House of Women

By Kate Ringer

When I was fifteen, I was sharing a bed with three of my closest female friends, cuddling and talking about our shared future as we lay in the dark. We later documented our plans in my journal. In the hopeful and whimsical fantasy typical of privileged young women, we believed that anything was possible; therefore we planned a future where we lived in a house entirely of women. We decided that we would share a big mansion, made possible by the combination of our incomes, and we would be each other’s lifetime companions. None of us would devote ourselves to a man in the long term, and we would be truly independent except for the girls that we would adopt and raise together. This house of women seemed like a utopia to us, somewhere we could be completely free to live our best lives, and where our daughters could develop through our shared motherhood into strong and confident leaders. Little did I know that in a way, this would soon be my reality.

Later that year my parents’ marriage met its inevitable demise. My family of five was reduced to a family of four – all women – though the youngest was only eleven at the time. Suddenly, I was pulled into my mother’s confidence, and I was free to do whatever I wanted in a way I had never been before. Our home life was by no means perfect, but we were so much happier that I frequently forget now just how unhappy parts of my childhood were. We were all incredibly busy; my mother was getting her Master’s degree, I was busy with school and with work, my middle sister was a cheerleader and a leader in her choir, and my youngest sister was devoting every spare minute to music and to art. We had never had a dog because my father hated them, but pretty soon we had a whole brood of animals and a perfect puppy. Our small home was littered with clothes and nail polish, our cabinets were filled with pads and tampons, books covered every spare table, and the neighbors could probably hear us singing along to Ingrid Michaelson well into the night.

When I go home now, not a lot has changed; we talk about what we’ve been reading and what we’ve learned, we share our ideas about things. We spend all day playing Yahtzee and other games, we run errands, we cook. There is something so freeing about the collective energy of women. When we are at home, we know that we can live according to our own rules, liberated.

When I first went to college, I joked that I would’ve rather lived in a fraternity than a sorority, that I never wanted to live entirely among women again. I could not have been more naïve. My days in a women’s dorm were not my best, I was insecure and just starting to come into myself, I felt as if I was constantly having to defend myself for being a feminist and an education major (little did I realize just how privileged I was to be constantly surrounded by women in my classes.) Living among women does not guarantee security if you have nothing to hold on to. In my first apartment, I lived with my boyfriend and two other women; I got so bogged down in the details that I failed to enjoy the beauty in that community. It wasn’t until I moved out that I realized just how much I had loved the best times I had there: the roommate dinners and game nights, cooking together, doing our homework at the kitchen table.

Now, over a year later, I find myself back in a house of women. Despite sleeping on the couch, I feel at home. The apartment is decorated with greenery, with posters of plants and tapestries on the walls. There are paper cranes hanging from the ceiling and a record player that frequently plays James Taylor or Fleetwood Mac. We are considerate with each other and supportive. Just this morning my roommate wished me luck on a test that I had forgotten I had. I know that I can trust them, I miss them when I don’t see them, and I am so happy to live there.

For much of my life, I have placed more value on romantic love than the love between friends. As I am primarily attracted to men, this means I have devoted much of my time and energy to the world of men (How can I gain his attention? How can I secure his interest? How do I keep him around?) The more time I spent at the mercy of this need to be noticed, the more powerless I felt. In contrast, I had a friend tell me recently how powerful it felt when she realized that other people found her attractive. She’s discovered that, for the most part, she can sleep with whoever she wants, and this has made her feel incredibly empowered. I would hypothesize that her power also comes from the women she surrounds herself with; she values friendship and independence more than she values romantic love. I have so valued romantic love that I have lost sight of just how important friendship, especially female friends, can be. Another friend, who chooses to live more monogamously, shared with me how she has always felt she can better connect emotionally to female friends, rather than a significant other. She only expects to have those deep, emotional conversations with the women in her life. Those relationships work to fulfill her alongside her relationship with her partner.

In Sandra Cisneros’ essay “A House of My Own,” she discusses writing The House on Mango Street and how it was only possible because she had a house all to herself. She was in constant conflict between what she wanted and what her family expected of her, “On the weekends, if l can sidestep guilt and avoid my father’s demands to come home for Sunday dinner, I’m free to stay home and write. I feel like a bad daughter ignoring my father, but I feel worse when I don’t write. Either way, I never feel completely happy.” This sentiment is echoed in All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister, a book about the rise of unmarried single women in the U.S. In a discussion of the value of friendship between women, she writes, “Female friendship was not some consolation prize, some romance also-ran. Women who find affinity with each other are not settling. In fact, they may be doing the opposite, finding something vital that was lacking in their romantic entanglements, and thus setting their standards healthily higher.” It was only in reading this texts that my experiences were suddenly validated: it is ok to choose women over men if that is what makes you happy. As Cisneros describes, however, we have been socialized for so long to value marriage and romantic love that it may be difficult to completely break free from those expectations.

Although there is certainly something to be said for the freedom of living alone, it is not a dream I have for myself. Living amongst women, and women alone, has given me a place to grow in a way no other lifestyle has. It is the perfect balance of companionship and independence. I have spent so many years putting men first. I want to be challenged; I want to be free. I want to put myself and my friendships first. Maybe that fantasy I had at fifteen doesn’t have to be a fantasy; maybe there is a world where romantic love isn’t the only answer to life’s questions. There’s a place for me among friends and equals, there’s a place in a house of women.

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Practicing in the Mirror

By Kate Ringer

Note: The following piece is a fictionalized account of real events.

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The Diva Cup: The Perfect Gift This Holiday Season

By Kate Ringer

It’s that time of the year again, the time when we all spend way too much money and eat too many cookies, all to celebrate the magical holiday season. As you are doing your shopping, there’s one item that makes the perfect gift for every person who menstruates, and that’s the Diva cup.

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Purchase the diva cup here: https://www.amazon.com/DivaCup-Model-1-Menstrual-Cup/dp/B000FAG6X0

So what is a Diva cup? A Diva cup is a flexible silicone cup that’s inserted below the cervix during menstruation as an alternative to tampons or pads. The Diva cup is just one brand among many that make menstrual cups. It lasts for up to twelve hours and can last years before it needs to be thrown away. They are comfortable and leak-proof when inserted correctly, making it so you can completely forget that you are even on your period. Their price ranges from twenty to forty dollars, but that is nothing compared to how much people who menstruate normally spend on other menstrual products. They also significantly reduce landfill waste, making them much better for the environment.

With all of these reasons that make the Diva cup sound so amazing, it seems kind of crazy that people don’t use them already. Somehow, 98 percent of people who menstruate use tampons or pads instead of a more sustainable option. My experience has been so positive since I first started using a menstrual cup in August that I feel like I have to spread the good news (I have not been paid or contacted by this company to sponsor this product.) I am here to address your concerns, and the main concern I hear about the Diva cup is this: it’s scary. So let’s chase away those fears!

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Learn more about the ruby cup here: https://rubycup.com/how-to-use-a-menstrual-cup/

One of the fears I’ve heard expressed is the fear of putting it in correctly. I can see why people are concerned, when you look at the menstrual cup, it looks far too big to shove past your vaginal walls. Then, if you do manage to get it in, it has to pop open. This may seem daunting at first, but it is actually far more intuitive than putting in a tampon. It took me years to figure out how tampons worked on my own, and it took me a few minutes to figure out the menstrual cup. I would recommend putting it in for the first time in the shower, that way you don’t have to worry about getting blood anywhere. If your shower is combined with your bathtub, that also gives you a nice ledge to prop your leg on, which can make insertion a lot easier. Since menstrual cups don’t have a handy applicator like a tampon does, you do have to use your fingers. After a few days with the cup, you’ll be much more familiar with the anatomy of your genitals, but that is a good thing! Using your fingers also makes it a lot easier to make sure the cup is exactly where you want it to be. If you’ve put it in right, it’ll be super comfortable and you’ll hardly be able to feel it. But, you don’t have to just listen to me, there are lots of videos and guides about how to insert the Diva cup. 

The other major fear I’ve heard is the fear of taking it out. People are terrified of seeing their menstrual blood. Trust me, you have nothing to worry about. Tampons and pads are way grosser than anything I’ve seen in my menstrual cup. Just like with putting it in for the first few times, I would practice taking it out in the shower because the process can take some getting used to. Even the best of us have accidentally dropped our cup in the toilet or dribbled some blood on the floor. One of the biggest lessons that the menstrual cup has taught me is how important it is to just go with the flow. Once you have some practice, however, taking it out isn’t any more of a hassle than it is to take care of other products. It’s also super convenient for traveling or backpacking because of the lack of waste. Most of the time, though, you can empty it in the comfort of your home since you only need to do so twice a day. The other big issue with taking it out is actually reaching it, and this is where you get to practice your Kegels. Kegels are super good for you, and the diva cup has been a great reminder that I need to exercise all of my muscles, not just the ones that help me carry boxes or run upstairs.

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Learn more about Kegel Exercises here: https://www.piplum.com/how-to/kegel-exercises-how-to-do-kegel-exercises-for-women-infographics/

The last fear is choosing which menstrual cup is right for you. There are so many options! If you are exploring menstrual cups and you aren’t sure which one to get, I would recommend taking this quiz, which matches you to your ideal cup. 

Personally, I think the biggest reason that menstrual cups are so uncommon is because we aren’t used to using them. Pads and tampons have been the norm for so long that generations of women have used them. When I first got my period, I had never even heard of menstrual cups, and I had been bleeding for almost a decade before I decided to make the switch. It’s easy to get caught up in our routine, and that’s why this holiday season is the perfect year to start a new tradition. This is the year of the menstrual cup! Seriously, many people would be too scared to go out and buy one themselves, but what would happen if they were given one as a gift? They would make a perfect stocking stuffer! We can be the generation to pass our knowledge of menstrual cups on to our children. All it takes is the courage to try it once, or maybe twice, until you never go back to those stinky, uncomfortable, wasteful pads and tampons that you used to tolerate so much.

A Very Vegan Thanksgiving

By Kate Ringer

I have been vegan for three months now. I know I am not perfect, I know I have made mistakes, but I have been doing the best that I can.

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A drawing by Suzanne Ringer

Veganism has been on my radar since high school when one of my friends started a vegan diet. She claimed she was doing it for health reasons, but I quickly saw just how unhealthy she was while doing it, barely getting any of the nutrients she needed, and I thought she was absolutely crazy for attempting it. Just a few years later, I came to college and I joined the rock climbing team; suddenly, I knew many people that were vegans. These people were nothing like my friend in high school; they were strong and healthy, I frequently saw them eating nuts, fruits, and vegetables while I snacked on potato chips and candy. They weren’t doing the diet for health reasons, they were doing it for environmental and moral reasons. At first, I was incredulous; how could anyone cut all animal products from their diet? That meant no pizza, no cupcakes, no milkshakes! My favorite foods were macaroni and cheese and tacos, and I knew I could never lose those things. I had heard of vegan cheese and other substitutes, but I was wary. Those crazy vegans claimed that their food was just as good, but I knew that couldn’t possibly be true.

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Virginity

By Kate Ringer

Explicit Content Warning: This article contains explicit sexual content, including the sexual experiences of teens.

I can’t remember the first time I ever heard the word virgin. Although I was not raised Christian, I would guess that the beginning of my understanding came from the Virgin Mary. Since then, I have observed the power this word has over people in our culture. As an adolescent, I learned that virgin meant both pure and prude, both good and bad. I learned that losing your virginity was painful, that women often bleed, but that somewhere along the way sex would become fun and pleasurable, a way to express love. I learned that losing your virginity meant breaking your hymen through vaginal-penetrative sex, that for some reason, oral and anal sex didn’t count. My concept of virginity was fraught with inconsistencies, and I didn’t understand the reasoning behind many of them. I only became more aware of the problems with what I was being taught about virginity as I learned more about queer experiences and became more of a feminist.

Wanting to better understand people’s perceptions about the concept of virginity, I decided to interview eleven diverse individuals about that very topic. This is what they had to share.

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I’m So Sick of Being on the Pill

By Kate Ringer

I first got on the pill when I was sixteen years old. I know this is a privilege. At so many

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Margaret Sanger was a birth control activist in the early 1900’s

other times, in so many other places, in so many other families, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity. But, just because things have gotten better doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change.

There are conflicting findings as to whether men are open to new forms of birth control. Currently, their only options are the nonreversible vasectomy, condoms (which have an 85% effectiveness rate with human error), and the pull out method. Women, on the other hand, have options that range from female condoms to the IUD. Scientists have been looking for alternate birth control methods for men because the efforts with women have been so successful, but so far their search has failed. Due to side effects such as acne, depression, lowered libido, and 1-3 pounds of weight gain, men have dropped out of studies and committees have cut efforts short. When I hear these kinds of excuses I waver between rage and laughter. The symptoms, compared to what many women go through for years on various methods of birth control, make their complaints seem ridiculous.

We, as women, don’t talk about the cost of protecting ourselves from pregnancy, and we should. It just doesn’t affect the way others treat us, but the way our bodies look and our minds feel. It’s a form of inequality that can influence you on a deeply personal level.

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Sex Talks: Plural

By Kate Ringer

Like many people of my generation in the United States, I got my sex education from the internet. Luckily for me, it wasn’t porn that I learned from, as it is for many teens. In fact, 42 percent of teens admit to watching porn in the last year, and the true number is probably much higher. I got my sex education from a YouTube channel called Sexplanations, which posted its first video when I was sixteen years old. I was lucky because this resource caught me just in time; I had not yet engaged in any sexual behaviors that put me at serious risk for psychological, social, or physical harm. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have benefitted from the information I learned on that channel about anatomy, birth control, menstruation, and other topics if I had been exposed to it a lot earlier.

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Purchase this book at https://www.amazon.com/Care-Keeping-You-American-Library/dp/0613113837 

I have to give my mom credit, she tried to give me and my sisters the information that we needed. She probably went above and beyond what many people get from their parents. When I was nine years old, she gave me and my sisters a book called The Care and Keeping of You. I came back to this book time and time again when I had new questions about what I was experiencing while I went through puberty. My mom even got me my first bra around that time; I wanted one, but I definitely didn’t need one. However, when I got my first period, I was so embarrassed that I didn’t tell my mom for over 24 hours, subsisting on a couple of pads that the nurse had given us at school. I wrote her a note and gave it to her when those pads were gone, running from her room to mine so I wouldn’t be there to see her reaction. I don’t know if I have ever been so ashamed.

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