Filed under: Opinion, Politics, Post by: Sheryl R, Starring Local Feminists, Women's Health
I was pregnant three weeks after I was married. It was unexpected, delaying my undergraduate graduation for longer than I care to admit and derailing my plans for graduate school until a later season in my life. I was just getting comfortable in my feminist skin, full of enthusiasm for equality and full agency for women in our society.
I still remember the day I called to let my internist know I was pregnant. I was coldly informed by the office staff that the internist would not need to see me again until after I had delivered the baby and had an internal medicine issue; they suggested that I call an obstetrician’s office. Just like that, I was severed from the only healthcare provider I had seen since moving to Virginia to attend college. Instinctively, intuitively, instead of calling an obstetrician, I asked a fellow student, who was expecting her third child, if she had ever heard of midwives in the area. It turned out that she delivered her children at home and could recommend her midwife.
Finding a midwife, in my mind, was an expression of my feminism. I felt fully empowered to birth on my own terms, with a caregiver who treated me like a friend—a neighbor, a sister—rather than a number shuffled from specialty office to specialty office in a cold and impartial way. It was a step that began, perhaps unconsciously, with my earlier reading of Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day. The way in which Naylor’s colorful character embodied feminine wisdom had not left my mind more than eight months after finishing the novel. In addition, just the year before, my aunt, a labor and delivery nurse, chose to deliver at home unassisted. The newly blossomed feminist in me was drawn to these strong women who were questioning the politics of birth and bucking against a patriarchal model of care. They both exemplified full agency in their womanhood.
Years later, when pregnant with my fourth daughter, I traveled to Richmond to lobby for the legalization of home birth midwives in Virginia. In my mind, it was a clear matter of Choice. Women deserved to make their own choices about where and with whom to birth. It seemed a logical feminist issue, but when I approached female Democratic General Assembly members, who typically supported pro-choice measures, I was shocked at their unwillingness to see home birth as anything but a throwback to the dark ages. Instead, I humbly found myself working with politicians on the other side of the aisle—often white-haired conservative men—and linking arms with religiously conservative women. It was a stark lesson in gender politics and the ways in which women can unite whether they identify with feminism or not.
Later I would write a paper that a professor nominated to a national communication organization for an award. It was a project that involved feminist narrative research and women’s stories about birth, in particular birth with a midwife. The professor was an academic feminist legend, a nationally known scholar who had devoted her career to feminist communication; she was shocked when the award committee didn’t take my project seriously. I was not. When researching, I have found very few scholarly books or papers on choice in childbirth. Most of feminism rests on issues around choice in pregnancy and sexual orientation and inequalities in pay and violence against women, still extremely important issues. But, what about the eighty-five million women who give birth in America? Isn’t full agency in childbirth an important issue to embrace in feminism?
Today maternal mortality is on the rise and our minority sisters are 4 times more likely to die in childbirth—no matter economic status or education level. There is feminist work to be done around childbirth. I’ve had the fortune to work, as a grassroots organizer, with women who are bringing awareness to the inequalities in childbirth, and the importance of a woman’s full agency in the birth experience. Women like Jennie Joseph, Ina May Gaskin, Juliana Fehr, and many nonprofit organizations like the International Cesarean Awareness Network, Every Mother Counts, Childbirth Connections, Midwives for Haiti, and the White Ribbon Alliance. I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is to come together over this issue—whether conservative or liberal, gay or straight—women advocating for better birth options is an issue that embodies what feminism is all about.
Would you like to contribute a birth story? We’d love to hear about your experiences in childbirth, in particular whether or not you experienced full agency throughout your maternity care.
Filed under: Announcements, Fiction, Poetry, Post by: Sheila M, Starring Local Feminists, Women's Health
Tonight, at the Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan (2427 18th Street NW Washington D.C.),we will host our second annual Will Read For Women Donation Drive to benefit the Bethany House women’s shelter of Northern Virginia.
Starting at 8:00 PM guests are asked to bring toiletry items and other pantry necessities as “price of admission.” Suggested items include: Baby wipes, Adult wipes, Lotion, Shampoo, Conditioner, Combs, Bleach, Dish detergents, Dishwasher detergents, Razors, Tweezers, Lip balm/Lip gloss, Vaseline, Brushes, Toothpaste, Toothbrushes, Mouthwash, Bath soaps, Laundry detergents, Toilet paper, Paper towels, Napkins, Diapers (size 3-6), Pull-ups (size 2T-5T).
Our performers for the evening will include Kim Roberts, Kyle Dargan, Nicole Idar, Jill Leininger, and Mel Nichols.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Filed under: Opinion, Politics, Post by: Sarah M, Women's Health
“Hey, the 1950s called, they want their stereotype back,” I said during a somewhat intense debate last night. I was asking a new friend, let’s call him Adam, what he thought of Garance Franke-Ruta’s recent article in The Atlantic called “Why Isn’t Better Education Giving Women More Power?”
If I’m being honest, I probably already knew his response; I just really wanted it to be different, because… I like him. The article is basically about how even though women are generally more successful in school, the same behaviors and tools that helped them to succeed in the academic arena, don’t necessarily translate into the workforce. The article gives statistics on the disparity between genders and points out that studies show women in the workplace are criticized more, make less money, and are generally judged more negatively. But, the most important piece of this essay, and the part that I am most interested in, deals with the root of the problem: “The university system aside, I suspect there is another, deeply ingrained set of behaviors that also undermine women: the habits they pick up—or don’t pick up—in the dating world. Men learn early that to woo women, they must risk rejection and be persistent. Straight women, for their part, learn from their earliest years that they must wait to be courted. The professional world does not reward the second approach. No one is going to ask someone out professionally if she just makes herself attractive enough. I suspect this is why people who put together discussion panels and solicit op‑eds always tell me the same thing: it’s harder to get women to say yes than men. Well, duh. To be female in our culture is to be trained from puberty in the art of rebuffing—rebuffing gazes, comments, touches, propositions, and proposals.”
Bingo. This makes total sense to me. I am a woman. I have all too well mastered the art of rebuffing. It’s March: Women’s History Month. There are signs in stores that are supposed to be “celebrating” women. They read: 60% of our employees are women! But, it’s a party trick. “Hey, look over here!” Because when you look at upper management, it’s only 4% female. Now, Adam’s initial response to this article was to also look at the numbers. He’s very logical. He’s very smart. I like him. He would like to see the holistic ratio of employees in business. He’s had a 50/50 ratio of male to female bosses. Then, he gives me a word problem: If there are 100 employees in the office and 10 are women, and there are 10 spots to move up from that 100, then 1/9 women should be promoted and 9/90 men should be, too. His point being that no one thinks about the actual numbers, they only look straight to the top and see that there are 9 male bosses and 1 female boss. I acknowledge that he is speaking from a place of privilege, and in my mind, this isn’t the problem either. The problem is much deeper; it’s much bigger. The problem is that there are only 10 women who are employees going after that promotion in the first place. The problem is that we (women) have been taught all of our lives to accept our position, to be submissive, and to self-objectify. These behaviors and states of being are so deeply ingrained that sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m participating in this dynamic. From a very early age, we lose belief in our own political and social efficacy. We learn to see ourselves and value ourselves how the media and the collective consciousness see us.
BUT… still, the real problem is even more insidious and subtly woven into our social makeup. The REAL problem is that we still exist in a time and place that perpetuates an accepted culture of violence against women. At some point in our debate, Adam says that men and women ARE different, right? He brings up the obvious difference: our physical traits. This is the in. Yes, I think, herein lies the issue at the core of our patriarchal power dynamic. Our physical traits have been held against us and kept us repressed since the beginning of time. This is usually where I lose my male readers. They hear sexual assault/domestic violence and distance themselves, because they would never do that, so this part doesn’t apply to them. This is where we’re all wrong. Let me give you a scenario that most of the women in my life can relate to:
Filed under: Announcements, Starring Local Feminists, Women's Health
On Friday, April 12th, So to Speak will host our second annual reading drive to benefit a local domestic violence shelter. The reading will feature poetry by Kyle Dargan, Jill Leininger, Mel Nichols, and Kim Roberts, as well as fiction by Nicole Idar. We’d love to have you join us!
The reading is scheduled for Friday, April 12th at 8:00 p.m. at the Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan (2427 18th Street NW). Audience members are asked to bring toiletry items and other pantry necessities to donate to the shelter, Bethany House. The list of suggested items follows.
Kyle Dargan is the author of three collections of poetry, Logorrhea Dementia (2010), Bouquet of Hungers (2007) and The Listening (2003). For his work, he has received the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Dargan has partnered with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities to produce poetry programming at the White House and Library of Congress. He is currently an assistant professor of literature and creative writing at American University and the founder and editor of POST NO ILLS magazine.
Nicole Idar grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her stories have appeared in World Literature Today, Rattapallax, and The New Ohio Review, where she was as a finalist for the 2009 Fiction Prize. Her first published essay, “Refrain from Being a Totally 100% Bookworm,” won a 2012 Bethesda Magazine award. She is presently at work on a novel, The Epic of the Toyol.
Jill Leininger’s poems have been included in Shenandoah, Seattle Review, Harvard Review, cream city review, and Poetry International, among others. “Roof Picnic Skies, New York,” her first chapbook, is a series of prose poems inspired by the artist William Kentridge (dancing girl press, Chicago). A second chapbook of poems, “Sky Never Sleeps,” was selected by Mark Doty for publication with BLOOM in 2012. As a graduate of the University of Oregon’s M.F.A. program (’99), Jill has been a finalist for the Ruth Lilly Fellowship and has also received writing fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and Lambda Literary. She is currently working at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.
Mel Nichols is the author of four collections of poetry, including Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon (National Poetry Series finalist) and Bicycle Day. Her work can also be found at The Huffington Post, Poetry, The Brooklyn Rail, Jacket2, PennSound, HTML Giant, The Pink Line, and forthcoming in Open Letters Monthly and The Poetry Project Newsletter. She has been a visiting artist at the Corcoran College of Art & Design, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, and others, and she teaches digital poetry and other writing courses at George Mason University. New books are forthcoming from Flowers & Cream Press and Edge, and her punkulele band πhole will be coming soon to a venue near you.
Kim Roberts is the author of five books, most recently Animal Magnetism, winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize, and the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC. Roberts edits the literary journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and co-edits the Delaware Poetry Review. She is involved in two large online projects mapping DC literary history: she is co-curator of the web exhibit DC Writers’ Homes, and is part of the team creating DC By the Book, a project mapping the location where novels and short stories have been set in Washington, sponsored by the DC Public Libraries. Roberts has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Humanities Council of Washington, and the DC Commission on the Arts, and has been a writer-in-residence at 14 artist colonies.
Requested items include:
Lip balm/Lip gloss
Diapers (size 3-6)
Pull-ups (size 2T-5T)
Filed under: Poetry, Starring Local Feminists, Women's Health
In the winter of 2012, the story of the girls of Le Roy, New York was all over the news. In this small town, there was an inexplicable outbreak at the local high school, with over 18 students (mainly girls) afflicted by stuttering, strange tics, and uncontrollable convulsions of the limbs and head. Some traced the cause back to a 1970 train accident in Le Roy that released toxic chemicals into the soil. Others noted the “sticky orange substance oozing out of the playing field,” natural gas wells on school property, and toxic waste clean-up sites within a few miles of the school.
I followed the story avidly, intrigued by similarities to the infamous Salem witch trials (as a New Englander, I’ve had a longstanding interest in these). Eventually most doctors diagnosed the outbreak as a mass “conversion disorder” and went on morning news shows and talk shows explaining the diagnosis. What is conversion disorder? Although none of the experts used the word, it is essentially a newfangled way of referring to hysteria. In other words, it was all in their heads.
The poetic sequence “Glass Armonica” developed out of my research into historical notions of hysteria and the treatments administered by doctors (including ovariectomy, pelvic massage, and vaginally-inserted devices used to produce “hysterical paroxysm”). I sought to merge the evolution of hysteria as a diagnosis – with a specifically female etiology – and the voice of a contemporary speaker diagnosed with conversion disorder. Even the etymology of the word hysteric traces its roots to the Latin hystericus, meaning “belonging to the womb.” Within this sequence, Mary Glover’s case is central because it was in relation to her case that Edward Jorden first produced a pamphlet spelling out the etiology and symptoms of “a disease called the Suffocation of the Mother.” According to Jorden, hysteria was the result of an afflicted uterus.
Franz Mesmer was also known for his treatment of hysterics. He believed that through the manipulation of magnetic forces/fluid, he could heal his patients. He often played an instrument called a glass armonica during these sessions. Mesmer’s most famous patient was the blind pianist, Maria Theresia Paradis, who – as a result of his “laying-on of hands” – announced that she could see.
During my research on the subject I happened upon a book called Invention of Hysteria by Georges Didi-Huberman. Didi-Huberman gathers together photographs taken in the late nineteenth century at the Salpêtrière hospital of Paris. The Salpêtrière is notorious for having housed insane and incurable women patients, “hysterics.” Under the direction of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, the inmates were photographed to provide evidence of hysteria’s specific form and diagnostic criteria. One of Charcot’s favorite cases, and among the most frequently photographed, was Augustine. She later escaped the Salpêtrière hospital, and lived out the rest of her life disguised as a man.
My hope in “Glass Armonica” is to complicate notions of women’s health that are too often considered to be “all in the patient’s head.” This is not limited to something as rare as conversion disorder; many illnesses that disproportionately afflict women have been similarly characterized (fibromyalgia comes to mind). As a feminist poet, my experience of the world as a woman is inseparable from my identity as a writer. The gift of literature is its ability to help readers actually experience and connect with new points of view. At its best, good writing can change us, and change the way we interact with the world long after the text has been finished. That would be my hope for any poem that I am able to send out into the world.
To learn more about Rebecca Dunham, visit her at www.rebeccadunham.com