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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bathing suits.

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My four-year-old daughter is naturally curious. She has asked me before why she, a girl, has to wear a bathing suit that covers her top and bottom, while boys only need to cover their bottom. I've answered with basically "that's the way it is," and it has satisfied her so far, but I am sure that at some point soon a more explanatory answer will be required. My parenting philosophy involves as much truth as possible; so, since the answer as to why she needs to cover her torso at the beach is a bit complex, I decided to start working on my response now. Here’s my imagined conversation with my six year-old daughter:

Daughter: Daddy, why do I have to wear a bathing suit with a top, when boys only have to wear something that covers their bottoms?

Me: Well, it's a bit complicated. You see, it all starts with secondary sexual characteristics.

Daughter: What are those?

Me: Secondary sexual characteristics are anatomical features that distinguish the sexes, apart from the primary sexual characteristics, namely the genitalia (vaginas on females and the penis and testes on males). While girls and boys are born with the primary sexual characteristics, they are otherwise anatomically similar until puberty, when the secondary sexual characteristics begin to appear. These include things like facial hair on boys and breasts on girls.

Daughter: Umm, OK. . .

Me: Hang in there, I told you this was going to be a bit complicated. Now, you see, even though these features are called "sexual characteristics" there is nothing inherently sexual about them. Facial hair on men, for example, is not generally involved in coitus, and a smaller waist-to-hip ratio on women is simply a mathematical measurement.

Daughter: None of this has anything to do with why I have to cover my nipples when I go swimming.

Me: I’m getting there, really. You see, while animals have sexual characteristics that they aren’t ashamed of hiding, and even many human cultures do not see anything wrong with displaying their sexual characteristics, we civilized humans have determined that primary sexual characteristics (genitalia) are inherently unfit for public view, as well as some secondary sexual characteristics.

Daughter: Wait a second, that doesn’t make any sense! Why should I even have to cover my genitals? I mean, the vast majority of the time I’m not doing anything with my vagina - it’s just there. And when I do use it, it’s for peeing. It’s not like I’m using it for sex all the time.

Me: How do you know what sex is?!?

Daughter: (rolling eyes) I had iHead installed last week, Dad. [Editor’s note: I’m assuming that we will all have the internet wired directly into our brains by 2014.]

Me: Oh, well, maybe we should talk about sex, first.

Daughter: Jeez, Dad, I already know everything about it, having the internet in my head and all.

Me: <Grumbling> I told your mother you weren’t old enough yet. But, anyway, where were we?

Daughter: You were trying to explain why we have to cover our genitals in public.

Me: Right, well, you see, genitals are used for sex. So, if anyone in public were to see your genitals, they would think of sex. And obviously that would be bad.

Daughter: Why would thinking about sex be bad?

Me: Because sex is bad, obviously. Unless you’re in a committed, long-term, heterosexual marriage, and you are alone and the lights are off and you never talk about it.

Daughter: Yeah, I’m just going to let that slide. So, why do I have to cover my chest again?

Me: OK, good, we’re making some progress. You see, breasts are a special kind of secondary sexual characteristic. Special because our modern, civilized society has sexualized them. In other words, while many cultures think nothing of women displaying their breasts publicly, modern society has decided that breasts are inextricably linked to sex, and are therefore just as bad as genitals. If anyone were to see breasts in public, they would think of sex. And obviously that would be bad.

Daughter: What the hell? How are breasts inextricably linked to sex? I mean, what about when they are used to nurse babies? That obviously has nothing to do with sex.

Me: Yes, but you see, even though the baby is pure and innocent and has no notion of sexual intercourse, the adult members of society know all too well that breasts are involved in the sexual act, and so any adult that sees a breast, even in the context of nursing, will think of sex. And obviously that would be bad.

Daughter: Wait, wait, wait. I see breasts in public all the time. Women wear bras to accentuate their breasts under their clothes. Women wear bathing suits that only barely cover their breasts. Hell, Sports Illustrated has pictures of women with only their nipples covered, prominently displaying practically the whole breast. How is this hiding breasts so that people won’t think of sex?

Me: Oh, you see, that is a fascinating subject! Over the centuries, society has tested the boundaries of what is and is not appropriate to display in public, and for no body part has there been more rigorous experimentation than for the breast. And, of course, Sports Illustrated has been at the vanguard of this movement. Recently, the good scientists at Sports Illustrated have deduced that the only thing objectionable about breasts is the nipples, specifically the color of the nipples. You see, they discovered that they could essentially dab paint on women’s naked bodies, and, as long as the darker hue of the nipple, compared to the surrounding skin, is not discernible, then the female form is fit for public consumption. Here, I’ve actually put together this handy visual guide for you.

image This is a baseline picture, as this woman is fully clothed.

image Some breast is showing here, but it’s totally fine.

image Again, nothing wrong here.

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Safe for public viewing.
 
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This picture does not make anyone think of sex.
 
image If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know why this is kosher.
 
image If you look closely, you can clearly make out the shape of her nipple. But, since there’s paint on it, that’s OK. Isn’t science great?
 
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Oh my goodness, this picture was total pornography! You could see that woman’s areola! I had to censor it for you. No need to thank me.
 
Daughter: How long have you been carrying these pictures around in your wallet, Dad?

Me: That’s not important.

Daughter: Does Mom know you’ve been carrying around these pictures? <Yelling> Mom! Did you know Dad. . .

Me: Daughter! That’s not the point. Look, I just thought I’d show you what I was talking about. Do you see how all those pictures, save the last one, are acceptable for public display?

Daughter: Yeah, but it’s bullshit. Those are all basically pictures of naked breasts. Body paint doesn’t change much.

Me: Yes it does! While a naked breast would force people to think about sex, which is bad, a painted breast just makes people think of, uh, sports, I guess. Yeah, right, that’s what I think about when I look at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Sports.

Daughter: Sure, Dad, whatever. One more thing, though: you say that if I were to show my nipples, it would be bad because people would think about sex. But, as you pointed out, my nipples don’t look any different than a boy’s nipples, since I’m ONLY SIX YEARS OLD, and am still years away from puberty. How would the sight of a six-year-old girl’s nipples make people think about sex?

Me: Oh, well, you see, were grown-ups to look at your naked chest, they would imagine the breasts that you will have when you become a woman. And that would make them think about sex, which is bad.

Daughter: Holy crap that’s screwed up. Grown-ups look at a six year old girl and imagine breasts on her? An adult sexualizing me is the adult’s problem, not mine.

Me: Oh, dear [patting her head]. Adults cannot change the way they think, so the only solution is to change your behavior so as not to induce such thoughts in adults. It’s simply being respectful of your elders.

Daughter: That sounds an awful lot like the rationale for why Muslim women have to cover themselves, lest they tempt men.

Me: Are you joking? Those people are crazy!


So, yeah, I think that should pretty much clear everything up for my daughter. It’s simple, really, when you understand it. Of course, maybe it would just be easier to show her this cartoon (NSFW).



















































Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Suttons Bay to Traverse City

Until recently, I wasn’t much of a bicyclist.  I mean, I had a rad, pink freestyle bike when I was in junior high, and I rode it everywhere, but once I got my drivers license, I pretty much lost interest in biking.  When I was 30, I bought my first multi-speed bike, a standard mountain bike, that I used to commute to work.  It was stolen (this has a tendency to  happen in Chicago), so I bought a really cheap bike at Target.  Mercifully, that one was stolen rather quickly off of my porch.  So, I got a used bike at a pawn shop and bought a better lock.  It served me well until I moved to Ann Arbor, and decided to take up commuting by bike again.  Ann Arbor, as opposed to the Windy City, has hills, and I very quickly learned that my used bike was not going to work for me.  The main problem what that it was a small-sized frame, so that when I raised the seat to the proper height, I was leaning down on the handle bars at a rather acute angle.  So, I decided to finally buy a real bike, since I was committed to “exercise by commute.”  I bought a used, 2011 Fuji Absolute 3.0 hybrid road bike.  I love this bike.  I love to ride to and from work on this bike.  It’s great.

So, when I went up north (northern Michigan for the uninitiated) last week, my wife and daughter and I all brought our bikes.  We were staying on the Leelanau peninsula, which has a very nice trail (the Leelanau Trail), which goes from Sutton’s Bay to Traverse City. After riding on it a bit with my wife and daughter, and seeing how nice of a trail it is, I decided to attempt my first long-distance ride.  The trail had signs that stated it was 15.5 miles from Sutton’s Bay to Traverse City, and I figured I could handle that.  So, last Friday morning, I woke early and hit the trail. . .

_DSC3722My bike, ready for the trail ahead.

_DSC3727 One of the many farms on the trail.

_DSC3736The trail and a barn.

_DSC3739 A view of a horse farm.

_DSC3742 Little known fact: tractors are afraid of noisy bicyclists.

_DSC3744Stopped next to an old farm house.

_DSC3747A wooden cross near the ruins.

_DSC3749   I also passed many vineyards.  I can’t attest to the quality of the wine, though.  I mainly drink beer.

_DSC3751 A bench in the middle of nowhere.

_DSC3753Northern Michigan has some orchards, too.

_DSC3756  A well-paved trail.

_DSC3764 I loved the variety of landscapes the trail passed through.

_DSC3768Finally, I made it out to Grand Traverse Bay, right outside of Traverse City.

_DSC3774Traverse City itself has some stunning beauty.

_DSC3776These are boats.

_DSC3783The trail into Traverse City.

_DSC3795     I finally made it to downtown Traverse City!

_DSC3796 Time for some lunch, provided by Scalawag’s Whitefish & Chips.

_DSC3800 Back on the trail again.  One last evocative shot of the bay.

_DSC3813Wildflowers along the trail.

_DSC3816I actually had to stop for a non-photography-related reason here.  Going back was harder than getting there.

_DSC3823I’m don’t know how that tanning chair got there, but I had to walk across a ravine filled with prickly plants to set up this shot. I’m not sure it was worth it.

_DSC3834The view from a bridge.

_DSC3836I was very grateful to find this.  My water bottle was empty, and I was rather thirsty.

_DSC3837Nearly home now.  I’ve never been so happy to see a wastewater treatment plant.

_DSC3841I contributed $20.

_DSC3842I made it back!  My legs are fine, but damn, do my hands hurt from leaning on the handle bars all day. My hands! The fancy ergonomic grips do nothing! (read in the voice of Rainier Wolfcastle.)

_DSC3846Back to the car. 

I was pretty amazed that I didn’t feel too bad after my trip.  I was even more surprised to find that I traveled nearly 20 miles each way.  And, I have to say, this was pretty fun.  I’ve got to figure out how I can do this sort of thing more often.

Trail map

Friday, August 3, 2012

I ski down the blue-square-slopes of the seafood mountain

I like seafood, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself an adventurous seafood eater. I love fish and chips. I also like fish blackened, and occasionally sautéed or baked. However, I don’t really like any of the “oily” fish species (salmon, tuna, mackerel, or any other kind of fish that may find itself in a tin can that can only be opened with a key). In other words, I don’t like the kinds of fish that are actually good for you.

I also really enjoy eating some shellfish, mainly of the crustacean persuasion. That’s right, crab cakes; pasta with lobster; and shrimp served just about any way turn me on. You know what a marine invertebrate can do to really turn me off, though? Wind up on my plate with way too many of its organs still attached. When I’m eating a shrimp I expect it to have dutifully removed all of its eyes, legs, “feelers”, and exoskeleton parts before reaching my dinner table. I’ll deal with that tiny little bit of tail left on the end of its succulent white flesh, but that’s it. Similarly, if I’m going to be eating crab or lobster meat, someone else better have dug into the animals’ hard outer body to remove the tasty innards. I will not whack my food with a hammer, or attempt to pry open a claw with a nut cracker. This also applies to my feelings on eating fish; I intend to eat fish meat, not a whole damn fish with its one (perhaps two in the case of a flounder) eye staring up at me while I dig into its body. You have to draw the line somewhere.

I will not, however, be talked into eating any of the other two main phyla of shellfish: mollusks (oysters, squid and such) or echinoderms (sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and other joke species of marine life). The one notable exception to this is scallops, but, in my defense, when I began eating scallops I didn’t know that those little round pieces of tastiness once resided inside two shells, since, as I stated above, I only eat seafood after the body has been removed. I guess I’ve also tried calamari on several occasions, but only once would I characterize the experience as enjoyable. My feelings on the rest of these types of seafood goes something like this: clams, “Nope;” raw oysters, “I stopped eating snot in grade school;” octopus, “Screw you! I’m not chewing on a suction cup!;” sea cucumbers, “My ancestors didn’t come to this country, tame the wilds of Montana, break their backs working in saw mills, and defeat Hitler so that their descendants would have to subsist on jiggly little bags of slime scooped up off the ocean floor!”

Figure 1. A visual representation of the types of seafood Rose Boy will consume.

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So, it was to my great surprise that I discovered I really enjoy eating Korean seafood pancake. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I was surprised to find that the “pancake” I ate when my lab ordered Korean food was actually a “seafood pancake” filled with the kinds of seafood not on my “acceptable” list. I must admit, though, that there is a lot of willful ignorance on my part concerning this dish. When I first ate it I realized that there were things in it that I couldn’t identify, the coloring of which looked awfully seafood-esque. When I subsequently learned that it was, indeed, a seafood pancake, I knew that the pieces in question were not readably classifiable as belonging to any of the groups of seafood that I care to consume. It tastes so good, though, that I simply don’t want to know what’s in it. Even now, I’m too afraid to Google “Korean Seafood pancake,” for fear that I’ll learn that the main seafood ingredient is sea urchin foreskins, or some other equally-gross “delicacy.”

Basically, what it comes down to is that I’m fully comfortable with walking into a Korean restaurant, sitting down at the table, and telling the chef “I do say, my good sir, before I sup on a heaping pile of your scrumptious bulgogi, accompanied by an array of delicious kimchees and other prepared vegetables nested in delicate little bowls, be so kind as to whet my palate with your rendition of that classic Korean appetizer, the seafood pancake,” without really caring what I’m putting down my throat. It’s just that good.

Figure 2. I’m sure those purple-white things are totally normal fish or something.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Homophobia

This Chick-fil-A controversy seems to have consumed a lot of my time, recently. I found myself arguing with an old friend on Facebook today about it. They posted that they were going to the restaurant today in support of Chick-fil-A, and a bit of a fire storm grew out of the comments to their post. Especially striking was a gay friend of theirs who was upset that our mutual friend was so adamant in their support of Chick-fil-A.

Anyway, in characterizing my view of the controversy I called Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, an asshole. I got a private message from my friend later asking me to refrain from posting bad language on their Facebook page, since their children might read it. My first thought was that I was much more worried about the potential homophobia they were teaching their children than to whether the children might see “asshole” on a computer screen. However, as I have a child of my own, it got me thinking about what I am doing to prevent bigoted thinking in my daughter. So, at dinner tonight, I broached the subject of homosexuality with my 4 year-old daughter for the first time.

I started by telling her that I had an argument with one of my friends because my friend didn’t think that a kid like her should have two mommies or two daddies, but that children should only have one mommy and one daddy. I asked her if she had any friends that had two mommies or two daddies (she said she didn’t). I told her that I thought that if two girls, or two boys, want to have a baby they should be able to, as long as they love each other and the baby.

I saw that my daughter was thinking this over. After a minute or so, she put this information into the context of how she feels about her best friend: “Well, Tabitha and I love each other.” I have to admit, this response made me very happy. Of course, she has no concept of sexual longing at this point, but she knows love, and understands that she, a girl, certainly loves another girl. I am well aware that it will take a lot more interaction over the years to fully address the issue of homosexuality with my daughter, but I’m glad I’ve started the conversation.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Welcome to the Rose Boy Chronicles!

I’m Rose Boy, and I plan this to be a blog about the things that get me riled up enough to want to write about them: religion, atheism, feminism, quackery, ethics, and other random things.  We’ll just have to see how it goes.

A little bit about me:  I’m a postdoctoral researcher (scientist) studying Immunology and Microbiology at a large research university.  I consider myself to be an atheist, feminist, liberal, and great kisser.

So, I hope you enjoy reading this site, and if you don’t, go ahead and tell me in the comments (if I can figure out how to enable them).

-RB