Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Go Pink for Breast Cancer? Maybe It's Time We Rethink Pink.




October is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and I’m sure you won't be able to miss this information. "Pink Ribbon Blues" is meant to debunk the "Pink-tober" effect. Practically every retailer gets into the pink ideal, as usual. In fact, last year, my husband’s employer printed up pink t-shirts and all employees were required to sit for a group photo that is displayed on their Facebook page. While the company (to our knowledge) hasn’t donated to any group or fund in an effort to eradicate breast cancer, their pink attire is meant to demonstrate their support, care and concern for breast cancer as an issue in our society. This is exactly the problem with the entire “pink” campaign as highlighted in Gayle Sulik’s book, PINK RIBBON BLUES: HOW BREAST CANCER CULTURE UNDERMINES WOMEN’S HEALTH (Oxford University Press, 2001).
A woman who had breast cancer when she was in her mid-twenties stated that she avoided the media during October and tried to steer clear of retailers as much as possible because she wanted “to buy my English muffins and not be reminded of” her cancer. Imagine what this is like for women who have or know women who have breast cancer? Every time they do anything in the fall months, they’re reminded of the disease. What if every other kind of cancer suffered this media and sales blitz? With a month for each, stores would consist of a rainbow of competing interests! We’d ask ourselves, “Do I buy pink vanilla ice cream to support breast cancer or purchase yellow toilet tissue to show my allegiance to those who suffer from lymphoma?”
While we might want to support organizations that contribute to research, detection and treatment for breast cancer, we must also consider that corporations are making money off of breast cancer. When we buy the Yoplait with the “pink foil top” instead of the Chobani in October, we choose to support one corporation over another because of a cause with which the company aligns itself in an effort to influence us to buy their product. The pink that covers packaging and that is dyed or applied to every product is rather sickly upon closer inspection. Sulik asks after seeing a grocery store full of pink balloons and baked goods, “Is breast cancer really so festive?”
Not only is the pink campaign tiresome in every retail setting to people with or without breast cancer, it conveys a specific image and sets standards about the expectation of women with cancer. As Sulik points out, there are memoirs and articles about how women are supposed to “kick cancer’s butt wearing high heels.” This means that while we fight a potentially deadly disease, the treatment for which is its own kind of poison, we’re supposed to still uphold ideals of femininity and beauty. We don’t put on combat boots to fight cancer, we wear heels! Imagine if our doctors told us we’d feel better when we had the flu if we just got up and put on makeup in the morning, even as we tasted the lipstick when our attempt at breakfast failed or the mascara blackened our already sunken and feverish eyes.
As a society, we need to “think” about all kinds of cancer and the causes of cancer for sure, yet I believe we should leave the “pink” out of it.
A different version of this article was first published at HerCircleEzine.com 12/6/12: http://www.hercircleezine.com/2012/12/06/go-pink-for-breast-cancer-maybe-its-time-we-rethink-pink/

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Beyond the "Birds and the Bees" - What Adults Know (or don't know) About Reproductive Health

I recently read an article about research into adults’ knowledge of reproductive health. The research itself focused on adults’ perceived level of knowledge and their actual ability to correctly answer questions related to risks or health benefits of birth control methods, abortion and pregnancy. The research also recorded demographic information to learn more about whether one’s social position on abortion may be related to one’s actual knowledge-base. For example, one of the questions asked participants to determine whether first trimester abortion or childbirth was riskier to a woman’s health. Only thirty percent (30%) chose the correct answer, which was that childbirth is riskier than a first trimester abortion. That leaves the majority of adults who believe childbirth and first trimester abortion are equally risky or who believe that childbirth is safer.

A question related to use of birth control asked participants to determine which percentage of women used some form of birth control at some point in their lives, with the correct answer being ninety-nine percent (99%). Only sixteen percent (16%) of respondents selected this as their answer. More than half answered that just three-fourths of women use birth control at some point. While the study does not specifically state what constitutes birth control, participants’ responses can be seen as indicating that many people are either not aware of women’s use of birth control and/or have different views about what constitutes birth control. Birth control, in the broadest sense, is anything done to prevent or otherwise deter pregnancy from taking place. This would include the rhythm method and withdrawal, and even the morning after pill, which is not an abortive and will not prevent implantation (according to the latest research) or otherwise abort a fertilized egg. For the record, the morning after pill has no effect on a fertilized egg. It’s only benefit is to delay or stop ovulation. If ovulation has already occurred, a woman has just as much chance of getting pregnant as she would if she did not take the morning after pill.

Knowledge of the benefits of oral contraceptives is lacking. Twenty-seven percent (27%) of respondents correctly answered that oral contraceptives are believed to be protective against ovarian cancer. Twenty-eight percent (28%) claimed this was not true and forty-seven percent (47%) were unsure as to whether birth control pills conveyed any health benefits for ovarian cancer. Not only has birth control pill research backed this up, but also other research into the age of first menstruation, the age of menopause and the number of pregnancies has all supported the idea that fewer cycles of ovulation are protective against the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Considering the survey results, I will be clear and state that the reason pregnancy conveys protection is because ovulation is suppressed during gestation, and if a woman breastfeeds, ovulation can be further delayed for sometimes up to a year after childbirth.

The most disturbing part of the survey was that women who had an abortion were more likely to answer incorrectly about the risks associated with abortion where future pregnancy is concerned, and where the actual risk of the procedure is concerned. The second most disturbing result was that eighty-one (81%) of survey participants claimed they believed their general knowledge base of reproductive health was high. The third most disturbing result, yet not surprising either, is that respondents who want to limit or eliminate abortion are more likely to answer the questions about birth control and abortion incorrectly. This may indicate that their beliefs are distorted by misinformation. Another surprising result was that men more often answered correctly than women where questions around the risks of abortion and childbirth were explored by the researchers. Of course, this may not necessarily mean that men are actually more knowledgeable than women about the risks of abortion and childbirth, but rather may indicate that men view anything to do with women’s reproductive health as inherently risky.


The article I read was addressed to a professional audience of physicians and other healthcare workers who interact with women around reproductive health care as a call to never assume a level of knowledge or understanding. The author instead advocated for providing information, even if a patient indicated she already knew about birth control, oral contraceptives, abortion, pregnancy and childbirth or whatever reproductive health issue being discussed and/or treated. I’m writing this article to remind women and men to be informed. Maybe you don’t have a need right now to run out and get the latest issue of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” or another text on women’s health. However, before you make decisions about reproductive healthcare, make sure you get reputable, scientifically supported information and education about all options. Most of us have a health class in sixth-grade about puberty. We then are fortunate if we get a class in high school that goes beyond abstinence-only information. After that, while we might scan the internet for information, or ask friends, we’re typically embarrassed to ask our physicians questions or to verify information. Speak up! Visit reputable websites—not those with scare tactics, and know your options. Your health depends on it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Reason to Celebrate Marriage

While there is plenty to argue over around the "institution" of marriage and its place in society in general as well as its connection to various kinds of privileges and benefits, those discussions will be tabled so that we may celebrate today's Supreme Court ruling that struck down D.O.M.A. (the Defense of Marriage Act) as unconstitutional. This is a victory for equal rights!

I still remember back in 1994 that fateful day in May here in Massachusetts when same-sex marriages began. The building I worked in at the time was directly across the street from City Hall in Worcester. I remember seeing couples exiting the building with well-wishers standing on the steps blowing bubbles, balloons floating in the light breeze and police presence further off to either side, making sure nothing stood in the way of joy and love as it exited the building that day. The weather was perfect: warm, sunny and dry. I offered to make a beverage run for the office because I wanted to be at street level even for just a bit of time. I stood on the street corner and called my husband via cell phone to describe the scene (no phones we could afford had streaming video capability then). We both cried tears of happiness for those couples able to join us as married people in Massachusetts. Today, we again celebrate this move toward equality for all couples! It is a move in the right direction, and strikes down a law that was absurd from its inception.

The law did not stop more progressive states from moving along and ignoring the federal law against same-sex benefits. Partner benefits were also loop holes around D.O.M.A. policy, which were already in place. The Bankruptcy Court recognized same-sex marriage for filings as of 2011. Now, the Supreme Court realizes that D.O.M.A. is unconstitutional and discriminatory and has fixed the problem across the board at the federal level. Of course, some states still resist. However, like other archaic marital laws throughout history, I believe each will come around given enough time--and commitment by equality-minded people! Like with any right or benefit, we cannot sit idly by thinking nothing can change or that once we've moved forward toward equality that we can't fall back again.

There is still work to be done where immigration policy and marriage is concerned, too. For some time now, same-sex international or immigrant couples could not marry legally in states recognizing same-sex marriage and have that status convey protection to deportation like opposite sex couples. Spouses could be separated and one spouse could be deported because of laws like D.O.M.A. that denied federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In some instances, when green cards or work visas were reviewed, individuals found themselves targeted because of their same-sex couple status, something that was "outed" when federal immigration staff found out the immigrant was married within the state in which he or she resided with his or her legal resident/citizen spouse.

We must be vigilant and dedicated to educating people everywhere that love doesn't discriminate, so neither should our social policy and laws as they apply to citizens, those seeking citizenship and immigrants.

For today, we put all of that aside and celebrate!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Perpetual Journal and Journal Keeping

For most of my life, I've wanted to keep a journal. I think I like the idea itself more than the practice. Even when there have been times that I've been faithful to journal-keeping, I tend to ramble on the blank pages and/or write things that I go back to read and find morose. For example, for years, when my husband worked days, six days a week, and I worked nights and weekends, including at least one overnight a week, we kept notebooks writing back and forth to one another. It was a tough time for both of us. The writing sustained us. I kept the journals as I thought we'd love to look back and read "how we made it through" and that it would be this romantic thing that we treasured. As each was finished, it was stored safely to avoid water damage. Fast forward a few years and we were planning a major move. I looked through everything we were keeping, deciding just what was crucial to keep and what was taking up space or should just be given away or tossed. I came across those notebooks and opened them thinking I'd be uplifted, or at the very least proud of what we were able to accomplish: raising our children, working hard, still remaining committed to one another, or any other variety of positive, wonderful things.

However, as I read the entries, it was like a time warp. Suddenly, I was transported via mental and emotional TARDIS to that time. It was incredibly painful. It was like a PTSD-style flashback, and I do not mean that lightly or to sound funny. I mean it quite seriously. I was devastated by what I read. I was brought back to those feelings of loneliness, desperation, exhaustion and frustration. It hurt to read those pages. I immediately placed the notebook I had opened in the trash along with all the rest of the notebooks in the box without a further glance or thought. It was like finding a video or photographs or some other minute-by-minute replay of a life-altering and really negative event, like a car crash. I still don't regret doing it. I don't need any memory of those depressing, stressful times. Yes, the notebooks got us through. They may have even saved our marriage, and definitely saved our sanity. However, like an old bandage, there was nothing appealing about revisiting them.

Q&A A Day Journal
While not as powerfully repelling as those notebooks, I have found journals to be somewhat mundane or otherwise less-than-thrilling to look back upon over time. Since I belong to the New England ATC+ Meetup Group, I make hand-bound journals and art books/journals all the time. I have also actually been keeping a five-year "couple lines a day" journal for over a year. What I LOVE about the Q&A a day journal is not only the limitations of space for each day, but also the fact that each year, I get to see what was going on the year before. This is the best part of the perpetual journal and I plan to keep one for the rest of my life, in some fashion or another. I have the Q&A style now, and I have a "Happiness Project" 5-year-journal once this one is finished.

Because I've made so many art journals, I went searching for ways to inspire using them. They look amazing just as they are. However, all those Cloth, Paper, Scissors eye-candy magazines feature publications specific to art journals. Some of their other publications have articles and features about art journals, as well. I also took a Strathmore brand art journal course online, complete with materials lists and videos on using and altering your art journal. I love the work I see done by other artists! I cannot seem to somehow get that curly lettering style down, or even a more utilitarian block print. Besides, what do I say? Even if I write about something inspiring, or that was newsworthy or otherwise journal-worthy, I find that once I finish the journal, I don't necessarily want to keep it. (This is related to my purge-cycle self who refuses to store things for the sake of them. A pack rat, I am not!) I end up unceremoniously tossing the journal into the garbage or recycling it in the bin. Sometimes, if we're having a fire, I might toss it in as kindling. That's as reverent as I get about it. Sure, they're pretty to look at. However, will I ever go back and re-read them? It's not likely. It's not exciting to do so. This brings me full-circle to the compact tidiness of the "line a day" style multiple year/perpetual journal.

Imagine my delight then when I searched for "art journal" and found a home-made version of the line-a-day, perpetual journal/calendar! I just had to make one! I spoke with a friend, Melissa Delorenzo (check out her blog!) and asked if she had heard of this kind of thing before. Her sister, also a friend, has one that a friend made her. Since Melissa doesn't have one, and I was dying to make one, Melissa is the lucky recipient of the project pictured here. If you Google "perpetual journal" under Google images, you will find a lot of variations on the project. Most credit Design Sponge with the idea and format, and so here is a link to Kate Pruitt's page that depicts the her version of the project: http://www.designsponge.com/2010/12/diy-project-vintage-postcard-calendar-journal.html.

My next may involve purchasing library book check-out cards and using those since they have a line already for the date and then a space already for a phrase that sums up the day or some aspect of it. We'll have to see though since I already bought hundreds of index cards and have a date to make more of these with another friend mid-July. I also saw websites with ideas about decorating the card for your birthday and/or marking other birthdays, anniversaries and/or significant dates and holidays in your life. (Wait 'til Melissa sees the tiny top border of gold stars I put on her birthday!) Since my version is slightly different from the Design Sponge idea, here is a suggested list of supplies/ideas to inspire your own:

THE CARDS:
*Use whatever size cards or card stock you want. I used 4x6 index cards and cut them in half. You will need enough to make 366 cards (because, yes, Leap Year is important to some of us).
*If you like your handwriting (I've already judged my own above) then hand-date each set of cards. Otherwise, you will need a stamp pad and date stamp. You do not use the year part of the stamp, so you will either have to cover it or if you buy one with years on it already, just use a razor blade like I did to scrape off one of the years so you have a "blank" that won't print.
*I found it easiest to do a month at a time, adjusting just the numbers as I went along. Since some months have 30 days and some have 31...and one has 28 or 29, depending on the year, it's easier to stamp by month to remember which is what. The old saying helps: 30 days has September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31...except February.
*I also let some of the less-than-perfect stamps that were lighter in areas or a bit smudged just be part of the charm and only re-stamped those that were really a mess or I did too close to the edge so the date was cut off.

THE DIVIDERS:
*I used card stock of several types. Some is decorated on both sides, some was plain and some patterned/printed.
*I cut these to be 3" wide, since cutting a 4x6 index card in 1/2 the short way makes 4x3 sized cards. The card stock was then cut to a size of 4.25" so that a little edge became the decorative divider.
*For some of the plainer card stock, I used rubber stamps to give them a little "more" decorative presence and also some washi tape (essentially this is decorated masking tape, something of which I am deeply enamored).

THE CONTAINER:
There are lots of ways of finding and/or creating a container for the cards. The way to accommodate 12 card stock dividers and 366 index cards is to make sure that the container's depth (front to back) measurement is at least 3.25". I cut the one shown in cardboard in the picture at the top of this blog entry using a template from a container for cube notes and so the dimensions are definitely not "accurate" yet are close enough to being about that size.



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Is Man the Ultimate Woman?



For years, I believed that most fashion designers of women’s clothing actually meant to dress men. The ultra-thin runway models, almost devoid of breasts, with their above-average height for women resemble men.

Now there is proof to support my theory.
The Associated Press reported that transgender (male to female) individuals are being used as models in Brazil. While I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of transgender people in the limelight receiving positive attention versus ridicule or harassment, I find it difficult to accept this from the fashion industry. As if it weren’t already nearly impossible for the majority of women to meet the runway model ideal, that standard is now becoming entirely impossible due to the fact that most women were not born more bio-chemically male than female.
I find it difficult to protest the “use” (and I choose that word purposefully) of trans-models because I understand gender identity itself as more fluid than fixed, and have sincere empathy for any person who feels entirely in the wrong body, like some kind of “Freaky Friday” accident. I am wholly comfortable in my female body, and cannot imagine how foreign it would feel for my brain to be transplanted into a male body. I imagine this as the situation transgender people face. Not only do transgender persons feel out of place in their own bodies, but there is also a long history in many cultures of discrimination against anyone who is transgendered. That we may have advanced to the point where transgender individuals find a place where their status as transgendered is not merely accepted but rather embraced should be celebrated! That said, I claim the fashion industry is using transgender individuals.
The fashion and modeling industries sometimes seem like Halloween all year long. The majority of the population cannot afford what is shown in the pages of VOGUE, for example. For that matter, many of the designs are impractical for everyday wear. Additionally, the styles may look fabulous on a 5’10” 110 pound seventeen year-old female, yet fail to enthrall when a 110 pound 5’5” tall woman dons them. (For some perspective on the heights and weights listed, normal weight with a BMI between 18.5 and 25 for a woman 5’10” is 132 to 174 pounds. For a 5’5” tall woman, a weight between 114-150 pounds puts her BMI at 18.5 to 25. Thus, a 5’5” woman weighing 110 pounds is actually below the normal BMI range. The average model height for runway fashion is 5’10” with an average weight of 110 pounds.)
Thus, while I’m glad that some transgender individuals have found work rather than face discrimination in the workplace, I do not believe they are being truly accepted, but rather used for their bodies. The use of bodies that are predominantly male in their genetic, biological and chemical make-up creates a woman’s body that is scientifically impossible for people born genetically, biologically and chemically female to emulate. Feminists have long-criticized the fashion industry for its objectification of women. We are now subjected to the male body turned female, an ideal no woman who was not once male can achieve.
Most men do not have the bodies of supermodels, and in a perverse way, the fashion industry has created gender equality by objectifying the male body in the same way they’ve done to women’s bodies. The disembodied “abs” of men grace shopping bags, store d├ęcor and billboards, for example. Body dysmorphic disorder is gender neutral, and boys represent the growing number of people who suffer from anorexia. My own fifteen year old son, whose body is not quite through growing and developing, fears that women will reject him if he doesn’t start looking like Captain America soon.
I hope this latest move by the fashion industry opens the minds and hearts of people so that transgender individuals find an accepting and understanding world ready to support them. I cannot help but also lament the impossible ideal male-to-female transgender models put forth for women and especially girls as models of women’s clothing. I still hold onto my fashion fantasy: real women, of all heights and weights wearing practical and flattering designs!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mental Health Care: A Topic on Which a Liberal Feminist and Republican Representatives Agree?


Mental Health Care: A Topic on Which a Liberal Feminist and Republican Representatives Agree?


In the aftermath of the school shooting this past December in Newtown, Connecticut, where elementary school children and teachers lost their lives as the result of a troubled gunman, the debate about gun control has moved to the front burner. An issue that has long simmered in the U.S., it seems that gun control is finally getting close attention. From bans on particular weapons and limits on ammunition clips, to more consistent, comprehensive background checks for gun permits and purchases, many so-called solutions have been lobbed forth from bunkers where the various camps on this issue take cover.
The old “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” statement has been dusted off by those favoring gun rights. Silly analogies, such as claims that “baseball bats are used to kill people, so why don’t we ban all baseball bats?” have been put forth to deflect charges made against weapons. Hunting has been “ok’d,” while the possession of assault rifles and quantities of bullets in magazines for assault weapons has been attacked. When the press called the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), the organization deflected criticism by pointing the finger at policing. Essentially, the N.R.A. said, “Don’t look at us law-abiding gun owners—it’s the illegal firearms, the lack of policing, the problems in the justice system.” Then, as an added offensive defense, the N.R.A. said, “Oh, and what about violent video games?” as if to suggest it’s not owning and shooting actual firearms that contributes to violence with guns, but rather its the result of virtual, digital shooting of firearms.
The video game industry has been arrested, tried and convicted by the mere indictment. When it was invited to the table to talk with Vice President Biden’s task force to address gun violence in our country, the video game industry was damned. If the industry participated in talks, it was admitting a role in societal violence, hence condemning itself by its mere presence. If it ignored the invitation, then it was charged (and convicted) with not being responsible for its products. Gaming magazines and online forums held their own talks and published articles this past month on the issue, making this point.
Gamers and developers repeatedly complain about the fact that the most violent games—shooting games especially—are always rated “M” for “Mature,” which amounts to games created for the seventeen-plus person. That children are playing violent shooting games is the problem of parenting, not the industry. My favorite comparison is film. Parents see the “R” rating, and automatically disallow their children viewing of films with this rating. They do not buy these films for children under seventeen, and if they allow kids to watch “R” rated films, the majority of parents watch the films with their children. When it comes to video games, the word “game” apparently somehow erases the “M” rating from parents’ minds.
When my husband purchases video games for himself and our son, the clerk in the store regularly asks whether my husband is aware of the rating of the particular game, and warns him that the game play is not necessarily suitable for our son. This tells us that more often than not, store clerks are warning parents away from certain games at the point of purchase, potentially losing sales for the company, which is practically unheard of in any retail industry. My husband has witnessed an annoyed parent march into a store to buy an “M” rated game for an adolescent, who was refused at the register unless a parent accompanied him or her in the purchase of the game. The parent inevitably blows off the warnings of the clerk, sighs exasperatedly, and theatrically (and rudely) jams cash or a credit card at the clerk, then storms out of the store with his or her child and the game in tow.
My son has been playing “M” rated games for years. He has also been watching “R” rated movies for a long time. My husband and I screen films (and games) and my husband also plays these games with our son. They discuss what is going on in the game, and the value (or lack thereof) of the content. Is there something from history in the game? What portion or side of a story is being told in the game? What side of the story is missing? What does online play with strangers say about human nature? (This last question is always a good one for a long conversation!) All of these questions (and more) are addressed regularly. Games with story lines are discussed. How men and women are depicted, and even the interaction between human and alien populations is part of the discourse around games, their content, online play and design of the game itself, its merits where game play, storytelling and art intersect. Video games make for a rich discussion in our household. These discussions lead to talks about conflict resolution, the actual violence in today’s world and violence throughout human history. If more parents heeded the warnings of the game labels, knew the content of what they let their children play and used games as a gateway to conversation, video games would not be blamed.
The attack on video games reminds me of the outrage around heavy metal in the 1980s, when teen suicide was blamed on particular bands and their music. Parents, grieving the loss of a child, placed the blame on heavy metal bands and the song lyrics that their suicidal teens listened to. The lyrics often spoke of despair, suicide or violence. Thus, the bands were to blame. No one wanted to consider that the teen was drawn to such music because of already present depression. No one wanted to think that a child isolated in his or her room listening to hours and hours of music without human contact was the problem—–whether the music was heavy metal or classical. No one wanted to recognize that a lack of public awareness about and the stigma attached to mental illness and depression contributed to the problem.
Now that I’ve mentioned mental illness and depression, I get to the crux of what I’d like to now call my open letter to President Obama, Democrats across the country, and Republicans in positions where they might act in Congress today. Republican representatives in Ohio spoke out against gun control the third week of January this year. In place of gun control, they claimed President Obama was not doing something about the real issue: mental health. I propose that the President invite every member of Congress to a meeting in which he asks whether both Republicans and Democrats might agree to put aside any talks about gun control whatsoever in favor of a discussion about mental health. Let’s not consider changing one thing at the federal level, nor at the state level. Let’s not ask for universal background checks. Let’s not discuss what number of bullets is not dangerous in a single clip of ammunition (such a silly argument anyway since a single bullet is, obviously, meant to be deadly). Let’s not talk about assault weapons. Let’s agree that guns don’t kill people, and that people kill people. Let’s talk about what “kind” of people kill people with guns, in fact. Republicans and members of the N.R.A. would have to admit that unstable, emotionally vulnerable, mentally ill people are those who are most likely to use any kind of weapon, regardless of the amount of ammunition, to kill people, including classrooms full of children. We can all likely agree that mentally stable people do not walk into malls or kindergartens or former employers and kill people.
Now that all of that has been made clear, that talks in Congress will not be about gun control, but rather about mental health care, and not just mental health care but rather specifically mental health treatment and access to this treatment, and let me run-on this sentence further to say that talks will also be about removing the stigma associated with mental health treatment, let’s talk about it. Of course, I am sure that plenty of people will know where I am going with this as a liberal feminist. You might have heard the words “health care” uttered together as I began this paragraph. If you were a Republican, or member of the N.R.A. (or both), and President Obama started down this line of talk, you might wonder where the other shoe was and when it was going to drop. Well, here it is. I’d like nothing more than to have talks in Congress be about health care, access to health care and removing stigma from mental health treatment. Yet, when we talked about this last time, when a couple dozen (white, suburban) elementary school children had not been killed so recently, Republicans weren’t so keen on mental health care, unless it was something each individual paid for through a private company with no cap on earnings for its executives, no caps on bonuses, and definitely no caps on premiums for coverage for each individual. A single-payer plan, which would allow access to physical health as well as mental health care, was at the very least considered socialism and quite possibly was akin to communism. However, I do not believe we can have a conversation about, or blame our President for a lack thereof, mental health care or the stigma associated with mental health treatment without considering health care and how it is provided in our country.
Thus, a liberal feminist and Republican congressional representatives agree about mental health care. We agree that Americans need access to mental health care, and that stigma must be removed from seeking such care. We also agree that access to mental health care will do more to reduce violence of all kinds, including gun violence than any gun control measures. Where I know we will battle is about how we can assure access. However, seeing as Republican representatives made the suggestion, I now wait to see exactly what they’ll do about this call to action on mental health as a national issue.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Presents" of Mind

First published at http://www.hercircleezine.com/2012/12/20/presents-of-mind/ December 20, 2012.
Each year, I cannot help but be disturbed by the holiday season and the demands for donations of gifts from all over. It’s as if “not getting something” was akin to having a fatal disease with the fervor expressed by the campaigns for gift donations. From toy drives to “adopt a family” programs, we seem to collectively view not having presents as sacrilege. Why this time of the year? What about birthdays or other milestones? What about doing something radical about poverty, hunger and need in our country to eradicate them entirely?
I have complex feelings about how we perpetuate a consumerist culture and society through the importance placed on gifts. I am also perplexed at having children from poverty-stricken families ask for video games—that are typically $60 each—when that clearly means the family not only has the $300+ gaming system, but also obviously a television and electricity. The ages of the children involved, and including parents is equally perplexing to me. I can see if someone would be without a winter jacket, yet cannot see the possible “benefit” of frivolous things like more-expensive-than-regular-soap bath products that seem to be popular requests.
It’s not that I believe people should “go without” or that we cannot feel “poor” by the standards of our specific community. For a good portion of my children’s lives, we rented a home in an affluent town in Massachusetts. An example of what I mean about feeling poor by community standards is this: one holiday season, my husband and I had saved enough money to purchase iPods for our children rather than having them share the Shuffle we won at a holiday party several years before. We got them a few other small gifts like books and some candy for their stockings. The iPods were their “big” gift and something they were definitely not expecting given our financial situation. They were both thrilled with their iPod Touches, which were the lower memory versions as they cost less. When my daughter went to school after the holidays, she found that most of her classmates and friends received iPod Touches as stocking stuffers and the first generation of iPad or a laptop or another extravagant gift as their “big” gifts. So, by community standards, our children were definitely “lacking.” At the same time, we by no means felt our lives were lacking.
I realize that living in a particular community one may feel less privileged or underprivileged by comparison. At the same time, I believe we must always keep this in perspective, and be aware of what true poverty means and how fortunate we are by worldwide standards of living. This year, with me enrolled in full time graduate school, thus working fewer hours at my three part-time jobs, and with one child in college, expenses have increased while income has decreased. We face a very limited budget this year for the holidays. In fact, we rely on the hope that my husband will receive a holiday bonus, and this is what will be used to purchase anything we decide we will do for the holidays. I know what our income level is in relation to the poverty level. We would likely “qualify” to participate in these gift programs ourselves this year. Yet, instead of asking for luxury items from others, we discussed with our children the riches we feel we do have: health, education, heat, housing, food and one another. We talked about not contributing to the debt cycle like those who charge gifts only to be burdened by bills long after the shine has worn off something new. We talked about how not opening a gift in December is not the end of the world, regardless of the Mayan calendar! (So, there was another thing we have that money cannot buy: a sense of humor and shared laughter.)
We also talked about other cultures and religions and how the gift drives, toy drives and adopt-a-family-once-a-year programs all negate anything outside of Christianity. There are no programs for Jewish families who may be struggling to provide eight nights of gifts. And, what of faiths and cultures in our country and our towns and cities that do not have a holiday in December? This, of course, brings us full circle to the needs of families and individuals the whole year round.
How is this rant part of feminist critique? Well, if feminism is really about equality for all, then we cannot look past and not consider the larger context for holiday gifting programs and how they promote consumerism or how they exclude everyone who is not of the Christian religion. We cannot, on a daily basis, look past the overstuffed vehicle in a parking lot that clearly houses at least one person, or the often invisible needs of families for food and heat. We must sustain presence of mind about issues of inequality and oppression in all arenas and refrain from making ourselves feel good about giving presents once a year.