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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Dress Codes in the Workplace

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This topic isn’t something I’ve thought about much, mostly because dress codes haven’t affected me in my current work setting, and so the issue hasn’t bothered me for a few years now. But my friend, who is studying bio-chemistry on the east coast, recently asked my opinion on something. My friend has large breasts, she works out, and overall is a pretty stellar human being who happens to be gorgeous on top of it all. One day in the lab, it was very warm, as it sometimes is in lab settings, so before putting on her lab coat and getting to work, she took off her long-sleeved shirt to reveal the tank top she was wearing underneath. She thought she was in a professional setting.

She quickly realized that she was not.

Immediately, the men in the room were staring at her. This wasn’t anything new, and given that she doesn’t usually show her figure in such a way, she assumed it would pass as she put her lab coat on and tied up her hair for work. It didn’t pass. Continue reading “Dress Codes in the Workplace”

Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Continuum

By: Madeleine Clow

I began research for a presentation I was going to give in my Queer Literature class taught by Toby Wray, here at the University of Idaho, when I came across the concept of compulsory heterosexuality. Once researching further into the subject, I found it originated from an author, Adrienne Rich, who first developed the theory of

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A double Venus represents lesbianism

compulsory heterosexuality. What is compulsory heterosexuality? In literal terms: compulsory, meaning required or obligatory, and heterosexuality, referring to sexual relationships with the opposite sex.

 

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Adrienne Rich as a young writer

When Adrienne Rich wrote of compulsory heterosexuality, in her 1981 literary essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” she originally referred to the definition of a male-dominated society describing the only natural sexual relationship is between a man and a woman. Continue reading “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Continuum”

The Birth Control Pill: An Unethical and Eugenic History

On November 20th, the Women’s Center removed an article from our blog. However, removing the article was an error, and we are putting the article back up on the blog.

By Vicky Diloné

The Scientist and the Visionary

In 1936, Dr. Gregory Pincus was denied tenure and released from his professor position at Harvard. Brave New World had been published a few years before and Pincus had just successfully bred rabbits with in-vitro fertilization. People at the school were becoming increasingly fearful of his radical experiments which were done without regard of ethics.

So what did Pincus do? He started his own private laboratory from small donations. After accepting a position as a visiting zoology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, he started the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. It was something unheard of in those times. University laboratories had safety standards, environmental regulations, and a board of ethics committee. By starting his own, Pincus was able to bypass all of that and research what he wanted by whatever means he wanted.

Black and white photograph of Margaret Sanger taken in the 1940s
Margaret Sanger, circa 1940s

At 71 years old, Margaret Sanger was still looking for the perfect method of birth control. She saw her goal in the works of Pincus. They met in 1951 at a dinner hosted by a mutual friend.

Pincus at Harvard in 1932. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Do you think that it would be possible ?” she asked.

“I think so,” Pincus said.

It would require a good deal of research, he added, but, yes, it was possible. Sanger had been waiting much of her life to hear those words.

“Well,” she said, “then start right away.”

The Eugenicist

Sanger is still praised for her role in “reproductive rights.” But as a woman of color, I cannot get past her role as a eugenicist. Eugenics theory has always been based on racism and it is naïve to assume otherwise.

“Those adjudged to have ‘inferior genes’ were discouraged from reproducing through the establishment of ‘negative eugenics’ programs, such as state-mandated sterilization laws for ‘mental defectives,’ restrictions against who could marry whom, birth control policies, harsh adoption laws and loud nativist calls for laws restricting the entry of ‘swarthy,’ ‘unkempt’ and ‘unassimilable’ immigrants. In essence, eugenics offered Americans in positions of power an authoritative scientific language to substantiate their biases against those they feared as dangerous.”

Now let’s take a look at the language Sanger used in her article Is Race Suicide Probable?

“America . . . is like a garden in which the gardener pays no attention to the weeds. Our criminals are our weeds, and weeds breed fast and are intensely hardy. They must be eliminated. Stop permitting criminals and weaklings to reproduce. All over the country to-day we have enormous insane asylums and similar institutions where we nourish the unfit and criminal instead of exterminating them. Nature eliminates the weeds, but we turn them into parasites and allow them to reproduce.”

Many try to say that Sanger was not racist because of her efforts in the Black community. But even if Sanger was not referring to race when speaking of human weeds, she clearly saw the disabled and mentally-ill as undesirables who were harming society.

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Eugenics protest circa 1971 originally published by Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). Wikimedia Commons/Southern Studies Institute

For me this is an inexcusable way of thinking. The solution isn’t to exterminate those who have more perceived challenges, but to help them live their lives to the fullest. Many would be rightly horrified if the government mandated that epileptics could only have one child. It would be outrageous to say to someone with a psychotic disorder that their existence is bringing the race down so it is better if they are sterilized, even against their will.

But it wasn’t only the “intellectually defected” that Sanger was determined to get rid of, but she also had an agenda against immigrants. Look at the words she uses in her 1932 speech My Way to Peace:

Keep the doors of Immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feeble-minded, idiots, morons, insane, syphilitic [sic], epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class barred from entrance by the Immigration Laws of 1924.”

Eugenic ideas like Sanger’s were used to justify the sterilization of people of color. My own grandmother who immigrated to Los Angeles in the sixties could have been the victim of these forced sterilizations of the “unfit.” Sanger did not want people like me to be born.

Unethical Testing

So not only was the birth control pill dreamed up as a way to control the population of the unfit, the early experiments to even create it were unethical. In the fifties it was illegal to distribute or even use birth control, so Pincus had to come up with creative ways to test his new drug. He came upon Dr. John Rock in 1952 and began testing on the women of his clinic with money given to them initially through Planned Parenthood.

These women were seeing Dr. Rock because of infertility problems and were told that they would be given a drug to stop ovulation and would become pregnant after coming off it. A few of the women did become pregnant as promised, however half of the women dropped out of the trial because of its extreme side effects including severe nausea, painful menstruation, and blood clots. Pincus couldn’t use the results because of the high dropout rates so he followed a friend’s advice to find “a ‘cage’ of ovulating females to experiment with.”

He took the trials to the Worcester State Hospital, an asylum for those deemed “insane,” including those suffering from Alzheimer’s or depression. In 1954, “under the guise of learning about the pill’s “possible tranquilizing effect,” Pincus launched a new trial. He recruited 16 female patients at the Worcester State Hospital, fed them birth control pill prototypes, then sliced into their uteruses in an effort to understand the drug’s effect on ovulation. When he was done, he published his findings. These were women (and men) who not only didn’t give their consent, but often didn’t even understand what was happening to them. Doctors in the medical field protested the results, but Pincus’ continued on with his unethical experiments, this time with a new destination in mind.

Black and white photograph of two women teaching about birth control options in 1960
The teaching of birth control methods in Puerto Rico, 1960. (Credit: Hank Walker/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The Puerto Rico Trials

Forced sterilization was already part of the island’s laws, a result of the fear of the growing Latino population. The Puerto Rican women, especially the poor and uneducated, were seen as burdens and coerced to take part in population control.

“The tragedy of the situation is that the more intelligent classes voluntarily restrict their birth rate, while the most vicious, most ignorant, and most helpless and hopeless part of the population multiplies with tremendous rapidity,”

–James R. Beverley, US appointed governor of Puerto Rico, 1933

And in 1956 Pincus and Dr. Rock saw an opportunity to bypass American laws prohibiting birth control. They recruited a group of female medical students to test the drug and more than half dropped out. Even with the threat of lowered grades, these women could not bear the negative side effects. They also were opposed to the experiments themselves which consisted of daily vaginal smears and occasional laparotomies, in which the abdomen is cut open to view the insides.

Genocide! Puerto Ricans Sterilized (Denise Oliver-Velez)

Using the data from the medical students, Pincus created a prototype birth control pill and was ready to test it in the field. The place to test it was the neighborhood outside of San Juan. Pincus hope to show that if  “the poor, uneducated, women of Puerto Rico could follow the Pill regimen, then women anywhere in the world could too” A statement that one writer calls “condescending.”

The women were only told that the pill was a form of birth control, not that it was still in its experimental phase. When they complained about the side effects, it was either downplayed or outright ignored. Pincus supposedly said that it was in the Puerto Rican nature to complain too much. Three women were reported to have died during the trials with no one trying to find the cause. Another newspaper states that “critics in Puerto Rico have compared the early pill experiments to the U.S. government’s surreptitious syphilis tests on black men in Tuskegee, Ala., about the same time.” It seems to me that Pincus only was concerned if his pill worked and it did not matter what long-term effects Puerto Ricans suffered.

Again, more than half of the women stopped taking the pill. But with these three incomplete results, Pincus was able to gain FDA approval.

Can Today’s Outcomes Override History?

Today the Pill has half as much hormones in them as the first drug. Pincus died in 1967 of a rare blood disease. Dr. Rock, disillusioned after Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, left the Catholic Church. Sanger is still a controversial figure and is both hated and loved.

There are many reasons why I oppose the birth control pill, but it’s unethical and eugenic past is one that I think most people should agree on. Some have argued that these incidents were just the way things were done back then; that of course what was done to these women was wrong but that was the norm in those time. To me, testing on nonconsenting or ill-informed patients, even if it brought about a medical discovery, is still unethical. Just because that was how things were done back then doesn’t make it acceptable. Slavery was the way things were done in this country for almost a century, but it was still immoral. Pincus crossed lines that should not have been crossed, no matter the year or culture.

Billings Ovulation Method

This is why I advocate for the widely-approved Billings Ovulation Method and Natural Family Planning.  These methods would allow a woman to know when she is fertile, and are ethical and natural. I’m not trying to vilify those who use birth control, but women should know how the Pill came to be. Gregory Pincus and Margaret Sanger should be known for their actions as an immoral scientist who disregarded the pain of women and an eugenicist who wanted to rid the world of those she deemed “unfit.”

Natural Cycles App

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Real Big Deal

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, otherwise known as RBG, is the second woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court. She was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993 and after the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, retired, she was the only woman on the court for a while. In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and, in 1973, she became the ACLU’s general counsel.

The Women’s Rights Project and related ACLU projects participated in over 300 gender discrimination cases by 1974. All the while, RBG was a wife and mother. Within the first few years of this project, Ginsburg fought six cases of discrimination before the Supreme Court, and won five. She chose to focus not just on problems faced by women, but demonstrated that gender inequality was detrimental for both men and women. She took part in expanding the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to include women. She also argued for a widower with children who, when his wife passed, was unable to collect any benefits to help him support his dependents. She’s part of the reason that jury duty became mandatory for women as citizens of this nation, and why women in Oklahoma could legally drink at the same age as men. Continue reading “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Real Big Deal”

Inspiration by Impact: A Highlight of Three Modern Female Musicians

three female musicians framed alongside one another
Left to Right: Liz Harris, Quay Dash, Kelly Moran

By Remington Jensen

For decades the work of female musicians has been undermined by the work of their male counterparts, yet in the 90s, 00s and now the 10s that will soon move into the 20s the music industry — and music as a whole — is straying away from an ongoing landscape that has been long dominated by men. The transition however could not be possible without forward thinking and passionate musicians, and in this article I have decided to take note of a few of these creative female producers that to me are pioneering this changing battleground of sound!

Continue reading “Inspiration by Impact: A Highlight of Three Modern Female Musicians”

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.