Empathy: Why its Facilitation is So Important and How to Foster it in Our Youth

by Grace Sargent, April 22, 2022

Introduction

Humans as a species are empathetic by nature, though modern society seems to hinder its widespread development. Surrounded by technological advancements and automated machines, we have become immersed in a robotic world that fails to illustrate the countless emotions we experience daily. This is quite prevalent among children, who are incredibly susceptible to the mindless behaviors associated with technology. It is extremely common for parents to immediately produce an electronic tablet for their crying child instead of taking more lasting measures. In this digital age, it is increasingly important for children to maintain a healthy relationship with books, as they provide an authentic way to facilitate empathy and to ensure that such important characteristics are nurtured instead of lost or forgotten.

What is empathy?

In order to argue for the value of empathy to individuals and society, a definition of empathy itself must first be understood. American cognitive scientist and author J.D. Trout explains that “empathy is the capacity to accurately understand the other’s position, the feeling that ‘this could happen to me’” (Pohoată 9). As humans, we have a multitude of emotions that we are subject to, not only throughout our lives but fluctuating during our days as well. However, the fascinating thing about these emotions is that we all experience them, whether it be at the same time over the same things, or at different times over different things. It is through these experiences that we can come together and empathize with each other; we know what it feels like to be sad, happy, anxious, or excited, and so we are, consequently, able to gather a general idea of what someone else is currently feeling. Another crucial part of the definition of empathy is the involvement of cognitive comprehension and emotional reactions. To be fully empathetic, both of these characteristics must be developed for long periods of time (Good 1).

Why is empathy important?

Following the comprehension of empathy as a concept, we need to also understand its importance, which has been illustrated through a study conducted by Ph.D. student of Psychology Greg Depow. This study involved questioning 246 participants from the United States seven times a day for one week regarding their levels of happiness, sense of purpose, and overall well-being. The purpose of the study was to track the frequency of participation in situations where empathy could be called upon, whether that meant offering or receiving it. Once the study was completed and the collected data was analyzed, encouraging conclusions were drawn. Firstly, the study found that we empathize often in our everyday lives, as we frequently find ourselves in situations that could benefit from it. On average, over a span of twelve hours, people found nine opportunities to empathize and six opportunities to receive empathy. More notably, the analysis concluded that those who recognized more empathy opportunities and empathized more reported greater happiness and well-being. It is important to remember that empathy does not need to always involve the experience of negative emotions. In fact, according to Depow, we experience positive emotions three times more often than negative ones, which could contribute to why participants reported empathizing more with positive emotions during the study. Relating to the study, Depow reported that at the times when people in the study experienced more empathy, they practiced more kindness towards others (“How Small Moments”). This study demonstrates empathy’s cyclical nature: the more empathetic we are, the better we feel, and the more we want to be empathetic towards others. If we as a society can maintain this healthy cycle, the empathy we share is central to our humanity and can allow us to live in a decent society, characterized by citizens that willingly and voluntarily understand and take care of each other (Pohoată 15).

The development of empathy

One last important note about empathy is that although it is an innate characteristic of humans, it can be improved upon through education about what it is made up of and how those parts relate to one another. Empathy heavily relies on the parts of our brains that deal with an emotional connection with others (“Why the World Needs an Empathy Revolution”). We experience arousal in our pain pathways when witnessing someone else in pain. Psychiatrist Helen Reiss explains that our neurological systems allow us to observe the hurting of others while also giving us a fraction of that pain as motivation to help them out (“Why the World Needs an Empathy Revolution”). However, empathy also involves a level of concern, which complicates its effectiveness in each individual; while we are all “programmed” to empathize with others, not all of us will necessarily empathize to the same extent. Thus, the behavior of people directly correlates with education and self-education (Pohoată 11). It is important to recognize that empathy has multiple parts, and, therefore, it develops over time rather than all at once. Additionally, it is during our adolescent years that our empathy develops the most, given our impressionability. It is understood that children as young as two-years-old can comprehend and talk about specific emotions along with the actions that accompany them (Good 2). This is why attempts at facilitating empathy in children must be made as early as possible and with lots of consideration and thought.

How to effectively cultivate empathy in children

One of the most important parts of teaching children empathy is firstly emphasizing understanding the emotions they and those around them can face, as well as explaining the actions that accompany them. Fortunately, a common thread throughout children’s literature is the discussion of emotions and the ways they are displayed (Berliner). A wonderful way to foster these ideas is to allocate reading time during school, thereby encouraging storytime as a method of enhancing empathy in children. 

Another useful aspect of literature involves the characters that make up the stories. Characters provide a space for emotions to be felt and displayed for children to digest while reading. A useful technique for teachers is to first explicitly explain the events of the story and then circle back to the children themselves. For example, teachers can ask questions in the following format: “This child was angry when his toy was taken away from him. How do you feel when someone takes your toy?” (Berliner). The value of this question lies in how it encompasses multiple important learning points. The child who was asked this question can now understand what anger is, associate it with a certain situation, and even identify that emotion within their own life. This example relates to psychiatrist Helen Reiss’s explanation that better perception of others’ emotions is associated with a strengthened sense of empathy (“Why the World Needs an Empathy Revolution”). They can then take this newfound knowledge and apply it to situations that may arise, ultimately allowing them to be more empathetic. 

These kinds of techniques have proven very effective within a classroom setting, and teachers have shared their approaches and experiences in incorporating them into their curriculums. High school English teacher Jennifer Ansbach discusses how she brought these kinds of methods into her classroom in an attempt to combat bullying and its harmful, long-lasting effects. She called upon the collection of personal essays called “Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories.” The essays come from the perspective of bullies, victims, and even witnesses to bullying. All of them are written in the first person, which is important because first-person writing allows for the explicit expression of specific emotions and feelings during relatable situations. Following the conclusion of these readings, Ansbach asked her students if, before the essays, they would recognize the discussed situations as bullying. Only a handful raised their hands. She then inquired if they now understood those actions as bullying and reported that every student raised their hand. Ansbach continued speaking about this over a few weeks, and by the end, there were positive results seen in the actions of students. After the conclusion of this teaching plan, she explains that it successfully raised awareness on the matter, created empathy in the students, and created “a desire to change their own behavior” (Ansbach 92). Ansbach noticed her students discussing ideas of damage control for bullying victims more often, as well as how they can play a part in ameliorating this ongoing issue. This simple exercise alone demonstrates the empathetic nature of first-person narrative stories and how it can challenge preconceived notions of students.

Emotional transportation and how it relates to empathy

Another idea surrounding the importance of characters in stories deals with empathy facilitation, and it is called emotional transportation. Emotional transportation involves the reader of a story and allows their emotions to truly dive into a story and, therefore, form a more thoughtful connection with the content they are consuming (Bal). When an individual reads a story, their emotions are triggered in a way that can be reflected upon. One of the best ways to relate this reflection to empathy is through emotional transportation, which works most efficiently with relatable characters. When a reader indulges in a story and can identify with a character, they can take it a step further and vicariously experience the events in the story as if they were happening to them in real life. The valuable takeaway of these processes is that the reader practices empathy through reading a story (Bal). The reason emotional transportation carries such importance is because of the individual benefits: the higher the emotional transportation into a story is, the higher the probability of personal change is (Bal). 

As previously mentioned, the best way to encourage emotional transportation is by creating relatable characters. This sense of familiarity allows readers to venture into unfamiliar situations with greater ease and ultimately helps improve their empathetic capabilities. A 2013 study by Matthijs Bal and Martijn Veltkamp was conducted at Erasmus University Rotterdam where students read stories in their free time for a few hours each week and subsequently answered questions about their emotional transportation and empathetic measure. Following the completion of the study, the conclusions supported the idea that emotional transportation plays a valuable role in facilitating empathy. The main verdict of the experiment was that highly transported individuals had increased empathy over the weeks, and those who reported low transportation experienced a decrease in empathy (Bal). This is because low transportation is associated with “defamiliarization,” which is when a reader fails to connect emotionally with a story and its characters, and therefore is unable to relate to the people and situations presented to them. This not only prevents transportation, but it inhibits their ability to empathize (Junker). Thus, children need to have access to books that not only offer situations that pertain to their lives but books that also contain relatable characters.

Conclusion

In closing, empathy and the way it is brought into the lives of children is invaluable. Our society seems to be straying away from the colorful emotions we have to offer and is instead creating a more monotonous lifestyle ridden by the robotic automation of the digital age. It is up to us, however, to ensure that these innate, important characteristics we share don’t disappear. Empathy is central to our humanity and maintains the power to cultivate a healthier, more humane world (Pohoată 10). It is therefore important to instill these ideals into the minds of children and begin intervention as early as possible. Additionally, it is crucial to recognize the most effective method: reading. Through the consumption of novels and narratives, children gain helpful insight into not only what emotions are, but what they look and feel like. Education on these topics early in childhood can be carried into adulthood, and consequently spread throughout our society.


Works Cited

Ansbach, Jennifer. “Long-Term Effects of Bullying: Promoting Empathy with Nonfiction.” The English Journal, vol. 101, no. 6, National Council of Teachers of English, 2012, pp. 87–92, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23269416. 

Bal, Matthijs and Martijn Veltkamp. “How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2013, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0055341. 

Berliner, Rebecca and Tracy Loye Masterson. “Review of Research: Promoting Empathy Development in the Early Childhood and Elementary Classroom.” Taylor & Francis, 2015, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00094056.2015.1001675. 

Good, Jasmine S., et al. Fostering the Development of Empathy in the Classroom. https://research.avondale.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1055&context= teach. 

Junker, Christine R. and Stephen J. Jaquemin. “How Does Literature Affect Empathy in Students?” Taylor & Francis, 2017, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/87567555.2016.1255583?scroll=top&needAcces s=true.

Pohoată, Gabriela and Iulia Waniek. “Do We Need Empathy Today?” Euromentor Journal, vol. 8, no. 3, 2017, pp. 7-16, http://proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journ als / do-we-need-empathy-today/docview/1986130844/se-2?accountid=14172. 

Suttie, Jill. “How Small Moments of Empathy Affect Your Life.” Greater Good, 2021, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_small_moments_of_empathy_affect_y o u r_life. 

Suttie, Jill. “Why the World Needs an Empathy Revolution.” Greater Good, 2019, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/%E2%80%8Bitem/why_the_world_needs_an_e mpathy _revolution.

What Does it Mean to be Free: Sartre’s Take On Human Freedom in the Face of the Nazi Regime

by Gina Koch, April 15, 2022

Jean-Paul Sartre is undeniably one of the most prominent philosophers of the twentieth century and the chief founder of existentialism. The works he published influenced various ideologies spanning philosophy, politics, literature, and cultural studies. Sartre, like most philosophers, had his moments of being subject to public disappointment and outrage. After living through World War II as a French prisoner of war, he sparked outrage when he published the essay, “The Republic of Silence,” which he started with the infamous line “Never were we freer than under the German Occupation” (Sartre, 1).

In  “The Republic of Silence,” Jean-Paul Sartre explores the concept of true freedom amid the Nazi German occupation of France. Extreme conditions often breed unique schools of thought for many thinkers, and Sartre was no different. Being a witness and victim of the brutal Nazi regime resulted in profound ideologies coming to light, especially regarding the concept of freedom as evidenced by his essay “The Republic of Silence.” Sartre explains that the essence of true freedom materialized during times of oppression. When people are condemned to extreme conditions of suffering, the sanctity of every thought and every right becomes apparent, and they are faced with the question of their freedom. There exists no force or authority that is capable of taking away one’s freedom because it is inherent and essential to the human condition. However, some forces can place physical limitations on one’s freedom, and it becomes a grave situation when these limitations go so far beyond as to attack one’s rights, beliefs, and principles. Under such an attack, people have the choice to exercise their freedom and resist such oppressive forces or partake in bad faith and give up on such beliefs and principles. This concept of freedom was different from other ideologies circulating at the time. For example, French philosopher Albert Camus, known for his contributions to the absurdist movement, maintained that human freedom is not inherent to humans but rather a state of mind achieved when people understand the absurdity and meaninglessness of life; thereby stopping themselves from constructing some greater meaning from it (Camus). Many differing ideologies regarding human freedom circulated during this war-torn era, but Sartre’s ideas managed to stand out among them. 

During the Nazi era in Germany, which lasted from 1933 to 1945,  particular groups of people such as the Jewish, gypsies, homosexuals, and any other groups not considered a part of the superior Aryan race were targeted as part of the ethnic cleansing scheme initiated by political leader Adolf Hitler. These groups faced oppression, suffering beyond imagination, and witnessed their inherent and basic rights being stripped away from them. They were stripped of their citizenship, denied interactions with those considered part of the Aryan race, and sent to concentration camps, often to be killed. Sartre, being a philosopher who means to seek meaning in everything that happens around him, found hope among the brutality that surrounded him. In his essay, he claims, “never were we freer than under the German Occupation” (Sartre, 1). It is quite a wonder that Sartre was able to find such freedom when the majority of people around him were arrested, sent to concentration camps, or killed. He is not talking about physical freedom, but inherent freedom; the freedom that governs the human condition and is an essential part of existence. He compares the manner people think in during peaceful times and during atrocious ones, similar to that of Nazi occupation. 

As Sartre says, “In this way, the very question of freedom was posed, and we were on the verge of the deepest knowledge human beings can have of themselves” (Sartre, 5). During times of oppression, people tend to question the limits of their freedom and their character questions that were neglected during peaceful times. Would they resist the torture and hold on to secrets and information about the resistance movement or would they give in to the pain and reveal secrets that can lead to numerous arrests and deaths? It is during moments like these that people question their freedom and existence because the choices they make can have profound effects, many times concerning life or death. Sartre also discussed “resistance was a true democracy” (Sartre, 6). There was solidarity in how they resisted the Nazi regime. During such difficult times, there is a sense of equality and responsibility among the people that is not palpable in society during peaceful times. Sartre claims he witnessed the strengthening of the Republic because everyone shared the same freedom regardless of their rank or position within the movement. The freedom they experienced while under the ironclad rule of the Nazi regime was one that was true, absolute, and equal. 

The freedom that Sartre discusses in his essay is distinct from the conventional idea of freedom that many may have. The freedom to do anything one wants is separate from the true and absolute freedom that Sartre refers to. True personal freedom is one’s ability to express their beliefs and principles regardless of the forces that govern them. It is the ability to make choices regardless of any rewards or material possessions one may obtain as a consequence of their choice. In an oppressive society, personal beliefs often start to take precedence over any material possessions and sometimes, over their own life. In other words, people are willing to die at the hands of their oppressors rather than give up on what they believe in. In his essay, Sartre explains that people often made the authentic choice in the presence of death, and it was through this act that they were able to exercise true freedom. Many of those who were tortured at the hands of the Nazis resisted revealing any information they had on the resistance movement because they stayed true to believing that their people should be freed from the oppressors. This choice may have cost them their lives but they did so as part of exercising their freedom. If they had instead chosen to spill information as a means to keep themselves alive, they would have continued living a limited life; one in which they sacrificed their freedom and lacked any meaning or purpose because they abandoned any beliefs they had. People are more than their situation so they should be able to transcend the situation and stay committed to their beliefs. 

The attitudes that Sartre shared in his essay forces us to think about the manner in which we live. Initially, society seems to be guilty of stripping freedom away from the people, and then forcing them to obey laws in order to keep their freedom. In fact, it may seem quite ironic how we are rewarded with freedom, which is something inherently ours, for giving up a certain level of our autonomy. However, this outlook on society in freedom is not accurate. Since freedom is something that is inherently ours and essential to our existence; it cannot be stripped away from us by external forces or authority. However, as members of society, we agree to accept some limitations placed on our freedom. For example, we agree to obey the laws of society as a means to maintain order in our lives and fulfill our potential as social creatures. However, we do not lose our freedom because everyone has the ability to break the law. The fact that we are still capable of committing terrible acts but choose not to proves that we still maintain our freedom. 

However, one would have to face the consequences of committing any terrible and unlawful acts. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between the consequences of an act and freedom. People have the freedom to commit any acts but they may not be successful or satisfied with the consequences, but this does not mean they do not have the freedom to commit an act. The German occupation placed limitations on people’s freedom that conflicted with their rights and beliefs. At this point, it becomes a clear case of oppression as opposed to society maintaining order. During peaceful times, it is not obvious if something is lacking in the manner they live their lives but during oppressive circumstances, it becomes very apparent. Once, it becomes apparent that their lives are not to be lived in the way that it is supposed to be, the urge to fight for their lives materializes and it results in a strength that ultimately empowers them to exercise their freedom. The absolute freedom that they experience under the regime is one that was born out of the shackles that they were bound to. 


Works Cited

Camus, Albert. “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays. Translated by Justin O’Brien, Hamish Hamilton, 1955, pp. 3-119.  

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “The Republic of Silence.” Lettres françaises, 1944, pp. 1-7.

Hidden Costs, Dirty Lies, and The Illusion of Choice: The Worst of American Healthcare

by Vignesh Subramanian, April 12, 2022

The headlines are the same every year, and have been so for the last half-century: U.S. Health Care Ranked Worst in the Developed World (TIME, 2014); US health spending twice other countries’ with worse results (Reuters, 2018); U.S. health-care system ranks last among 11 high-income countries (Washington Post, 2021). The United States spends more on health care expenditures – both as a proportion of its gross domestic product and on a per capita basis – than any other developed nation, with annual accelerated growth rates in health spending exceeding those of OECD counterparts (Tikkanen and Abrams, Schneider). It is increasingly being understood that the U.S.’s outlier status is the result of higher prices and cost barriers rather than comparatively greater service utilization, with higher payments to hospitals and physicians as well as administrative overheads largely driving the outsized differences in spending (Kurani and Cox). Exactly how egregious the bills sent to American patients can be, however, is hidden in the fine print – an abusive doctrine formulated by medical bureaucracies and providers alike to obscure the truth about how far they are willing to go for profit.

Among the most obvious and decried examples of deceptive charging practices by providers are the various forms of surprise billing that often follow already costly care. Patients who unknowingly receive treatment from physicians who are not in their insurance network are prime targets for additional charges that may amount to tens of thousands of dollars (Kliff and Sanger-Katz). These patients typically do not choose the treating doctors themselves and are not made aware in advance of their out-of-network statuses (usually because of the urgency of required treatment or the availability of specialized providers, as is the case with emergency care or complex surgeries); some may have even sought care at an in-network hospital or urgent care center, reasonably assuming that these facilities employed providers that were similarly covered by their insurance. Nevertheless, these patients end up faced with the prospect of their insurance company refusing to pay an out-of-network balance bill, while collection agencies abandon good-faith protocols as they move to seize debt (Weber). Surprise billing often involves high initial reimbursements demanded by providers, procedures intentionally being redirected to more expensive ‘affiliated’ or ‘consolidated’ sites, and separate facility fees being tacked on; it can also affect non-emergency routine or scheduled care, making the issue a common woe for patients who cannot ‘shop’ for more affordable provider options while under any degree of duress.

The contributions of such bills to soaring healthcare spending cannot be overstated, but represent just the tip of a larger iceberg of unnecessary and inexplicable costs to the average American patient. Surprise bills would not be possible if not for deliberate schemes characterized by so-called “chargemasters” – the comprehensive, hospital-specific compendiums of all services said hospitals may charge for – to keep the realized costs of care hidden until after delivery. Such measures work to withhold, clutter, or bury procedure price lists from or on hospitals’ public sites and web search queries, while selectively publishing ‘starting point’ and ‘prospective’ rates far below those used for Medicare reimbursements and private insurance payments with little basis in market transactions (McGinty). They quietly tuck arbitrarily applied fees, such as those for basic consultation, testing, and diagnostic procedures (e.g. blood draws) or for care that was ‘seriously considered’ or ‘activated’ but not ultimately provided (e.g. trauma response fees), into final bills without patient notification (Gold and Kliff). They enshrine refusals to bring sticker prices for the use of certain technologies (e.g. MRIs) or operative procedures (e.g. hip replacements) in line with those of lower-tier doctor’s offices or otherwise justify or address variation and make comparison feasible across emergency departments, trauma centers, and surgery centers in a given geographic area (Pflanzer). Hospital systems are even willing to charge patients for minimal labor costs (fees charged to new mothers who have just given birth for “skin-to-skin contact” with their newborns are an infamous example), for basic health products like over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, toiletries, and first aid supplies that cost far less at neighboring pharmacies, and for services supporting other parts of the continuum of care at exorbitant levels (e.g. transport services like ambulance rides, despite the fact that EMS crews themselves are not reimbursed for patients not transported to emergency rooms) (Earl, Reed). Collectively, these ‘grab-every-last-dollar’ tactics take gross advantage of the necessity of critical care to bleed American patients dry, making every step into treating facilities as financially punishing as possible while denying them even the fundamental privilege of foresight to predict the final bill.

In a legitimately free market – indeed, of the kind defenders of the U.S. healthcare model contend it is and must remain – the ‘consumer’ is assumed to be able to make choices of free will, with the most accurate information possible on the prices of the goods and services available to them. This premise holds that such informed decisions will in turn guarantee a higher quality of service provided, improving consumer satisfaction while reducing costs as providers compete in a ‘race to the bottom.’ Yet neither that transparency of information nor that freedom of choice are available for U.S. healthcare’s consumer, the American patient. Deliberate and disingenuous attempts by hospital associations and physicians’ groups to bury costs and coerce acceptance of their terms instead take options away from the average American while triggering even more adverse reactions from elsewhere in the market. Insurers, supposedly the representatives of patients’ financial interests, have felt compelled to respond to providers’ effective price gouging by abruptly terminating physician contracts and leaving marketplaces (leaving many patients out in the cold with smaller networks), or else by secretly negotiating with hospitals to establish ‘adjusted payment rates’ and so-called “anti-steering clauses” (long-term agreements to avoid moving policyholders to other providers with lower costs), all without providing adequate notice to policyholders (Miller, Allen, Mathews). Governmental interventions, meanwhile, leave a lot to be desired in substance; recently enacted federal legislation that bans surprise billing and mandates that out-of-network cost sharing must match in-network provider rates, for example, only covers emergency services (and even then does not cover ground ambulances), meaning surprise billing is still possible in a large range of healthcare settings (Mensik). Other promulgated rules requiring hospitals to post price lists and insurers to inform members of discounted rates upfront fail to establish guidelines on making the provided information decipherable, while coming under sustained legal assault by healthcare and business groups seeking to shield their dealings from public view (Chiwaya and Kimelman, Weixel).

The hidden costs and false illusions of choice of service perpetuated by U.S. healthcare providers amount to a dirty lie – one that paints the patient’s inability to find affordable care as a personal failing rather than a carefully constructed outcome. The American system is not broken, but rather working perfectly as designed: to maximize profits by harassing and charging patients to the point of bankruptcy, by any and all means. It is despicable that those means have come to include openly deceiving patients about the true value of costs incurred, rendering them less willing consumers and more cash cows on which any number of charges may be whimsically levied. As our white coat-adorned saviors in operating rooms and I.C.U.s become existential threats to the pocketbook, it becomes extraordinarily difficult not to ask the question: was I, the patient, really the priority?


Works Cited

Allen, Marshall. “Why Your Health Insurer Doesn’t Care About Your Big Bills.” ProPublica, 25 May 2018, propublica.org/article/why-your-health-insurer-does-not-care-about-your-big-bills

Chiwaya, Nigel, and Jeremia Kimelman. “You Can Now Get Your Hospital’s Price List. Good Luck Making Sense of It.” NBC News, 15 Jan. 2019, nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hospital-price-list-chargemaster-rules-trump-mandate-2019-n959006.

Earl, Jennifer. “Doula Explains Why Hospital Charged Parents $39 to Hold Newborn in Viral Post.” CBS News, 13 Oct. 2016, cbsnews.com/news/doula-explains-why-hospital-charged-parents-39-to-hold-newborn-baby-in-viral-post/.

Gold, Jenny, and Sarah Kliff. “ER Bills: A Baby Was Treated with a Nap and a Bottle of Formula. His Parents Received an $18,000 Bill.” Vox, 28 June 2018, vox.com/2018/6/28/17506232/emergency-room-bill-fees-health-insurance-baby.

Kliff, Sarah, and Margot Sanger-Katz. “Surprise Medical Bills Cost Americans Millions. Congress Finally Banned Most of Them.” The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2020, nytimes.com/2020/12/20/upshot/surprise-medical-bills-congress-ban.html.

Kurani, Nisha, and Cynthia Cox. “What Drives Health Spending in the U.S. Compared to Other Countries.” Health Spending, 20 July 2021, healthsystemtracker.org/brief/what-drives-health-spending-in-the-u-s-compared-to-other-countries/

Mathews, Anna Wilde. “Behind Your Rising Health-Care Bills: Secret Hospital Deals That Squelch Competition.” The Wall Street Journal, 3 Oct. 2018, wsj.com/articles/behind-your-rising-health-care-bills-secret-hospital-deals-that-squelch-competition-1537281963.

McGinty, Tom, et al. “Hospitals Hide Pricing Data From Search Results.” The Wall Street Journal, 22 Mar. 2021, wsj.com/articles/hospitals-hide-pricing-data-from-search-results-11616405402.

Mensik, Hailey. “Ground Ambulances, Excluded from Surprise Billing Ban, to Get Scrutiny from Federal Committee.” Healthcare Dive, 22 Nov. 2021, healthcaredive.com/news/federal-committee-ground-ambulances-no-surprises-act/610451/.

Miller, Andy. “Patients Are Getting Stuck out-of-Network Due to Rifts between Insurers and Hospitals.” Fortune, 16 Nov. 2021, fortune.com/2021/11/16/out-of-network-insurance-companies-health-care-systems-hospitals-contracts/.

Pflanzer, Lydia Ramsey. “The Cost of an MRI Can Vary by Thousands of Dollars Depending on Where You Go.” Business Insider, 28 Mar. 2017, businessinsider.com/how-much-an-mri-costs-by-state-2017-3.

Reed, Tina. “Ambulance Rides Are Getting a Lot More Expensive.” Axios, 22 Feb. 2022, axios.com/ambulance-rides-are-getting-a-lot-more-expensive-cee897fe-63b7-4412-aa67-718109773e79.html.

Schneider, Eric C., et al. “Mirror, Mirror 2021: Reflecting Poorly | Health Care in the U.S. Compared to Other High-Income Countries.” Improving Health Care Quality, Commonwealth Fund, 4 Aug. 2021, commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2021/aug/mirror-mirror-2021-reflecting-poorly.

Tikkanen, Roosa, and Melinda K. Abrams. “U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2019: Higher Spending, Worse Outcomes?” U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2019, Commonwealth Fund, 30 Jan. 2020, commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2020/jan/us-health-care-global-perspective-2019.

Weber, Lauren. “Patients Stuck With Bills After Insurers Don’t Pay As Promised.” Kaiser Health News, USA Today, 11 Feb. 2020, khn.org/news/prior-authorization-revoked-patients-stuck-with-bills-after-insurers-dont-pay-as-promised/.

Weixel, Nathaniel. “New Trump Policy Will Force Insurers to Disclose Prices up Front.” The Hill, 29 Oct. 2020, thehill.com/policy/healthcare/523328-new-trump-policy-will-force-insurers-to-disclose-prices-upfront/.

Silly Rabbit, Trix Aren’t for Kids!: How General Mills’ Trix Cereal Targets Young Audience

by Divya Jagnarain, April 5, 2022

It’s 7:15 AM on a Monday morning. Your bus will arrive outside your house in fifteen minutes. Half asleep, you reach into your cabinet and grab a vibrantly colored box of General Mills’ Trix cereal. The nutrition label sticks out, but as usual, you don’t care to read it. It’s colorful, grabs your attention, is easy to prepare and tasty. Many of the cereal boxes advertised on the shelves of grocery stores are designed in such a way to grab the attention of loud, demanding children. While making parents out to be the bad guys, who can say “no” to this brightly colored box of sugar?

What is it about the color of the box and the details of the illustrations that draw children in? According to Leatrice Eiseman, director of Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training and executive director of Pantone Color Institute, “Children are inevitably fascinated by brighter colors from early infancy” (Parpis, 4). Studies have shown that the eyes of growing children will be attracted to the primary colors, red, blue, and yellow (Parpis, 4). Marketing companies, such as those of General Mills’ Trix use this to their advantage. 

Since their eyes are not fully developed yet, from an early age children have a preference for bright colors. These colors are much easier to perceive than faint shades. The bright colors typically used by companies targeting children stand out more in their field of vision (Pancare, 3). On Trix cereal boxes, one can find an abundance of reds, greens, yellows, purples, etc. The combination of these contrasting colors is inviting to a bored child strolling through the aisles of a grocery store. 

Plastered on cereal boxes all over America, the Trix Rabbit, illustrated by Joe Harris has captivated the minds of youths. The Trix Rabbit, commonly referred to as Tricks, has a way of connecting to children. “And, of course, what we feel connected to—which happens when someone, even a cartoon character, makes eyes at us—we’re more likely to buy,” states Alice G. Walton of Forbes Magazine (Walton, para 1). Having a character representing one’s brand that is inviting and entertaining bodes well to grab the attention to young minds. 

The Trix Rabbit is more than meets the eye, however. In the Journal of Popular Culture, author Thomas Green contends that Trix the Rabbit bears more than a passing resemblance to a “trickster” (Eisenberg, 118). Green writes, “Tricksters are often depicted as participating in some kind of trick, theft, or sacrifice that results in the gift of the useful technology or plant to humanity” (Eisenberg, 118). Similarly, on television commercials, Trix the Rabbit is willing to cheat or deceive to acquire the toothsome cereal from unsuspecting children. That’s where the famous slogan, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids,” comes into play. 

From the 1970s to the present day, this harmless rabbit has been trying to get a taste of the eye-catching cereal but has failed to do so due to “selfish children” refusing to share. Trix the Rabbit has to resort to concealing his identity in costumes in order to trick the children. From disguising himself as an astronaut to a breakdancer, Trix the Rabbit takes on the costume of whatever advertisers perceive as popular with children at that time (Eisenberg, 120). In doing so, advertisers succeed in their goal to captivate young audiences. On the contrary, Trix the Rabbit, when he is nearing his goal of acquiring the delicious fruity goodness, his ears always spring free, exposing his true identity (Taylor, para 2). This iconic, well-known television commercial has been planted in the memories of many generations. 

To understand how television companies advertise to specific consumer segments such as children, teenagers, and adults, one must assess the nutritional quality, packaging, and co-branding of the product (Berning et al., para 4). In other words, a cereal’s nutritional profile, package attributes, and co-branding correspond to television advertising targeted at specific audiences. Often, breakfast cereal packaging is “covered in brand characters, promotional opportunities, nutritional claims, and other engaging marketing strategies” (Berning et al., para 13). As mentioned beforehand, Trix the Rabbit is an identifiable character which entices young consumers. In other popular brands, children are drawn to Toucan Sam and Cap’n Crunch in the same light. 

The attractiveness of brand profiles are heightened with the addition of “games on the box, toys in the box, and other forms of brand enhancements” (Berning et al., para 14). On the rear of a General Mills’ Trix™ Cereal box, one can find an abundance of enticing activities. Such activities include “Tumblin’ in Trix,” “Name the Rabbit,” “Hurray for Fruity Shapes,” and so on and so forth. These activities can range from short, adventurous stories to mini puzzle games to full-blown challenges. By putting different activities on these boxes, it begs consumers to buy often to complete the next set. 

Furthermore, breakfast cereal packaging is used to promote product co-branding. For instance, a child walking down the cereal aisle in a grocery store would be drawn to the cereal box with a famous athlete or character from a movie. According to Qu Rao et al, “co-branding can help gain increased access to new markets and can signal reputation and quality” (Berning et al.,  para 15). Television or movie themes, athlete endorsements, or cartoon endorsements are effective ways of targeting new consumers. 

In order for the product to be picked up from the shelves, taken to the register, bagged, taken home, and consumed, advertisers must be able to win over the hearts of both the child and parent. In regards to breakfast cereals, manufacturers are aware that sugar appeals to children. According to statistics, “a third of U.S. consumers buy one box of cereal per trip, 41% buy two and 19% buy three or more” (Sherred, para 3). Chief marketing officer of Shopkick, Kristy Stromberg says “We’ve seen that people are loyal to the brands and tastes they love, and despite a movement towards incorporating healthier options, consumers will always love classic favorites” (Sherred, para 15). At the end of the day, taste is the deciding factor when it comes to choosing breakfast cereals. 

Of the millions of Americans that shop every day, only 18% of consumers look at the nutritional values before purchasing. On the side of a box of General Mills’ Trix is the “Nutrition Facts.” The nutrition facts are clearly visible with the mass and percentage of its ingredients. Many consumers overlook this nutrition label as it is hard to understand. Having it written very plain and simple, one chooses not to question the “healthiness” of the cereal. Additionally, right below the concentrations of cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrate, and proteins are the percentage of vitamins, irons and calcium listed. It’s general knowledge that these minerals are pivotal to one’s diet. Minerals help our bodies develop and function. For instance, iron is important for cell growth, development, and normal body functions. According to Robert Earl et al, “the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia among young children has been declining, and the decline is attributed to the use of iron-fortified formula and cereal, appropriate supplementation of breastfed infants, and later introduction of cow’s milk to infants’ diets than had been typical in the past” (Earl, 3). Having these minerals listed on the boxes of cereal in clear and readable font further persuades one to purchase said cereal, whether they read it or not. 

As insignificant as it seems, the font displayed on these cereal boxes do make a difference. A brand’s chosen typeface reflects the personality of the brand. Trix™ cereal utilizes fonts such as Franklin Gothic Heavy, Helvetica Regular, Helvetica Black, and other plain fonts. In accordance to UX design student Liz Fu of University of Michigan, “The typefaces were categorized according to their personality traits and typographical features such as x-height proportion, ascender and descender proportion, font weight, stroke design, and counter design, as well as the kerning of the letter pairs. These typographical features give typefaces their personality” (Fu, para 6). These fonts are characterized with the personality traits of directness, gentleness, cheerfulness, and fearfulness. Using fonts of such that have a very familiar, legible, plain, and straightforward personality is agreeable to consumers. 

How can advertisers get this sugary goodness into the household of roughly all Americans? The answer is simple: Box Tops. Popular among cereal boxes are the inclusion of “Box Tops,” which are used for educational purposes. Trix™ cereal is in participation with the “Box Tops for Education” program. Not only on Trix™ cereals, but many popular cereal brands have the words “Every valid Box Tops clip is worth 10¢ for your school” printed on their products as well. In collecting box tops to raise funds for one’s school, children are taught the importance of giving back and how small actions can impact others in a fun way. By doing so, they earn the school’s funds that can be used towards things like school supplies, books, and field trips (Hanawalt, para 2). This characteristic on cereal boxes is appealing to parents along with their children. Many parents want to contribute to their children’s education in one way, shape, or form—whether that is through the donations of box tops or staying up late at the dinner table to complete their child’s science project on time. 

By understanding how the minds of their target audience works, marketing companies are able to play to their advantage. Through the usage of vibrant colors, large fonts, simple words, and enticing games, General Mills’ Trix™ Cereal has stolen the hearts and money of Americans all across the country. Many companies recognize that children are easy targets to sell to. The demanding voices of children bodes well for their products to sell. Where nagging children go, frustrated parents follow.


Works Cited

Berning, Joshua, and Adam N. Rabinowitz. “Targeted Advertising In The Breakfast Cereal Industry.” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, vol. 49, no. 3, 2017, pp. 382–399. doi:10.1017/aae.2017.1. 

Earl, Robert O., et al. Iron Deficiency Anemia Recommended Guidelines for the Prevention, Detection, and Management Among U.S. Children and Women of Childbearing Age. National Academy Press, 1993.

Fu, Liz. “How Typefaces Affect Consumer Perception of Brand Personality.” Medium, 15 Dec. 2017, medium.com/@lizfu/how-typefaces-affect-consumer-perception-of-brand-personality-a8ba928fbad4.

Hanawalt, Zara. “Parents Can Now ‘Clip’ Box Tops Using an App.” Motherly, 30 July 2019, mother.ly/news/box-tops-program-is-going-digital.

Pancare, Rachel. “How Do Bright Colors Appeal to Kids?” Sciencing, 2 Mar. 2019, sciencing.com/do-bright-colors-appeal-kids-5476948.html.

Parpis, Eleftheria. “The Color of Money: The Art, Science and Psychological Appeal of Bright colors.” Brandweek, vol. 51, no. 17, Apr. 2010.

Sherred, Kristine. “Shopkick Survey: 96% of US Consumers Buy Cereal Every Time They Shop, Sweet Brands Still #1.” Bakeryandsnacks.com, 5 Mar. 2019, bakeryandsnacks.com/Article/2019/03/05/96-of-US-consumers-buy-cereal-every-time-they-shop-survey-reveals

Eisenberg, Lee. Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What. Free Press, 2009.

Taylor, Heather. “Silly Rabbit! The Trix Rabbit Celebrates His 60th Anniversary.” POPICON, 5 Aug. 2019, popicon.life/silly-rabbit-the-trix-rabbit-celebrates-his-60th-anniversary/.

Walton, Alice G. “The Sticky Methods Of Marketing Cereal To Kids.” Forbes, 4 Apr. 2014, forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/04/04/the-sticky-world-of-marketing-cereal-to-kids/#18a7bdac7562.

What is (And Isn’t) Positive Psychology?

by Marie Yamamoto, April 1, 2022

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the nurturing of human
virtue and mental strengths as well as the fostering of wellbeing (“Positive Psychology”).
Founded by Martin E. P. Seligman in the late 1990’s, this field aims to combine the core goals of
its predecessor, humanistic psychology, through quantitative methods. Despite common
misconceptions, positive psychology is a multifaceted, empirical field dealing with more than
simple positive emotion.

Part of what made positive psychology so revolutionary was that it steered away from
psychology’s shift towards the examination and treatment of human anguish. Seligman notes that
after World War II, the demand to study mental illnesses and trauma was so pressing and
lucrative that “the other two fundamental missions of psychology— making the lives of all
people better and nurturing genius—were all but forgotten” (“Positive Psychology: An
Introduction”). This heavy emphasis on these aspects of the mind gave psychologists the skillset
to repair mental damage, but without a solid understanding of resilience, it did not necessarily
give them the tools to prevent this pain. Using an empirical lens, positive psychologists presently
conduct research in order to fill this gap. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, another influential positive
psychologist, asserts that “[positive psychology] tries to adapt what is best in the scientific
method to the unique problems that human behavior presents to those who wish to understand it
in all its complexity” (“Positive Psychology: An Introduction”).

However, positive psychology is not meant solely for those who wish to protect their
mental state; rather, it studies how one can flourish even when conditions are satisfactory.
Seligman defined this satisfaction as wellbeing or authentic happiness, which goes beyond
simply being in a constant happy mood (Flourish). For example, this field has produced a
plethora of “happiness interventions,” exercises meant to strengthen core values and habits that
make life meaningful and thereby fulfill one’s psychological needs (Walton). Although the
effectiveness of these practices may vary from person to person based on their comfort level and
life circumstances, happiness interventions are backed with empirical evidence and extensive
research that denotes their accessibility and the reasons why they are successful.

It must be noted that the field of positive psychology cannot be conflated with the self-help
community. Those that “decry positive psychology’s commodification and commercial
cheapening by the thousands of coaches, consultants, and therapists who have jumped on the
bandwagon with wild claims for their lucrative products” are criticizing the people that exploit
positive psychology’s name and principles for their own gains (Smith). Likewise, those that
speculate positive psychology’s “replicability, its dependence on unreliable self-reports, and the
sense that it can be used to prescribe one thing and also its opposite” are describing both what
makes positive psychology a science and what makes positive psychology—and perhaps
psychology as a whole—distinctive from other fields (Smith). This field, like other social
sciences, aims to make generalizations about populations or humanity as a whole through the
research procedures and the scientific method. It cannot remain a completely empirical science
as it must account for differences between people and between populations, but the process in
which abstract concepts like gratitude, happiness, and strength are empiricized and the process in
which studies are performed are no different than the natural or applied sciences.

For those interested in exploring this field, the podcast The Science of Happiness, run in
conjunction with UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, is a great place to start. It can be
found here.


Works Cited

“Positive Psychology.” Psychology Today, psychologytoday.com/us/basics/positive-psychology. Accessed 30 Mar. 2022.

Seligman, Martin E.P. Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. Atria Books, 2012. 

Seligman, Martin E.P. and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Positive Psychology: An Introduction.” American Psychologist, vol. 55, no. 1, 2000, pp. 5–14. 

Smith, Joseph. “Is Positive Psychology All It’s Cracked up to Be?” Vox, 20 Nov. 2019, vox.com/the-highlight/2019/11/13/20955328/positive-psychology-martin-seligman-happiness-religion-secularism.

Walton, Gregory M., and Alia J. Crum. (2021). Handbook of Wise Interventions: How Social Psychology can help people change. The Guilford Press, 2020.

The Origins of Ancient Rome Reveal Incredibly Sexist Social Structures

by Namal Fiaz, March 29, 2022

The birth of the Roman Republic, which would soon transform into a vast empire with a monumental legacy, has brutal origins all beginning with a rape victim. It’s no secret the Romans were excellent storytellers; the proof is longevity. Roman myths, passed down for generations, outlived their society and continue to echo off the tongues of modern storytellers. 

The story of Lucretia is a mythological and historical tale that has survived since the early origins of Roman history, over two thousand years since its believed origins in 509 BCE. It was narrated and criticized in several different versions of works by prolific Roman writers such as Livy, Ovid, and Dionysius. Gaining popularity immediately after her death, Lucretia became a legendary symbol of beauty, virtue, and chastity. Subsequently, Roman society encouraged women, and especially young girls, to view her as a matron for model behavior. 

As the victim of the story, the glorification of Lucretia’s story after her death reveals deeper insight into the sexist roles women were expected to conform to in ancient Rome.

In Book 1 of Ab Urbe Condita, “From the Founding of the City,” Titus Livius, or Livy, a Roman historian whose works are largely viewed as reliable historical sources, recounts Lucretia’s story. Livy narrates the events leading up to the climax of her rape, as well as the aftermath and her impact on the founding of the republic. The story begins with Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, Lucretia’s husband, and his companions drinking at the house of Sextus Tarquinius, son of the king Tarquinius Superbus, one night. The men drunkenly argue on the subject of wives, each man praising his own, and Collatinus decides that the mere sight of his wife at such late hours would put an end to the debate altogether. They mount their horses and head to Collatia, a Roman town governed by Collatinus, and into the quarters where Lucretia resides. Upon entering, Lucretia is seen weaving wool by herself by the lamplight with only the company of slave girls, unlike the other wives who had spent their night mingling and drinking with each other. This alone is meant to portray her legacy as a woman of the utmost chastity and virtue. Lucretia wins “the prize of this contest in womanly virtues”1 for her devotion to her husband and home. Sextus, intrigued by her beauty, is “seized by wicked desire”2 to conquer her modesty. 

A few days later, he returns to Collatia again, this time without Collatinus. His motives unsuspected, Sextus is welcomed to dinner in their home and is provided guest chambers for his seemingly innocuous visit. Late into the night, he enters Lucretia’s room while she is asleep. A knife in one hand, Sextus holds her down while clasping onto her breast with the other, and threatens her to comply with his wishes, otherwise he would lay the dead naked body of a male slave next to her corpse and frame her for adulterous acts. Sextus then rapes her. 

Afterwards, Lucretia, frightened and upset, sends a message to her father and Collatinus to return home with trusted companions so that she can recount all of this. All of the men are enraged by Sextus’ actions. They reassure her that “it is the mind that sins, not the body.”3 This part of the story is particularly interesting as it challenges the norms in Roman society by unexpectedly diverting blame onto the perpetrator rather than the victim who was raped. In the end though, Lucretia deeply fears that her virtue has been “ruined” by Sextus and does not wish to be an “impure” example to Roman wives. She admits that although her heart does not hold any guilt, and that she absolves herself of blame from the rape, she still cannot free herself from punishment. Lucretia reveals a knife she hid under her dress and thrusts it into her chest out of shame as Collatinus, her father, and their companion named Junius Brutus bear witness. Just before committing suicide, she urged the men to decide Sextus’ fate. It is evident she herself prefers to die before being seen as a role model to unchaste women. 

Lucretia’s rape was also the impetus of political revolution in Rome. Collatinus and Brutus led the overthrow of Sextus’s father and exiled the Tarquins from Rome. A new form of government was established in 509 BCE, with Collatinus and Brutus serving as the first pair of consuls of the Roman Republic.

Lucretia’s suicide was socially viewed as honorable by Romans, and she was subsequently immortalized as a heroine. Given that her story serves as thematic for proper behavior for women in Rome, it further reveals incredibly sexist ideals present in Roman society. Lucretia’s position as the embodiment of pudicitia, a term used to describe virtuous women, would only grow after she died. Sexual ethics were deeply conceptualized in ancient Rome; there were several intricate terms to describe one’s social as well as physical position regarding male and female sexuality. Pudicitia was a distinctly feminine descriptor of one’s character, predominantly in relation to morality and sexual fidelity. 

It is important to recognize that the male equivalent of this quality did exist in the form of virtus, meaning virtue, although not nearly to the same extent women were judged. Pudicitia was not praised as a positive ideal in men, rather, it was viewed as a neutral trait for males, and could sometimes be simply reduced to whether they acted in the dominant role in sexual relations with other men.4 Much of the explanation as to why a woman’s chastity held so much value in ancient Rome was due to the fact that it ensured they were kept “pure” for men until marriage. Lucretia’s virtue and sexual modesty was promoted as a feminine ideal through “deeply conservative and patriarchal impulse.”5  It is important to address the emphasis on virginity as men were certainly not scrutinized to the same standards. Roman girls were purposefully married young, the legal age twelve, to “ensure an undefiled body and mind.”6 This view alone amplifies the misogynistic logic used by the ancient Romans to control female sexuality and restrict freewill. 

As expected, Roman societal structures continued to subjugate women throughout the longevity of the republic and empire. The specific reasons for this perceived inferiority of women thrived on their generalization as “fragile and fickle, therefore in need of protection.”7 A plausible explanation for these rigid social structures is the historical dichotomy of men as “protectors” and women as “childbearers.” Additionally, it was a widespread belief that women were “emotional, irrational, and intellectually less capable than men”8 to the point where objections to such beliefs were controversial. In a speech written by Livy, capturing the thoughts of Cato says: “Our ancestors decided that women should not handle anything…they should always be in power of fathers, brothers, husbands. If once they get equality, they’ll be on top.”9 In contrast, Musonius, a Stoic philosopher, argued that women possessed reason and logic, were inclined towards good virtue just like men, and that “men should have as high a standard of sexual virtue as women.”10

Marriage was beyond a sufficient reason society deemed it unworthy for girls to continue their education, instead prioritizing domestic tasks and tending to the wishes of their husbands. It is also dire to address the fact that the majority of the available information about the daily lives of Roman women is provided through the lens of men, often incidental in orations or letters or poems.11 It is clear the ancient Romans did not prioritize women’s education nor urge them to contribute to literature or philosophy. The already lacking information about the daily lives of women is focused on upper class women, with scarce information about common women. In the study of classics, a field that has traditionally been dominated by men, studying the lives of ancient women was an academic priority until recent feminist perspectives concerning historical analysis emerged.

It is known that Roman women were established as subservient to men in all aspects of life; their names were technically not even their own. A Roman woman’s name was the feminine form of her father’s gentilicium during the early republic, which was passed down to all of the sisters, and also shared with aunts and cousins on her paternal side.12 Marriage was largely an social and economic proposition for both parties since the Romans rarely married for happiness and romantic love; the latter was usually reserved for extramarital affairs.

 Additionally, women had limited citizenship status, meaning they could not vote or run for public office, and in many cases their properties were under control of their father and eventually husband. Specific terms evolved for circumstances of marriage: cum manu, “with the hand,” and sine manu, “without the hand.” A woman who was married cum manu was no longer under her father’s authority, but under the legal control of her husband.13 This meant that she was under potestas, “power,” of her husband rather than her father. If she was married cum sine, which was common in the late republic, she remained under her father’s control. She needed his approval to make important financial transactions, and “might have her marriage ended by him even against her wish.”14 In a divorce, which women were allowed to bring forth under legally valid conditions, children were no longer left to her, but rather to her husband’s family. 

A woman’s influence was not acknowledged in the public sphere; they were restricted to domestic matters concerned with running the home. Such partially demonstrates why Lucretia was glorified above the other wives from the moment Collatinus and his companions found her tending to her weaving, historically one of the most domestic chores, instead of away socializing with other women. A “virtuous” Roman wife influenced by the precedent of Lucretia behaved modestly, felt great devotion to her husband and tended to his needs, and most importantly valued her chastity, and in this legendary case, above her own life.

The widespread idealization of Lucretia in ancient Rome provides insight into the way Romans viewed the social structures of gender, family life, law, and marriage. Often portrayed as a docile victim, it is clear Lucretia embodies the submissive traits women were expected to display in order to fit the status quo. Although in modern times her story is often regarded as a mere puzzle piece in the larger image of ancient Rome, it continues to raise questions regarding the position of women in a society where they were severely oppressed.


References

  1. “Titus Livius (Livy), the History of Rome, Book 1 Benjamin Oliver Foster, Ph.d., Ed.” Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 1, chapter 57. Accessed December 8, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0151%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D57
  2. Livy, Chapter 57.
  3. Ibid, Chapter 58.
  4. Noreña, Carlos F. “Hadrian’s Chastity.” Phoenix 61, no. 3/4 (2007): 296–317.
  5. Noreña, 301.
  6. Clark, Gillian. “Roman Women.” Greece and Rome 28, no. 2 (October 1981): 193–212. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0017383500033313.
  7. Ibid, 207.
  8. Ibid, 208.
  9. Ibid, 207.
  10. Ibid, 208.
  11. Ibid, 194.
  12. Ibid, 202.
  13. Ibid, 203.
  14. Ibid, 204.

From Criminals to Celebrities: How Women’s Fascination with Serial Killers Reflects Their Perception of Romance

by Ayesha Azeem, March 25, 2022

People have always been interested in learning about influential people’s lives — through both gossip and the media. Whether we’re learning about Jennifer Aniston’s new fling, Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy, or Harry Styles’s secret vacation, we often interest ourselves with other people’s lifestyles, namely celebrities, because we feel as if we personally know them through our powerful admiration and devotion. We see celebrities as heroes; people we aspire to be like. But why are we so drawn to the lives of villains as well?

Recently, women have developed a strong obsession with true crime, a literary and film genre in which the author examines an actual crime and exposes the actions committed by real people; specifically, there has been a sudden fascination with serial killer crimes. This infatuation with evil reveals our desire to uncover the secrets and truth behind those who commit the horrific acts we abhor. Perhaps it fascinates us that these famous perpetrators hold such obvious disregard for morality and societal values; we feel obligated to witness the dramatic scenes unfold as a means of “preparation” for any real-life danger. 

From Ted Bundy to Charles Manson, women often find themselves deluded into romanticizing famous serial killers. We find it hard to accept that attractive people are just as capable of committing grotesque crimes as ordinary people. Recently, the Joker movie played by Joaquin Phoenix, though fictional, has captured the attention of young girls infatuated with his depressing life story and motivation to commit heinous crimes that are similar to real killers. Though women are more likely to be victims of a major crime, for some reason they feel increasingly attracted to the vile and twisted side of history, intrigued to learn about the ways in which they can face danger.

Psychologists conducted a 2010 study at the University of Illinois to investigate the relationship between gender and the true-crime audience. Psychologist R. Chris Fraley and their team discovered that women wrote 70% of the true-crime book reviews on Amazon, while men felt a greater connection to war books, writing  82% of reviews (Yates). The researchers hypothesized why women may feel an increased inclination to read more true crime and suggested that such stories can provide useful information that may help readers avoid or escape potential attacks such as murder or rape. To investigate this claim, the psychologists reviewed the summaries of the books most often reviewed by women. Further study revealed that women were more likely to read a true crime book if the victim used a clever ‘psychological trick’ to deceive and escape from their perpetrator. Unsurprisingly, women also felt attracted to true crime books with female victims. Thus, evidence strongly suggests that women tend to read more true crime books with clever female survivors because they provide a ‘guide’ of instructions as to how to avoid deadly encounters in real life. If women consume as much violence as they can in art, maybe they can escape the true violence that unfortunately lingers in our reality. 

Recently, the producers of All Killa No Filla, a British podcast dedicated to exploring the lives of serial killers, found that roughly 85% of listeners are female (Woman’s Hour). BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour considered why their listeners consisted mostly of women, and invited Dr. Gemma Flynn, a criminologist at Edinburgh University, and Rachel Fairburn, co-host of the famous podcast, to explain their theories. Dr. Flynn believes that a major explanation for female true crime listeners includes women retaining an extensive fear of crime. According to Fairburn, “women love true crime because pretty much from the time that we’re very small, we’re told to be careful, look after ourselves, watch out for bad people, make sure we get home safely” (Woman’s Hour). The host suggests that society constantly attempts to protect women from danger, instilling in their minds that as long as they’re alone, they can be attacked. Thus, women tend to leave their house with a constant target on their back and safety on their minds, attracting them to true crime out of self-preservation. With the stereotype and widely held belief that women cannot walk alone at night because of possible attacks, women feel the need to protect themselves as much as possible, consuming true crime stories at the top of their list. 

The constant fear society holds regarding women as potential victims of brutal crimes stems from the media’s infatuation with blood and murder. According to a 1992 study conducted at SUNY Oswego, mass media “serves as the primary source of information about crime for up to 95% of the general public,” with approximately 50% of news coverage devoted exclusively to crime stories (Mann). With this extensive reporting on crime and violence, Americans fall victim to their availability heuristic, a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a person’s mind when thinking of an idea or event. Because of the increased attention presented towards crime on-air, Americans may not believe that the crime rate has actually decreased over the years since all they hear about is murder, rape, and violence when they turn on their televisions. While murder rates decreased by 20% from 1993 to 1996, reporting on murder on television rose by 721%. (Mann). This affects women especially as the constant fear perpetrated by the media regarding crime and murder may be a key reason in females’ attraction towards true crime media. 

Now that we understand why women tend to reach for books labeled with the true crime genre, the compelling question needed to be answered is why women romanticize these vile human beings. After the release of Extreme Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a film on the life of Ted Bundy based on the perspective of his girlfriend, viewers went to Twitter to express their newfound admiration for the ‘misunderstood’ villain. Ted Bundy was portrayed by attractive and talented Zac Efron, only attracting more fans to the Ted Bundy “fandom,” a group of teenage girls infatuated with the killer (Donaldson). Some tweets include: “Love that conservative masculinity #TedBundy,” and “Ted Bundy is so hot… wish he killed me” (via Twitter). The women who romanticize serial killers like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson can be described as having hybristophilia, or sexual arousal “over someone committing an offensive or violent act,” as described by Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychology professor at DeSales University. These women admire the idea of being the ‘exception’ for a damaged person; they feel the need to ‘nurture’ and ‘protect’ their powerful and evil lovers. These women fantasize about “changing” the broken part of serial killers; they want to “fix” them; usually, women who admire such behaviors have trouble with conventional relationships due to insecurities. If she dates a serial killer in jail, at least she’ll know where he is all the time (Psychology Today). Additional research indicates that women feel attracted to masculinity and may interpret serial killers’ unchecked aggression as ‘protective’ or ‘manly.’ Women may feel that these attributes will keep them safe and secure, and thus may prefer more violent mates (Perrett).

Whatever may be the reason behind women’s fascination with serial killers, this infatuation proves fatal. When Charles Manson and Ted Bundy awaited death, thousands of female fans lined up, expecting to marry these vicious men, refusing to believe their crimes simply because of their attractiveness (Sutton). The never-ending fame of attractive serial killers depicts the true danger: our inclination as human beings to automatically trust and like attractive people, simply because of their looks. Many women fell prey to Bundy and Manson’s traps simply because they might’ve misjudged them for being kind, respectable people because of their beautiful smiles or bright eyes. Though Netflix and other entertainment providers may attempt to raise awareness of real tragedies, it is important to also consider the danger of awareness. Today’s generation may be too infatuated with Zac Efron’s looks and appearance in Extreme Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile to realize that his charm was what allowed many to overlook his apparent misogyny and objectification of women: “Women are possessions… Beings which are subservient, more often than not, to males. Women are merchandise” (Wyman). The tales of these serial killers should serve as a warning to many women, rather than favorable romantic heroes; we really don’t know what people are like behind closed doors. We need to remind ourselves who these serial killers actually are: vile, immoral men disguised as educated, charismatic professionals; they are not compassionate or need protection – they do not feel. We must not grieve or sympathize with men that never existed.


Works Cited

Donaldson, Kayleigh. “The Sexy Killer Fandom Wars: No, Fancying Ted Bundy Is Not the Same Thing as Fancying Venom.” SYFY WIRE, 11 Feb. 2019, www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-sexy-killer-fandom-wars-no-fancying-ted-bundy-is-not-the-same-thing-as-fancying-venom.

Mann, Stephen, et al. “Crime and the Media in America.” OUPblog, 3 Apr. 2018, blog.oup.com/2018/04/crime-news-media-america/.

Perrett, David I., et al. “Effects of Sexual Dimorphism on Facial Attractiveness.” Nature, vol. 394, no. 6696, 1998, pp. 884–887. doi:10.1038/29772.

Ramsland, Katherine M. Confession of a Serial Killer: the Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. ForeEdge, 2016. 

Schildkraut, Jaclyn. “Crime News in Newspapers – Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology.” Oxford Research Encyclopedias, 18 Apr. 2018, oxfordre.com/criminology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264079-e-32#acrefore-9780190264079-e-32-div1-1

Sutton, Candace. “Inside Serial Killer Charles Manson’s Deluded Fan Club.” NewsComAu, News.com.au, 9 Jan. 2017, http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/inside-the-deluded-world-of-serial-killer-charles-mansons-fan-club-and-the-fiancee-who-says-hes-innocent/news-story/364fe75d235055d38186b3e84347d035.

Tuttle, Kate. “Why Do Women Love True Crime?” The New York Times, 16 July 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/books/review/kate-tuttle-true-crime-women.html.

“Woman’s Hour – True Crime: Five Reasons Why Women Love It.” BBC Radio 4, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5BQCFMQd3mPqj7YT4hlvdCL/true-crime-five-reasons-why-women-love-it.

“Women Who Love Serial Killers.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201204/women-who-love-serial-killers.

Whyman, Tom. “The Myth of Ted Bundy as a Charming Guy.” The Outline, The Outline, 5 Feb. 2019, theoutline.com/post/7043/ted-bundy-netflix-efron-handsome?zd=1&zi=godwptow.

Yates, Diana. “Women, More than Men, Choose True Crime over Other Violent Nonfiction.” ILLINOIS, 15 Feb. 2010, news.illinois.edu/view/6367/205718.

Islamophobia in the Digital Age: The Rise of a Global Mental Health Crisis

by Farah Hasan, March 22, 2022

My phone lies face down on the table beside me, buzzing sporadically, but insistently. I ignore it, fanning myself against the mid-July heat as I attempt to concentrate on an assignment for my summer class. I drum my fingers against the desktop and whisper the words aloud to myself, trying to make sense of the convoluted sentences of the essay as the buzzing continues. What do they want? I think exasperatedly, assuming my friends are simply spamming me with memes from Instagram and funny Tiktoks. As I finish the reading passage and move on to the multiple choice questions that accompany it, I decide to spare a glance at my phone. Expecting to see Instagram direct messages (DMs) and text messages headed by my friends’ familiar usernames and contact names, I am shocked to instead see hundreds of Instagram comment notifications from unfamiliar usernames, all beginning with the common header “[Instagram user] mentioned you in a comment.” My heart racing in anticipation, I open the Instagram app and quickly scroll through my notifications. I had left a comment criticizing France’s April 2021 ban on hijabs (headscarves worn by women for religious reasons) for Muslim women under the age of 18 on a post advertising travel to the Eiffel tower, and now I see that all these comments are in response to mine. Some of them back me up, but others range from applauding France’s actions, to blatantly calling Islam backwards and incompatible with Western civilization, to attacking me as a young Muslim woman myself. I exit the app without bothering to respond to anyone and close my eyes for a second, my heart still pounding as the hate words flash through my mind repeatedly. Like me, young Muslims everywhere are exposed to Islamophobic rhetoric on the social media sites they use most, and chronic exposure to such hate inevitably takes a toll on their mental health. Online hate is not given the same coverage or attention that street-level hate crimes get, but the effects of the former may be exponentially more profound due to the wide reach of users that are present on online platforms. Actions should be taken to limit such hate speech on public platforms like social media to preserve the mental-wellbeing of users that are targeted by these remarks, even if it means limitations on the First Amendment right to free speech. 

In a case close to home, a Muslim student recently graduated from my high school in the summer of 2021 and was chosen to deliver a speech at the commencement. In her speech, she advocated for the need for understanding and peaceful coexistence during difficult times, and briefly mentioned the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. This part of the speech incited infuriated outcries from the audience, rude remarks shouting at her to “go back to Pakistan” as she walked off the stage, and the creation of a Facebook group as a space for angry parents to vent and express mildly Islamophobic sentiments. Due to the convenience and ease of access, social media is frequently defaulted to as a platform for these polarizing conversations. Certain social media sites, such as Twitter, are “better-designed,” in a sense, to perpetuate hate speech and to facilitate radicalized expression. Dr. Nigel Harriman, professor at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, and a group of researchers found that 57% of students that actively used the social media sites Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat had come across hate speech, and 12% had encountered a stranger that tried to convince them of racist beliefs (this was especially common on Youtube). Additionally, exposure to hate messages was significantly correlated to Twitter use and Houseparty use (Harriman et al., 8531). Twitter is a particularly convenient hotbed for such rhetoric, as victims that come forward to tell their stories to Twitter are simply told to block the hating account or delete their own account. In 2014, Twitter issued a statement claiming that it “cannot stop people from saying offensive, hurtful things on the Internet or on Twitter. But we can take action when content is reported to us that breaks our rules or is illegal” (“Updating Our Rules Against Hateful Conduct”). Twitter more recently updated its rules against hateful content in December 2020:

In July 2019, we expanded our rules against hateful conduct to include language that dehumanizes others on the basis of religion or caste. In March 2020, we expanded the rule to include language that dehumanizes on the basis of age, disability, or disease. Today, we are further expanding our hateful conduct policy to prohibit language that dehumanizes people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.

(“Updating Our Rules Against Hateful Conduct”)

Although Twitter has taken some necessary steps to limit hate speech, this form of harassment nonetheless still exists on this and countless other platforms, and more action must be taken to counter this.

As someone that frequents social media sites like Instagram and Facebook, I understand how detrimental the algorithms themselves can be to one’s self-esteem, but coupled with exposure to hate speech, mental health for those targeted is more likely to plummet. Although I ultimately ignored the hate comments on Instagram under the post about France, the occurrence bothered me for several days afterward, leaving me anxious, unsettled, and dealing with mild sleep difficulties to the point where I deleted Instagram for a few months. Research by Dr. Helena Hansen at NYU Langone found that victims of online hate speech are found to have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading them to exhibit a blunted stress response as well as higher rates of anxiety, sleep difficulties, and substance use (Hansen et al. 929). Dr. Brianna Hunt at Wilfrid Laurier University found that exposure to Islamophobic rhetoric is also a predictor of social isolation and loneliness, particularly among Muslim women in Waterloo, Canada. Furthermore, the dehumanizing aspect of hate speech also incites conflicts of identity in Muslim women of color, who feel that neither their religious nor their racial ingroups accept them fully, calling for the need to address mental health for more complex cases of intersectionality as well (Hunt et al.). 

In an effort to mitigate the destructive effects of hate speech on mental health, individuals have advocated for limiting such speech, but opponents of these limitations have expressed their concerns and dissatisfaction with this movement. In the 2017 case Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that hate speech, like regular speech, is protected under the First Amendment under the justification that “giving offense is a viewpoint” (as long as it does not directly incite violence) (Beausoleil 829). Thus, individuals opposing limitation of hate speech on social media argue that doing so would be an infringement on their First Amendment right. There is also the danger that limitations of this sort would be a step in the direction of mass surveillance and abuse of power, ultimately resulting in a power dynamic of large digital companies﹣and potentially the government﹣in stifling any and all dissent (Beausoleil 2124). Other supporting evidence includes the notion that some exposure to counter speech is needed for the development of stable mental health and that various studies have shown that limitation of hate speech does not correlate to improved social equality (Beausoleil 2125). In fact, Dr. Stephen Newman of York University points out that expression of this sort of dialogue may be integral to human personality development, and that exposure to robust forms of speech may actually improve societal dynamics by influencing democratic policy (Newman). Lastly, there is limited existing literature proving that hate speech limitation is beneficial, as regulations of this magnitude have not been implemented anywhere yet. Thus, this argument is largely based on studies that have shown the harmful effects of hate speech. 

In a growing digital age, where social media use is a part of daily life for adolescents, young adults, and even middle aged individuals, chronic exposure to hate speech such as Islamophobic rhetoric cannot be tolerated. The longer online sites and social media platforms delay addressing such sentiments, the more widespread and normalized they will become and the more detrimental the effects will be on affected individuals’ mental health. In regards to opponents’ concerns over First Amendment compromise, the First Amendment cannot be applied perfectly to the digital age, which allows for unprecedented and unanticipated reach of communication across borders, continents, and time, as posts can always be viewed and interpreted so long as they are not deleted (Beausoleil 2127). Restrictions on the right to free speech are warranted in this case, where the mental health of countless targeted individuals on a global scale are at stake. To limit the likelihood that these companies abuse their extended powers of speech limitation, restrictions should be placed on the companies’ extent of power as well (ie. restrictions should be placed on the restrictions). Rather than immediately deleting all posts and comments including hateful rhetoric (which may be impractical), social media platforms should specifically aim to disband or deactivate groups, chat rooms, and accounts specifically devoted to or frequently posting Islamophobic﹣and other hateful﹣rhetoric. On particular posts where the comment section becomes overwhelmingly belligerent and hate-fueled, social media platforms should either delete the post, delete the inflammatory comments, or disable the comment section entirely. Lastly, these social media platforms should issue public statements against hate speech like Twitter did, include them explicitly in their terms and conditions of use, and send automated warnings to users who violate conduct rules multiple times with the intent of suspending their accounts if hateful activity continues. 

Ideally, the extent to which media companies can regulate inflammatory speech should be overseen by the federal government. However, complications may arise due to matters of jurisdiction: for example, the US government may have limited say on regulation of content posted on the social media platform TikTok, as this company was founded in China. Thus, for the time being, regulations should remain on a company-to-company basis. In the short-run, it can be expected that consumer use and feedback will let companies know how effective and acceptable their policies are. 

Though many praise the advent of cyberspaces and the beginning of the digital era as a way of bringing the world closer together with connections never known before, it is difficult to fathom how connected we really are amidst the divisive and discriminatory rhetoric that is often perpetuated on the very same platforms. Hate speech is present in several different forms, including anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, gender discrimination, and prejudice against disabled individuals. As a Muslim woman, the recent increase in Islamophobic sentiments on social media have made me realize how pervasive their effects on young Muslims’ mental health are. Therefore, I strongly encourage social media platforms to limit hateful speech and promote civil and constructive dialogue instead using the methods outlined above, even if it means a slight compromise on First Amendment rights. By merely limiting and not completely eradicating hate speech, the extent of social media companies’ power is kept in check and the potential societal benefits of exposure to antagonistic speech mentioned previously may still be experienced. Taking actions such as deleting the Instagram post about France with the barrage of inflammatory comments would be steps in the direction of greater coexistence as the Muslim high school graduate’s speech earnestly called for and promoting the benefits of global connection that the digital era originally promised.


Works Cited

Beausoleil, Lauren. “Free, Hateful, and Posted: Rethinking First Amendment Protection of Hate Speech in a Social Media World.” Boston College Law Review, vol. 60, no. 7, 2019, pp. 2101–2144.

Hansen, Helena, et al. “Alleviating the Mental Health Burden of Structural Discrimination and Hate Crimes: The Role of Psychiatrists.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 175, no. 10, 2018, pp. 929–933, doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17080891.

Harriman, Nigel, et al. “Youth Exposure to Hate in the Online Space: An Exploratory Analysis.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, no. 22, 2020, 8531, doi:10.3390/ijerph17228531.

Hunt, Brianna, et al. “The Muslimah Project: A Collaborative Inquiry into Discrimination and Muslim Women’s Mental Health in a Canadian Context.” American Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 66, no. 3-4, 2020, pp. 358–369, doi:10.1002/ajcp.12450.

 Newman, Stephen L. “Finding the Harm in Hate Speech: An Argument Against Censorship.” Canadian Journal of Political Science, vol. 50, no. 3, 2017, pp. 679–697, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008423916001219.

“Updating Our Rules Against Hateful Conduct.” Twitter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2021.

The Ugly Truth Behind Beauty

by Iman Shah, January 20, 2022

Women and men across the world use eye pigments, blushes, lipsticks, eyeliners, and lip liners as a way to express themselves, enhancing their natural features. From a little pop of glitter in the inner corner of the eye to make the eye look bigger to a hint of shiny blush to give the cheeks a fuller look, glitter is a fundamental ingredient in a lot of makeup products. But how does the $500 billion makeup industry manage to shine all that glitters? The answer lies in a mineral found in nearly every continent, mica. Mica is utilized in makeup, but it is also used in the automotive, medical, and defense industries, making it a widely used inexpensive ingredient. The mica industry is forecasted to be worth over $700 million by 2024, yet the workers who mine and dig as a group all day in some of the poorest states of India can only hope to collectively make two dollars per day in total (Schipper and Cowan). This contrast is possible because some of these states, namely Jharkhand and Birpur, have indigenous communities living in the outskirts of the city who sieve through mud and dirt all day in the hopes of finding as much of the shiny rock as they can, and it is their only source of income. Geographically these communities live remotely and have limited access to job opportunities, basic services, schools, and businesses. Agriculture used to be another source of income, but due to increasing infertility and drought-prone soil, the only viable option is to work for long hours, digging and mining for mica and that too without any safety equipment. The conditions have irreversible consequences on adults, yet children accompany their elders to provide a helping hand, leading to a systematic cycle of poor health and poverty. Since it is the only way to earn bread and butter, an estimated 20,000 children have to work to support the multi-billion dollar industry (Schipper and Cowan). However, the problem of child labor can be significantly improved with awareness which will then promote the proper implementation of laws, economic growth, and education. Therefore, when it comes to survival and child rights, child rights should be chosen not only because it is morally right but also because in the long run, it will prove more beneficial. 

Child labor has effects that are cyclical and long-lasting. However, one of the most effective ways to combat this issue is through awareness. Awareness through different means, especially social media, can be helpful in terms of putting pressure on governments to acknowledge issues, put light on issues, and create fundraisers and donations for important causes. Makeup gurus, some of whom have millions and even billions of followers, have the immense potential to start the change. Realizing there is an issue in the first place is what will initiate the change because as a beauty influencer remarked after finding out the truth about the deadly industry, “I’m very embarrassed to only be finding out about this now” (“The Dark Secret Behind Your Shiny Makeup”). A study on social media found out how the “Red Cross received eight million dollars in donations directly from texts” in two days, illustrating the power of social media (Gao 10). Although Makeup gurus can use their influence to raise donations for these children, they can also use it to simply show their viewers how the most important ingredient in many makeup products is supplied. Influencers hold a lot of power as proven by a survey conducted by Statista which reported how “58 percent of the brand strategists and marketers surveyed report that influencer marketing will become integrated into all of their forthcoming marketing activities” (Stubb and Colliander). Makeup products that are used every day, wasted, redesigned thousands of times, without considering how this ingredient ends up in almost every makeup product. However, by simply informing viewers of the way these things happen, people can become more conscious. 

This consciousness can then in turn help pressurize companies to trace the supply chain. A major reason why child labor and abuse that is utilized to supply Mica is virtually undetected is that traders can legally get licenses to sell the mineral (Bliss 21). The supply chain goes from miners, collectors, traders, processors, exporters (Bliss 25). Therefore, since the mineral is technically purchased legally from the exporters, the rest of the process that happens behind it goes unseen. A lot of companies report that tracing the supply chain of the mineral is hard and ambiguous, but the truth is that these companies are simply not interested in tracing the origins of the chain. However, if awareness is raised amongst people, then consumers can demand greater supply chain transparency and traceability. A local activist in Jharkhand urges consumers to “Write to them [companies] and request that they disclose the source of their mica… after all, if they manage to procure the specific grades of mica required for their various products, they should be able to find out who is extracting it” (Zuckerman). Makeup buyers can usually find out if Mica is being utilized sustainably in specific products by reading the ingredients or by searching online for the brand’s sustainable-sourcing policies. Consumer awareness can make companies realize that it is worthwhile for them to start a due diligence trajectory specifically for Mica. Tracing the whole chain is difficult since these companies are not sourcing directly from the mines, but if companies and NGOs collaborate on working to end child labor, it can drastically improve the situation. 

The supply chain of Mica poses its hardships, but there are alternate resources companies can resort to which makes the eradication of child labor more possible. L’oreal, for instance, has taken an initiative to source Mica from only “legal” and “fenced” mines (Bliss 29). Similarly, other companies have resorted to Mica mines in more developed countries such as America, which comes with a higher price but a transparent supply chain. Moreover, there is also synthetic Mica, which is developed in labs. Lush, the British cosmetics company, proudly presents itself as the leader of supplying its ingredients ethically; however, in 2016 it “discovered natural Mica in a range of mica pigments it had been told were synthetic” (Bliss 30). Therefore, the development of synthetic Mica is a field that requires further research; however, it can still prove to be worthwhile putting efforts by the billion-dollar companies as it can eliminate the need for natural mica in the first place.

Awareness is imperative because it will then bring attention and aid to all the other things that need drastic changes. People will be more conscious of their actions, and they can also donate. Furthermore, NGOs and other organizations can come to these poverty-stricken areas to better the situation. One of the ways this can be achieved is through improving the traditional ways of livelihoods, specifically the agriculture system. A sustainable agriculture system ensures food security and environmental safety; it provides livelihood by providing a source of income. Given that the farming situation in these areas has suffered due to drought and ineffective and primitive techniques, NGOs can initiate a change by teaching non-traditional farming techniques which will not jeopardize the availability of the resources for future generations and still provide an alternate source of income for the villagers. These change initiatives could include innovations on water scarcity, multiple-use schemes or other community resilience, extreme water vulnerability mapping in the area, and technical options on water demand management. These initiatives can equip farmers to effectively mitigate droughts, stop using urea and DAP fertilizers, and teach methods like crop rotation, so the same nutrients are not drained from the soil throughout the year. The revival of these lands might seem unworthy; however, a UNEP report has found out that “for 42 countries of Africa the benefit of intervening to conserve is 3-26 times greater than the cost of inaction,” and those interventions came through the help of NGOs (Kumar). NGOs are very prominent and effective in implementing sustainable agriculture programs, but, on the other hand, governments can also play their role by implementing state-led land reform programs and buying crops from the local farmers at a fair price. State-led land reforms take a big piece of land and assign sections to different farmers; this leads to greater independence and possible profits for the individual farmers, avoiding the monopoly of one person controlling the lands. Government buying crops at a certain price will ensure that despite any other inconveniences that might occur, such as price drops or crop failures, the crops the farmers were able to produce are sold at a predictable and fair price. 

Eradication of child labor cannot be achieved only through the improvement of farming techniques but also through the implementation of laws and regulations. India already has laws that forbid children under the age of eighteen years from working in mines, and it is also against the UN Child Conventions (“Act now: end child labor!”). Awareness of the abuse of children in these states will urge governments to go beyond simply stating these laws in law books and implementing this law. One law that can potentially prove beneficial in this case is the legalization of mining Mica, which was made illegal in 1980 under the Forest Act. Mica is a forest resource and in efforts to conserve the environment, this law made it illegal to extract this mineral. 24,000 people who once relied on a stable source of income were left jobless (Bliss 24). Repealing this law will not only enable to formalize something which is already happening but also regulate the sector thus addressing the issues related to working conditions, minimum wages, and protective equipment. Enforcement of this law should include setting a minimum age for the mineworkers through proper documentation processes like unique identification numbers or birth certificates. The legalization of these mines would also mean that the workers do not have to work in fear of being caught all the time and illegal operators will not be holding control of the mines. Villagers get forced to work under these operators because they depend on unlicensed lenders when they need money for medical treatments or other reasons (Zuckerman). The only way to pay off the loan is by agreeing to work in these mines; hence, people get stuck in an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Furthermore, deaths in these mines usually go unreported and people are compensated with “blood money” (Makower). Therefore, the legalization of this law could also mean that deaths will be reported as there will be less fear of pursuing illegal activities under illegal operators who assert their dominance through force and brutality. However, these resolutions can only potentially occur if the law is properly enforced. 

Eradication of child labor cannot be achieved only through the implementation of laws but also to create alternate sources of income. Besides agriculture, supporting small and medium scale enterprises (SME’s) through soft loans or micro-credits (on the model of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh), promoting local cottage industries, and local, national, and international tourism can be some examples of job creation and economic activities. Skills the indigenous people already possess can be utilized to their advantage. Research conducted found that women in Jharkhand possessed skills such as “sari-making”, painting mud houses, “sewing”, and “tailor-making” (Dagar 6). However, Suyamukhi, one of the indigenous women, remarked “These items don’t sell for much” (Dagar 7). This is where awareness can be used so these products are sold on a national and international scale. Furthermore, NGOs and the government can provide further assistance to this marginalized group by teaching ways for starting a business, applying for microcredits, and navigating the market. Supporting such potential small local businesses will lead to gradual independence from the dependence these people have on mining Mica as their only source of income.

In addition, the government also needs to play its role by providing facilities to these citizens. Citizens and governments have social contracts whereby each has roles and responsibilities. If it is expected that citizens will abide by the law, then the government is responsible for providing them not only safety and security but also sources of income and provision of social services. Besides health and education, water supply and sanitation, infrastructure development particularly farm-to-market roads and broader connectivity with other parts of the state and country are important ingredients in fostering this vertical social cohesion. It would be highly recommendable that the government look into this with a different lens i.e. not only provide these services but also use it as means to create jobs for youth and unemployed persons from various strata and skills sets. Consumers and the international community can play their role by urging the government to abide by their side of the social contract so villagers then do not need to resort to unlicensed lenders or other such resources. 

Education is another imperative aspect that would again need the government’s attention and involvement to truly support the eradication of child labor. Besides traditional education, vocational and technical education needs not only to be promoted but also attractive. This can include incentivizing through free education, free books, and perhaps stipends for the students who attend and perform in their respective educational areas. However, Dr. Kumar, who researched education in Jharkhand, concluded that “doling out some incentives does not do much” (9). It is true that only providing incentives will not eradicate the overall issue of lack of education; on the other hand, there have been instances that have illustrated the effectiveness of incentives. Anjali Sinha, a researcher who has been to Jharkhand sites to collect data, witnessed in 2014 how some of the villagers willingly converted to Christianity for incentives such as certain amounts of food per month (Sinha). It is important to note though that this conversion is not only because of the incentive but also because these people want to escape India’s brutal caste system. Additionally, research in Nicaragua on poverty eradication illustrated how “school breakfasts were implemented to attract children,” which after three weeks resulted in “all eligible children” attending “school” (Blandon et al. 5). Therefore, incentives can become a channel that makes children less desperate to leave education and earn money instead. Simply providing children with a school will not solve the problem, children need to be taught in their mother tongue, at least in the primary years, in efforts to keep dropout rates low. Respectful and sensitive teachers, who are patient towards the first-generation learners, are needed. Awareness needs to be raised amongst the villagers to assure parents why sending children to school, especially girls, is beneficial for them and it will become a chief way to break the cycle of poverty. It is both in the government’s and villagers’ interest to pay attention to this aspect as education has proven to be “essential to a country’s development” (Kiross et al. 10). Many studies have proven how literacy has “been a major determinant in the rise or fall in other indicators” such as “growth rate, birth rate, death rate, and infant mortality rate”(Kiross et al. 10).

Awareness of the child labor situation in these mines has the potential to create a platform which in turn will result in consumer awareness, urging companies to either resort to alternative resources or trace the supply chain; additionally, consciousness regarding this matter can also urge government and NGOs to provide these people with different sources of income, by, for example, improving the agricultural state, and overall the government should be pressurized to play its role by providing proper facilities. However, these are all long-term initiatives that require enforcement and solving the problem from the very root. The main concern that can arise against such potential implementations is that the eradication of child labor “could increase the cost of commodities, harming the economic “comparative advantage of countries with cheap labor” which will eventually negatively impact the “poor people” (D’Avolio). Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the overall problem of child abuse in this area is complicated and deeply rooted; hence, it is going to take time and in the short term it might seem futile to pursue these actions. On the contrary, not initiating a change will keep these neglected groups of people fixated on a meager lifestyle. 

Child labor is so easily utilized in India because poor children are vulnerable and easily exploited. Children cannot form unions, go on strikes, demand breaks, and set minimum wages because children are not meant for such pursuits. They are meant for school, for playing. They are not meant to worry about whether they will be able to see tomorrow or will there be enough food on the table tomorrow. India and the global community have a responsibility to give this oppressed group of people and their children their basic rights, facilities, and resources; furthermore, the international community should not lose sight of this cause till these goals are fulfilled. The situation of this problem is difficult, deeply rooted, and complex; however, through awareness, the right resources and resolutions can be passed so the rights of the children can be chosen without hindrance by this neglected group of indigenous people.


Works Cited

“Act now: end child labor!” World Day Against Child Labour, United Nations, 2021, http://www.un.org/en/observances/world-day-against-child-labour.

Blandón, Elmer Zelaya, et al. “Breaking the Cycles of Poverty: Strategies, Achievements, and Lessons Learned in Los Cuatro Santos, Nicaragua, 1990–2014.” Global Health Action, vol. 10, no. 1, Jan. 2017, p. N.PAG. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/16549716.2017.1272884.

Bliss, Susan. “Child Labour in India’s Mica Mines: The Global Beauty Industry.” Geography Bulletin, vol. 49, no. 3, 2017, http://www.gtansw.org.au/files/geog_bulletin/2017/3_2017/05_GTANSW%20Bulletin%20_Issue%203%202017_Indias%20Mica%20%20mines.pdf.

Dagar, Preeti. “Vocational education and training for indigenous women in India: Toward a participatory planning approach.” International Journal of Training Research, Aug. 2021. doi:10.1080/14480220.2021.1959379.

“The Dark Secret Behind Your Shiny Makeup | Undercover Asia.” YouTube, uploaded by CNA Insider, 1 May 2021, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS_CR7UwhRs&t=411.

D’Avolio, Michele. “Child Labor and Cultural Relativism: From 19th Century America to 21st Century Nepal.” Pace International Law Review, vol. 16, no. 1, 2004. digitalcommons.pace.edu/pilr/vol16/iss1/5. 

Gao, Huiji, et al. “Harnessing the Crowdsourcing Power of Social Media for Disaster Relief.” IEEE Intelligent Systems, vol. 26, no. 3, 2011, pp. 10–14. doi:10.1109/MIS.2011.52.

Kiross, Girmay Tsegay, et al. “The Effect of Maternal Education on Infant Mortality in Ethiopia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” PloS One, vol. 14, no. 7, 2019, e0220076. doi:10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0220076.

Kumar, Anant. “Universal Primary Education among Tribals in Jharkhand: A Situational Analysis.” Xavier Institute of Social Service, 25 Mar. 2008, files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED500704.pdf.

Kumar, Pushpam. “Restoring Natural Capital Can Help Reduce Extreme Poverty.” United Nations Environment Programme, 5 Aug. 2016, http://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/restoring-natural-capital-can-help-reduce-extreme-poverty.

Makower, Joel. “Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain.” Greenbiz, 5 Oct. 2020, http://www.greenbiz.com/article/inside-beautycounters-quest-transform-its-mica-supply-chain.

Schipper, Irene, and Roberta Cowan. Global Mica Mining and the Impact on Children’s Rights: Executive Summary. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations [SOMO], Mar. 2018, http://www.somo.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NL180313_-GLOBAL-MICA-MINING-EXEC-SUMMARY.pdf. 

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Hijras

by Zarya Shaikh, December 31, 2021

Spending time between Pakistan and the United States as a child, I have learned about different receptions to the LGBTQ+ community in two cultures. I thought that the first time I met a transgender individual was as a 14-year-old in America. After reading Jeffrey Gettleman’s article “The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender,” I realized I have met transgender individuals as early as age 8 (and possibly even earlier) in Pakistan. Similar to the Fa’afafine in Samoan culture, Hijras are individuals in Pakistan’s and India’s Muslim history who do not subscribe to a single identity as male or female.1 “Hijra” in Hindi translates to eunuchs, who are sexless individuals. They are castrated to eliminate the desire for love or lust and are meant to be sexless beings who are sexually receptive to men.1 It is important to note that not all transgender individuals in India identify as Hijras. Hijras are an entity that exists under the umbrella identity of transgender.1 During my visits to Pakistan, my family would donate money to Hijras whenever they stopped by our home or knocked on car windows. Gettleman finds that the identity of Hijras stems from a Hindu myth that Lord Rama, a Hindu god. Gettleman describes that Lord Rama “was exiled from Ayodhya and his entire kingdom began to follow him into the forest.” Lord Rama told men and women to leave him and regroup in Ayodhya.1 Hijras were known for their loyalty as they awaited Lord Rama’s return for 14 years in a folktale.1 Scholars of Hindu mythology discount the anecdote, claiming it is not in early versions of ancient Hindu texts. Regardless, the devotion of the Hijras demonstrated by the folktale is a significant characteristic of the Hijra identity.1 Before Britain’s colonization of India, Hijras were “revered as demigods.”1 Britain stripped Hijras of their identity upon colonization and enforced the binary gender system of female and male by suggesting they existed against the “order of nature” and thus criminalized “carnal intercourse.”1

In the modern-day, Hijras dress in sparkly saris and makeup while dancing and offering blessings in the streets. Indians perceive Hijras as beings with the power to bestow blessings or curses on those they meet. Radhika, a 24-year-old Hijra, shared that they were uncomfortable with resigning to a single-gender while in school. Her mother condemned these thoughts and told Radhika to “stick to” the gender binary.1 Soon after this interaction, Radhika’s parents split and her mother died. With no one else to turn to, 8-year-old Radhika met an older sex worker who made her a sex worker in a park.1. Radhika continues sex work today, as there is no other source of income. Hijras are still essential to the hierarchy of harems, which often operate like street gangs. They rely on gurus, also Hijras, who “fulfill the hybrid role of den mother, godfather, spiritual leader and pimp.”1,3 Beneath Hijras in the pyramid are chelas (disciplines) who are used to increase cash flow to the guru. For Hijras, there is not much social mobility due to restrictions placed on education and employment.2 Their rights as humans are often violated; these factors contribute to the cycle of being exploited through sex work and facing humiliation through castrations and social isolation.1 For a majority of the time following colonization, there were no modes of medical care that are easy to access. Countless deaths occurred as a result of the castrations by unqualified individuals.1 In recent years, however, India has recognized being transgender as another gender. Hijras can now undergo gender-affirming surgeries in some hospitals and access government benefits including welfare.1,2 Although this is a step in the right direction, Hijras are still considered inferior oddities who are not respected. The attitudes of society on their roles as sex workers have yet to change.


References

1 Hylton, S., Gettleman, J., & Lyons, E. (2018, February 17). The peculiar position of India’s third gender. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/style/india-third-gender-hijras-transgender.html 

2 UK Essays. (2021, August 12). The khawaja sara and hijra: Gender and sexual identities formation in post-colonial Pakistan. UK Essays. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/society/the-khawaja-sara-and-hijra-gender-and-sexual-identities-formation-in-post-colonial-pakistan.php?vref=1 

3 Stief, M. (2016, November 22). The sexual orientation and gender presentation of Hijra, kothi, and Panthi in Mumbai, India – Archives of Sexual Behavior. SpringerLink. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-016-0886-0#:~:text=Hijra%20are%20androphilic%20(sexually%20attracted,networks%20that%20are%20hierarchically%20organized