Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Anhedonia and painted ladies

click photo to enlarge
The other day I came across an interesting word that is new to me. "Anhedonia" means the inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable events. The word was used in the context of an article that was discussing how women's happiness relative to men's has declined markedly in the last 25 years, particularly in the UK and the US. Both British and American researchers have found that well-being across both sexes has declined since the early 1970s, but that during that period women have gone from a position of higher rates of well-being than men, to having lower rates. So it seems that, despite the advances in the economic and social position of women in society that occurred during those years, in terms of happiness, women have lost out more than men.

Explanations for this state of affairs are many, but one that interested me was the suggestion that the reference group and expectations against which women measure themselves has changed markedly, and that women constantly find themselves coming up short when set against the standards others (and they themselves) expect. What does this theory mean in practice? Well, some see young women as more narcissistic than in the past, with unrealistic expectations of what they can be and can achieve in life. The reference points of many women are the painted ladies of "reality" TV, the rich and famous of music and cinema, the wives of high-earning sportsmen, and the women who are simply "famous for being famous" - the Paris Hiltons of this world. The psychologist, Oliver James, calls this a "consumerised, commercially driven version of femininity."

During my time working in education I saw this trend developing as young girls stepped into teenage ever earlier, drawn there by powerful forces that seemed beyond their family's and their own control. While the 11 year old boys were still kicking their footballs around, buying the latest Manchester United soccer kit, and riding their BMXs, many of the girls of the same age were shopping for the same skimpy clothes and make-up their 18 year old sisters were wearing, which in turn were based on those seen on 24 year olds on MTV, Big Brother, and in the "celebrity" magazines. Childhood, for girls, moreso than for boys, seemed to be getting shorter and shorter.

Speaking of painted ladies, the buddleia flowers in our garden have been crawling with them - the butterflies (Vanessa cardui) that is! I've seen more of the species this year than ever before, and so I thought it a good opportunity to photograph one. Insect hunting with a camera, as I've said elsewhere, isn't something that especially appeals to me, but a shot showing the butterfly in context presents a certain challenge and satisfaction, so here's the best of the images I took.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On