Sunday, 23 June 2013

Ah, Summer!

The local strawberries are in! Tonight the YD came out to collect her touring canoe and made this

 for her father for supper.

And one for heself and for me, of course.
feeling somewhat overfed, but it was worth it.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Life, Looks and Libido



Note: this post is long and quote heavy. Beware.

In the last few days, two articles in the news have yanked my chain. The first is a report on a researchpaper that puts forward the theory that men's desire for young(er) women is the cause of menopause. I don't follow the reasoning. If you accept that menopause is a mutation that occurred in human women but not in other primates, I think the reasoning around the 'grandmother' theory makes more sense.

In the 'grandmother' theory, the hypothesis is that the beginning of the mutation meant that some older women were less likely to get pregnant and therefore did not die when other early human women died worn out by later life gestation. Such women would be useful to the family if they were skilled foragers and good caregivers. Their children would reap the benefits of extra food and child care and so would grandchildren, thus passing on the increased survival benefit and fixing the mutation. Simple explanation.

The reasoning given in Singh et al. ismore convoluted. As far as I can tell, the researchers started from the hypothesis that "Our model requires neither the initial assumption of a decline in older female fertility nor the effects of inclusive fitness through which older, non-reproducing women assist in the reproductive efforts of younger women. " They proved the hypothesis in a computer model. For me, their reasoning goes around in a loop in which mate selection preferring younger women allows time for mutation to produce 'senescent' changes in older women, making menopause an unfavourable choice. If so, then why did it persist? I guess I need to read the background studies. Sigh.

Certainly some of the effects of menopause are unpleasant, balancing off cessation of menstruation and danger of pregnancy against low estrogen effects of hair growth, loss of bone strength, skin changes and, according to studies, loss of libido in many women.

As I was pondering all of this, I read Margaret Wente's latest column, a discussion of the effects of big pharmaceutical companies' desire for profit causing their research to focus on creating needs where there should be none. She uses the search for a pill to increase female libido as the main example of this.

I really like her conclusions, much as I wanted to yell at her for her offhand comment that "Personally, I’m not sure whether it’s desirable, seemly or even (quite frankly) safe for senior citizens to copulate like jack rabbits." (Read that over when you're past seventy, Margaret, and you are going to cringe!)

The idea that 'There's a pill for that,' is something that, at my age, causes me both amusement and dismay. And never more so than in the area of lust. She quotes one researcher [Tamara Kayali, a post-doctoral research fellow at Dalhousie University who specializes in bioethics] as saying that "if a woman’s sexual appetite wanes in middle age, why is that her problem? “You’re assuming it’s the woman who needs fixing,” she says. “Maybe we need a pill for men that will lessen their desire for sex.” I love that thought. I would make such a pill mandatory for any man who requires his female compatriots to drape themselves in shapeless clothing so as not to be a distraction from important male things.

Lust, libido, sexual expectations and behaviour - a topic area that in my home in my childhood was pretty close to taboo. I got birds and bees type information from my mother, but when I asked her what intercourse felt like she answered that I would have to find that out for myself. And the closest I ever came to discussing the topic with my father was his somewhat strangled comment on the eve of my marriage that I had better not count on performance from my husband on my wedding night. None of my friends ever discussed sex. I first learned that there was a thing called a clitoris in my twenties. Books like 'The Joy of Sex' were a mid-life revelation; if such things existed earlier, I never found them. And I did look but all I found was fiction, written almost exclusively from the male point of view. (Discourage your curious daughter from reading Hemingway, is my advice!)

Following straight on from that snide aside, it is my experience that body image is vitally important in the whole libido thing, that it is almost exclusively shaped by culture and that it is as much an influence on males as it is on females. If you grow up in an era or a culture where your body type (facial features, hair and skin colour and texture included) is not the culturally admired one, you can very easily let yourself be influenced in some highly adverse ways. If, for example, a tall, broad shouldered, skinny and small breasted woman grows up in the height of the Marilyn-Monroe-as-ideal era, she may well end up believing that she are not desirable and persuade herself that sex is not very interesting. If a girl grows up in the Twiggy era, has an ectomorph* for an older sister but is herself curvy, taller and heavier, she can equally devalue herself. Or end up with a very limited range of men she considers attractive and that she thinks might be attracted to her. Equally a young man with a body flaw might well fix on the first young woman he finds who is not bothered by it, having believed that no woman would ever want him, without considering whether he and she were compatible in other ways.

Along with such every-day examples, we all read about people whose functioning is totally warped by attitudes to libido and the other sex. Rapists, kidnappers, sadistic guerilla warriors, pitiful misfits, silly kids whose experimentation, gone wildly wrong, destroys them - all these examples are the grist for the media mill. Note that I am not talking here about people per se who buy and sell sex. Marriage is, after all, a convention for the buying and selling of sex. Among other things that it is, of course. What I perceive as wrong is the devaluation of some sex trade workers and their clients, both of themselves and of those they engage, if the culture and their own experience teaches them to do so. It is so easy for this kind of misery to escalate into horrible violence. Examples are no further away than the Clifford Olson disaster.

Truly, I don't know which is worse, being raised sort of Victorian the way I was, and passing (I very much fear) some of the problems of that down to my own daughters or being raised in this second decade of the 21st century where the norms seem to indicate that anything goes but in actual fact punish a lot of behaviours.

Menopause is a disease? This is the start of the hypothesis of Singh et al. Lowered libido is a disease? No, say Wente's sources, arguing against what they think is becoming common thinking. Since I have lived through both pre and post pill eras and have watched the growing emergence of women in the workplace, in politics, in the arts, I see these attitudes as reactionary, the back swing of the pendulum. I understand the multiple and contradictory standards affecting women's behaviour, appearance and status as a strategy to maintain the attitude that women are not really people, fellow beings, but rather objects (I'm groping for concepts here), other. A woman without overt signs that she wishes to attract male lust is a frightening thing and must therefore be categorized as sick or weak.

Aside: I think a poor hot and hampered woman persuaded into a burkha becomes a walking signpost that she is a sexual object first. The fact that some women choose to wear restrictive and smothering clothing makes them fools. Or fooled Equally, I think that a woman sliding her butt in its inadequate skirt onto her blazing hot plastic car seat or courting frostbite in a cropped top and the same inadequate skirt in Ottawa in February is a fool and not nearly as sexy as she thinks she is. She has a lot more choices than most of the over-wrapped women; why do so many women with a lot of advantages dress uncomfortably and sometimes to their permanent harm (I am thinking stiletto heels here) when they don't have to? Maybe they, like the women who aver they love face veils, have their thinking distorted by their culture.

And, on a personal note - why does my beloved ten year old granddaughter want a bikini bathing suit? It's idiotic! The stupid things fall off kids, leave lots of skin exposed to sunburn and bug bites and look silly on a flat chest. But they sell like hot cakes. Growl.

I wonder why acceptance of people as people first, not male and female stereotypes, must be so difficult - for both sexes. Because until that acceptance happens, misplaced attitudes about libido will continue to warp and, in turn, damage our society and our selves.



*Ectomorphic: characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; usually referred to as slim.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Weather or Not

Glug. We're treading water here. - Over 1.5 inches of rain up until Sunday and almost another inch so far last night and this morning. The ant trap on my hummingbird feeder has become a small splashing fountain because the eaves trough is overflowing, my newly planted annuals are looking pale and wan and the grass is growing into hay as we watch. Canadian fascination with the weather in full spate here.

It's been good news so far this week. Our great niece delivered her baby successfully on the weekend, making us great-great aunt and uncle for the third time, and our neighbour called this morning to say that her daughter had just produced a fine baby girl and all goes well. Lovely to hear. The names, though, are making my head spin a bit. One of the new little girls is Elsa, not a name much used but plain and spellable. (Is that a word? Well, Spellchecker took it.) The other baby is Maelle, a name that has a beautiful sound but that, ex teacher that I am, I foresee may cause some problems when she goes to school. The names that people are giving their children lately fascinate me - there is so much creativity and striving for the unusual. My name, plain old Mary, was so popular 70+ years ago, that I spent one summer as a teenager working, in a crew of seven, with five Marys including me. But no one uses it much these days.

Ah, the twenty-first century and its joys. As I struggle with my IPad and my brand new and quite incomprehensible Galaxy phone, as I wander with dismay through clothing stores filled with things I do not want to buy, as I watch most of the population of any city I visit spend more time on their cell phones than off, I feel more and more disconnected. I have a little list of terms I struggle to understand - bluetooth and ICloud for two. I am completely out of tune with the latest in music and video. I am becoming a dinosaur. Will my wrinkled body emerge from some unnatural preservation twenty centuries from now and puzzle my unimaginable descendants? Probably not. I will have to settle for puzzling my immediate descendants now.

The only thing that I feel sure of is that, regardless of what else has changed, people will still be complaining about the weather.


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Waiting on Summer

 I'm freezing! In spite of the number on the calendar, how can it be June 5th when my thermometer on the deck read +2ยบ C when I woke up this morning? There is a small huddle of bedding plants beside the porch, waiting to be transplanted. The frost-free date in our part of the world is supposed to be May 24th. We had a heavy frost on May 25th and things have not warmed up much since. I guess this is global warming weather, but where's the 'warm'?

However, there are compensations. I can work outside in enough clothes that the ravening hordes of black flies and mosquitoes don't have much of a target. I can work outside without sweating (except when digging up topsoil). And, in spite of the cool, cool breeze I am going to have to do that this morning because the poor little seedlings in the huddle need more room for their roots and I have to plant them, arctic air notwithstanding. Today.


Mostly at this time of year we have all the windows open and are greeted each morning with a chorus of bird song. (And at night we hear the barred owl whooing away as we go to sleep.) My favourite singer is the rose breasted grosbeak. We had four males competing - as much as these gentle birds do compete - at the feeder and I am sure we have at least two breeding pairs now. Their song is lovely. We also seem to have song sparrows this year, and a few American goldfinches, but no white throated sparrows so far. Even bundled up in a bug shirt, being outside is an aural treat. Not quite as amazing as an English garden in May, but very nice.

My two standard lilac are done - only skeletal seed pods remain - but the Japanese lilac by the kitchen porch, in spite of the beating it took from the snow last December, is just opening and the butterflies are starting to attend.

Thus the joys of country living in a Canadian spring. I wonder if it sounds pretty tame or even boring. Frankly, there are times when I am bored. Times when the job list does not look the least bit enticing, but there is no excuse to turn it face down and do something fun. As of tomorrow my wonderful friend, always good for conversation, cutthroat Scrabble or a 'run away' day, will have been dead a year. We had dinner at her home last night, as her daughter was in town for a two day visit, and it was fun. But not the same. It will never be the same. And there is no point in mourning, but the tears well up anyhow sometimes.

Speaking of Scrabble, I am being crushed in on-line games by three wickedly clever opponents. I think I am at about my sixth consecutive loss, and am trailing badly in two out of the three games I am playing now. Some of it is lousy tiles - a row of seven vowels, followed by a row with no vowels at all - but a lot of it is that they are just plain outclassing me. Sob.

And it has now warmed up enough outside that I have absolutely no excuse not to go and rescue my bedding plants. Ah well.