This Week’s PVF Op-Eds Address Malevolent Mothers, International Mars Research, and the Moralization of Obesity.

The Public Voices Fellowship is finishing a great week. The Fordham Fellowship convened for the second time on Wednesday. Says Annie Murphy Paul, one of the fellowship leaders, “It was a great event full of spirited debate and creative brainstorming.” We look forward to the fruits of this intellectual collaboration! In the meantime we’re celebrating three fabulous op-eds that were published this week by Public Voices Fellows…

The presence of an untrustworthy mother has influenced the misfortunes of many a protagonist. There’s Cinderella and her evil step-mother, Austen’s many heroines and their absent or insufferable mamas, and more recently a number of characters from Oscar-nominated films like “The Descendants” and “The Help.”

In a fantastic op-ed published on the Huffington Post this week, Fordham Public Voices Fellow Susan Celia Greenfield writes, “Throughout narrative history, mother characters have been evil or dead or both.” Citing the awful mother-daughter dynamics in some of the years favored films, Greenfield explains how “the popularity of stories about alienated female relatives bodes poorly for women’s progress.”

At a time when women’s bodies and their choices regarding them are so under attack, Greenfield draws attention to the importance of writing trustworthy maternal bodies into our stories about mothers and daughters. A vital contribution Susan!

From the Princeton camp, Janet Vertesi published a piece on PBS/ Need to Know on Tuesday in which she bemoaned NASA’s recent decision to abandon a Mars mission partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).

As a sociologist, Vertesi views this decision with concern. She says that international missions not only expose people to new ideas, but also provide “fragile, yet essential, transnational ties” during times of “international political and economic instability.” Vertesi argues that in addition to the scientific boon that NASA stands to lose, it should also be worried about forfeiting an opportunity to make a “human investment.”

Also a member of the Princeton Program is Brooke Holmes, whose article “New Lessons to Learn From the Ancient Mediterranean Diet” appeared on the Huffington Post’s food section. A professor of classics, Holmes brings her knowledge of the ancient world to bear on the moralization of obesity and illness in the modern world.

It’s very common, says Holmes, to view health as a marker of virtue, and to assign blame to people who don’t have good health. But Holmes challenges this assumption by citing strong correlation between health and wealth.  She writes, “Health, as the ancients knew, is a product of leisure, education and quality care.”

Holmes explains that every day new information comes to light about the variables that influence weight gain, many of them beyond our control. In order to tackle the public health crisis of obesity, she argues that Americans have to abandon the belief that “a person’s weight is just an index of their moral worth.”

Such a wonderful article! Thanks for writing it Brooke! And thanks to all the scholars for their dedication to the betterment of public thought! You’re making the world a better place by giving us access to your expertise and opinions. Keep up the good work!


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