Category Archives: Family

In Praise of Hax

Carolyn Hax, relationship guru


All I learned in life, I got from Carolyn Hax.


No. Not quite true, and it’s too much of a burden to place on Hax, The Washington Post’s beloved relationship columnist.


However, there’s a lot to learn from the columns of CH, as she’s referred to by dozens of loyal readers known as Hax-Philes. Questions pour from all corners, all sorts of relationships: spouses, ex-spouses, siblings, parent/child, co-workers, you-name-it. And occasionally from people who have no real relationship with the other person at all, like the young woman offended by the stranger staring at her chest during a restaurant dinner – I wish she’d written Miss Manners, too, for one of Miss M’s typically scathing and witty answers to rudeness.


How about the recent Hax question from a young man who’d managed to sustain such bad emotional garbage after a short-term girlfriend cheated on him that he didn’t feel he could trust another woman? Hax’s last paragraph: “The ending where you control your life goes like this: ‘I can’t believe I’ve given her this much power over me — and also judged all women harshly based on one woman’s actions.’ That ending is yours, today, if you choose.” Or the woman who confides she’s “so proud” of her friend’s improving self-esteem, but is the friend displaying too much ego? Carolyn asked, in part, “Even if you’re peers in the eyes of the world, there’s a master-protegé element to your friendship. Is this someone who has looked up to you in the past, and sought your approval accordingly? And who is now road-testing her own sense of herself?”


One reader posted, “I am convinced that Carolyn Hax holds all the secrets of the universe”. As in this CH gem: “Sometimes reality works better than what we think we want”, meaning, hey, actually sit down and talk to your significant other, find out if you’re really on the same track, if you share the same fundamental values . . . because, sweetie, if you don’t, your marriage is going to make a six-car smash-up look tame.


The Hax-Philes themselves are a hardy, opinionated lot who respond to questions, to CH’s answers, to each other. They’re often enlightening, usually witty and well-spoken, and can be scornful to people who post cruel responses. And they’re candid to a fault. Want affirmation for cheating on your spouse? You won’t find it chez Hax-Philes. Dealing with a flatmate with gross-out habits? Grow a backbone and set guidelines. Thinking about telling a pregnant wife about a brief sexual affair that happened pre-marriage? Fuggeddaboutit.


One of the most wonderful things about Hax’s column is the growth it engenders. You can feel it, you can even read about it from readers who remark that they hadn’t “thought about it that way before”. People who differ on age, sex, education, background, race, national origin, and opinions (“He should.” “He shouldn’t!”) acquire the perspectives of those whom, perhaps, they’d previously considered entirely unintelligible. It’s like a giant water-cooler discussion (remember those?) held over days, open to anyone who cares to write.


Want to drop in on Human Development 101? Get thee to Hax.

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Filed under Carolyn Hax, Family, Health, Relationships, Writing

Up or Down?

Downton Abbey characters

I’ve been blogging a lot with regard to Asian gendercide. For today, a break!  A Downton Abbey break.

What is a Downton Abbey? Surely you jest.

For the PBS-deprived, “Downton Abbey” is the eponymous title of a delicious production in the grand manner of historically accurate corsets and carriages — which the Brits do so well — set just before and during the First World War, which for Britain began in 1914. (“Abbey” has, however, been criticized as to the characters’ manner of speaking – one viewer complained that no one “sings” their lines as upper-class Britons used to, but instead delivers them in the currently popular flat Estuary monotone.)

It’s “Upstairs, Downstairs” in a stately home, and examines the lives of roughly the same proportion of wealthy and poor characters. With a few twists, since “Abbey” comes from the pen of Julian Fellowes of “Gosford Park” fame, who is himself married to a woman who would inherit an earldom if only the UK straightened out that pesky male primogeniture thing.

There’s the Downton family: parents, three marriageable daughters, steely and scathing gran (the marvelous Maggie Smith). The staff of at least a dozen (counting the gardeners and stablehands, whom we rarely see). And the interloper, a very presentable and utterly middle-class bloke who has the misfortune to be a mere lawyer – and who, because Downton lacks a male heir, will himself inherit (male primogeniture bites). He still lives with his mum, who’s no shrinking violet.

Will the heir marry one of Downton’s daughters? Haven’t we seen this plot point before? Say, in Pride and Prejudice? There, Mr. Collins, rightly rejected by Elizabeth Bennet, sought solace in the bosom of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, and Elizabeth, as we know, ended up with the fabulously superior Fitzwilliam Darcy. In “Downton Abbey”, the presumed heir isn’t heading toward a best friend. But nor is he convinced that Downton needs a resident who actually grew up there.

Anyway, it’s great fun, despite the presence of the occasional television aerial (ouch!) and the aforementioned monotones. And there’s a quiz! Discover who you would be if Downton really existed. Would you be upstairs or downstairs? Or somewhere in the middle – on a landing, perhaps.

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Filed under Downton Abbey, England, Family, Julian Fellowes, Law, Television, UK

Afghan Women Write Their Lives

Afghan women in burqas


Afghanistan is, according to a survey of the world’s nations, the most dangerous country in the world for women. Because women there have few rights (including, in many places, the right to even leave their home without a male relative chaperoning – however, the male relative can be a young son), and live in a society indifferent or hostile to their health, education and well-being, the pain Afghan women suffer is constant and intense.


If they wish to write about their perceptions, how do they even start? Where is the outlet?


There is one . . . online. A recent NYTimes story explored the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, whose 75 participants live in almost every part of the country. They write whatever they want – personal perspectives, political commentaries, poetry, family stories – with the assurance that an assortment of female activists and their own fellow writers will mentor them. There are three rules: writers must be female, live in Afghanistan, and contribute at least one piece per month.


They must be secret to avoid detection from officials and, in many cases, from their own families. Many use computers at an internet center in Kabul. Most use false names, common first names, or demand total anonymity.


Yet they write, and in writing unburden themselves and give others a glimpse into lives of restriction: how they learn, their work at home, the mandated burqa, whom they are expected to marry. Like Holocaust writers in concentration camps, sometimes their writing is about the wonders of nature, all the world seen in a blade of grass. No matter the subject, that they write at all is enormously important, a form of quiet activism in the face of afflictions no Afghan man is expected to suffer, especially when the planned pullout of foreign troops will take place in three years.


I wish that Afghanistan’s attitude toward women were the sole example of such benighted oppression in Asia. Unfortunately, in a few years it is likely to be the model. It will be imitated in India and China as the number of their women grows smaller and the number – and power – of men rises to heretofore unseen levels. Where women are regarded as chattel to be hoarded and hidden, they will need “protection” so that their services belong to one, perhaps two, men. Where they are protected from the outside world, their access to it tumbles. No longer are they part of society, or even part of female society, since female society – to paraphrase the infamous and unhappy words of Margaret Thatcher – will cease to exist. There will only be small numbers of women and girls held within families or gangs.


I wish it weren’t so, but I’m afraid within 20 years it will inevitably come to pass that, in reworking social systems so that men are benefitted – to the cost of women and children — even more than their current levels, China and India will look west toward Afghanistan for their inspiration.


Let’s hope the Women’s Writing Project will spill beyond Afghan borders.

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Filed under Activism, Afghanistan, Burqa, China, Domestic terrorism, Family, Gendercide, India, Law, Misogyny, Politics, Writing

No More Women, No More Prostitution? Ha!

Asian men -- too many for society's health


It sometimes happens that the book or person or title we knew was out there in cyberspace somewhere, plops into our lap unexpectedly, no search necessary. That happened today. I recalled reading an article about young boys being sexually abused by Afghan men (even married ones, whose mantra is apparently, “Women are for babies, boys are for pleasure”) who keep them, give the boys gifts, but daily cause them enormous pain, and refuse to regard themselves as homosexual “because we are not in love with the boys”.


I’d been intending to search for the article, and bam – it fell as manna from the sky. Here it is.


Why was I about to search for this article? Because, in designing the nonfiction book about Asian gendercide (and its effect on the West) which I’m writing, it occurred to me that I needed to detail what would happen in India and China when women of childbearing age become rare.


No longer will female prostitutes be pimped out to 30 men per day, as happens in the slums of Mumbai and Kolkata. Nearly all of these girls and women suffer from depression (so would you, if your body was repeatedly invaded by strangers forcing themselves into you), which means the “johns” are taking advantage of mentally ill people. In addition, many of them have been sold, primarily in Nepal with its tradition of getting rid of excess daughters to slavers who bring them to India, so they are unwilling prostitutes who would rather rejoin their families in the mountains.


Over the next twenty years, with sex-selective abortion continuing to rise in India and China (the practice is now also spreading throughout Southeast Asia and west into the former Soviet Socialist Republics), women will become too valuable as child-bearers to be rented out in prostitution. They will be secluded, even hidden, in order to prevent abduction, and perhaps shared between two brothers or cousins or friends. They will likely rarely see another woman, unless they need medical care or midwifery, and healthcare professionals and aides will make house-calls in order to treat women who are rarely allowed to leave their homes.


But since the indulged boys of India and China will have grown into entitled, need-to-be-indulged young men, some will want sex outside marriage, and many who have no wife at all will want sex with anyone. With women unavailable, whose bodies will they use, who will they enslave?


Boys, of course.


There will be no dearth of boys. Already, the skewing of sex ratios at birth rises each year. The husbands who insist on sons, the prospective grandparents who pressure their daughters-in-law to abort female fetuses again and again, hoping for an eventual boy to show up on the ultrasound screen – they have no idea what they’re doing. Because in addition to the chaos that will ensue when too many people commit testosterone-fueled aggression and violence, boys will also be victimized.


Boys from poor families, retarded boys, boys with congenital defects, blind boys – these will be at special risk.


Since there will be few women allowed out and about, who will protect them? Who will reveal the harm and rescue them? Who will act?


No one.


At a conference on water earlier this year, an Indian official noted that, “The day is not far off when there will be no girls to marry and we’ll all become gays.” Setting aside questions of sexuality (is it immutable or labile?), the question is not whether men will have sex with men (some will, some won’t), the issue is that of victimization of children.


That should concern everyone in the West who thinks the fallout from Asian gendercide will stay on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

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Filed under China, Domestic terrorism, Family, Gendercide, Health, India, Misogyny, News, One-child policy, Rape, Teenage boys

Irony: Breaking The Law To Protest

English Defence League members -- but why hide their identity?

The extreme right-wing English Defence League (EDL) held a “protest” gathering recently on the streets of East London, presumably to gather more support, as effective police work prevented them from going far. Despite bottles and firecrackers being thrown at officers, the metropolitan riot police – admirably restrained and controlled, unlike scenes where they have “kettled” innocently marching students (see my earlier post on the increasingly worrisome practice of kettling) – held the EDL within set boundaries and arrested at least 16 people for breaking the law, including assaults on officers.

The most vivid example, however, of law-breaking came with the declaration by EDL leader Tommy Lennon that he had broken the conditions of his bail in order to be present. Lennon, who was heavily disguised in a beard and hat – in fact, he was dressed remarkably like an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man, which was perhaps his intent – took pride in the fact that he’d thumbed his nose at the law which had dared to set limits on his behavior.

Is there anything more discouraging than witnessing an adult who fails to act like one? Somewhere along the line, Lennon failed to learn that the “naughty stair” is simply a metaphor for the consequences that arise when bad behavior emerges from someone old enough to be prosecuted.

I’m not singling out the EDL alone (though its members need to rethink their attitudes toward mature behavior) – the same non-recognition of healthy limits has been demonstrated in the UK by: rioters and looters in various English towns; News International phone hackers and those who approved the hacking (and, since we now learn that former Prime Minister Tony Blair is godfather to one of NI mogul Rupert Murdoch’s daughters, it’s safe to wonder where the buck actually stopped); and English bankers and money-marketeers who wedged their country – and the US – into a financial corner.

I’m willing to bet that the nannies they hire are given leave to employ the naughty stair or time-outs for the privileged offspring those same nannies are paid to rear.

The problem is, when chronological adults act up, act out, too seldom are their friends and colleagues willing to say “enough”. It’s only when the behavior becomes egregious that brakes are applied – by the law. Suddenly, instead of facing the “don’t do that” of friends and family, people face legal sanctions.

By that time, they’re often too far down the road of self-congratulation at having gotten away with their behavior to stop. It’s a dead shock when they abruptly need to hire legal representation, or face – as Lennon will – more sanctions and possible jail time.

If only they’d employed, earlier, the “naughty stair” in their mind.

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Filed under Domestic terrorism, England, Family, Law, Murdoch, News, Politics, UK, Violence

Pay Parity in a Century

Asian businesswomen celebrating their achievements


Every time I hear the latest news of pay disparity between women and men, I’m reminded how many times I’ve heard this before. Yada yada, same old same old. Is that a broken record playing?

The latest figures come from the UK, and they have to do not with rank-and-file workers but – what a shock – executives at top companies and firms. Men’s annual pay exceeds women’s by more than £10,000 (about $15,000) and at the rate of increase, allowing for blips like depressions and wars, that inequity will not be eliminated until the year 2109. When we’ll all presumably be flying our personal flotation devices, learning new languages and skills by means of brain-implanted software, and having sex with lifelike robots that cannot spread disease.

By 2036 – twenty-five years from now – then, the disparity between executive salaries in Britain will have been reduced to three-quarters of its current level. Male executives will on average be paid only £7,500 more than their sisters.

But at least their sisters will have jobs, unlike their counterparts in Asia.

By 2036, because of past, current and future abortion of female fetuses, the number of single men in China will have reached 34 million. Thirty-four million. That’s more than four times the 2010 census count of New York City, all boroughs. Try to imagine the population of four Big Apples, all male, all under the age of fifty. That’s a lot of macho, and too many cojones.

When a group reaches power, whether through numbers or superior weaponry or social terrorism (think the US antebellum South, where enslaved black people greatly outnumbered free whites but were kept from power by laws and custom), what’s the first thing it does? It takes advantage of that power. It gathers what it can, and changes the legal system to benefit the puissant group.

In China and India, that means huge numbers of young men will demand women’s jobs as theirs by right. Not the textile home industries, perhaps, the hand-knitting and -embroidering that decorates even Western high fashion, but the visible jobs, the ones with heftier pay packets and more prestige. Business and manufacturing, of course, and public relations. Hospital work and call centers. Work for the government and the press and advertising. Even flight attendants will carry XY chromosomes. In every facet of Chinese and Indian work, men will not just dominate – they will devour.

And Asian women? Excuse me, who? Asian what? Oh, you mean in 2036 those people kept under guard or in extended family harems, people so rare they’ll often be shared by brothers, cousins or friends? Those kept perpetually pregnant, living enclosed lives? The ones fearing kidnap, male anger and inadequate obstetric care from ill-trained practitioners?

Yada yada. Same old same old. We’ve seen this in other, earlier societies, and it’s not far off the current situation in Afghanistan. Another blog.

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Filed under China, Domestic terrorism, Family, Gendercide, India, Law, Musings, News, Politics

Making PMS History

Chinese girls, a vanishing breed


I confess: that title intentionally misleads.

There’s no way to make PMS vanish totally in a population of healthy girls and women. Where there is menstruation, there will be some women whose pre-period lives tend to be fraught with hormonal angst. Remedies and hormonal influences are all over the internet, as are suggestions that PMS is all in one’s mind and not really such a big deal, is it? – these largely from men who happen not to be married to a woman who suffers from PMS.

The Nazis (and others) had an effective preventive for PMS, though: hunger. Where women (imprisoned or not — see, for example, the longitudinal research on Dutch women who suffered from such malnutrition during WWII that the knock-on effects can be seen in their grandchildren’s small size and poorer health) had little to eat, where they routinely expended more calories than they absorbed and thus lost kilos of body weight, they often stopped menstruating. No menstruation, no PMS.

Of course, no babies, either.

There’s another way to largely eliminate PMS. That’s to eliminate the people prone to it. Which is what’s happening in China and India, and is spreading through much of Asia, where the trend is to get an ultrasound image of the fetus carried in a woman’s belly in order to determine its sex . . . and then, if looks female, to at least consider aborting, even if the fetus in every other respect looks healthy.

Are there false attributions? Do some male fetuses with what’s called a “shy” penis get taken for girls and thus eliminated? You bet they do, to the parents’ grief.

Those “mistakes” may end, as blood tests with greater accuracy replace the ultrasound machines that travel with doctors and nurses across rural India, giving even the poor access to the choice that fashion-conscious urban Indians have had for years. Because in India – unlike China with its wavering one-child policy – sex-specific abortion is largely the result of two factors: the Asian preference for boys (even stronger in the Hindu population, with its male-specific religious duties and tradition of cutting off married women from their birth families), plus the tradition of dowry paid by a bride’s family to a groom’s.

If dowry (which was made illegal in India in 1961, but continues in various forms) were entirely eliminated, daughters would not be regarded as an automatic economic burden. Yet sex-specific abortion did not begin in poor families, which have always dealt harshly with unwanted girls: leaving them in wasteland, failing to nourish them, allowing them to die rather than seek medical care. These abortions began in the wealthiest parts of India, in families that could well afford to raise girls. It’s a mark of the ubiquitousness of the practice that the wealthy, extended Patel family (in the Indian state of Gujarat) has announced its rejection of ultrasound and sex-specific abortion, in an attempt to model for others. Research indicates that sex-specific abortions among British and American women of Indian descent are on the rise, especially where the married couple already has a daughter or two – and these are people who pay little or no dowry as their girls marry.

Eliminating girls and women simply because of their sex is an effective way to reduce or eradicate PMS. But as the Chinese proverb has it, “Women hold up half the sky”.

So I’ll be Henny Penny, and look upward, and declare with all seriousness that we really ought to take cover, because truly, though metaphorically, the sky is falling. A continent with too few women must have, by definition, too many men for its own health . . . and that of the rest of the world.


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Filed under China, Dowry, Family, Health, India, Law, Misogyny, One-child policy, PMS, Politics, Science