Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Women's Health in our culture

So today, I'm going to talk about something that is super important to me. In our culture, the way that women's health (and other issues) is talked about - or not talked - about hurts people.

Today I stumbled across Penelope Cruz. A while back, she made a controversial tweet about her miscarriage. (See this, this, and this) Basically, she expressed relief, joy, even, at her miscarriage, as she would not have to go through the insanity of acquiring an abortion in Wisconsin (where this is difficult, to say the least). The world was enraged. It's in poor taste to publicly share something like that, the world complained. It's WRONG to be happy about such a thing, the world fumed. It was suggested she only tweeted it to advance her career. Or even that she made up the whole thing to advance her career. People pointed out she's strange (she changed her name! she has Asperger's!), so let's just all discount her, okay? Abortion is evil, and she meant to get one, so her miscarriage is evil too! She shouldn't have been such a slut if she didn't want a baby!

The entire reaction to her tweet hinges on a lack of education and a strong desire to keep such topics private.

Miscarriages and abortions are actually really common and very emotionally difficult. The public's lack of education about such things removes a huge factor of social support and understanding.

75% of women have had a miscarriage - Penelope Cruz interview, CNN
33% of women have had an abortion - Planned Parenthood stats

If it's so common, how is it culturally tolerable that Penelope Cruz's CNN interviewer didn't even know how miscarriages happen?

"According to the Guttmacher Institute in the US (a not-for-profit organisation that works to advance reproductive health), most women who have abortions were on birth control the month they got pregnant" - Penelope Cruz

Our culture is so uneducated and yet so obsessed with non-science based health politics, that people assume that her abortion can be driven by nothing other than a soul-lacking, monstrous wickedness combined with slutiness. The fact that most people who get abortions do so for health (of the baby or the mother, also including mental) or financial reasons is completely lacking from the stinging comments on articles discussing the situation. It turns out that Penelope Cruz has an autistic child, and the rates of second autistic children is high. It turns out that she alone financially supports her family, and another child would be difficult to support. But I think this is all really irrelevant. The fact that the public doesn't even think of these things is devastating to me. Whether or not she made the whole thing up is also irrelevant at this point. And the suggestion that there could be a correct feeling for any situation is simply absurd.

At the very most, Penelope Cruz's only transgression was tweeting something that was offensive to others. But clearly in a culture of Family Guy, jokes about everything from dead babies to the Holocaust, and a desire to show off a puppy you've purchased from a breeder for $1000, this isn't an issue.

So how does this hurt people? How is this even unfair? We don't allow men to talk about the volume and texture of their semen, why do we have to allow women to talk about their gross quirks? The problem arises when this same mentality affects science and health.

Everyone from grade school students to the doctor at the fertility clinic is taught that women have a 28-day cycle, and ovulation occurs in a two to three day window, starting on the 14th day. If you are a women with a longer cycle, you're abnormal, but it's okay. Don't ask questions, don't worry, just move along. And if you have an extra heavy period, just make sure to take some iron. Oh, but if you take birth control - which you'll need if you have an irregular period for more than 4 years, because it will never become regular - you don't even have to remember because the pills for the last week of every month already have iron in them. But it turns out that it actually isn't normal to have a 28 day cycle, it isn't standard to ovulate on the 14th day, iron deficiency and periods don't work like that, and it can take a lot longer for a woman's period to become regular (lost my citation!).

A desire to keep women's dirty laundry hidden led to men with iron deficiency anemia automatically being given an endoscopy, because IDA is most commonly caused by upper-gastrointestinal bleeding in men. Meanwhile, for women it was assumed to just be menses-related. These women have the same GI disease, and yet are untreated. Meanwhile, childbirth, a healthy normal process has become a frightening medical procedure, run by surgeons, controlled by drugs not safe for pregnant women, and with a curious (unsafe) efficiency surrounding weekends and holidays (Citation: Born in the USA, documentary). Maternal mortality is inexcusably high given how modern we are, and somehow, everyone has forgotten how to deliver a breeched baby without cutting the mother open (Citation: Birth Matters by Ina May Gaskin).

The mentality that our society has affects women's health directly in so many ways. We pay women less than men for the same jobs and we pass them over for promotions. We call them mean names that there is no male equivalent for. We have fun jokes about sperm, but not about eggs and uterine linings. Penelope Cruz says that every time we have culturally not spoken about a women's issue, women get hurt. So this is me talking about it, and asking you to talk about it. Talk about the female experience: the good things, the bad things, and everything else. This is how we change the world.

* I'd like to note that this is feminism, and in no way does it have to do with hating men or being ugly and hairy women.

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