Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

That's Cynical

Thanks--sort of--to Twisty for the heads-up on Lay's new advertising campaign. The ad itself is insulting to women. As a psychologist, however, I'm also interested in this neuro-marketing stuff in the New York Times article.

In brief, it seems that women snack a lot, but "61 percent of [our] snacking includes drinks, fruits and vegetables". Stuff that's good for us, in other words. Frito-Lay wants to convince us that we should be eating unhealthy stuff--like their "salty snacks". No surprise there: We know marketers exist to convince us to buy things we don't need, right? But this is so cynical, and so obviously bad for us, that it blew my mind.

According to the Times:

Neurology used for advertising purposes, called neuromarketing, has gained a following among some marketers. Many use it to test their ads, using research firms . . . to show an ad to consumers and see the level of brain response.

One firm "began by researching how women’s brains compared with men’s, so the firm could adjust the marketing accordingly." That is cynical. Worse, it's pop neurology, grossly oversimplifying the research findings. The marketer in question assumes that because

the communication center in women’s brains was more developed . . . women could process ads with more complexity and more pieces of information.

A memory and emotional center, the hippocampus, was proportionally larger in women, so [Marketer] concluded that women would look for characters they could empathize with.

And research [Marketer] read linked the anterior cingulate cortex, which processes decision-making and was larger in women, to feelings of guilt.

Not to repeat myself or anything, but this is a gross over-simplification of the findings. Even if it weren't, I'm not sure how I feel about the ethics involved in using science to people's (women's!) detriment in this way.

Women, as the marketer noted, feel guilty about a lot. One of the things the culture teaches us is to look at what we eat as a moral issue. There are "good" foods and "bad"; on a given day, depending on what we've eaten, we've been "good" or "bad." Some foods are downright "sinful"! When we're not blowing them, we follow our diets "religiously." We see our self-control as a matter of character, of will. So Frito-Lay set out to reframe junk food so as not to "trip [our] guilt."

Part of the strategy was . . . toning down the packaging and showing off healthy ingredients in the snacks.

“She wants a reminder that she’s eating something better for her,” [Marketer] said.

Even thought she isn't.

Baked Lay’s will no longer be in a shiny yellow bag, but in a matte beige bag that displays pictures of the ingredients like spices or ranch dressing. Some of the new Frito-Lay packaging is in stores already.

. . . the packages trumpet characteristics like fiber and calcium and show ingredients like wheat or almonds.

Now that's cynical.

Amazingly, given that we supposedly can handle more complex material, they have developed an ad campaign that involves a bunch of female air-heads kvetching about their diets, their men, and so forth in nasal tones at the upper end of the register. I, for one, find these "characters" hard to identify with. And to add to the irony, the Marketer muses that it's obvious that we are offended by pink packages or prominently featuring the calorie counts: She completely misses how insulted we would be by an attempt to get us to eat crap by giving us a bunch of pornulated airheads to "identify with."

A sample of the print version of the ad follows:

. . . two women are surveying a Baked Lay’s bag. “These things are the best invention since the push-up bra,” one woman says. The other, admiring her bra-enhanced chest, responds, “I wouldn’t go that far.”

Now that's insulting!

And that's it for me and Frito-Lay. We're done.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


OK. That's it. I've had it with dude tv. I don't watch much any more, but I still watch a lot of news shows. But I've had it with them, too. I'm getting all my news from the paper from now on.

Why? The pornulated women. Sample: CNN. Wolf Blitzer--suit, tie. very nice. Deborah Feyrick--bony (has she had her molars pulled??), eyebrows plucked, tons of eye makeup, bright red lipstick. Some other guy--suit, tie. very nice. Senior Congressional Correspondent--two necklaces, plucked eyebrows, tons of makeup, capped teeth, bright red high-gloss lipstick on lips that look like they've been shot full of whatever those women plump their lips up with to make them look bee-stung. Next dude--coat, tie. very nice. Female economic reporter--neckline plunges so low that the bottom of it is not even visible on the screen. The division line between her breasts, however, is clearly visible. And so it goes, for half an hour. And that's just tonight's sample.

And why do we have to interview Michelle Obama in the frickin' kitchen?? What's up with that?? She's a Harvard-educated attorney for God's sake. Somebody aired that earlier this weekend, and come to think of it, that probably was really when the balance tipped for me.

On the local news, here in Atlanta, the women all (even anchorwomen) either wear little girl frills, ruffles, and ribbons (our mayor's trademark is a corsage the size of a dinner plate, but that's another story) or they look like they are headed to a cocktail party. One woman tonight, besides the plunging neckline, was wearing a velvet jacket. The guys are dressed for business in (usually) dark colors, while the women are wearing pastels or worse, neon-bright colors.

That's it. I've had it. I'll be back when they start taking women seriously. Or when they start plucking dudes' eyebrows and putting them on the air in Speedos so I can really see what I'm buying.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Excuse me?!

This month’s issue of Teaching of Psychology, the official journal of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology--ToPs for short--(Division Two of the American Psychological Association) arrived Saturday. And Dear Readers, I am not a happy camper, because it contains an article touting what is to my mind a juvenile, offensive role play exercise for teaching psychodynamic personality theory in a manner “engaging” to undergrads.

In brief, students role-play the part of the professor’s psyche (including his leering id, run amok at the local mall). Roles are "randomly assigned" to id, ego, and superego groups from among student volunteers, which presumably means that some women land in the id group, the instructions for which are as follows:

Welcome to my psyche! Your group is going to be my ID! Imagine that I am at a shopping mall and have just seen an attractive woman walk by. Remember that the ID is driven by the pleasure principle and seeks to have physical needs met immediately--with no regard for consequences. Your group's task is to come up with ideas of what the ID might "say" in this situation (Segrist, 2009; p. 52).

Excuse me?! I got this far before I threw the article on the floor for the first time.

Examples of id comments: "Wow, look at THAT! She's HOT!" "THAT", mind you--not "HER". She's instantly reduced to a THING. And Segrist doesn't seem to see anything wrong with this. Defense mechanisms employed by the ego included denial, as in "she's not really that attractive" (Segrist, 2009, p. 52). What undergrad exactly does this 'engage'? Well, in case you were wondering, as I was, the author reports feedback from his students on the exercise.

Most of the students polled were majors in their junior or senior year.On a scale of one to five (the most positive rating), students rated the activity on average a 4.6 for enjoyment. Segrist did not report the range or quote any negative comments. Since 81.4% of Segrist's students are women, I have a feeling that when I post this blog entry, I will be told that these numbers prove that nobody was offended and that I should get over myself. (How much do you want to bet? I'm thinking of starting a pool.) I contend, however, that the numbers only show how oblivious young women have become to their own objectification.* Either that or how well-schooled, if you'll pardon the expression, they have become at not confronting sexism when they see it. Plus, without knowing the low end of the range, we don't know that nobody was offended. Somebody might have rated the exercise a 1--or worse.

But I digress. Back to the article. Segrist cautions his volunteers not to be "hostile" or "clearly objectionable" in their role-playing. Excuse me?! Is it not "hostile" by definition to objectify, rate, and thereby degrade female passers-by? Apparently not, since he quotes these in an article purporting to show how great his exercise is. Which leaves one therefore to wonder how he defines "objectionable" or what it takes for a comment to be "clearly" objectionable. And would it be ok to be vaguely objectionable? Or only mildly objectionable? Besides which, should not the very fact that you have to caution them be a red flag that what you are doing is not a good thing?

Segrist concedes that "comments generated by the id group in particular have the potential to be offensive to some students and disconcerting to any student who has been sexually victimized" (2009; p. 53). Does he mean the comments that are not "hostile" or "clearly objectionable"? Or is he, without realizing it, conceding that they all are likely to be just that, given the setup for the role-play?

And what does he mean by "potential"? You ask me, offense to any thinking female is guaranteed, not "potential". And "disconcerting" does not begin to cover the impact this exercise could have on a rape survivor (which I presume is what he means by the euphemism "sexually victimized". Future post: euphemisms for "rape"-- submit your favorites for inclusion therein.).

I can’t imagine being a student in his classes–oh, wait, yes I can. I’d feel objectified, threatened, insulted, discounted and disrespected. Intellectually and professionally, I’d feel like I’d just been completely erased. (Remember, this whole exercise is framed as "inside your professor's head," not "inside some dudely jerk at the mall's head".) I would, in short, feel instantly reduced to merely the means of some dude to "have physical needs met immediately--with no regard for consequences" to the "HOT", anonymized, objectified "THAT". As a woman, I would feel that way whether or not I were objectively "HOT". (I'm not--see RateMyProfessors.) Personal hotness is not the issue here: Objectifying and rating women is. I’d be mad as hell and might even walk out of class and go file a complaint.

Nor can I imagine what the editors and publishers were thinking–oh, wait, yes I can. I bet it never even occurred to them that this is not only offensive but also oppressive. Part of the way the game is played, of course, is that the oppressor gets to be in total denial of his oppressive behavior (nota bene, no ego- or super-ego-playing student seems to have pointed out to the id what a sexist pig it was being).

But wait. Maybe it did occur to someone at ToPs that publishing this article would not be a good thing. Of the 21 Consulting Editors, only six are women, but we are otherwise well-represented among the editorial board and predominate among officers of the Society. Maybe one of them did complain about this article, and was told to get over herself. Maybe she's why all those caveats appear in the Discussion section.

Not enough: The whole thing should have been shit-canned.

Dr. Segrist and esteemed members of the ToPs Editorial Board, my lecture on Freud is coming up in a few days. I wonder what the reaction of my students, and of my department Chair, would be if I used that exercise with young men as the target. Would they not see that as totally, unquestionably inappropriate? Not to mention, downright gross? Dudes, can you not see how much more inappropriate it is to target women in such an exercise? I wonder how many of my male students would be embarrassed or offended. How many of them do you think would feel free to say so, even anonymously? I would ask you to consider how much more so that is true for the members of an oppressed class. And then yank the article already.

*In the course of his article, by the way, Segrist notes, "I have a wife" (2009, p. 53)--not, "I am married." Woman as possession (as in, "I have a car, a house, and a dog, too"): I'm not even going to go there today. That is a topic for a whole 'nother post, and I have papers to grade. Maybe after I do the one on euphemisms for rape--don't forget to send your favorites to me at


Segrist, D. J. (2009). What's going on in your professor's head? Demonstrating the id, ego, and superego. Teaching of Psychology, 36, 51-54.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I did not get the memo,

but I did get the tickets.


Adjuncts never get the memos: It's a Universal Truth.

It seems that some time last fall, the parking police switched from sticker permits (like the one you see in my windshield, above) to a hanger-tag system. I don't know why.

Be that as it may, I never got a memo. I never got an e-mail. No one ever mentioned it casually in conversation. I never saw a poster or found a flier under my windshield wiper. I never even got a warning!

I just came out after 5:00 one day to find the first ticket on my windshield. First I heard about any hang tags. But of course I look wildly about the parking lot and see one on everybody's rear view mirror. Boy do I feel stupid.

Nothing I can do about it now. And the next day, I had clients all day. And the following day I had clients before I had to return to school. When I would, once again, be teaching until five. So I knew I was going to get a second ticket. And I did. It says in the small print that the third time I would be booted or towed.

(sign I park under every day)

So on the third trip, when I knew I could arrange to go get a hang tag, I made myself a little sign that said I was going to Card Services to get the damn thing and please not to ticket me. And it must have worked, because when I got back, there was no ticket.

Now I'm legal.

At least until the next time they change the system.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Academic Integrity

Or, Are We Having Fun Yet?

I have always prided myself on my relationship with my students. I treat them like, if not colleagues, then junior associates--like the young professionals that they are becoming. And I thought I was getting equal respect in return. I trust them, and I thought that they were living up to the expectation that they would behave in a trustworthy manner. As a result, I have never thought I had much trouble in my classes with cheating.

I also thought we were on the same side here: They are in school to learn, and I am in school to teach.

But then I read a novel in which (have I told you this story already?) two high school kids were texting answers back and forth during an exam, and dissing the professor as naïve because he didn't walk the aisles during the test. Walk the aisles!? Are you kidding me?

But I did watch my class a little closer during the first test this semester, and lo and behold, I think I did see one pair of wandering eyeballs. But I couldn't be sure.

Then, last week I went to a workshop presented by Beth Kirsner, Ph.D., who is doing some research in the area of academic integrity. According to some very preliminary data she has, there's a lot more cheating going on than I had ever suspected. By extrapolation, there's a lot going on in my classes that I'm not catching. In fact, if I'm reading Dr. Kirsner's survey results correctly, every semester at least a few students are copying another student's test paper, letting other students copy their test papers, copying passages from the internet and not citing them, and the like. The only good news in her data so far is that nobody seems to be buying term papers on the net.

So what's really going on, apparently, is that my students and I are on opposite sides in a tug of war. I have the grade, and they wish to take it from me.

In sum, it seems that I have been terribly naïve.

Saturday, February 7, 2009