I dream of Christine: Mme Lagarde at the IMF headquarters in Washington. Photo: Getty
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“So much love for Christine Lagarde”: why girl crushes are a straight thing

Girl crushes are 75 per cent respect, 24.999 per cent idolatry and 0.001 per cent something nebulously sexual. It’s more about wanting to be someone than wanting to do them.

Girl crushes. Straight women have them; gay ones don’t. Confusing? Let me attempt to explain the ubiquitous “girl crush”. Women as various as Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton have been “crushed” on by straight women, somewhere. The first known girl crush was had by Eleanor of Aquitaine and it was on the lesser-known Brenda of Marseilles. Possibly.

“ZOMG,” announces @StraightChick77, on Twitter, “so much love for Christine Lagarde #GirlCrush.”

What you have to understand is that @StraightChick77 isn’t romantically interested in the besuited IMF doyenne. She wants to have skinny lattes with her and effuse about what a role model she is to all the women, ever.

Girl crushes are 75 per cent respect, 24.999 per cent idolatry and 0.001 per cent something nebulously sexual. It’s more about wanting to be someone than wanting to do them.

Girl crush recipients are usually formidable women, the kind of grandes dames who’d look at home riding panthers into battle against an army of patriarchs. Lindsey Hilsum, Oprah, Mary Beard. Either them or Cara Delevingne.

Formidable Woman transcends the world of glass ceilings and economic woe. Formidable Woman is so awesome that a small part of Straight Woman wants to achieve congress with her in the hope that she’ll consume her essence, quadruple in size and become an unfettered feminist giant. So why doesn’t @StraightChick77 just tweet “I think Christine Lagarde is extremely good”? The answer is simple: girl crushes are all about being a lesbian ironically.

We’re at a point in time and space where we do things ironically without even realising. We love Bonnie Tyler and dance furiously to “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. We eat ironically in bathos-themed restaurants such as Burger and Lobster and Bubbledogs (the one that serves champagne and hot dogs).

Sorting the lesbians from the “lesbians” does require some level of expertise. @StraightChick77 returns home from a gruelling day of doing whatever it is that heterosexuals do, to find Christine Lagarde in her bed, wearing nothing but a document on public expenditure reform and a string of pearls.

@StraightChick77 needs to clarify to her the nuances of the girl crush – and fast.

“I see,” says Christine Lagarde, putting on her clothes. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m delivering a speech on sub-national credit risk in Geneva, in 15 minutes. Maybe you should think before you use the word ‘crush’, non?”

“Wait!”@StraightChick77 cries: “Let’s do coffee! Tweet me! Christiiiiiiiiine!”

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

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Tetris and sleep deprivation: how we can help emergency workers cope with trauma

First responders are at serious risk of developing PTSD during events like the Paris attacks. 

Some people seem able to deal with anything. They save a stranger from bleeding out in a bombed restaurant, protect passers-by from heavily armed gunmen, pull dead and dying people out of collapsed buildings, and they keep going because it is their job. These people are first responders.

When trauma goes on for days, as it has recently in Paris, however, the odds of them bouncing back from the violence, death and injury they are witnessing rapidly diminishes. They are at greater risk of developing a severe stress reaction known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One study found that the worldwide rate of PTSD among first responders is 10 per cent, much higher than the 3.5 per cent rate among those not involved in rescue work.

Tetris to the rescue

So how best to address the problem? Research is in its infancy, but there are some promising studies. Emily Holmes’ group at the University of Cambridge has been looking at the benefits of playing Tetris, a video game, after a traumatic experience. The idea is that this could block the consolidation of traumatic memories so they don’t “flash back” later on.

For the study, her team first traumatised people by showing them distressing footage from public safety videos. The next day they invited them back into the lab to reactivate the memories with still images taken from the videos. One group then played Tetris for 12 minutes while the other sat quietly. Over the following week, the group who played Tetris had about 50 per cent fewer unwanted memories from the films compared to the group who didn’t.

The team concluded that playing Tetris helped individuals because it soaks up their visual processing capacity, making it harder for the brain to consolidate the visual parts of a traumatic memory.

Since it takes about six hours for the brain to cement a memory, the key is to play the game soon after trauma or within six hours of re-activating the traumatic memory. How long the helpful effects of playing Tetris will last and whether it will translate into helping people after real-life trauma is still unknown.

Talking it through

Other techniques, such as “updating”, taken from a highly-effective talking treatment for PTSD, may be more practical and easier to implement.

Like a detective, updating is a technique that focuses on finding new information and linking it to the case, the past memory. This is necessary because when the brain and body are in survival mode during trauma, the mind finds it difficult to encode all the relevant facts. Often key pieces of information that could make the memory less traumatic are lost. Updating links new information to someone’s memory of their trauma to make it less upsetting.

But can updating help to reduce unwanted memories after trauma?

We carried out a study, published in PLOS ONE, in which we traumatised people by showing them terrifying films of humans and animals in distress. We then divided our participants into three groups. One group watched the films again but were given new information about how long people suffered and whether or not they lived or died – essentially, they were updated. The second group watched the same films again but without the new information. And the third group watched films of humans and animals who were not in distress. The updated group had fewer traumatic memories and PTSD symptoms than the other two groups.

Updating is now being used by some UK emergency services. First responders will gather after critical incidents and update their memories of what happened before they go home.

Sleep deprivation

There are other techniques that may be helpful. One study found that depriving people of sleep may be useful in the aftermath of trauma.

But the same study found that a week after the trauma, people who had been deprived of sleep had the same number of unwanted memories as people who had slept well afterwards. Consequently, it remains unclear whether there would be any long-lasting benefits using this method. There are, however, certainly health risks linked to lack of sleep.

Still looking for a solution

To develop preventative interventions, we need to study newly-recruited emergency workers who haven’t yet suffered on-the-job trauma and follow them over time, spotting which “coping styles”, present before trauma, may predict their reactions afterwards.

For example, some people naturally react to stressful life events by dwelling on them, thinking about why they happened for hours on end. This strategy, called rumination, has been linked to PTSD in people who survived car crashes.

If rumination predicts PTSD in first responders, then preventative interventions could train people to spot when they are dwelling on an event and refocus their attention to the task at hand.

When we have identified which factors heighten emergency workers’ risk of developing PTSD, programmes can be developed to target those vulnerabilities. Only then can an intervention, directed at first responders most at risk of developing PTSD, properly protect them in their line of work.

The Conversation

Jennifer Wild is a Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.