media campaigns). The unintended consequences of sex selection have been vast. They may get worse. But, at long last, she reckons, “there seems to be an incipient turnaround in the phenomenon of ‘missing girls’ in Asia.


Up and Down

An article from a week ago in NYTimes Magazine on the evolutionary purpose of depression:

Depression’s Upside

“…For Darwin, depression was a clarifying force, focusing the mind on its most essential problems. In his autobiography, he speculated on the purpose of such misery; his evolutionary theory was shadowed by his own life story. “Pain or suffering of any kind,” he wrote, “if long continued, causes depression and lessens the power of action, yet it is well adapted to make a creature guard itself against any great or sudden evil.” And so sorrow was explained away, because pleasure was not enough. Sometimes, Darwin wrote, it is the sadness that informs as it “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.” The darkness was a kind of light…”

“…If depression didn’t exist — if we didn’t react to stress and trauma with endless ruminations — then we would be less likely to solve our predicaments. Wisdom isn’t cheap, and we pay for it with pain…”

“…The challenge, of course, is persuading people to accept their misery, to embrace the tonic of despair. To say that depression has a purpose or that sadness makes us smarter says nothing about its awfulness. A fever, after all, might have benefits, but we still take pills to make it go away. This is the paradox of evolution: even if our pain is useful, the urge to escape from the pain remains the most powerful instinct of all.”

Maybe we’re all just neurotic. Maybe this is a way of finding optimism among pessimism. I think it makes total sense that challenges and failures teach us lessons for the better; but how are we supposed to find and navigate the line between making worry and distress productive, and just letting it get you down?

Man Up

A kind of…cute, but slightly disturbing, article in NYTimes Fashion and Style. It’s about men vs. guys, and things that each “kind” of male will and won’t do. Full article here.

Do men want to be guys? I don’t think men know guys exist, at least not as a permanent condition. They assume guys are boys who haven’t manned up yet.

Do guys suffer over not being men? Yes, sometimes. Then they want to talk to women about their feelings of inadequacy.

Do guys ever become men? Possibly. But I’ve met 24-year-old men and 64-year-old guys. It would take more than mere numbers to make that change: something a man wouldn’t talk about again.

Good Grief

A recent read from The New Yorker on issues related to grief: how it can be considered clinically, it’s forms in private life and public ritual, why we experience it, and what we hope to get from it as human beings.  Article here.

In “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917), Freud suggested that mourners had to reclaim energy that they had invested in the deceased loved one. Relationships take up energy; letting go of them, psychiatrists theorize, entails mental work. When you lose someone you were close to, you have to reassess your picture of the world and your place in it. The more your identity was wrapped up with the deceased, the more difficult the loss.

Quarter-Life Crisis/Questions

This article I ran across is very timely, though its already been out since April. Really interesting and funny – read here!

The gist: it’s about the “Quarter Life Crisis,” which is a life-time phase when twenty-some year olds, generally people who are two years or so into the real world after college, start to lose track of themselves within the haziness of what they should be doing with their life, partly fueled by all the possibilities and potential out there. Apparently, it’s associated with a kind of private worry that manifests itself as this “ennui,” or “fucking around,” or “self-flagellation,” as the article calls it, haha. It’s a socially constructed, middle-class issue that only emerged as a term in 2001, but has become a pervasive problem that people at this age apparently struggle with, whether delusionally or in reality.

Some gems from the article:

“…Attempts to manage the Quarterlife Crisis might be as banal as drinking a lot, doing a bunch of drugs, sleeping with idiots and myriad other kinds of self-flagellation, but broader attempts are made to find some sense of purpose…”

“…This isolation and its private anxiety are pervasive, as is a longing for the way things were in the predictably structured eras of high school and college or university. The directionlessness and resulting immobility is made worse when twentysomethings going through the Crisis compare themselves to their peers, past and present, further convincing someone in the throes of it that they’re not only alone, but the worst kind of failure…”

“…“There is life on the other side of this, and it’s actually a pretty good one. Growing up may be hard to do, but in the end, the gains outweigh the losses.” In other words: it might just be time to grow the fuck up.”

It’s entertaining, if not slightly enlightening. I think 2010 Seniors haven’t quite gotten to this state of disillusionment yet. I think we’re more excited about the prospect of this final semester and what’s coming in post-college life, as well as, relishing in the few months and moments we have left with people here, as we should be.

While this “Quarter-life Crisis” may be something of actual concern in this population of adults, part of me discredits it as an immature and formalized expression of laziness and and unwillingness to work hard. (I’m not accusing all 25-year-olds of being lazy, I just think that is problem is partly the result of laziness…) I certainly don’t mean to discredit the fact that we all have every right to happy with what we make of our time, whether it be in grad school or at a job or in a relationship – everyone is entitled to satisfaction and fulfillment. What bothers me is when people think things are meant to be easy, or that things like happiness and a strong sense of purpose in life are supposed to come without the work.

I agree that a lot of people feel entitled, or feel that just because they are young and have the time to figure it all out, they should be out there having the time of their lives and being spontaneous and taking big chances. I obviously don’t mean that this is altogether bad; leaving your options open, being willing to try things out, and living large is important when you have the time, energy, and resources for it. But moving around from thing to thing, waiting until you find something that’s ideal or perfect, because you think your life should be ideal or perfect, is stupid.

Things are meant to be hard right? Or else doing things wouldn’t be worth it. Yes, when you’re young, life is supposed to be a little less hard than when you’re older. And by all means, don’t settle (if you can help it). But all in all, people should be realistic. Instead of looking around for things that are bigger and better, take the initiative to make the most out of things that are in your control. This is, of course, easier said than done. But it beats feeling aimless, helpless, and powerless. If anything, being at the 25-year-ish mark of your life means you actually have the ability to do something about it.

From the Best Freshman Roommate I Could Have Ever Asked For

This wonderful piece in The Harvard Crimson’s FM Magazine is written by the most awesome freshman roommate I could have ever asked for: Emily Graff. A shout out for special memories in Grays M53!

One of the best parts about about being friends with Emily – in addition to lessons in fashion (I owe my knowledge of Christian Louboutin and Tory Burch to her), decorating advice, advice in general, and the in on the best hookah bars in NYC – is that she lets me read her writing pieces. Sometimes, even before she turns them in.

This latest one is about something that everyone is familiar with. The full piece, which I highly recommend you read, Harvard people, is here; some of my favorite bits are below. It’s titled “Pass,” and is about her experience this summer as an intern for a publishing company – specifically, the part that required her to write letters of rejection.

“…I saw myself on every page. I’ve been rejected from high schools and colleges, from a capella groups and publications and summer opportunities. I know what it feels like to send a piece of yourself out into the silence. And I know what it feels like to get the thin envelope or the small package or the short email back.

And now, here I was, pairing “so I think we’re going to have to pass” and “I’m not sure how to position this on our list” with compliments about “lush descriptions” and “compelling narrative voices.” I felt powerful, at first, but that soon wore off. I was left with a dull ache—it’s a mix of guilt and heartbreak…

…On T.V. and in newspaper articles, they call us a coddled generation. Bubble-wrapped kids. We—Generation Y, Millennials, whatever—are told that we feel entitled to success. When faced with failure, we are meant to fold in upon ourselves, to give up.

And sure, I think about that sometimes. But as August rolls around and I prepare for senior year and for the real world, for a recessed economy and a shrinking job market, I prepare for the hundreds upon hundreds of rejections that lay ahead.

Because if I know anything, I know that after all the Nos, you only ever really need one Yes…”

It’s perfect. I love Emily Graff. You should too.

Unemployed = Funemployed? Really?

First post about an article from The Stimulist. The article was taken from The LA Times, and falls into category number 2: “Idea to Consider.” The idea is this: seeing unemployment as an opportunity to live life differently – more freely, more spontaneously, and possibly even more happily.

The story interviews a few people who were “freed” of their 9 to 5’s, all of whom have realized that the unemployed life may not be so bad after all. Rather than being a hole out of which one must quickly dig, unemployment becomes more like a vacation or opportunity, where individuals can take more time to travel, figure out what it is they really want to do, and enjoy life. I love this quote: ” ‘Recession gives people permission to be unemployed,’ said David Logan, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business. ‘Why not make use of the time and go do something fun?’ ”

One of the positive things that I also agree with is that being unemployed gives one the new perspective that being tied down at work for the majority of the day and week isn’t healthy. It’s the perspective that Life isn’t necessarily defined by Work, and that one might have even more meaningful goals in other things, whether that be Family, Love, or Hobbies. It’s true – Americans are known to be more engrossed in their work than, for example, people in France who are known to work less hours with more vacation days. And it could be seen as a problem for people’s overall health: stress in work can contribute to weaker immune systems, less resilience in times of illness, unhealthy emotional states, and just overall unhappiness.

My complaint is not necessarily with the article as much as it is with the people the article quotes. Sure, unemployment can be seen as an opportunity of sorts – take some time to travel, recharge, come back with a new perspective. But the fact is that having a job provides financial stability, a comfortable and secure living, and mental exercise, not to mentioned overall benefit to society (in most cases haha). Too much fun or relaxation might take away the sense of responsibility that we feel when we work, or the sense of drive that we have in accomplishing our goals. This article just sounded like it was encouraging laziness more than merely taking some time to enjoy life.

Clearly, we shouldn’t lie on either extremes – too much work OR too much play. Maybe this is naive from my perspective, with all the opportunities that I’ve been privileged enough to have, but I would think that (at least for these people the article quotes), finding a job that one enjoys and uses to compliment life and energize it is a balance that is attainable.

Hopefully one doesn’t have to be unemployed for long to realize this…