Driving Forward In The Kingdom

It’s June of 2018.  And as of Sunday, June 24, women in Saudi Arabia are finally legally able to drive.

p06byymkIt’s astonishing when you think about it, but until yesterday the kingdom of Saudi Arabia had maintained a ban on women driving — the only one in the world.  It was one of the most visible elements of differential treatment of men and women in that country.  The decision to finally allow women to drive is part of an effort by the Saudis to liberalize and modernize their benighted internal policies, which have received a lot of international criticism over the years.  And, as is so frequently the case, the move also has an economic component.  The Saudi economy has taken a hit because of oil prices, and allowing women to drive is expected to increase the employment of women and allow them to make more of a contribution to the gross national product.

Not surprisingly, many Saudi women took to the streets in cars to celebrate their ability to do something that women the world over have taken for granted for more than a century.  “I feel free like a bird,” one woman said.  “The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes,” another one wrote.  And Saudi women posted videos of themselves driving on social media.

But let’s not get too excited about the loosening of repressive policies in Saudi Arabia, because a number of activists who strongly advocated for great women’s rights have been jailed and remain behind bars, even as the ban against women driving has been lifted.  Some believe that the jailing is intended to placate the ultra-conservative religious leaders who remain a significant force in the country, and also to send the message that only Saudi leaders — and not activists advocating for changes in Saudi policies — can produce reforms in the kingdom.

It’s a sign that, while lifting the ban on women driving is welcome, Saudi Arabia has a long way to go.  And it’s also a reminder that, in 2018, there are still a lot of repressive policies out there against women that still need to be addressed.

Women’s Hair, Men’s Hair

I get my hair cut at one of those unisex hair styling salons by the Platinum Stylist.  Kish gets her hair done there by the PS, too.  It’s a nice place with friendly staffers, conveniently located about halfway between the office and our house, and the Platinum Stylist always does a terrific job.

Because I go to a unisex salon, where about two-thirds of the clientele on any given visit are female, my appointments give me a brief exposure to the trends in women’s hair through the big posters that are always advertising women’s hair care products and styles — like this one that was hanging in the front window yesterday.  The posters always feature sultry, heavy-lidded women with vaguely haunted looks whose hair is carefully arranged to look . . . well, unarranged.  It’s as if some women want to go to the stylist and come out looking like they haven’t been there at all.  For most men, though, the goal is the exact opposite.  We want to get a clearly noticeable haircut, whatever style or amount of barbering we might choose, so that the whole process facially justifies the cost.

The words used in the women’s hair care posters inevitably are different than what would be used in male-oriented ads, too.  Sure, “effortless” would appeal to both men and women, but I’m guessing men would define it differently.  For women, an “effortless” coiff might require ten minutes of curling, claying, molding, brushing, shaping and spraying.  For men, an “effortless” style means something that can be toweled off after a shower and put into place with no more than ten seconds of diffident combing.

I’m not sure most men would be attracted by the promise that a certain product would leave their hair looking “touchable” or “tousled,” either.  I’m not particularly keen about anybody touching my hair; in fact, I don’t particularly want to touch it myself.  It’s hair, after all.  My basic hair goal is the opposite of the “tousled,” just rolled out of bed look.  Instead, I want to at least appear to have tried to do something to attack the stupid cowlick that always pops up on the crown of my head.  And whereas women’s hair ads always seem to be talking about “texture,” that seems like a lost cause to me.  When the word that best describes the “texture” of your hair would probably be “grizzled,” no “texture tonic” is going to help.

Into The Clothing Danger Zone

Yesterday I got one of the endless number of emails trying to sell me something that bombard my inbox.  This one was trying to sell me “Barbie PJs.”  The picture showed what looked to me like standard PJs that were pink with a silhouette of a Barbie head on the top.  “Hmmm,” I thought idly, “I wonder if Kish would like those, or hate them.”  And then I hit the delete button.

newthumb_3__3I wish I could effectively communicate to that company, and others that try to sell me women’s clothing, how absolutely unlikely I am to buy anything they’re offering.  I haven’t bought Kish any kind of garment — or footwear, hats, you name it — for more than three decades, because I long ago learned that I have no sense of fashion and really don’t know what she likes and what she doesn’t like on the apparel front.  In short, if an item can be donned or doffed, I’m far out of my depth.

This profound condition of clothing cluelessness became clear when I tried to buy Kish some clothes one long-ago Christmas, and each purchase — boots, a blouse, a winter cap — was a miserable failure that she looked at quizzically.  “How did you happen to buy purple boots?” she asked after opening one of the presents.  “I thought purple was your favorite color,” I stammered in response.  “No, it’s green,” she said.

Fortunately, I had retained all of the receipts for the ill-advised gifts, so she was able to return them and get some things she really liked and wanted — and we moved forward with the implicit understanding that I would never again try to buy clothes for her.  In fact, I’ve always suspected that the “returns” department at stores was created by a department store proprietor who, after totally flubbing some gift for his wife or girlfriend, realized that there was a desperate need for a special area where puzzled women could discreetly return the reckless clothing purchases of misguided males.

So don’t try to sell me “Barbie PJs,” or poofy fashion scarves, or knee-high boots.  Those kinds of purchases fall entirely into the “Kish self-purchase category.”  I’ll happily buy her objects, or even perfume if I receive sufficiently explicit instruction that can be communicated to the helpful saleswoman at the perfume department at Nordstrom’s.  Attire, however, is in the danger zone.

Rain-Soaked, But Still Fearless

On this dank Friday morning in lower Manhattan, I endured the raindrops for a few blocks for a brief morning walk.  When I’m on the road I like to check out the environs and see if there is anything interesting.  This morning, my goal was Fearless Girl — the sculpture positioned directly opposite the iconic charging bull down by Wall Street.

“Fearless” is a good description of the young girl, but “defiant” or “resolute” might be even better.  She stands fists on hips and legs firmly anchored, chin raised and ponytail fluttering in the breeze, but her face is very placid, without a trace of emotion except, perhaps, a slight smile.  Fearless Girl is ready for anything.

Fearless Girl apparently has become something of a tourist attraction — although nobody else was around on this rainy Friday morning — but some people question what message is intended by her placement across from a bull ready to charge.  The naysayers wonder is the juxtaposition is supposed to convey that women oppose rising stock values, or that Wall Street is anti-woman, or some other quasi-political/economic message.  I don’t know about the intended message, but I did like the portrayal of a girl calmly facing down a dangerous bull that seems to be made wary of by her very presence and determination.  It makes for a very cool picture.

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, a few days after she suffered a heart attack on a trans-Atlantic flight, came as a terrible shock.  Fisher was only 60, and she had so much to offer to the world as a writer, actor, and advocate on mental health issues.

Fisher was great in The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, and she wrote a number of funny best-selling books, but of course she will always be remembered by many — including me — as Princess Leia of the original Star Wars films.  I’m sure that Fisher often bridled at her association with that gun-toting resistance leader with the fantastic and iconic hairstyle, but I’ll always believe that her depiction of Leia Organa was one of the things that fundamentally and forever shifted the kinds of roles that women played in Hollywood films.

Of course, women had always had some meaty roles, but in action films or sci-fi films women typically were the objects around which the action revolved, rather than the proponents of the action.  Not so with Leia Organa!  From the first moments of Star Wars she was the key driver of the plot, setting R2D2 off with the plans for the Death Star, standing toe to toe with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, recruiting Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo to the cause of the resistance, getting tortured and firing blasters and trading insults with the best of them.  (“Could somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?”)  Princess Leia was as far from the damsel in distress as you could get.  Sure, she ultimately fell for Han Solo — who wouldn’t? — but she was always ready to strangle Jabba the Hut or blast a squadron of imperial storm troopers on a moment’s notice.  Not every actor could pull off such a role, but Carrie Fisher did it flawlessly and convincingly.

Lots of people make movies that achieve enormous popularity, but then fade over time to the point where their roles are only dimly recalled and people wonder what all the fuss was about.  Not so with Carrie Fisher.  She was a true trailblazer, in her acting, in her writing, and in her frank and always humorous discussions about her struggles with her condition, her addictions, and her weight.  She touched more people than she perhaps ever realized.

Mysteries Of The Opposite Sex

  
Last night I passed this sign on my way to dinner, and it stopped me in my tracks.  What is “eyebrow threading,” I wondered, and how does it produce the promised “unique shape”?  Perhaps, I thought, it involves something like threading a needle.

Alas, the storefront of the business provided no ready answers.  It featured a video of an eye being subjected to a complicated eyebrow-related procedure involving what looked like a rubber band.  It also appeared to be a painful operation for the disembodied eye, frankly.  I hurried on, disturbed by the Daliesque quality of the video, which looked like an outtake from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Why would anyone go through a potentially painful procedure to achieve a unique eyebrow shape?  If the eyebrow had become unacceptably unruly, why not simply trim it?  Beats me, but then I’m a guy who can’t keep straight the difference between eyeliner and mascara.  The realities of eyebrow threading will just have to remain one of the many  curious mysteries of the fairer sex.

Dying For A Butt

In Philadelphia yesterday, a woman named Padge-Victoria Windslowe was convicted of third-degree murder.  Her crime was injecting nearly a half gallon of industrial grade silicon, cut with saline in a home blender, into the buttocks of a 20-year-old British woman named Claudia Aderotimi.  Aderotimi’s heart stopped, and she died.

Windslowe, who has no formal medical training, called herself the “Michelangelo of buttocks injections.”   According to Windslowe, she performed underground “body-sculpting” operations on thousands of woman who wanted larger butts or smoother foreheads or plumper cheeks.  The women paid $1,000 to $2,500 for these “treatments.”  Trial testimony said that Windslowe would arrive at hotel rooms and “pumping parties” with a bottle filled with silicon, needles and syringes, and Krazy Glue to close the wounds her injections left.  One of those injections killed Aderotimi.

Medical charlatans are as old as medicine itself, and for every quack who claims to have discovered a magic elixir or a miracle cure there will be desperate people who want to believe and are willing to drink, eat, or do just about anything in furtherance of their belief.  And Windslowe was not alone; news reports say that black-market buttocks injections are becoming more popular, and they are causing other health problems, including infections, disfigurement, liver and kidney problems, and the death of a woman in Texas.

It’s tremendously sad, isn’t it?  Can it really be that so many women have such devastating body image issues that they would willingly travel to anonymous hotel rooms and pay thousands of dollars for injections of unknown substances by unknown people armed with needles, quarts of silicon and other materials, and Krazy Glue?  Since when did having a bigger butt become worth those kinds of absurd risks?

The Scarf-Tying Test

There are some obvious, time-honored ways by which to distinguish American women from American men.

One group thinks The Three Stooges are hilarious; the other thinks they are appalling.

One group likes “baby showers” so much they invented “couples showers,” and the other thinks “couples showers” is the worst, most dangerous invention since lawn darts.

One group has a set of “functional boots” and another set of “fashion boots,” and the other can’t even grasp the concept.

IMG_4814And one group can tie a scarf so that it looks poofy and kicky and fashionable, and the other is incapable of doing so.

I’ve learned this lesson this cold, miserable, unending winter, when wearing a scarf is a crucial tool in the Midwesterners’ arsenal of survival gear.  My scarf is a long, scarlet and gray piece that I got from the OSU Development Office.  I’ve tried winding it around my neck, bunching it up, and other scarf-tying efforts; now I just double up the scarf, loop it around my neck, and cinch it up to the chin.  It’s warm, solidly functional and keeps the wind off my neck, but it makes no fashion statement whatsoever.

As you walk around downtown Columbus on a cold winter morning — and today the weather app on my phone says it’s 1 degree outside — you see pinch-faced men walking hunched against the wind.  They all have a dull gray look to them.  The women, on the other hand, look colorful and bright in their gay scarves and snazzy boots.

So why don’t they like The Three Stooges?

On Labor Day, A Look At “Work”

Most of us will spend decades, and countless thousands of hours, at our jobs — but how often do we think about “work” and how it is changing?  On this Labor Day, it’s worth taking a moment to do so.

In the United States, the concept of “work” and the types of jobs that constitute “work” have changed dramatically over the past 150 years, reflecting changes in the country as a whole.  As this interactive chart of census data shows, farmers and farm laborers constituted more than 50 percent of the jobs held by men in 1850; by 2000, farmers and farm laborers amounted to less than 1 percent of the working male population.  Other jobs that were relatively common in 1850 — like blacksmith, which was 1.79% of the male job market in 1850 — have largely vanished, and new jobs like bartender and insurance agent have taken their places.

The shifts in the jobs have reflected, and in some instances caused, shifts in the culture of America.  Farmers in 1850 worked with family members on land they owned and their work days were self-directed; they lived in rural areas and had little daily interaction with people outside of their village.  Modern white-collar employees typically work in highly structured environments, doing what a complex hierarchy of managers tell them to do, in large cities and buildings where they may interact with hundreds of people each working day.  The demands of the jobs are different — farmers needed to know when to plant and when to harvest, while office workers need to know how to create a decent spreadsheet — and the stresses are different, too.  Who is to say whether preparing an important presentation for a corporate vice president is any more stressful than rising at 4 a.m. to deliver a calf whose successful birth might be crucial to eking out a profit for the year?

The census record of non-household work by women is even more interesting, because it not only shows the ebb and flow of jobs but also the impact of social change and technological change.  At one time household workers (cooks and maids), farm laborers, and dressmakers made up the preponderance of outside-the-home working women, then — as more women entered the workforce — secretaries, clerical workers, and cashiers came to the forefront.  And check out the “manager/owner” category for women, which has gone from less than 1 percent of women in 1970 to more than 3.3 percent in 2000.  Our female friends and family members who own their own businesses and call the shots are part of a significant trend.

The “secretary” job category is particularly worth noting.  The position first shows up in census data in 1900, where about .3% percent of women reported holding that job, and the job category grew to more than 5.3 percent of women by 1970, as white-collar jobs in America exploded.  That number then fell to about 2.9 percent by 2000, and it has likely fallen farther since then.  Why?  It’s not because secretarial work is any less important, but because more and more of that work is now being done by the white collar workers that secretaries used to assist.  As young people who are used to working on personal computers and doing their own keyboarding enter the workforce, there is less need for secretaries who can take shorthand and then type 100 words a minute, without error, on their typewriters for bosses who had, at best, “hunt and peck” proficiency.

How should people prepare for the constantly shifting job market?  We might not be able to predict what types of jobs will be available as social and technological changes occur, but we can predict the characteristics that will make employees successful — because those haven’t changed at all.  Whether you are a blacksmith or an IT specialist, hard work, timeliness, and attention to the quality of your output will always be keys to success.

Who’s The Happiest?

Recently I ran across a relatively old piece about a study in which psychologists tried to determine the happiest people and the unhappiest people.  The study concluded, with remarkable statistical precision, that the happiest people were 39-year-old married men with one child that made a certain income and had a wife who worked part-time, and the unhappiest people were 42-year-old single women who worked in professional jobs and made less than $100,000 per year.

I’m skeptical of studies that purport to broadly determine the emotional state of groups based on various characteristics.  I’m not sure how you could account for all of the factors that go into the happiness mix — wouldn’t individual health, the health of family members, and the conditions in your workplace aside from income, for example, have an awfully important bearing on an individual’s happiness?– and I also think the study overlooks the obvious:  people to their conditions differently based on their own unique temperaments.

IMG_1984I do think, however, that men could well be happier than women because men tend to be less sensitive and often find happiness in things that many women find silly.  Men remind me of the scene in Meet The Parents where Robert DeNiro, explaining why he likes cats more than dogs, said he prefers more emotionally complex animals. One of my male friends once said that he would be happy so long as he had a plate of spaghetti and tickets to a ball game.  It was a valid observation, and all of the other guys in the room  nodded and agreed.

I’d be willing to bet that, if you took a survey of men in cities with NFL or major college football teams near the end of the regular season, you’d find that men in cities with winning teams were happier than men in cities with losing teams.  Should true happiness be tied to the won-loss record of a group of athletes wearing gaudy uniforms?  Philosophers and psychologists would say of course not — but that’s the reality.

By the way, I’m hoping the Buckeyes will be good this year.  As for the Browns . . . .

The Squeeeee! Factor

Yesterday I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when I noticed two women  who apparently were surprised to see each other.  Their eyes opened wide and they each made, in perfect unison, high-pitched noises that sounded like “squeeeeee!”

I’m assuming that they then hugged each other — which seems to be the standard practice under those circumstances — but I couldn’t tell for sure because my glasses cracked.  I also don’t know whether they made any additional noises thereafter, because every dog within a 10-block radius started barking simultaneously and my ears began bleeding.

Seriously, what’s with this form of female-to-female greeting that unfortunately seems to be growing increasingly commonplace, regardless of the age of the people in question?  What is it about the prospect of seeing a friend that causes vocal tones to be raised at least one full octave?  I don’t want to quash anybody’s happy greeting, but can we at least lower the decibel level on the squeeeee! factor to some kind of point that is reasonably tolerable to human beings?

Men’s Bathrooms, Ladies’ Bathrooms

Women may not realize this, but ladies’ rooms are almost mythical places to many men.

We’ve heard tales of the pink palatial rooms that are kept spotlessly clean and equipped with chaise lounges and other luxurious features. But we haven’t seen them, of course — they’re forbidden territory.

There’s nothing mythical about men’s rooms, however. This photo of the facilities at one of the joints along Frenchmen Street gives you an idea of what to expect.

20140531-101035.jpg

The Psychology Of The Two-Urinal Rule

Every guy knows this basic rule about the use of a public bathroom: if someone else is using one of the bank of urinals, you need to choose a location that leaves at least one urinal between you and the other user. It’s one of those social conventions that is so widely accepted that you really notice a breach.

This week The Atlantic has a fascinating article about the psychology of the two-urinal rule and other phobias and taboos about the use of public bathrooms. I was unaware, for example, that there was a formal name for the condition that causes people to have anxiety about using a public bathroom to do “number one” — it’s called paruresis — and that affects about 20 million Americans to some extent or another. (The analogous condition about “number two,” called parcopresis, is far less common.)

IMG_4196Interestingly, men seem to be more troubled about use of public bathrooms than are women, and the free-standing, out-in-the-open urinal apparently is a significant part of the problem. Studies show that men worry that they are being watched while they are standing there doing their business, whereas women — safely seated in a flimsy yet shielded stall as they answer the imperative — tend to worry more about cleanliness and comfort. Some men’s rooms are now being designed with partitions between individual urinals to try to address the perceived privacy problem.

The article notes that, even in our wide-open culture, there are still many taboos and rigid behavioral norms about using a public bathroom — even though the notion of privacy while excreting is a fairly recent development in the long history of humans. We tend not to talk to anyone when we are inside. We don’t make eye contact with other users, and in fact strive to maintain a state of studied indifference to their very existence. And, of course, we do our best to ignore the sights, smells, and physical conditions in the bathroom and the fact that the facilities are being used by complete strangers for unpleasant but essential bodily functions.

If you use public bathrooms all the time, you incorporate these norms and obey them, accept the fact of bodily imperatives, and forget about it. For some people, that’s harder than for others. So if the guy ahead of you in the line for a urinal at the next Browns game seems to be taking a while, give him a break — he’s probably doing his best while dealing with the weight of some deep-seated psychological issues.

The Science Of Bad Dancing

From the teenage years forward, every modern male is bedeviled by the same nagging question: how do I dance without looking like a spastic imbecile?

John Travolta may be the only man alive who is truly confident in his dancing abilities. Most other guys are worried that their attempt at a cool dancing persona in reality mirrors the humiliating leg-kicking, arm-jerking efforts of Elaine on Seinfeld. And, if you’ve seen your average guy on the dance floor, you know that those worries are painfully well-founded.

Fortunately, science now offers an answer. Researchers have studied how women respond to dance floor moves, using neutral, genderless depictions of dancing figures in an attempt to take personal looks out of the equation. The results are surprising. It turns out that women like large movements of the head, neck and torso, as well as quick movements that involve bending the right knee. Putting all of the moves together looks something like the funky chicken — except that there is no apparent relation between arm movements and perceived dancing ability.

What about the study tell us about bad dancers? Click on the link above, and then click on the short video that women uniformly found to represent bad dancing — then tell me if you haven’t seen the precisely the same pathetic, shuffling, inane moves on the part of 99.9 percent of the men who give dancing a shot. And guys . . . take a good look, and then vow never again to trip the light fantastic unless it’s at one of your kids’ weddings. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

Why Are Gun Sales Surging?

By all accounts, Americans are buying guns in record numbers.  Why?

Bloomberg says that gun sales are increasing by significant amounts.  Gun purchases increased 54 percent from 2008 to 2012, and publicly traded gun manufacturers are reporting more than 40 percent increases in sales in 2013.  Demand is so great that manufacturers are competing for market share in the expanding gun market by introducing new products, which is driving a sharp increase in gun-related patents.  The Washington Post reports that Virginia set a record for Black Friday gun sales.  Isn’t it curious that people would think of buying weapons on the day after Thanksgiving?

Many of the new gun purchasers are women and the elderly; gun ownership in both demographics is rising.  Indeed, one report estimates that 25 percent of all women own a gun.

Why this sudden surge in gun sales?  In recent years, some people have speculated that the increases were due to concerns that governmental entities would restrict gun ownership and a desire to load up before any limitations take effect — but that rationale doesn’t make much sense now, with no meaningful effort underway to regulate gun ownership at the federal level and many states loosening their restrictions on carrying firearms.  The normal reason to buy a gun would be to feel more personally secure, but there hasn’t been any apparent, noticeable increase in criminal activity that would motivate people to buy a gun now, as opposed to last year or five years ago.  So why the sudden burst of gun-buying activity?

It’s a bit unsettling that so many people in this country feel the need to be amply armed, in their homes and in their daily lives.  It’s as if they are expecting a breakdown in law and order and envisioning a dog-eat-dog world.  It’s strange to live in a world where so many people apparently think we are on the brink of apocalypse.