Tag Archives: parenting

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.

girlfriends

I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?

boyshugging

What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.

Respect

It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.

Toxic

This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.

Friendship

Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Another day, another shooting – can we talk about it YET?

I’ve been avoiding clicking on articles about shootings lately because the last one in Oregon hit me so hard.

I don’t even know why.

Maybe it was because my family had just been out there, and it was close to the town we lived in and had our children in – or maybe it was because it happened while I was starting to take active steps toward becoming a teacher and it happened on a college campus – making me face the fact that not only is no where safe from gun violence in this country, we’ve all accepted that, but that keeping students safe from gun violence is now part of every teacher’s job.

gun safety in america

What to do when you find a gun at your school.

And yet… As I look through my course catalog and plan my next couple of school years… There is no class on student safety, or gun safety, or violence in and around schools. We just have to follow district policy and hope that our school isn’t the next school. And there will be a next school because we still aren’t really allowed to talk about it, or take steps to make this madness stop.

When I start thinking about it, I fall into a wee puddle of despair. The intractable nature of this issue depresses me. The fact that we can’t even seem to start a conversation about it – not when kids are shot and killed in their classrooms, not when kids get a hold of guns and accidentally (or not accidentally – but, I believe, without fully realizing the permanence of the consequences) shoot a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor, not when open carry becomes open season

The closest we’ve been able to come to a conversation about this is being led by #BlackLivesMatter about our nation’s latent (and sometimes overt) racism and the militarization of our police forces.

hands up don't shoot

But in order for that conversation to be truly productive, we need it to join a larger conversation about gun violence, gun ownership, the 2nd amendment, FREEDOM and responsibility.

It is that last piece that I want to seize on – responsibility, because in all the shouting and finger-pointing and “from my cold dead hands” rhetoric… one of the things I keep hearing is that we can’t trample on the rights of “responsible gun owners” and that 30,000+ senseless deaths per year and the associated daily mayhem is simply the price we have to pay for those people’s rights, and I disagree.

I think that if you are a responsible gun owner, you should want to ensure that other people who own and use guns are also responsible. I feel like you should have a vested interest in making sure that irresponsible gun owners, along with violent people who wish to cause harm, destruction and mayhem are prevented from owning, acquiring and using guns. Or at least greatly hindered in their attempts.

I don’t want to take all the guns. (Well… That’s not strictly true. In my perfect world – sure, fuck guns. In my perfect world we wouldn’t need them, no one would need them – not the military, not the cops, not the criminals. Give all the hunters the new high powered, awesome compound bows. But, we don’t live in that world. That world is long gone. So… Working within the realms of reality – I’m not coming for your guns. No one is.)

That said… I do think we can talk about regulation.

I think we can talk about responsibility.

I think we can talk about safety and making it harder for a toddler to accidentally shoot their mom dead at the store.

I think we can talk about making it harder for people with known violent tendencies and violent intent to purchase/acquire guns. (One of the things that has been making me laugh that cold, dry, dusty laugh of despair lately is how often when there is another mass shooting, the Guns Everywhere crowd – which is distinct from the “responsible gun rights” crowd – will crow, “But he bought his guns legally!” as if this is an argument AGAINST having a conversation about gun regulation. I’m always like, “Exactly! And he shouldn’t have been able to! Thank you for pointing out that our current laws and regulations are inadequate!”)

I think we can talk about what a responsible response to a 911 call about a person brandishing a weapon should be. To my mind it is not automatically shoot to kill (See Tamir Rice and John Crawford III – both black males with toy guns in an open carry state), nor is it “Can’t help you. But call back if he opens fire.” (Response to calls about numerous white males with ACTUAL GUNS in numerous open carry states.)

I feel like we can talk about a reasonable response, perhaps one that focuses on “keeping the peace,” that starts by assessing a situation with the primary goal of de-escalation, that focuses on everyone’s rights – a responsible gun owner’s legal right to own a gun as well as everyone else’s legal right to life.

I think we can talk about requiring gun owners to be licensed, and for those licenses to require that gun owners take a gun safety class and pass a test to show their knowledge and proficiency. In my perfect world, those licenses would need to be renewed periodically – just like a driver’s license. And in my perfect world, an officer responding to a call about a person brandishing a weapon would have the legal obligation to request that license and verify it, just like an officer responding to a call of reckless driving is required to run the driver’s license and check their insurance and registration.

Further, just as a motorcycle license dos not qualify you to drive a car, and a car license does not qualify you to drive a large truck – a rifle license should be different from a handgun license should be different from an assault rifle license. Being competent with one type of gun does not make you competent with all guns. I believe there are levels that could be distinguished and delineated.

if guns were regulated

Just a thought.

I think we can talk about liability.

If gun owners were liable for damage caused by their unsecured guns, like the woman who left her assault rifle leaning against her house to take a call and returned to find that her gun had “wandered off” without her… Or the many, many, many people who have left loaded guns unsecured in spaces where children could access them… Perhaps we would see an increase in actual responsible gun ownership. The kind that keeps guns locked up and out of reach of underage, or untrained, unqualified, dare I hope, unlicensed people – not to mention people who the law has determined should not have access to firearms.

And what about gun manufacturers? Where is their liability? Not for every death caused by their guns, but for making guns with safety features so loose that a toddler is able to disable them and shoot someone on accident. For not using and incorporating the latest safety technology to ensure less accidental deaths occur as a result of their product’s use.

Cars are not designed specifically to kill. But sometimes they do. Not all cars kill people, not all drivers kill people – but car manufacturers are still required to include certain safety features in all cars – just in case.

Why aren’t gun manufacturers required to do the same?

I think we can talk about reasonable regulation. A friend of mine once asked what that meant. He claims it is just a liberal buzz phrase trotted out to make ourselves feel better. I have to say, it doesn’t make me feel better at all, because as much as I think these things make sense without infringing on FREEDOM!, and survey after survey has shown that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, also think these things are reasonable and make sense without infringing on FREEDOM! – nothing is being done to actually enact these things. So no, I don’t feel better talking about this, I feel depressed and hopeless and powerless.

I feel like Jon Stewart toward the end of his run.

So what are these “reasonable, common sense” regulations and reforms that the majority of people agree we should enact?

Universal background checks – enacting laws that make it so everyone who purchases a gun must pass a background check – and making sure that the data included in those background checks is kept up to date.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of semi-automatic, high-capacity assault rifles.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of high-capacity magazines for all styles of guns.

Laws allowing the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue.

Laws requiring gun registration and/or licensing. (As stated above, I believe this should also require gun safety classes and both a written and a practical test to prove competency.)

I think we can, and should, have a conversation about what kind of nation we would like to live in in regards to guns and violence. I think we should be able to have a conversation about the costs of a mostly unfettered individual right to bear arms vs the costs of a more regulated individual right to bear arms. After all, we already limit people’s right to bear arms. Private citizens don’t get to own tanks, make bombs, etc. which leads me to…

I think we need to simultaneously have a conversation about the use of weapons by law enforcement. Because this is all connected. We declared a war on drugs and began to militarize our police forces to fight this war, which led to people arming themselves against the police, which led to… Well, it’s a giant snake eating its own tail isn’t it?

More guns lead to more guns lead to more guns.

But wait! Statistics show that less people own guns now than in past decades – so why all the violence? Why regulate? Clearly less gun owners doesn’t equal less gun violence. (And yet… homicide, including gun homicide is declining, so maybe there is some correlation…? And no, it isn’t declining so fast that we can skip the conversation. 30,000+ gun deaths per year is not something we should be ignoring.)

So, let’s look at who owns guns AND who is using them inappropriately and have a conversation about what that data could mean for policy.

Oh wait, we kind of can’t.

The CDC isn’t allowed to conduct that kind of research, and the government isn’t allowed to keep track of guns in our country – no registry, no licensing, nothing because they might maybe someday use that information to take all the guns because Hitler (or something. I’ve never really understood this argument and I admit, at this point I’m done trying to pretend to be nice to conspiracy theorists. No one wants to take your guns unless you are a violent a-hole who shouldn’t have them in the first place – so stop waving your arms in my face and acting like a violent a-hole who should be disarmed!!)

What we do know is that less people own guns. BUT the people who do own guns tend to own more of them. So we have less gun owners, but more owned guns.

We also know a thing or two about the people using guns for violence against others.

Mass shooters, with exactly one exception, are male. They tend to be white. They tend to feel slighted by society, many post their grievances – as well as their violent intentions – before they act. Those are often ignored until after the bullets have flown and the blood has pooled.

Based on this, if we want to stop mass shootings, perhaps we should pay attention to angry men who say they the world has slighted them and want to hurt others as a result – and not let them purchase guns or ammo. Perhaps we should be allowed to take their pre-existing owned guns from them. Perhaps we should be allowed to put them on a “No guns, no bullets” list, like the no fly lists we’ve been allowed to create even though most passengers don’t crash planes into buildings full of people…

Since mental health is clearly a factor in these mass shootings, perhaps we should also be able to get them some mental health services! Wouldn’t that be nice!

But mass shootings, while dramatic and headline grabbing, are a small percentage of all the shootings in America. What about all the rest of them – the many, many, many handgun deaths that don’t involve high-capacity guns? The many, many shootings that the new laws outlined above wouldn’t touch? What do we do about all the day to day casual gun violence that doesn’t make the news?

If we knew who owned guns, or at least who was licensed to own a gun and what types they were licensed to own, we would also know who shouldn’t/wasn’t allowed/licensed to own guns. That might make it easier for police to confiscate illegal guns. Once confiscated, illegally owned guns should be melted down into some sort of non-weapon. This has the effect of eventually reducing the total number of guns in circulation.

Likewise any gun used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed once the case is settled (including appeals) and it is no longer needed as evidence.

Voluntary gun buyback programs should be available in more municipalities and those guns too should be permanently removed from circulation.

I keep hearing that the gun problem in America is intractable because we already have too many guns and there’s no way to get them off the street short of mass confiscation. But then I hear about gun buyback programs being shut down, or being forced to sell the guns back into the community they were just removed from and I realize that the real problem is that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Once guns are removed from circulation, let’s keep them out.

Now, I can already hear the panicked chorus of, “But what’s to keep The Government from taking everyone’s guns and, and, HITLER!”

Breathe.

We the people, and our representatives are smart enough to solve this.

First, we are already largely protected from this by the 4th Amendment, you know, the one that protects against illegal search and seizure. Now, I know this right has been eroded significantly by the war on drugs and asset forfeiture laws, not to mention the war on terror and Homeland security so – let’s use our power and strengthen it back up. (And maybe stop declaring war on everything?)

We can write the laws in such a way that if police confiscate weapons, the person they were taken from has the right, and the time, to challenge that and to prove that they were legally allowed to own and possess those weapons. If the weapons were wrongfully confiscated, the person who was wronged gets them back and is reimbursed for any legal/court fees. (See the marijuana industry as an example of this – police who raid a Colorado marijuana business are required to keep alive any plants they find until the case is closed or reimburse the owner for their loss when they are found to be operating within the law.) It would be great if we re-wrote asset forfeiture laws at the same time to reflect this as well, but hey, one dream at a time.

Perhaps you also noticed that I said weapons used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed only after all appeals have been made and the case is closed – so that if that person is found innocent they can have their gun back.

But yes, we should absolutely be taking steps to get more guns off the streets.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting the number of people who can purchase and own guns.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting what types of guns and magazines and ammunition citizens (and police and the military) can possess, own, carry and use.

Yes, we should absolutely require background checks, gun safety classes, gun licensing.

Yes, we should be talking about what responsible gun ownership actually means – and if we have to legislate what that looks like (guns kept in locked spaces, out of reach of minors, not in homes with people who are banned from owning guns, etc.) because common sense is not actually common, then so be it.

And, if we’re really not allowed to regulate guns or talk about guns, maybe we can take some advice from Chris Rock and try to control the bullets.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

A Matter of Heart

“Death is what happens when your dream ends.”

Who are you? What makes you, you? What is your “one thing,”  the thing that defines you and sets you apart from everyone else? What’s the aspect of you that you absolutely could not live without? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning (I mean, besides hungry children, pets or spouses…) What drives you, motivates you, challenges you and makes you want to push yourself to be better?

What’s the one thing that makes you happy, that sustains you and holds you and keeps you afloat when everything else is falling apart?

Now – what would you do if that one thing was taken away?

amy fellner dominy matter of heart

Would you die for a chance to live your dream?

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy dives deep into ideas of identity and the things we think define us and make us who we are. It challenges us to look inside ourselves for our One Thing, and then look even deeper to see what’s driving that, and then look deeper still…

Abby is a swimmer. Not in the sense that she likes to swim in the summer and splash around in the pool with her friends – she is a swimmer on her way to Olympic gold. She wakes, eats, breathes, sleeps and lives swimming. It’s who she is as much as what she does. Swimming is her one thing, her only thing. It defines her, drives her, pushes her – it owns her.

“I’m fearless in the pool. I’m strong. It’s the only place that I am.”

Until one day… Just before the qualifying meet that she is sure will see her swim into Olympic history, she learns that she can never race again, her heart cannot survive another sprint down the lap lane. Diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, she feels like her heart has betrayed her.

“The Abby I was meant to be is dead. And in her place? Who’s left?”

We watch Abby as she cycles through the 5 stages of grief.

Denial – Clearly she has been misdiagnosed, “It only happened the one time because I let myself get dehydrated.” All she needs is a little rest. She’ll be fine. A second opinion will clear everything up. Her heart is fine.

“I’m Abby Lipman. I’m special… I’ve got talent and drive and heart. I don’t know how to be broken.”

Anger – This is bullshit. It has to be. Nothing is going to take away her dream. And… What about her boyfriend, they were a perfect match, the fittest, blessed by Darwin Himself… “How can we belong to anyone else? No one is fast enough to keep up.” But now that Abby isn’t fast enough to keep up either, will Connor leave her behind? Is she really going to lose EVERYTHING because of her stupid, traitor heart?
“My heart has screwed up everything else. It’s not going to screw this up too.”

Bargaining – It’s okay. She’ll quit taking the medicine that keeps her heart beating steady and strong – but not nearly fast enough to win a race, and she’ll go back to training. All she has to do is win this one race, just this one and she’ll be able to prove to everyone that she’s not really sick.

“I’m not big on praying, but God and I talk sometimes. It never made sense that I should ask God for something that I could work to get on my own. Even now, I’m not asking him for favors so much as explaining how it’s going to be.

Depression – As Abby waits to get the all important second opinion, her depression and anxiety grow. She can’t swim, not fast, not like she wants to, until the doctors clear her. She knows they will, but in the meantime…

“I lay a hand over my heart. It’s beating quiet and regular and slow. Beta-blockers. They’re saving me and killing me at the same time.”

She used to wake up in order to swim, eat so she could swim, keep her grades up so she could swim, lived the straight and narrow so she could swim, went to bed early so she could swim. Everything she did, she did so she could swim. And now… What’s the point of any of it?

“It’s not that I’m losing hope. It’s that I’m losing myself.”

Acceptance – Abby finally comes to terms with her condition, but not in the way you might think. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’ll just leave this little tease, “I’m not going to lie to myself. Yes, it’s a risk. Life is full of risk.”

A Matter of Heart explores a lot of topics – not just the idea of identity and what makes us special – and what we do, how we continue if that thing is threatened or taken from us – how do we redefine ourselves when we lose our very core, our center?

It also examines romance and love and relationships, from dating to friends to family and how far we’ll go to get and keep love. How twisted we all sometimes get in trying to live up to other people’s expectations of us, and how deeply we internalize those expectations, making them our own. It explores the topics of first love and fate and destiny and how big it all feels the first time we really, truly fall for someone – and what happens when you go to lean on that love and discover it’s not strong enough to hold you up in your moment of need.

This book also explores second chances and new beginnings. “Why can’t dreams be like people? Why can’t you get a second chance at those, too?” and the ways our dreams carry us through our toughest times and push us to keep going, to survive, even after we think we’ve lost everything that makes life worth living, even after we’ve lost the dream itself.

Just a friendly warning – I finished reading this book while sitting in a public place, bawling my eyes out, desperately searching for a tissue. No one offered me one, they all just scooted a little further away from me on the bench. It’s okay though, I eventually found one in my bag.

This book took me through such a roller coaster of feelings. I really felt connected to Abby. I remember those struggles with identity, and while I never had mine so directly challenged, I think it’s something we can all identify with. We’ve all had our dreams tested, some of us are still being challenged to rise above the obstacles we think are standing in the way of our happiness, our One Thing.

Abby shows us that while death might be what happens when our dreams end, rebirth is waiting if we can only be brave enough to dream again.

A Matter of Heart is available now at all your favorite book sellers. I highly recommend getting your copy now!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Kids, Things that work

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.

None.

Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.

 

 

15 Comments

Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

This might be the last post I ever have to write about abortion.

(Hahahaha… Just kidding. Did you see who won this last election!?!)

That said, if I could just get everyone to go out and buy, or borrow, and read a copy of Katha Pollitt’s new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights we might at least be able to all sit down and have a civil conversation and perhaps even make some progress on this issue.

pro abortion

Let’s change the conversation

This book says a lot of the same things I have been saying for years, BUT it says them better.

Katha comes to the table with history, research, facts, data, and many, many reality checks. She also comes to the table without the intense anger and rage that I often bring to my blog when I rant about this issue. She comes to the table congenially, hoping to calmly discuss, explain and possibly persuade. Not the hard-core anti-abortion, anti-choice crowd, but those of us who live in what she calls the “mushy middle.” The ones who think that when push comes to shove, abortion should be legal – in many circumstances, but maybe not all circumstances because really abortion is a tragedy and while it should be safe and legal, it should also be rare… Katha describes this group’s stance as, “permit but discourage” or, perhaps more accurately, “permit but deplore.”

That is her intended audience, and the conversation she wants to have with them, with you, with all of us, is why “safe, legal and rare” is a failing policy. Why that idea fails women, and families, and communities. What we need instead is, safe, legal and accessible abortion, “on demand and without apology”.

And more than that, we need to completely rethink our ideas about the abortion as tragedy storyline. Where did that come from? Why do we cling to it? Whose purpose does that narrative serve?

And if abortion is such a tragedy, why do we continue to claim that abortion is a “culture-war issue” rather than an actual matter of life and death for millions of women around the globe each year? Perhaps because by thinking of it as a culture-war issue we can dismiss it as unimportant, trivial – sort of the way we do with so many of women’s other concerns… But abortion is NOT a distraction from the “serious” issues like the economy. In fact, reproductive rights are an economic issue.

As you can see, this is another one of those books that looks like it got humped by the rainbow sticky note porcupine. I checked it out from the library and now I have my own copy on order because this is a book that I need to have available to lend out.

pro abortion rights

So much goodness in such a small book.

Katha Pollitt begins her book with a brief history lesson – she reminds us that historically two things have been true.

First, women’s bodies have never been completely their own. Throughout time, they have been owned by fathers, husbands, communities, nations even. She reminds us that when Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, marital rape was legal in every single state – because a wife did not have the right to refuse or reject her husband. Rape was a crime against the MAN who owned the woman, it was “property damage”, not interpersonal assault. (You can still see the effects of this history in the way rape is talked about and dealt with today.)

Given this history of women’s bodies never being wholly their own, it is not such a stretch to think that women’s bodies should, of course, belong to a zygote, embryo, fetus should a stray sperm happen to find a willing egg to partner up with. What else does she have to do with her body that is so important anyway?

When we talk about zygotes and embryos and fetuses as “people” or “babies” we reduce women to simply being places, a sort of “comfy survivalist bunker – food, climate control, some time.”

This idea has taken such hold over our society that in 2006 the CDC’s guidelines recommended that all women and girls of childbearing age practice “preconception care,” which is to say that all women and girls should take care of themselves in the way that women who are trying to get pregnant do – no alcohol, no smoking, no cats, no high risk sex, and take extra vitamins, etc. regardless of whether they actually plan to get pregnant anytime soon or not. Because, hey, you just never know when it’ll happen and you want to be ready. Katha Pollit reminds us that no comparable list was set out for men/potential fathers, “don’t expose a woman to cigarette smoke or sexually transmitted infections, keep the litter box squeaky clean…”

The fact that the CDC thought in terms of protecting accidental fertilized eggs from women, and not protecting women from accidental fertilized eggs shows how shallow still is the idea of women truly being in control of their fertility.

This brings us to the second important history reminder that Katha provides.

Throughout human history, abortion has always existed. There have always been unplanned, unwanted pregnancies and women have been ending them in various ways since they discovered the herbs and other tools for doing so. Throughout recorded history, women have performed abortions and throughout history, until very recently, their right to do so was unquestioned because it was believed that the living woman held primacy over the potential child inside her.

Katha uses this idea as a springboard for a point that I’ve been meaning to talk about for ages, the idea that abortion is an act of self-defense.

This is a radical notion, but a true one all the same. When that politician came out with the “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” campaign sticker (yes, really.) he invoked the idea that an embryo or fetus has a right to “stand its ground” but the woman in whom the fetus resides does not. Yet, if a fetus had a (metaphorical) gun (say triggering or aggravating a condition that put the mother’s life at risk), aborting it would be a true act of self-defense. The idea that women should not have that right confounds me, but it does confirm that there is still a large group of people who simply don’t consider women to be people with the right to defend themselves.

And what about the other losses that women face when they are pregnant – many women who are in school when they get pregnant end up dropping out or taking time off, reducing their future earning potential. Many women who are pregnant face job loss or a reduction in hours and/or wages. There are very real, very documented financial costs to even the best, most wanted pregnancy.

If someone comes into your home and tries to steal money from you, you have the right to defend yourself, with lethal force if necessary (and in some states, even if it’s not necessary.) But as a woman, if something enters our wombs and threatens to hurt us, kill us or cost us real money or our future goals – we are expected to accept those risks and losses. After all, that is what we’re here to do. Or, something.

When pressed people often say that this is because the woman in question let the zygote in, she had sex, this is the consequence, she needs to accept it. But… Is that really true? Should I only have sex with my husband if I am willing to accept pregnancy as the cost? I have a number of married friends who do not want to have children ever and have taken steps to ensure that a pregnancy will not occur. But short of a hysterectomy, those steps are not fail proof. Should they also not be having sex? Ever.

And this is why even some hardline anti-abortionists will concede exceptions for victims of rape and incest, because in those cases the woman in question did not willingly invite this embryo into her body, she is not a bad slut, she’s a poor victim, thus SHE has the right to self-defense.

One of the other things that Katha reminds us in her wonderful book is that while people who are anti-abortion, and even many of us in the mushy-middle, claim to hold our positions out of a deep respect for motherhood, what that position actually conveys is a disregard for the actual seriousness of motherhood and parenting, not to mention a complete disregard for the truth that there is more to being a woman than being a mother.

Saying that all, or even most, women who become pregnant should work to produce a live baby is close to saying that “women can have no needs, desires, purpose or calling so compelling and so important that she should not set it aside in an instant, because of a stray sperm.”

Similarly, when we say that a 16-year-old girl isn’t mature enough to choose abortion and that she is therefore mature enough to endure pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, we are denigrating the actual hard work of parenting by saying anyone can do it, even someone too irresponsible to choose not to…

This viewpoint reduces motherhood to birthing a baby, ignoring everything that comes after.

Motherhood is not a joke. Parenting is hard fucking work. It is 24-7 for a minimum of 18 years. And it is unpaid, largely unthanked and often derided by the very people who want to force all women to “choose” that path.

Katha writes (emphasis mine), We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child – indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is “pro-abortion,” but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by? Why do we make young women feel guilty for wanting to feel ready for motherhood before they have a baby? Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world – what, for example, it means to the children she already has?

Further on, Katha expands on this idea.

Motherhood is the last area in which the qualities we usually value – rationality, independent thinking, consulting our own best interests, planning for a better, more prosperous future, and dare I say it, pursuing happiness and dreams – are condemned as frivolity and selfishness.

Next Katha reminds us that we MUST stop talking about abortion out of context. Abortion does not happen in a vacuum. It is inexorably tied to issues of sex, sexuality, love, violence, privilege, class, race, school, work, men, families, power, reproductive coercion, sexual coercion, the scarcity of good reproductive health care and realistic accurate information and education about sex and reproduction.

We talk about women being pressured to have abortions, but what about women being bullied into having babies?

And of course, we cannot talk about abortion without talking about why there are so many unplanned pregnancies to begin with.

If anti-abortion leaders are really only opposed to abortion, not women having sex, women expressing independence, women having control over their own bodies and destinies, then why are they so keen to stretch its definition to include the most effective and popular methods of birth control? If they really want to stop abortion, without punishing women, wouldn’t they be backing the contraception mandate and handing out IUD vouchers in the streets?

Further, if what they really want to do is promote “pro-natalism” and increased birth rates, then they need to talk about, and support, what that really requires – robust social benefits and services to support mothers and parents and families. Things that would make it easier for women to return to school, to keep their careers, to hold onto their houses and lives and futures. They need to support free prenatal and post-partum care, paid parental leave, free quality childcare, subsidized housing, free quality education, increased nutritional and food assistance and perhaps even outright payments to parents. (Because parenting IS a job.) Yes, we’re talking about socialism.

We’re talking about actually valuing the hard work of mothering, of parenting.

We must also talk about leveling the playing field. We cannot biologically equalize men’s contribution to reproduction, but we can equalize the social and economic costs of parenting a child. We can equalize the burden of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting – and not just among individual couples, but across society.

Instead of seeing a low-income mother as a burden on society to whom government grudgingly doles out dribs and drabs of “services” that are never enough to lift her out of poverty or change her children’s prospects, we need to flip the equation: What does this woman, and the millions like her, require to raise her children to be decent, healthy, well-educated, productive, happy adults – and to be one herself?

Reproductive rights do not end at offering women the right not to mother, but MUST also include providing women the means and ability to mother, and mother well.

And even then, there will be times when pregnancy is still not a good idea for a person, when abortion is still the right answer.

As Katha Pollitt so succinctly put it, “We talk about respecting life. But what if we tried respecting women?”

respect women

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

Health care vs FREEDOM!

This post is a follow-up to yesterday’s post – and bonus! My cold has mostly cleared up so this one might even be coherent! Yatta!

It is in response to a commenter who praised the woman who took personal responsibility for her health and reminded us all that here in America the battle isn’t limited to Medicine vs health, but also health vs FREEDOM! (You must read that as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or it doesn’t work.)

I also want to clarify something that I failed on yesterday – namely that weight is not an indicator of overall health and that the woman in the example I used referred to herself as morbidly obese and her surgery as life saving while admitting that it would not have been life saving if she had not turned her life around and chosen a healthier life afterward. The surgery allowed her to START, it was up to her to follow through.

She also talked about the fact that while she was not ashamed of her previous size, there was a lot of pain around the trauma that led to her weight gain – and that is another conversation that I would like to have one day with all of you, the ways that trauma and internal pain manifest externally and the self-harming behavior many of us turn to in response to unresolved trauma. But that is a LONG and complex conversation, so I’m going to bench it for the moment.

It is also another place that American Medicine failed her, because no one asked – no one asked about the weight gain, how or why it started, how she felt about it, if she needed counseling to help her resolve the issues that led to it. There was a medical procedure, it was done and paid for and then she was left to her own devices. She still struggles with some of the self-harming behaviors that led to her surgery. Beyond the surgery, she needed counseling to help her deal with the root causes of those behaviors. This is part of another larger conversation we need to have about how mental health is ignored in this country if there isn’t a pill that will take away the symptoms or a crime committed that can be punished with jail time.

Anyway, as we dive in, I just want to make it absolutely clear that I do not believe that fat = unhealthy or that thin = healthy. That is ridiculously over-simplistic, insulting and untrue.

That said – our nation’s obsessive love affair with junk food just might be killing us.

fake food

Here there be monsters.

People all over the country FREAKED OUT when NY Mayor Bloomberg tried to levy a soda tax and ban super-sized sodas, because FREEDOM!

Mind you, these are largely the same FREEDOM! fighters who railed against ObamaCare because they didn’t want any of their red cents paying for some slut’s birth control… Um, but you want everyone on your insurance plan to have to pay for your triple by-pass surgery? Interesting.

And here we get into the debate between individual FREEDOM! and collective responsibility – it’s a conversation that is WAY past due in my book.

If we are going to truly change health care in America and shape it into something that actually promotes health, then we have to change not just the medical culture – but the culture of America as a whole.

We have to accept that there is no such thing as absolute FREEDOM! because freedom comes with responsibility, and that responsibility extends beyond ourselves and to our communities.

While I agree that it is rad that the woman I was speaking about yesterday took personal responsibility to turn her health around, I think it is tragic that she had to do so without any true support.

Another commenter yesterday pointed out that it isn’t really more expensive to cook healthy food for yourself than it is to eat junk and she’s tired of hearing that excuse. And I hear her – and that is true especially if you factor in the health costs of eating shit. BUT, I say that as someone who lives near a grocery store that stocks real food, and who owns a car to haul groceries in. I say that as a person who knows how to cook (making that transition without help can be challenging, not impossible, but challenging. Internet helps, but not everyone has internet access at home.) I say that as a person who only has to work one job and thus has time to regularly cook real food from scratch. (Back when I was working two full-time jobs that was next to impossible. Cooking was a day-off activity, and I didn’t have many of those.) I say that as a person who has a partner who helps with both money and time, filling in the gaps. I say that as a person who can afford to spend 20 hours a week shopping, cooking and cleaning up in order to have real food.

I say that as a person who is incredibly privileged and who has multiple supports in place.

I am watching a friend go through this transition right now. And it is BRUTAL. Not impossible, but very, very hard. And it would be great if instead of shaming and blaming people like her for making “bad” choices, we as a culture, as a society, had systems in place to HELP her, and to help people like the commenter who also had to make this transition on her own. Again, it’s not impossible, but if health is a cultural goal – shouldn’t we be working to make it easier?

So how do we change this? How do we shift as a culture so that we truly promote health rather than just shaming illness and blaming people for making poor choices?

It would be great if SNAP benefits were worth double when you used them to buy fruit, veggies, whole grain products, healthy (unprocessed) meat and dairy products so that people trying to stretch those very few dollars didn’t feel compelled to “choose” cheap calories over healthy calories.

It would be great if Welfare benefits and SNAP benefits came with some in-home tutorials on cooking healthy meals and using vegetables, etc. (I would LOVE to go into people’s houses and help them learn how to cook awesome food that their families would eat, but the people who need this service the most can’t afford to pay me for it, and I can’t afford to work for free – yay capitalism?)

It would be ideal if (okay, everyone panic, I’m about to suggest a FREEDOM! killing FEDERAL government regulation!) every restaurant and cafeteria was REQUIRED to include at least one full serving of a fruit or vegetable with every meal. I pay close attention every time my family eats out and it is remarkable (absolutely fucking appalling) how easy it is to go an entire day without eating a single serving of fruit or veggies in this country. My sister took me to a SUPER-DUPER FANCY restaurant a while back. The dinner entrées were upwards of $50 and they did not include a single side, that was just the slab of protein. We had to order a $12 plate of asparagus separately and when it came out it only contained 6 sprigs of asparagus – so this is not just a fast-food/low-income problem.

(For the record, my husband and I are researching opening our own restaurant and this is one of our foundational principles, that every entrée will come with your choice of at least one serving of fruit or vegetables.)

Honestly, every time I eat out in this country, no matter the “class” of the restaurant I go to, I spend 80% of the time thinking about Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book Good Omens and the character of Famine who has taken over the American restaurant scene and has split it in half. He runs the cheap restaurants by providing huge servings of nutritionally empty food, helping poor people die of obesity and malnutrition simultaneously. In the high-class restaurants he serves single sprigs of asparagus artfully placed on huge platters and skulks about watching the elite starve themselves. It hits pretty close to home.

If we want health, we might need to accept some limitations on FREEDOM! We might need to accept things like soda taxes, removing junk food options from schools, restricting junk food advertising, requiring businesses that call themselves restaurants to serve fruits and vegetables, requiring businesses that call themselves grocery stores to carry fruits and vegetables.

We might need to require more detailed labeling of foods, using terms people understand. What exactly is 8 grams of sugar? What does that look like? What about 150mg of sodium? Those are numbers pulled from reputedly “healthy” cereals and snacks in my pantry. Is the sugar naturally occurring as in fruits and milk, or is it added sugar? What exactly is a serving, and why do so many junk foods come in packages that are clearly meant for a single person to consume and yet simultaneously contain multiple servings?

Honestly, wouldn’t it be great if we expected businesses to be as responsible for the choices they made and the harm they caused as we expect individuals to be about the results of their choices?Is the consumer really the only one we should be holding accountable here?

In addition to regulations and limitations (the stick), we might need to take some pro-active steps to produce more opportunities for people to access healthy food and participate in healthy behaviors (the carrot).

We might need to incentivize businesses (ahem, job creators…) to include gym memberships in their benefits packages and replace their snack food machines with fruit baskets. We might need to help convenience stores and corner stores offer healthier foods to their customers. We might need to increase funding for nutritional programs like WIC and SNAP and school lunches, as well as increasing funding for education to help people learn not just what to eat, but how to shop for it, store it, prepare it and serve it.

We might realize that we need to stop subsidizing corn and soy and start finding ways to incentivize farmers to produce more fruits and veggies.

We might need to go so far as to raise the minimum wage to an actual living wage so that people don’t have to work two jobs to support their families, thereby giving them more time to do things like shop for and cook real food, play at the park and get outside.

And, if we decide we’re willing to go that far, we might just decide we want to go even further and ensure not only that every neighborhood has a store with real food in it, but that every neighborhood also has an actual park where people can get outside and play together, that they have lighted streets that are safe to walk or ride a bike on.

picnic at the park

How do we, as a society, support more of this?

If we decided we wanted to create an actual culture of health, we might go so far as to actually provide all of our citizens with real options and choices and FREEDOM! rather than just giving the processed food industry free-reign to flood the market place and the advertising space. We might realize that parks and community centers and street lights are cheaper than police raids and jail cells and hospital bills. We might realize that developers need to include things like open space and grocery stores and sidewalks and bike paths in their neighborhood designs. We might realize that collective responsibility trumps businesses’ “right” to profit at the expense of the people.

Whole generations of Americans have become separated from their food. It has stopped being something we grow and nurture and prepare and nourish ourselves with to something we blindly and casually consume. Food has become a commodity, rather than a source of health and nourishment. We’ve become separated from the outdoors, trapped in houses and cars and offices and shadowed streets that weave between skyscrapers.

Here in America, as one commenter pointed out, we’ve become separated from the idea that health is something we have to choose and work for, not something we can buy down the street at the discount store.

Health is not a commodity, it isn’t for sale. But in this capitalist society, we only value that which we can stick a price tag on – so, before we all scream, “but who will pay for it?”  realize, we’re already paying – in hospital bills and higher insurance premiums and lost days of work and poor educational outcomes (which are highly tied to health and nutrition) We don’t have a choice in whether we pay, but we do have a choice in what we pay for.

Think about it, what is the price of poor health, for yourself, your community, our country? Wouldn’t you rather invest that money in creating better options, better choices, better access to health – for everyone?

I would.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Bring abortion services into the mainstream

Okay, before we get started on this one, I’m asking all of you to take @AndreaGrimes#TacoOrBeerChallengeIt’s super simple, eat a taco, or drink a beer, or do both, snap and share a picture or video of it, using the #TacoOrBeerChallenge tag and donate money directly to an abortion fund. If you don’t see one in your state or area (Utah, I’m looking at you.) try contacting your nearest abortion provider and donating directly to them!

#TacoOrBeerChallenge

Eat a taco, drink a beer, fund abortion.

I posed a question on twitter this morning –

“Why isn’t medical abortion available at EVERY sexual & reproductive health clinic and through every ob/gyn and family practitioner?”

But there’s a follow up question, one that really gets to the true heart of the matter – considering that 1 in 3 American women will access abortion services in her lifetime, some of them more than once, why is abortion segregated from standard, basic women’s reproductive health care at all?

I, and a lot of reproductive justice advocates, have long said that one of the biggest barriers to abortion access is the fact that it is segregated from other regular women’s health care. After all, I can get my annual exam, a pap smear and STD testing at any ob/gyn office or sexual/reproductive health clinic. Many family practitioners will also perform those services. Those same doctors and physician’s assistants will also prescribe birth control pills, fit me for a diaphragm, insert an IUD, give me a shot of depropravera, insert the Ring, etc.

They will, in essence, address all of my sexual and reproductive needs. Unless I fall into the category of being one of the 1 in 3 women who need an abortion. Then, suddenly, I have to go to a special clinic.

Granted, many, indeed most, of the clinics that offer abortion also offer the full range of other sexual and reproductive health services listed above. BUT… Why don’t all clinics and offices that offer sexual and reproductive health services offer abortion services as well. Either you care about the health of women and female bodied people, or…

Now, I know the history that plays into this “ghettoization” of abortion services, the history that led abortion to be singled out and separated from standard medical care.

I mean, first there’s the fact that it was illegal from 1880 (That’s right, abortion was a legal and fairly basic medical procedure when this nation began. It was performed primarily by midwives, until that profession came under attack along with other aspects of women’s empowerment.) until 1973. Combine that with the history of birth control being illegal, and then only being legal for married couples, and then finally becoming legal for women to access on their own without the consent of a husband (or father) and we see that reproductive care in this country has long been viewed as a separate entity, a medical outsider.

What I can’t understand is how, 40 years later, that care that so many people require and access has remained outside the umbrella of standard medical service.

There are very real consequences to this continued choice to view reproductive care as secondary care.

Recently a woman was arrested for accessing LEGAL abortion pills online and providing them to her daughter. This woman is not a doctor, and so though the medication is legal, she is not legally allowed to prescribe or administer it.

So, why did she?

Well, because this safe, legal medical service was not available in her area. The nearest place that her daughter could access it was 75 miles away. The laws in her state further required that her daughter consult with a doctor before hand, wait at least 24 hours and then return to get the pills.

This meant that the mother and daughter would have to take two days off from their life to access a safe, legal medical procedure. They would either have to make this drive twice, or get a hotel room and stay the night.

To many of us middle class and above folk, this might not seem like an insurmountable hardship – but as someone who has not always been middle class, I can assure you – it absolutely can be.

But… What if this type of abortion, a medical abortion, that does not require surgery, was simply available at every ob/gyn office, at every sexual and reproductive health office, and from any family practitioner who offered pap smears, STD testing and birth control services?

What if it was treated as the basic, common medical care that it actually is?

What if this girl had been able to access it the same way, and from the same medical office where she could access medicine for gonorrhea or HPV or herpes? From the same office she received birth control? From the same doctor who had administered her last pap smear, or who had helped her deal with menstrual problems, given her a breast exam or addressed her other sexual or reproductive concerns.

First, the cost of this drug and procedure would most likely go down, because it would be available in more places.

Second, insurance would most likely cover it because it would be seen and treated as standard, basic health care. (Though the girl in the above story did not have insurance, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if she had, many insurance plans both public and private do not cover abortion services for political reasons. See your local Hobby Lobby store manager or GOP representative for details!)

Last, and perhaps most important – this mother would not be in jail. Because she would not have been forced to make a bad choice in order to help her daughter access her legal right to safe, effective medical care.

The question of accessing medical abortion came up when I was researching abortion services in my state this morning. Accessing the list of providers and seeing what they provided, I suddenly became outraged that Planned Parenthood, which is touted as being the nation’s largest abortion factory by its opponents, doesn’t even offer medical abortion at all of its clinics.

I am outraged that medical abortion is unavailable in my town. I am further outraged that there is a HUGE chunk of my state with absolutely no abortion services at all.

We keep hearing about Texas and other “bad” states where women have to drive HOURS to access an abortion, but that already exists, right here in my state. Nothing has changed from my high school days. Abortion might be legal, but it still isn’t available to far too many people who might need that service. This seems ridiculous to me now that medical abortion exists and is safe up to 9 weeks into a pregnancy. We don’t even have to train new doctors to perform a medical procedure. They only have to know how to determine gestation to make sure that a patient is within the safe period for a medical abortion.

It has even been argued in front of both legislators and judges, this is something that doctors could do over the phone, or over skype to better serve rural patients. So why isn’t it at least available at every sexual and reproductive health clinic in the USA? Why doesn’t my town offer this type of abortion, despite having two such reproductive health clinics? Why doesn’t the town with the highest teen pregnancy rate in my state have this service? (Not that teens are the only people who need this service, but that seems like a pretty solid indicator of demand!)

And what about surgical abortions? Non-medical abortions are considered to be a surgery. A minor, outpatient surgery in the first and early second trimester, but a surgery none-the-less. That means that only certain types of doctors can perform them. Despite studies showing that trained nurses actually have improved safety records with first-trimester abortions, it remains a procedure that only doctors are legally allowed to administer. This limits access in additional ways, especially when you consider that ob/gyns are not required to learn how to perform an abortion as part of their required training!

Why aren’t more of us fighting to change this? I can understand not requiring family practitioners to learn this skill, after all they are not specializing in reproductive health. Yes, many of them will administer a basic pap smear or STD panel, but once a patient is pregnant, they recommend them to a specialist.

Part of caring for people of reproductive age and biological sexual maturity is helping them to manage the potential consequences. Whether that comes in the form of advising sexually active people to use barrier methods of STD and pregnancy prevention, prescribing other forms of birth control, administering STD tests, prescribing medicine to treat STDs, helping someone stay healthy through a pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby, or end an unplanned, unwanted or unsafe pregnancy.

Abortion care is part of sexual and reproductive care. It is not separate. It is not “other”. When 1 in 3 women require a service, that’s an indicator that that service is basic care and that the doctors who treat other issues related to that service, should be required to learn how to perform that service as part of their training and licensing.

And before anyone jumps into, “but FREEDOM!” ALL ob/gyns have to know how to do a pap smear, test for and treat STDs, give a manual breast exam, etc. etc. In order to call yourself a doctor, there is a list of things you must know how to do and when you specialize, additional items specific to your specialization are added. Abortion services are part of reproductive health services, thus doctors who choose (there’s your freedom, right there!) to go into reproductive health should be required to learn how to perform this incredibly common, safe, legal medical procedure, and medical offices which offer reproductive health care that include pregnancy services, should be required to offer and provide the entire range of pregnancy related care, which includes ending a pregnancy when keeping it is not in the best interest of the pregnant person. No ob/gyn gets to say, “But I object to looking inside vaginas” and keep their ob/gyn license. Likewise no doctor specializing in pregnancy care should be allowed to say they will not help a pregnant woman end an unhealthy pregnancy.

Back in the early days of this nation, abortion was legal. Midwives performed them as part of their standard arsenal of care. It was understood that not all pregnancies were viable. Not all pregnancies were safe. Not all pregnancies would end in the birth of a live child.

Abortion was understood to be a necessary service that kept women healthy, safe and alive – so that they could continue being mothers to any children they already had, or so that they might remain healthy and alive to bear children at another time in their life, or simply so that they could remain healthy and productive in some other capacity – because not all women want to or are able to bear children.

It’s time to get back to seeing abortion as standard medical care. It’s time to take it out of the shadows and bring it back into the mainstream. It’s time to treat reproductive health as essential health. We need to train our doctors, allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to join the pool of people allowed to perform early abortions and administer medical abortions. We need to ensure that anywhere that reproductive services are offered, those services include the full range of reproductive health, including abortion.

Women should not be going to jail because they could not access legal medical services. Women should not be showing up in clinics or doctor’s offices requiring care for botched self-induced abortions. Those days should be behind us, but they won’t be as long as we keep treating abortion care as a fringe medical service, as something rare and dangerous and separate from other standard, basic reproductive health care.

 

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