“Crazy, Stupid, Love”

My youngest daughter loves movies so much she routinely goes to them by herself. Every once in a while she asks me to go with her and I usually agree, not because I’m that into movies, but as a way to spend time with her.

Which is why I found myself going to a Steve Carell movie yesterday.

It’s not that I dislike Steve Carell. But I’m usually only mildly amused by his movies. He has a lot of heart, but let’s face it, he’s primarily a comedic character.

Well, not so in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

That’s the first thing I want to say. The second is that the movie itself was an unexpected treat. More than that, it’s a movie I would really love to see again. And I almost never watch movies more than once (as opposed to my children who are able to quote movie lines ad nauseum). But this one was so delicious, I can’t help but want seconds.

I don’t want to spoil one second of this film for you, so I’m not going into details about the plot. Suffice it to say that if you want to be amused and touched, if you want to laugh and cry, if you want to see one of the best romantic comedies of at least the last decade, then go see this movie. And don’t watch any trailers: the movie is even better when you don’t know what to expect.

U.S. Health Care Insurance: Picking on Women

The United States would have the best health care system in the world if it weren’t for its insurers. I’ve had health insurance for forty years and I’ve never seen such a mess as we’re experiencing right now. A recent event in my own life brought this home to me:

I had a routine mammogram this spring and was surprised—and dismayed—when I received a letter saying that I needed a follow-up breast ultrasound because of some suspicious findings. I had to wait over a month for my appointment. I stayed calm and told myself that it probably wasn’t anything. And I was right. There was nothing there. I just have very dense breasts and it was hard to see just what was going on in the initial mammogram. After taking more extensive x-rays it was decided that an ultrasound wasn’t even necessary.

Good thing, because I would have had to pay out of pocket for that, too.

It seems that my insurance company is refusing to pay for the second mammogram because they only authorize one a year. So I’m going to have to foot the $200 bill.

Tell me, please, what I should have done? My doctor ordered the follow-up mammogram to make sure that I wasn’t developing breast cancer. I didn’t ask for the second mammogram. If I’d known my insurance wouldn’t pay for it, would I have had it done? Maybe not.

I don’t have the $200 but I may be able to work out a payment plan. I can pay it off over time. But what about people who can’t even afford to do that? All this policy is going to do is prevent people from undergoing health procedures that just might save their lives.

If I’d had breast cancer, would my insurance company have paid for additional mammograms as I underwent treatment? Or would they charge me for each of them on the grounds that they only pay for one a year?

I recently read that physicians’ associations are now recommending that annual mammograms should begin at the age of 40. Right now most insurance companies are going by the older guidelines which say that mammograms are not “cost-effective” if a woman is under 50. That’s right. Apparently, they don’t think that enough breast cancer is detected between the ages of 40 and 50 to justify the cost of administering the ten mammograms during that decade.

This is despite the fact that breast cancer is usually much more aggressive in younger women. I myself know three women in their 30s who died of breast cancer.

I guess I’m lucky that I’m old enough to qualify for one mammogram a year. But what if I was younger and had a family history of breast cancer? What if it was determined that I had the markers for it? Would my insurance company still refuse to pay for mammograms that my doctor would most likely order?

Another area in which women are being short-changed by the health insurance system is reproductive care. Contraception has gotten much more expensive, but it’s more expensive still to get pregnant and have a baby. So why aren’t insurers attempting to keep the costs of contraception down? Many years ago, I used to get my birth control pills for free or only a small co-pay. Now they can cost the insured $40 or $50 a month. It would be hard for me to come up with that much money each month for contraception. But what choice would I have?

Some insurance companies are batting around the idea that women should have to pay for additional coverage for possible pregnancies and abortions. That’s like making men pay extra because of the possibility that they might become impotent. And I thought that health insurers were no longer supposed to deny people health care coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Isn’t being a man or a woman a pre-existing condition?

I plan to dispute my insurance company’s decision about my mammogram but the chances of winning are probably not good. I have to try, though. We all have to try. We need to stick up for ourselves when it comes to health care for ourselves. We need to protest unfair and discriminatory denials. And we need to keep ourselves informed about what’s going on in the world of health insurance.

UPDATE: It seems that my insurer is not refusing to pay for the mammogram, they just applied it to my deductible. They would have paid for it if it had been considered “preventative.” But an additional diagnostic mammogram is not considered preventative. Bottom line is: I still have to pay for it myself.

I asked what would have happened if I did have breast cancer. I was told that once my deductible is used up, the insurance would pay for treatment at 85% until I hit the $5000 deductible for catastrophic illnesses. I told the representative that I found this very confusing. Her answer? “Yes, it certainly is.”





Me and the GRE, or The Many Stages of Womanhood

I’ve been spending every waking hour (and some non-waking ones) studying for the GRE test I’m scheduled to take on August 31st. The other night I woke myself from a dream because I was so frustrated by what I was dreaming about: how to determine the dimensions of a triangle inscribed inside a circle. I got up and went downstairs and found myself studying more math, even though it was the middle of the night. I study when I get up in the morning, when I get home from work, while my husband is watching television in the evenings. And, it seems, I can’t even get away from it when I sleep.

For those who aren’t familiar with the GRE, otherwise known as the Graduate Record Examination, it’s the test many graduate school programs require so they can get an idea of your “critical thinking skills.” Apparently, my critical thinking skills are crap. I tested in the 40th percentile in math (or quantitative reasoning) when I took a practice test a couple of months ago and I managed to bring it up to 55% on a second one, but that’s probably not good enough. If I want to get a fellowship—which I desperately do—I need to score a lot higher.

I’m not doing nearly as badly with the verbal portion of the test, but math is, and always has been, the bane of my existence.  I’m even taking a preparation course with a real live teacher and I’m still having trouble with it. It isn’t just that I haven’t had math as a subject for forty years; it’s mainly that I just don’t think like a mathematician. It’s like learning another language, and God knows I have enough trouble with that.

So why am I even taking the GRE? This winter I’m applying to a Master’s program in social work which means if I get accepted I won’t start it until the fall of 2012. By the time I finish the program I’ll be 62, the age when most people are thinking of retirement.

What makes it even possible to think of starting a new career when I’m old enough to retire is the fact that women today have time for more than one focus in their lives. No matter which order we do it in we have time to raise children and have a career (or two). We can work before having kids, after they’re grown and while we’re still raising them. Women today have choices that were unheard of when their life expectancy was much shorter. At the turn of the 19th century, women were lucky to live long enough to raise their children. Now we have even have the time to have more than one family!

The fact that women are living longer has a lot to do with the rise of the feminist movement in the late 1960s. Women were finding that they had time and talents to spare. Why limit yourself to marriage and motherhood when chances are you’re going to live to the age of 85? Although you never stop being a mother, your children don’t need you quite as much when they’re in their thirties. So what else are you going to do with your life?

I’m not saying that being a wife and a mother isn’t a career or that it isn’t satisfying enough to last you a whole lifetime. What I am saying is that you have plenty of time to be more than a wife and/or mother. It doesn’t have to be paid employment; God knows there’s a tremendous need for people willing to do volunteer work.

Unlike most young women today, I dove right into marriage and motherhood before finishing college and starting a career.My daughters, who are all over 30, are either not married, or didn’t marry until they were at least 30. My oldest daughter is expecting her second child at the age of 38 and my youngest (age 31) is expecting her first. I married at 20 and had four kids by the time I was 28. But on the other hand, all my children were grown and out of the house by the time I was 48. My daughters will be raising kids far longer than I was (although I don’t think you ever stop raising them), but even they will have time after child-raising to do something else with their lives.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more studying to do.


Tampon Commercials That Make Us Laugh (and Think)

UbyKotex has produced a series of commercials that are not your typical tampon commercials.

One reaction to this commercial was: “This is actually the best commercial i have ever seen in my life, I am a guy and I’m seriously considering purchasing those LOL”

To which UbyKotex responded: “Awesome — We’ll take that as a compliment! :)”

Here is one more for your viewing pleasure:

Book Review: Girls Like Us

Sometimes a book is singled out not just for its writing, but for its topic. Girls Like Us is such a book. The author, Rachel Lloyd, has turned what could have been another “terrible childhood” memoir into both a social commentary and a call to action. Her own story of commercial sexual exploitation and how she made her way out of it is interesting enough in its own right, but Lloyd makes it into so much more by weaving the stories of “girls like her” throughout her narrative.

Lloyd’s main message is a strong one: she contends that teen prostitutes are not criminals or bad girls, but victims of commercial sexual exploitation. She even goes so far as to say that children and young women are being trafficked in this country. She makes her case so well, I came away from the reading of this book with an entirely different view of prostitution.

I took a course on “Sex Work” in college a few years ago where we debated whether or not prostitution was a victimless crime, or even a crime at all. Were prostitutes and other sex workers exploited or empowered by what they did for a living? Some feminists insist that all sex work is a form of exploitation, even a rape of sorts. Others feel that we have put down sex workers far too long and that we should accord them agency to dictate their own lives.

Lloyd has come up with a different perspective and once you’ve read the book you wonder why you didn’t see it for yourself. When a person is tricked, cajoled, and even terrorized into “the life” (of prostitution) the victim is the prostitute herself. And when we’re talking about children, who have not reached the age of majority by a long shot, it’s clear that something is wrong with this picture. All too often these children are victimized not only by their pimps and their johns, but also by the system that should be protecting them: the social workers, police, lawyers and judges who see them as criminals who must be punished for their transgressions.

This book makes it clear, without heavy arguments or specialized jargon, that these girls have much more in common with the rest of us than we would like to believe.  They have hopes and dreams and interests like any other children, but they’ve been deceived into thinking that “the life” is going to give them the security, both financial and emotional, that they are so desperately seeking.

When I told an acquaintance about this book, her reaction was that she just didn’t believe that police and the legal system would see these under-age prostitutes as seasoned criminals. I told her that she should read the book. She still insisted that I had to be wrong (meaning that the author had to be wrong).

Her reaction may not be unique. People are so uncomfortable with the underside of life, they would rather assume that those who inhabit it have chosen to live that way. They refuse to believe that fear and violence and self-loathing are powerful determinants. Especially for children.

Twenty years ago I read Savage Inequalities by Jonathon Kozol which was about the horrible conditions in our country’s poorest schools. Almost overnight I became painfully aware of something I would rather have not known about. There was no answer for why we would allow poor children to go wanting for even the basics of a decent life. When I read Girls Like Us, I had the same reaction. How can we look the other way when children are being destroyed daily? How can we allow such a total loss of innocence and potential?

The best part of this book is that the author offers hope, not just to the reader, but also to the young girls themselves. Because this is not just an exposé or expanded article from a socially conscious magazine. This is also a chronicle of one woman who was able to climb out of “the life” and go on to make something of herself. The really amazing thing is that she didn’t stop there. She founded an organization when she was only 23 designed to reach out to young women and children who are caught up in sexual exploitation and to help them, too, to extricate themselves from their (sometimes literal) prisons.

Lloyd doesn’t sugarcoat the process. This is no sunshiny, pie-in-the-sky approach to human redemption. Lloyd’s been there herself and has done this work long enough that she knows exactly how hard it can be. But she refuses to give up. Today she serves as the executive director of her organization, Girls Educational &Mentoring Services, otherwise known as GEMS, and devotes her time to spreading the word about its important work and the work of so many other organizations and individuals who share the same concerns and vision.

I urge you to read Girls Like Us and to visit GEMS’ website. You owe it to yourself as a concerned citizen and a human being. These young women are not “throwaways.” They deserve the chance to remake themselves and achieve their potential. But they need our awareness and our support. Reading this book is an important first step.