women’s health

PRETTY HURTS

In the now publicly-released video for “Pretty Hurts,” Beyonce makes a strong statement about girls, women, society, and standards of beauty. “Pretty Hurts” is about the pain many young girls and women face as they go through life absorbing the millions of messages from television, magazines, society as a whole, and sometimes even family members, telling them that their self-worth is tied to their looks. “Pretty Hurts” is about self-esteem, it’s about self-revelation, and it’s about reevaluating that socially-charged word to begin with—”pretty.”

Preach, Bey, preach….

“Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce

Mama said, you’re a pretty girl
What’s in your head it doesn’t matter
Brush your hair, fix your teeth
What you wear is all that matters

Just another stage
Pageant the pain away
This time I’m gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down

Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Perfection is the disease of a nation
Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery

Blonder hair, flat chest
TV says bigger is better
South beach, sugar free
Vogue says
Thinner is better

Just another stage
Pageant the pain away
This time I’m gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down, down

Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Perfection is the disease of a nation
Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery

Ain’t no doctor or therapeutic that can take the pain away
The pain’s inside
And nobody frees you from your body
It’s the soul that needs surgery
It’s my soul that needs surgery
Plastic smiles and denial can only take you so far
And you break when the paper signs you in the dark
You left a shattered mirror
And the shards of a beautiful girl

Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Perfection is the disease of a nation
Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery

When you’re alone all by yourself
And you’re lying in your bed
Reflection stares right into you
Are you happy with yourself
It’s just a way to masquerade
The illusion has been shed
Are you happy with yourself
Are you happy with yourself
Yes

Lyrics via metrolyrics

*This post was updated on 4/29/2014

#FreeOurMidwives

midwife listening to belly

The following excerpts are taken from the CFAM website, a site dedicated to California Families for Access to Midwives:

 

“Yelena Kolodji and Kavita Noble are CA Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) who are being prosecuted. Their only alleged offense: failing to obtain physician supervision.

It is virtually impossible for midwives to obtain physician supervision for out-of-hospital births. California Families For Access to Midwives (CFAM) fought hard to remove this unnecessary requirement from law. Thanks to enormous consumer pressure, as of January 1, 2014, physician supervision will be a thing of the past for Licensed Midwives in California —  but not for CNMs.

While most CNMs practice in hospital settings where physician supervision is virtually automatic, the few CNMs who provide out-of-hospital maternity care are forced to practice illegally since physicians are unwilling and/or unable to supervise them.

Yelena and Kavita have been providing comprehensive care to pregnant mothers and newborns for more than a combined 40 years, and have caught a combined 2,000 babies in hospital, birth center, and home settings.”

———————–

“This case also raises the broader question: do mothers have a right to access the full range of maternity care services their providers are trained and skilled to deliver?

When two skilled, experienced, and appropriately licensed midwives are prosecuted for providing appropriate care that results in a healthy mother and healthy baby, it is a sign that something is wrong with the system.”

————————-

“Please get involved in our efforts to support midwives Yelena and Kavita during this trying time by:

******************

 

The legal issue at hand is one of non-compliance with CA state law mandating physician supervision for CNMs. But what is the purpose of such a law? It’s mere existence infers that midwives are inept, or at best, not fully competent, to attend childbirth as autonomous medical professionals—as if they need an authoritarian medical professional overseeing them. Yet midwives are extensively trained in childbirth and perinatal care. If anything it’s the OBGYNs who are not trained well enough in the ways of natural childbirth and effective labor coaching.

Rules like this are in place for bureaucratic reasons—in the legal and financial interests of physicians—not in the interests of mother and baby’s health. It’s about insurance, it’s about money, it’s about fear of lawsuits. It’s not about the best birth outcomes.

 

For more information, check out my Sources:

 

who decides how she gives birth

 

 

 

SEX & PORN

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PORN SEX & REAL SEX!

 

I found this video while reading this Huffington Post article recently. Obviously, this video is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek look at the differences between ‘real sex’ and porn sex, but it also underscores a very real and serious problem in our country:

A severe lack of sex education.

As Nina Hartley says in the aforementioned HuffPost article, “Pornography is a paid, professional performance by actors. It is a fantasy, it is not meant to be a rulebook and guidebook or a how to as a general rule. And it goes to show how poor our sex education is in this country that people are reduced to looking at an entertainment medium for information about the body.”

I could not agree with Ms. Hartley more. In fact, if you’re already following the MFB Facebook page (good for you!) then you probably already know that I am the biggest advocate of education in general (it’s only the best tool in the shed for rebuilding this old house we call ‘Merica!), but sex education is of particular importance to me— largely because a lack of it engenders some specifically unique consequences. One of these unique consequences stems from its inevitable interconnection with porn.

What teen or young adult in this country isn’t looking at porn, if not for “educational purposes,” then out of pure curiosity? And guess what— I’m not even here to slam porn as some of you may be expecting at this moment. Oh, no… I’m just here to talk about sex, much in the same way that Salt n Pepa once did: “Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…” Sex can be great. And so can porn. However, modern-day “mainstream” porn has brought with it an onslaught of problems:

  • People will look to it for sexual guidance (i.e. what to do and how to do it)
  • People will judge their own bodies against the bodies they are viewing, often castigating their own bodies as “wrong,” and believing that they should, instead, look like the ones onscreen— hairless, bleached, six-pack abs…
  • Women are consistently portrayed as passive sexual actors, with even the woman on woman sex scenarios (I hesitate to use the word “lesbian” here, for obvious reasons) usually centered around male pleasure
  • HETEROSEXIST ANDROCENTRISM, pure and simple.

Now, the first two bullet points mentioned above are not directly the fault of porn, per se, but rather, are inescapably bound up with our lack of education regarding the human body and human sexuality. But on that same note, porn could be a useful tool in displaying and promoting bodily diversity, yet, sadly, mainstream porn does not. Now as for the last two points…

Androcentrism is the key word here as far as I’m concerned.

Mainstream porn is no doubt heterosexist (i.e. biased towards heterosexuality), and it is also highly androcentric. Whether literally, as in, the movie itself revolves around a heterosexual male and/or his fantasy, or behind the scenes, as in, it is being written, directed, and produced by heterosexual men.

This lack of authentic female sexuality (and it’s representation in porn) is evident in what artist Sophia Wallace calls our society’s lack of “cliteracy.” As she said to Creem magazine earlier this year, “It is a curious dilemma to observe the paradox that on the one hand the female body is the primary metaphor for sexuality, its use saturates advertising, art and the mainstream erotic imaginary. Yet, the clitoris, the true female sexual organ, is virtually invisible.” “Even in porn, the clitoris is treated as this optional, kind of freaky, ‘wow he’s doing her this huge favor’ thing,” she told HuffPost, adding that women often feel “embarrassed” to ask their partners to pleasure them. “It’s insane to me that this is still happening in 2013.”

Can you hear my applause for Ms. Wallace right now?

Yet another interesting facet that Wallace hints at with this last quote (ahem, “embarrassment”? Read: “body conscious”) is the issue of physical insecurity, and guess what— it isn’t just for women and girls anymore. Take the following statement from writer, Phoebe Baker Hyde:

“A cultural anthropologist shared this observation with me: Pornography consumption on campuses is changing because women can now access porn privately and anonymously on the Internet. While this can lead to butterfly Brazilians and “designer vaginas” in sexually active young women, it also gives these women considerable performance expectations of their sexual partners. It’s hard to imagine a man showing off his fake orgasm over a pastrami sandwich the way Meg Ryan did in When Harry Met Sally, but it seems that young men are becoming more self-conscious and body-conscious during sex, so we may be headed in that direction.”

It is here that I must stop and reiterate: Porn is not evil. It is not a social ill, nor is it comprised of, and/or made by ill-minded people. Moreover, porn can be a really progressive and feminist and overall awesome thing. And sometimes it actually is. Plenty of other sex-positive feminists like myself like porn. And as one article very rightly observed: “Porn never goes away when it’s banned.”

In fact, in the article referenced above [CLICK IT!], the author gives a lot of wonderfully thought-provoking insight on the conflation of mainstream porn, everyday sexism, and ‘real sex.’ What makes her contribution on this topic all the more interesting: the backdrop for her analysis is her experience of YALE SEX WEEK. Here’s an excerpt:

“Censors which stigmatise one type of pornography as ‘bad’ implicitly elevate the alternative, ‘acceptable’ porn. And far too often, that ‘normal’ pornography conveys images of passive femininity that are more easily absorbed into everyday life: artificial conventions of beauty in porn are as dangerous to real women as movies that reveal, astonishingly, that sex and power are linked.

Start banning anything that comes close to a rape scenario, and you’ll block out feminist attempts to reclaim or experiment with centuries-old erotic traditions. You’ll even block sado-masochism that has women on top (does it degrade men, this time? Or does it degrade women, because the dominatrix is still sexualised for male lust? It’s all too confusing!) Gothic images are obviously fantasy (how many castle-owners can afford the metal-polishing costs on gleaming dungeons, nowadays?), but impossibly curvaceous cheerleaders ‘consensually’ putting out for the football captain do a far better job of masquerading as ‘real sex’ guides for today’s teenagers.”

And thus, I am right back where I started. (see what I did there?)

Porn serving as ‘real sex’ guides for today’s teenagers…

I shudder to think of the many boys and girls out there right now thinking that they are “learning” a thing or two from porn (ahem, and probably plenty of grown men and women, too). The many girls trying to comprehend this ostensible link between sex and power, and the many boys absorbing insidiously sexist images and messages. Ladies and gentleman, can we please stop thinking that porn is the same thing as real, regular ol’ everyday people sex? Because it’s not. It’s a movie, it’s part of the entertainment industry— it’s a farce. If you want some real talk, check this out (warning: it really only applies to the straights and lesbians) or, I don’t know… find a cool coloring book to begin your journey of learning about yourself and the wonderful world that is ‘real sex.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: BODIES by Susie Orbach

Single sentence synopsis: Bodies does for our visual culture (& our bodies), what The Omnivore’s Dilemma did for food.

And, as a matter of fact, just as The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores the disconnect between us and our food, so too does Orbach explore the disconnect between us and our bodies and its consequences.

Susie Orbach is a British psychoanalyst who has done much work for, and within, the feminist and women’s health communities, and this book is a social-psychological look at bodies, underpinned by the very feminist tenet that bodies are socially constructed and discursively materialized.

Ok, that’s a mouthful, I know, but let me explain: That is not to say that feminists are of the opinion that bodies magically materialize out of discourse, or are actually (i.e. literally) constructed limb by limb, organ by organ, out of “society.” This perspective merely holds (though there is nothing “mere” about it) that “a body…is inscribed and formed by the accretion of myriad small specific cultural practices… in certain respects, there has never been an altogether simple, “natural” body. There has only been a body that is shaped by its social and cultural designation.”

Did that help make any more sense to anyone? If not, perhaps this is a better explanation:

The point is that our very hand gestures, symbolic physical gestures, our facial expressions, our gender performativity, what we wear, how we speak , everything about the physical body— all of these material, physical aspects— are shaped by our social surroundings and cultural influences. This is what it means to say that the body is socially constructed and discursively materialized. In Orbach’s words, “Every gesture we make, the very way we move, our grace or lack of it, our physical confidence or unease, reflect both the country and local culture we have grown up in and the particular interpretation of our gestures that our mothers and those close to us have passed on.”

It is in this way that many feminists hold that there is actually no such thing as a “natural,” or “organic” body— because each body is informed, shaped, and defined within its particular social context. I think once you read the following descriptions of this book this may all make more sense… *spoiler alert: I cannot recommend this book enough*

Bodies is broken up into the following chapters:

  • Bodies In Our Time
  • Shaping The Body
  • Speaking Bodies
  • Bodies Real And Not So Real
  • And So To Sex
  • (&) What Are Bodies For?

She begins the first chapter by introducing us to Andrew, a case study of sorts. He wants to “do away” with his legs.

IMG_3607

I found this book in my local library, read this first page of the first chapter, and immediately checked it out and bolted home. It did not disappoint.

This first chapter is an examination of people “in the wrong bodies.” Whether it’s Andrew, who cannot feel whole unless he has rid himself of his legs, or Michaela, a prison inmate who wanted to be/ felt he was a woman. In these cases, “Biology and psychology had not melded as expected,” says Orbach.

She also proceeds to give a really great overview of the rest of the book in showing us why Bodies In Our Time is her starting point:

“Our bodies no longer make things… Our relations to the physical and physical work are shifting… Our bodies are and have become a form of work. The body is turning from being the means of production to the production itself.”

In her words, “an obsessive cultural focus on the body” has resulted in “the search for a body, disguised as preoccupation, health concern or moral endeavour. Almost everyone has  a rhetoric about trying to do right by their body which reveals a concern that the body is not at all right as it is…”

Chapter 2, Shaping The Body, is just as fascinating as the first chapter. It explores the hows and whys of the social physical world affecting an individual’s physicality. It’s about how one’s physical world/ physical upbringing can shape them, not just emotionally, but physically. There are some reeeeeally interesting case studies in this chapter, such as Victor, the boy raised by wild animals in France, found in 1799, as well Gina, a modern-day young girl who was moved from foster home to foster home. And don’t even get me started on her discussion of mirror neurons and how they play into all of this. It is insanely engrossing and does not require you to have a background in science in order to understand it (Lord knows I certainly don’t).

Speaking Bodies (Chapter 3) veers into a discussion of therapy itself, as well as the role the therapist plays. And, once again, there are a couple of very interesting case studies here.

Bodies Real And Not So Real ends up taking on a wealth of topics in addition to what I thought it would be about. Not only does she discuss avatars and computer-based relationships, but also, cosmetic surgery, dieting, pregnancy, the controversial French Artist, Orlan, and more. Did you know that, “Diets, it turns out, promote chaotic eating”? As a matter of fact, according to Orbach’s research, “Diets can cause people to gain weight. They are not a wise response to “overweight,” but are part of the destabilising of the ordinary processes of eating.” Furthermore, “overweight people who exercise have a lower mortality rate than thin people who do not. So [as Orbach postulates] one is led to wonder why thin has erroneously become the gold standard for health.” Another significant fact: “In 1995 the World Health Organisation, under pressure from the International Obesity Task Force, revised the BMI in such a way that 300,000 Americans who had previously thought they were “normal” weight woke up to find themselves reclassified. Brad Pitt and George Bush, for example, were now overweight… and George Clooney and Russell Crowe were obese.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg to this chapter alone. These are mere brushstrokes to the greater work she is painting with this book…

She begins the second to last chapter, And So To Sex, with an anecdote almost as galvanizing as the first story of the book (Andrew’s story), except, of course, this time it involves sex. I can’t help but think that this chapter should be read by every person on this planet that has sex. Maybe even those who don’t. But then again, I also think everyone should read this book. That’s just how much I loved it.

And finally, with What Are Bodies For?, she leaves us with the culmination of this work in its entirety. And it’s really relatable. I suppose that’s why I loved the book so much in the first place, and why I couldn’t help but think upon finishing it, “BY GOD, EVERY HUMAN BEING IN THIS COUNTRY NEEDS TO READ THIS BOOK!” It’s relatable. It’s about all of us. It is pertinent to our very individual and collective existence.

If I haven’t succeeded in making you want to go out and read this 179 page book yet, I don’t know what else to say except that… it’s intriguing, insightful, possibly cathartic, significantly relevant, and ultimately, if you have a body, it’s about you.

Now isn’t that worth reading?

 

PLAN B (a.k.a. “Hussy Pills”)

plan b

Big news this past week:

Plan B, also known as the “morning after pill,” (or in the words of pseudo-conservative, Stephen Colbert, “hussy pills”) will now be made available over the counter—no prescription required—for girls and women, ages 15 and up.

Naturally, according to conservatives, this just means society is practically pushing young girls into having sex.

Ok, first of all, if anything in society is pushing young girls into having sex, it’s the media and our visual culture’s sexualization of girls and women. Moreover, this line of thinking fails to acknowledge that a young woman may actually be capable of possessing her own sexual agency. I know teenagers are crazy, with their hormones flying all over the place, and they often think they know everything, when as we all clearly know from hindsight, they don’t…. However, it is a point in time during which many are figuring out their own sexuality, and learning to be their own sexual agents (God willing!). So, with that kind of thinking in mind, the old “this is encouraging promiscuous behavior!” rhetoric is really rather patronizing. Plan B isn’t going to “encourage” unprotected promiscuity any more than abortion “encourages” unplanned pregnancies.

Not to mention, this brings up the most glaringly contradictory flaw contained within any and all Republican/conservative, pro-life arguments against contraception:

If you’re so anti-abortion, you should love contraception. You should want more of, and increased access to, contraception. It actually prevents abortions. Guess what, conservatives and Republicans— it’s thanks to Planned Parenthood that I, and many other girls and women out there in the U.S., have never even had to consider abortion. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, and access to contraception. It will never cease to amaze me how pro-life/anti-abortion politicians seem to conveniently leave out of their arguments the fact that contraception is actually essential to their cause. (That and sexual education, which is another thing they are often illogically against.)

And if they want to argue for abstinence or some other such farce, well, that leads to the biggest caveat of all:

TEENAGERS HAVE SEX. Overwhelmingly, regardless of your opinion, or your morals, or what you choose to believe, the fact of the matter is: TEENAGERS HAVE SEX.

A few facts, taken from the Guttmacher Institute website:

  • Although only 13% of teens have had sex by age 15, most initiate sex in their later teen years. By their 19th birthday, seven in 10 female and male teens have had intercourse.
  • On average, young people have sex for the first time at about age 17
  • A woman who is sexually active and not using contraception has an 85% chance of becoming pregnant within a year.
  • Each year, almost 750,000 U.S. women aged 15–19 become pregnant. Two-thirds of all teen pregnancies occur among 18–19-year-olds.
  • Overall, 68 pregnancies occurred per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008. The 2008 rate was a record low and represented a 42% decline from the peak rate of 117 per 1,000, which occurred in 1990.
  • The majority of the decline in teen pregnancy rates in the United States (86%) is due to teens’ improved contraceptive use; the rest is due to increased proportions of teens choosing to delay sexual activity.
  • Despite having declined, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate continues to be one of the highest in the developed world. It is more than twice as high as rates in Canada (28 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2006) and Sweden (31 per 1,000).
  • Eighty-two percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned; teens account for about one-fifth of all unintended pregnancies annually.

[Read more from the Guttmacher Institute’s Fact Sheet on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health Here.]

Finally, I heard a new one here:

According to Conservative Columnist, Francesca Chambers, “Repealing the age restriction to buy the morning after pill will encourage young women who are too embarrassed or afraid to talk about sexual abuse to bypass the authorities. Terrible men who deserve to go to prison could never face charges, allowing them the opportunity to continue feeding their sexual addiction. Despite the way many pro-choice advocates are attempting to frame the issue, this is not a women’s health or a women’s rights issue.”

Wow. I have never heard of access to contraception as something that could, or would, “encourage young women…to bypass the authorities” when it comes to rape. Once again, I am encountered with ill logic. Have we ever relied on pregnancy as an indicator of sexual abuse? Moreover, she is either unaware of the conditions that actually do engender girls and women keeping quiet about rape, or she is aware, but chooses not to disclose that information. Let’s see: Threat of death, humiliation, no one believing you, ostracization, and now, apparently you could get kicked out of school… And then there’s this:

Why Will Only 3 Out of Every 100 Rapists Serve Time?

And ultimately, Ms. Chambers, this IS a women’s health AND a women’s rights issue. It has to do with our—specifically, women’s—sexual and reproductive health. It doesn’t get any more logical than that. (Maybe she’s never heard of a uterus or a vagina? Then again, if she’s a conservative, probably not- those words are dirty!) To try and argue otherwise is like trying to argue that contraception and unplanned pregnancies have nothing to do with each other.

La Femme Fetal

One of the most amazing politically conscious pieces of music ever…

La Femme Fetal by Digable Planets

Lyrics:

It was 8:49 on a beautiful 9th day of July
There was not a cloud to speak of
So the orange sun hung lonely in the sky
I lay prone in my catboat home
Thinking of fine nappy Jackie and his jazz cat’s horn
Sliding in a tape of bird on verve when suddenly rang my phone

“Hey butterfly”, the voice said
Slip on some duds comb out your fro and slide on down to my pad
The vibe here is very pleasant and I truly request your presence
A problem of great magnitude has arose and as we speak it grows
Damn, what could it be I thought
A juice I bought and rolled on down to her spot
Seeing bros I know slapping fives I arrived and pressed G-5
And there was Nikki lookin’ some kind of sad
With tears fallin’ from her eyes she sat me down
And dug my frown and began to run it down

“You remember my boyfriend Sid that fly kid who I love
Well our love was often a verb and spontaneity has brought a third
But do to our youth an economic state, we wish to terminate
About this we don’t feel great, but baby that’s how it is
But the feds have dissed me, they ignored and dismissed me
The pro-lifers harass me outside the clinic
And call me a murderer, now that’s hate
So needless to say we’re in a mental state of debate”

“Hey beautiful bird”, I said digging her somber mood
The fascists are some heavy dudes
They don’t really give a damn about life
They just don’t want a woman to control her body
Or have the right to choose but baby that ain’t nothin’
They just want a male finger on the button

Because if you say, “War”, they will send them to die by the score
Aborting mission should be your volition
But if Souter and Thomas have their way
You’ll be standing in line unable to get welfare
While they’ll be out hunting and fishing
It has always been around, it will always have the niche
But they’ll make it a privilege not a right accessible only to the rich

Hey pro-lifers need to dig themselves ’cause life doesn’t stop after birth
And for a child born to the unprepared it might even just get worse
The situation would surely change if they were to find themselves in it
Supporters of the h-bomb and fire bombing clinics
What type of shit is that? Orwellian in fact
If Roe V Wade was overturned would not the desire remain intact
Leaving young girls to risk their healths
Doctors to botch and watch as they kill themselves

Now I don’t want to sound macabre
But hey, isn’t it my job to lay it on the masses
And get them off their asses to fight against these fascists
So whatever you decide make that move with pride
Sid will be there and so will I
An insect ’til I die

Rhythms and sounds, spinning around
Confrontations across the nation
Your block, my block, dreadlocks what a shock
Land of the free but not me
Not me, not me, not me, not me
Not me, not me, not me, not me