Monday, February 27, 2012

Women, Aging, and Ageism

As a part of Women in Society, each student is required to conduct two interviews with two women of different generations. The interviews must share in common a specific focus; something based on one of the fourteen topics of study we've covered thus far in the course.

Last week I was struggling with which topic I'd choose as a focus, but after engaging in class-time related to our most recent topic - women in midlife and aging - I'm feeling good about the interviews.

Here are some thoughts gathered from my readings related to women, aging and ageism:

Historically, women's value has been based mainly on reproductive ability. Whereas in contrast, men's status could be attributed to achievements, money, or power. Because women are evaluated throughout their lifetimes by their bodies, it can be particularly frustrating and challenging for women to live in an aging body.

Messages in our society suggest that being old is a negative experience, from jokes to media portrayals. Women are no longer sexual past a certain age, and when they are portrayed as such, it is seen as a humorous because it deviates from the perceived norm of what it means to be elderly.

Traditionally all forms of mass media excluded older women, and when they were portrayed, they were stereotyped as an evil mother-in-law (Sex and the City's Bunny, + a smattering of Disney characters), a manipulative and selfish elderly mother (The Sopranos' Livia), or a powerless "little old lady". Even more recent portrayals of older women in media, like Hot in Cleveland, still utilize comedy in order to portray older women's sexuality and lifestyle choices which differ from the perceived norm; these things are not normative enough to portray as simply something that just happens (like a non-comedic sex scene between younger folks).

The effects of negative stereotypes concerning elderly folks have been seen in studies. Hausdorff, Levy, & Wei's (1999) study displayed such effects. Participants with ages ranging from sixty-three to eighty-two played a video game which exposed them to either positive or negative stereotypes about elderly folks. Before and after the game, their speed and manner of walking was measured. Those who played the games with positive stereotypes walked faster and more energetically, "suggesting that the slower gait of older people may be partly due to internalized stereotypes and not entirely to the physical changes of aging".

Women often engage in creating distinctions between self identities (subjective feelings of age) and social identities (the manner in which she appears to others) because to emphasize distance between oneself and the "typical" elderly person creates distance between the perceived self and the concept of the deteriorating and decrepit elderly member of society.

But what does it mean to feel a certain age? And why are we so afraid of growing old?

We watched a movie in class, Acting our Age, which presented a number of women's perspectives on growing older. One woman in particular said something about how folks will say to her, as a compliment, "oh, you look great for seventy-five!", because implicitly, in our society, it is something of a misfortune to look old.

But! Why? Why is it so terrifying to claim age, to embrace wrinkles, to get rid of the medicalization of menopause, and to stop fighting a war against our bodies and the naturally occurring biological process of aging?

Acting our Age portrayed many women's concerns about taking care of husbands, husbands or friends dying, or reclaiming identity at an older age. However, as a classmate of mine pointed out, only one woman in the film suggested fear of her own death, and only in the context of having realized her own mortality following the death of a friend. So as a society we're afraid of and repulsed by growing older, and yet possibly the scariest aspect of growing older, the inevitability of death, is not clearly present to most folks?

There are so many topics regarding elderly folks and plights within society, I could type words about it forever. But I will not, and am instead just really excited to interview two women about their experiences with aging and ageism.

I know that I've posted a link to this previously, but I really enjoyed Young@Heart, a film watched during my COPACE (On Death & Dying) course last semester.

So, click here to see the Young@Heart Chorus' version of the Talking Head's "Road to Nowhere". It's swell.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Independent Study Update & Tidbits

Yesterday I was able to meet with Prof. Fox regarding my independent study/Jewish Studies capstone, and now I officially have a focus for my paper! Hooray.

I will be writing first of the Bible and midrash and their suggested views regarding illness, visiting the sick, and other such practices. And then I will contrast those ideas with more modern psychological (and likely some religious) texts regarding pastoral care.

This is exciting. Before, I was reading through the stacks of books that Prof. Fox had given me, and finding tidbits interesting, but having no notion of what I would possibly focus my final paper on.

Here are some of my tidbits of interest:
Anne Brener, in her book Mourning & Mitzvah, wrote of how people are able to find comfort through Jewish rituals because these are embedded with universal truths about the needs of people in tradition. This struck me because I had previously struggled concerning religious rituals, wondering if they lack applicability to those who not believe in God. I appreciate her distinction regarding Jewish rituals as a manner in which to find comfort, and to build a context in which one is able to stay during this time of difficult transition.

In Jewish Relational Care A-Z, Jack H. Bloom wrote an essay regarding language; more specifically, language as it defines our own personal realities, and ways in which to build rapport (as a pastoral care worker) while visiting with the infirm (he mentions normalizing other people's experiences through acceptance and respect, while keeping in mind the person's individual background). His article was interesting to me because I have been recently pondering how one would go into a pastoral care situation feeling prepared to discuss tough topics with folks - I don't think that his article is the end-all-be-all of proper language usage in these situations, but it was an interesting beginning in starting to read about such things.

In Jewish Reflections on Death, Daniel Jeremy Silver wrote an essay entitled "The Right to Die?". I was drawn to this article because this is a topic that I have struggled with in the past - last semester I wrote a final paper for my COPACE (On Death & Dying) course regarding suicide and an individual's right to die versus overall implications for society. Albeit informative, his article didn't deal with suicide and other such end of life issues, so much as it dealt with Jewish reflections on mitigating pain while not sanctioning euthanasia. He personally defined death as "departure of the soul", with the soul being made up of personality, control, individuality, capacity, and awareness. I'm still unsure how I would personally define death (ad hoc committee of Harvard University criteria?), but I am 100% against extending life if it is being done only to assuage guilt. Of course, our reasoning for keeping folks going are never so simply stated.

On other notes (unrelated to death/illness/mourning), I've begun collecting data for my Lab in Social Psych! Hooray. Three participants down, a billion more to go (not really, but neeearly).

I'm going to finish up a bit of reading for my Women in Society class, so I will end here. I hope that everyone has a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Exciting Events! And Brief Updates

Hello, Internet! It has been a while. Well, a week. But many exciting things have happened since then! Things like:
Clark University's own Vagina Monologues!
"Vapor, Liquid, Snow, Solid" (a play), presented by CUPS & PARADOX!
A performance by the Peapod Squad!
A Community Youth Art Show, presented by Fiat Lux!
A performance in Razzo Hall by Karen Discoll called "Women on the Edge"!

And also I've been a bit sick! I lost my voice for a bit, but it has returned in full (I was hoping it would come back sounding like 1. Tim Curry, 2. Marina Diamandis, or 3. Morgan Freeman. Oh well. There's always hope for next time).

Today I spent a bit of time in the library, reading about death and mourning and more death, for my Jewish Studies independent study. I'm still struggling with finding a focus for my paper, specifically if I should examine pastoral care and pre-death care (such as helping folks when they are ill), or if I would rather look into post-death care, like counseling or funeral-type things. Maybe it's just all the "Six Feet Under" that I've been watching, but I am now considering funeral home work post-Clark.

And I have successfully completed one midterm exam, for Women in Jewish Culture! On Tuesday I got to write a lot about images of women in the Hebrew Bible, which was the best in-class-exam-prompt ever.

Today I am generally lacking in insightful comments regarding my classes, so I will end here. Until next time!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ideals & Expectations for Jewish Women in Medieval Ashkenaz

It's Wednesday! And, oh, what a Wednesday it is.

Yesterday I attended my three Tuesday classes (Lab in Social Psych, Women in Jewish Culture, & Women in Society). The lab was full of its usual bizarre/goofy 9am occurrences, made sillier by the addition of donuts and orange juice (my professor's Valentine's day treat. Later in the evening I enjoyed a gluten free/egg free/dairy free/corn free (etc) cake to make up for my lack of ability to consume donuts. Anyway)

Much of Women in Jewish Culture yesterday was spent discussing ideals & expectations of women in Medieval Ashkenaz. Here's what it boils down to:
1. women must sew, spin, and weave (clothing, in addition to fringes and Torah scrolls)
2. women must enable their husbands and sons to study
3. women must marry at a young age and have many babies
4. women must be modest
5. women must maintain ritual purity

We read through commentaries, epitaphs, and a bit of the Sefer Hasidim to glean from the words some ideals for women. This one was my favorite:

"A certain man, leaving on a journey, told his wife: 'On such and such a day, I shall return and be with you.' The woman, knowing the time of her husband's return, prepared for his return by going to the ritual bath. Her husband thereupon said to her: 'Since you bathed in anticipation of my return, I shall present you with a gold piece with which to buy a garment.' The woman replied: 'Allow me, with that gold piece, to purchase a book or to hire a scribe to copy a book for lending to students, enabling them to pursue their studies.' Subsequently the woman became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. While all of the brothers of the boy were devoid of learning, that boy himself was the exception."

Isn't it great? The woman is ideal because she
1. prepares for her husband's return by going to the ritual bath (performing ritual purity)
and then her husband gifts her a gold piece, and rather than being greedy or superficial she chooses to spend her newly acquired wealth by
2. enabling (male, it can be assumed) students to study! What a gal.
And then she is further praised and gives birth to not-only-just-a-boy, but a learned boy! Whee.

In class we discussed the extent to which Gluckel of Hameln met these traditional expectations. First of all, she married at a young age (twelve) and had many children (FOURTEEN). Secondly, she certainly enabled her husband to pray/fast/study, by otherwise taking care of her household. However, her reality was different from these ideals & expectations in that she maintained with her husband a marriage likened to a partnership. Unlike what I gather from the suggestions of these expectations, Gluckel was unique in that she maintained mutuality in her marriage and she took part in her husband's business decisions. Her relationship with him was more complicated than a female role of enabling study; their relationship could be interpreted as more respectful, and more equal.

Another way in which Gluckel appears to be unique is seen through mention of her and (one of) her daughter's regular attendance at the synagogue; this would suggest ritual observance extended beyond the private realm. And public ritual observance for women would seem rather unusual for the time period.

Gluckel was also unique in that she clearly was of a wealthy background - beyond her being learned and literate, her memoirs mention wealth from her family, and additionally from her husbands (though, she remarries after her first husband dies in part to help provide relief from financial burden). But it's significant to take into account that the memoirs of the literate (and thus more wealthy) are those that we have to examine; and their experiences likely differed from those folks with less wealth.

Which moves into the realm of Women in Society, in which the intersections of race/class/gender/ethnicity are frequently mentioned. ! Overlaps are the best.

And now it is time for some readings regarding pastoral care.

Here's Donny Osmond and Rosie O'Donnell serenading Mork and Mindy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Avoidance of Homework

Today I participated in a quick undergrad-run study for the psych department, and have since then been avoiding my homework by looking through my music library to pick songs for The Omelette Factory's first ROCU show of the semester tomorrow evening. One of our hosts, Heather, will be unable to join us (she has rehearsals for the Clark Vagina Monologues all this week), but you can join Mike and me as we complain about love and other such nauseating things during our Anti-Love We Despise Valentine's Day Special.

In order to avoid homework further, I also spent a bit of my time today working on a short story for the English department's annual poetry/short story/drama/essay contest. I have yet to enter, and it's my last chance to do so (graduationgraduationgraduation)!

Tonight there is a talk, funded by the Office of Student Leadership & ProgrammingBlack Student Union, and a number of other Clark organizations. It's called "Black is... Complicated", and is being presented by Melissa Harris-Perry. I'm a bit bummed to be missing it, but I am scheduled to screen (not one, but!) two movies this evening for SCRN 120. I shall spend some of my time at work examining a few of my readings for classes tomorrow. I have four articles related to linguistics to read for Women in Society, some Gluckel of Hameln review to do for Women in Jewish Culture, and I need to add the finishing touches to my method's section draft for Lab in Social Psych. Additionally, I'm still looking through the copious amounts of books that Prof. Fox has lent to me for my Jewish Studies capstone/independent study. I'll hopefully be posting some relevant/interesting information from my class readings this week.

That's all for now! Happy (almost) Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Class Updates + Time Travel through Books (sort of)

Movies watched this week: four
(Jaws (for SCRN 114),
Insidious (for "fun"/PURE TERROR)
Little Miss Sunshine (with CUFS),
North by Northwest (for SCRN 120)
Papers written: one and a half
Books read: one (The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln)
Videos of cats watched on youtube: too many to count

Currently I'm working on the method's section draft for my project in Lab in Social Psychology - though we haven't actually started the data collection yet, we are going to be drafting different sections of the paper throughout the semester in order to reduce the overall workload at the end of the semester. Things like data entry and analysis and conclusion-gathering will be a tad frustrating and tedious, so it's nice to get other aspects of the project out of the way early.

For Women in Society, shortly after Spring break, we will have due two half-hour (minimum) interviews with two women of different generations. Likely I'll end up conducting my interviews over Spring break with ladies from Portland (we'll be able to choose the focus for the interview so long as it covers something previously discussed in class). However, we will have to transcribe the interviews. In class yesterday my professor noted that for about every hour of interview, it takes about four hours to transcribe. !!! Goodness, nooo.

Prof. Fox lent to me two more books on Jewish pastoral care to read for my independent study/JS capstone: Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical handbook for Traditional and Contemporary Sources and Jewish Relational Care A-Z: We are Our Other's Keeper. I'm excited to look through them! Considering they're applicable to what I anticipate as being a field I'd like to enter career-wise. I'm super pumped to have access to all of these interesting books.

For Women in Jewish Culture we've most recently been discussing a book titled The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, the diaries of a German Jewish widow who started writing in the year 1690 when she was forty-four-years-old, following the death of her first husband. Basic timeline: she was betrothed at the age of twelve after her family was expelled from Hamburg, then they moved to Altona, then back to Hamburg (when Altona was "overrun by Swedes in the winter of 1657-1658"). In total she had fourteen children (!!!), remarried once, and died in the year 1724. THAT IS SO LONG AGO. It blows my mind to read the words of someone from so long ago. Gluckel is practically speaking to me from the past! Aaahhhhhh. Time travel through books.

Anyway. Today I'll try to finish up the draft of my method's section and complete my weekly assignment for Lab in Social Psych (weekly papers based on the readings is certainly one way to ensure that students will actually read the assigned articles).

I hope that everyone has a lovely weekend! Supposedly there will be snow, but I haven't seen anything impressive yet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Psalms, Prayer, and an Abundance of God

Oh, Monday, Monday. You are the worst sometimes. Specifically when equipment for screenings is discombobulated and the projector is out to get me (stop un-muting yourself, silly picture mute! Stop freezing, blu-ray player!). And when there is no chocolate delivery service that will bring allergy-free chocolate to me in the places where chocolate generally is not allowed (no eating in the projecting booth, shh). 

But beyond faulty equipment and a lack of chocolate, today has been generally alright. Earlier this morning I met with Prof. Fox regarding my independent study/capstone for Jewish Studies. I barraged him with comments concerning the substantial amount that God is mentioned in the Bible passages generally regarded as comforting - mainly, the Psalms

Examples of God's mention in verses of various Psalms:
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

"The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.
I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid."

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;"

I borrowed a book from Prof. Fox, 'The Healing Power of Psalms', which discusses the importance of the Psalms in creating comfort. This book's context was the framework in which I was examining the Psalms (that is to say, I was using this book as a guide and wasn't just looking through the Bible and reading various psalms). My main complaint about the book/its viewpoint centered on God. Specifically, why is God a necessary part of feeling comforted? What about folks who do not believe in God? Are these texts, ridden with praises for God, still comforting to those who do not believe in God? 

A woman made a lovely youtube video called "How to be Alone" (it's wonderful, watch here). It's not quite applicable to this situation - regarding God, that is - in the way that I would like it to be, but it does touch on the concept of alonedom, specifically the woman's comment that "society is afraid of alonedom". And I wonder, in the context of death/dying/the Psalms, why feeling alone is not conducive to comfort. I'm assuming that even if one chose to not believe in God, comfort would be drawn from friends, from family, from members of society in some form. But can one be alone and also feel comforted?

'The Healing Power of Psalms' also touched on the concept of poetry as comforting. But why? Prof. Fox suggested that poetic expressions are innately comforting because their expression of emotions is executed in such a succinct and beautiful way. In other words, he suggested, they express how you're feeling, but more accurately than you likely could. 

So, poetry. Poetry as a theme for comfort, in addition to the theme of God/not feeling alone. What else is comforting?

Prayer, apparently. In the introduction to 'The Healing Power of Psalms', the authors wrote of a prayer-study, in which patients with similarly severe heart conditions were broken into two groups; one group was prayed for (by strangers), whereas the other was not. Supposedly, according to the study results, the group that was prayed for had smoother stays in the hospital, with overall fewer complications. 

But is there another explanation for this? 

But regardless, prayer could be comforting in that it allows people to go through the motions of a traditional act, an act done for generations. Which could create comfort regardless of its seeming lack of ability to improve health; simply going through the motions of something you've done (and others have done) many times in the past could create comfort in itself.

I borrowed another book from Prof. Fox, a collection of essays and thoughts regarding death and dying in Jewish tradition. Perhaps I'll find some other Major Themes of comfort inside. 

Here's hoping that everyone has had a more technologically-savvy Monday than the Razzo booth is having currently.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mostly Movies, and a bit of Social Psychology

Tonight I will be screening 'The Royal Tenenbaums' for SCRN 114: Writing About Film. Over Winter Break a pal told me that he was feeling like an abundance of Roald Dahl characters, and then subsequently asked me what/who I felt like. My response was that I felt like John Cusack's character in the film 'High Fidelity', Audrey Tautou's character from the film 'Amélie', and Gywneth Paltrow's character from 'The Royal Tenenbaums'.

I don't really feel like any of those folks. I certainly only slightly feel like Margot Tenenbaum. She's a bit rebellious, and I am not. On Monday I screened 'Rebel Without a Cause' for SCRN 120, and realized that even though I am not a rebel, I am actually slightly similar to James Dean in that I also have no cause.

Anyway. Today's been a strange day because the weather was so very warm and Spring-like. Half a dozen people were on the green playing Frisbee, and the fourth floor of the library was swamped with students in t-shirts, studying by the windows. I wrote letters to friends and read a bit of 'The Healing Power of Psalms', a book borrowed from Prof. Fox to use for reference in my Jewish Studies capstone/independent study. I haven't gathered any huge concepts yet, but hopefully through more reading I'll find something tangible to focus my paper on.

On Tuesday's Lab in Social Psychology, two graduate students from the psych department, Katie and Joe, came in and gave presentations. In groups of five, the students of my class will be helping with their research projects (collecting/entering/writing about data, whoo-hoo!). My group chose to work with Joe, who is doing his research on emerging adulthood - we'll be examining the time of life between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, that Jeffrey Arnett (a Clark professor!) initially conceptualized as a unique period. The other option for research also sounds interesting - Katie is investigating motivating emotions and behaviors.

I'll keep you updated. But not right now, because I'll be listening to the soothing sound of Alec Baldwin's narration in 'The Royal Tenenbaums'.

Oooh, and happy February! I nearly forgot.