Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Two Heros for the Week

In my regular facebooking this week, two things were sent my way that really grabbed my attention. The first is a video of singer, artist, rock star, Amanda Palmer telling the Daily Mail, in song, exactly what she thinks of them. Click here for the link. It's NSFW and it's freakin' awesome!!! This is my introduction to Ms. Palmer but I will definitely be seeking out more of her music. So what happened was, she did a show at a festival in Glastonbury and the Daily Mail reviewed it. Except that the Daily Mail article didn't review her show or her music, they just reviewed her boob. Seems that her boob made an unexpected appearance at the show and this is what they chose to focus on. I love the way she totally takes them on. She really nails the issue - that most women in the public eye are not taken seriously for their art or politics or whatever contribution they make. Instead, they are assessed according to their bodies and their appearance. Ms. Palmer, I bow down both to your bravado and your talent.

The second things that caught my eye - and since it's been all over the web now, you've probably seen it - was a commercial made by a company called HelloFlo. HelloFlo sends women a care package of menstrual supplies exactly when they need it every month. They created this awesome commercial about a girl who became the Camp Gyno because of her comfort and knowledge of all things period related. Sure, it's hilarious but what strikes me about it is the direct approach. There is no blue liquid or short white shorts in this video. They call it what it is. They show actual packaged tampons and talk about cramps. No euphemisms, just what it is. How refreshing is that?

The idea behind HelloFlo is pretty brilliant but they don't ship to Canada. If you're looking for a period reminder service, download iPeriod. It's an app for iPhone that will keep track of your cycle and let you know when to expect your next one. It's easy and even kind of fun! The one thing to watch though is that the makers of iPeriod seem to think the rhythm method works. You will also get a reminder of when your fertile time is. This will not be correct! It's based only on dates. IPeriod does let you make any notes you want so you if you are charting your cycle, you can use it to keep track of your temperature, cervical mucous, and other such things. It just won't collect that for you and tell you when you are really ovulating.

Creepiest Parade Swag Ever!

I just happened across this story on Jezebel. It seems that a Right to Life group at the North Dakota State Fair thought that the best way to attract some attention at the parade would be to give away goodie bags....with tiny little plush fetus dolls in children! WTF? The fact that these 'dolls' even exist boggles my mind. These things are nasty looking! No matter what that group says, no one could possibly actually think these things are cute or fun to play with. They exist solely to make women feel guilty about thinking about having an abortion or having had one.

What blows me away about this is that this group thinks it's appropriate to give this creep little plush thing to kids and yet I absolutely certain that if you polled the members of that group, most of them would say that talking to young children about where babies actually come from is inappropriate. This is something I've never understood. They talk to kids about abortion - which in my opinion is a fairly grown-up topic - but they will not talk to them about all the things they need to know in order to not ever need one. How can these kids even understand what a fetus and an abortion is without all the background info about how fetuses are created in the first place? A child under 10 doesn't really have the life experience and knowledge to really get what abortion means and what those little dolls are all about. But they put them in their little goody bags and then force parents to have to answer some difficult and uncomfortable questions about what the hell that ugly thing is and what it's doing in their goody bag. How does this make any sense at all?

If I had kids at that parade, I would have taken that goody bag right back to them and told them what they could do with it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Poster Campaign Reminds Us the Victim Blaming is Alive and Well

Heavy sigh. I am so disheartened by this that I barely even have the will to write about it. But I feel I must. Some posters have surfaced in downtown Edmonton and on the U of A Campus that say 'Just because you regret a one night stand doesn't mean it wasn't consensual. Lying about sexual assault = a crime. Don't be that girl'. There is another one that says 'Women who drink are responsible for their own actions especially when sex is involved. Double standards. Don't be that girl.' In case you're not getting the reference, this is a response to the public awareness campaign called 'don't be that guy'. It's a series of posters that says things like 'Just because she's drunk doesn't mean she said yes. Sex without consent = Sexual Assault. Don't be that guy' and 'Just because you gave her a ride home doesn't mean you can help yourself. Sex with consent = Sexual Assault. Don't be that guy.' It's a brilliant campaign that for once, finally, puts the onus for preventing sexual assault on the people that do it, not on the victims of it. It is an education on what does and does not constitute consent. Of course, some people got angry about it because they still want to blame women for supposedly putting themselves in situations where they could be raped and they still want to justify their actions or their friends actions or whatever.

So I'm not actually surprised by the posters. I knew there were some people who really got their shorts in a knot over this campaign and I expected a response. But whether I expected it or not, it still makes me angry and sad. Why oh why oh why are we so married to the idea that women routinely lie about being assaulted? Yes, it has certainly happened but it is so very rare as to be absolutely inconsequential and yet we talk as if one instance indicates that this is a common thing. Worse still is the people who claim that being falsely accused of rape is just as bad or worse than being raped. First, why do we have to take sides? Both things are bad. Cannot they not both be bad? Secondly, I don't agree. While I do think it would be awful to be falsely accused and to potentially lose your job and your credibility over it, those are probably the worst things that could happen. The very worst would be to go to jail for it but since our record in Canada of convicting actual sex offenders is so pitiful, I seriously doubt that this really ever happens. It is highly unlikely. For victims however, there are serious lifelong effects including - physical injuries, nightmares, PTSD, loss of trust, fear, damage to relationships, loss of relationships, loss of reputation and credibility from other who find out or when incidents go public and the person is blamed or not believed, loss of jobs, loss of income, depression, suicide. A sexual assault never leaves you. You can heal from it but you will never be the same. It is a life sentence. I'm not saying it is necessarily worse that being falsely accused but those who say that seem to think that the effects of being sexually assaulted are limited to the assault alone and one just gets over it. That's not what happens. Ever.

Some people are saying that the poster about false reports is no big deal. It's just saying that false reports are bad and you shouldn't do it. But it is a big deal. Why? Because this poster sends the message that there are some women - perhaps lots of women - who just willy nilly go to the police and charge a guy with rape because they had a one night stand and then felt bad about it later. They make it sound as if this is an easy, simple thing that women do just to calm their own conscious when they choose to have sex that they later regret. If we have people telling us this all the time and we come to believe it, we are much less likely to believe a woman who reports a sexual assault - particularly if it wasn't a 'forcible rape' (I hate that term for many reason but it is a term that is commonly used in these arguments). Instead of just believing her, taking the report and investigating it, we are much more likely to wonder first if maybe she's just making the whole thing up. This should never ever be a question. Any complaint of sexual assault should be taken seriously. Instead what often happens is women are questioned about what they were doing and how they contributed to the situation. Putting posters like this all over town just makes people think that this is an acceptable way to respond - that women do this all the time so instead of helping them first, we should question them first.

The other poster is, if possible, even worse. That one says that women are responsible for their own action when they drink. I agree 100%. I am responsible for my own actions. If I get drunk and pass out and miss work the next day, that is totally my fault. If I get so drunk that I tell off my best friend and she never talks to me again, that is 100% my fault. If I get drunk and drive home, get into an accident and kill someone, that is 100% my fault. However, if someone else sees me passed out and takes the opportunity to assault me - how in the world is that my fault? It's my fault I was drunk. I got drunk. But I did not assault myself. The person who assaulted me did it and that is that person's responsibility. I still cannot understand why this is so unclear to people. Why do we excuse violent and aggressive behavior? Why do we take it as such an expected norm in our society that we decide to blame the victims of it? Getting drunk and passing out does not cause sexual assault. People who take advantage of people who get drunk and pass out does. In most situations if a women, or man for that matter, gets drunk and passes out at a party, most people at that party will take care of the person - put her to bed, find someone who can take him home and put him to bed, or stay with her until she wakes up to make sure she doesn't throw up and choke. That's what the vast majority of people will do. This is normal behavior. Only a very few will use that situation to hurt the person. So why then, if that happens, is that the person's fault. When you see someone drunk and incapacitated, you have some choices about what to do and if you choose to hurt them, it's your choice.

I think our confusion or trouble with this stems from two things. 1. We want so very much to think that nothing bad will ever happen to us that we want to believe we can control every situation and keep things from happening to us. So when we see a situation where a woman was assaulted when she was drunk and passed out we say 'well that would never happen to me because I wouldn't get drunk and pass out like that'. We look for the thing that person did wrong so that we can convince ourselves that we can keep it from happening to us. 2. Our culture wants to control women's behavior. We don't want women being overly sexual or overly aggressive or overly independent. We don't want them to drink or have random sex with hot guys. We want them to behave themselves. So when something bad happens to a woman who was doing something we don't like, we blame her instead of the person who was doing the bad thing. We use these examples to try to scare women into behaving - don't get drunk because you'll get raped.

Contrary to what some people are saying, these posters are not harmless. They exemplify and perpetuate a belief system that harms all of us - that keeps us from believing and supporting victims of sexual violence. They help to keep offenders on the street by denying and excusing their behavior. They stir up anger against people who are doing their best to help educate about the realities of sexual violence and worst of all, they turn that anger against victims.

The only possible good that could come out of this is that it may cause some people who have had similar thoughts and beliefs to see these blatant victim blaming statements, hear the response, and really question their position. Maybe a few minds could change.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I know you love 'em, but you really don't need a PAP test every year.

I was delighted to get a link to this article from the Canadian Women's Health Network today. It explains pretty clearly why we need PAP tests, who needs them and when we need them. It also explains clearly that a PAP test is not in any way, shape or form a test for any STI and that those need to be done separately. Awesome! Great article! So glad I found it. My question is, why don't I know this already? Why don't doctors explain this stuff to us? I have run into some women - often friends of mine - who have fabulous doctors who explain everything to them and give them lots of options and choices around their sexual health care. Sadly, I've never had this. This is what I've had - tell me if any of this sounds familiar to you.

Somewhere in and around 1994, I had a doctor prescribe antihistamines for me for nasty nasty summer allergies. I later found out from a friend who worked at Planned Parenthood (now Options for Sexual Health) that those antihistamines could interfere with the effectiveness of the birth control pills that doctor had already prescribed for me. When I asked the doctor about this she said 'Oh'. No really, that's all she said.

In 2002, now with a completely different doctor, I got a call saying that my PAP test came back abnormal and that I needed another. That came back abnormal as well and the doctor called me in to discuss. I looked at the lab result and it said clearly - HPV effect. I asked if I had HPV. The doctor laughed and said 'no, no, no, of course not'. As if it was completely absurd that a nice girl like me could have HPV. I was not in the least offended by the idea, I just wanted to know if I had it. I called the STI centre and the info nurse said 'Oh yes, if you have that result, you only got it because you have HPV.' Nice. So they sent me for a colposcopy. I was, I think justifiably so, terrified. They were looking for cancer! Neither my doctor nor anyone at the colposcopy clinic would or perhaps could answer my questions about exactly what the procedure would involve, what I would find out, what might happen after that or how long it would take to get results. So I freaked out for almost a month before this appointment happened. When I got to the clinic for my appointment, they handed me a lovely brochure that answered every single one of my questions! Might have been nice to have that earlier! The procedure took about a nanosecond, involved a slight pinch, and the tech took the sample, looked at it right there in the room with me and told me there were no cancer cells. Would have been so nice to know that I was going to get results on the spot! Why doesn't anyone explain any of this to you? And doctors outright lying about what your results mean? What's up with that?

Now, just recently, about a month ago, I finally found a new doctor - I hadn't been to see a doctor since a year after that whole mess. She told me I didn't need a PAP test because I have never been pregnant. That seemed bizarro to me so I explained that I have had an abnormal result and a colposcopy several years before and would really like to just check. She did the PAP test but said that it was highly unusual for someone who has never had sex to have an abnormal PAP. She assumed that because I'm 43 and never been pregnant, I don't have sex. How can we even try to have the honest and open communication that's required for good sexual health with huge assumptions like that going on?

I include the timeline to be clear that this is not something that used to happen. This is my experience over almost 20 years with three different doctors.

So what's my point in all of this over-sharing? My point is that I agree with the author of the CWHN article - women do have a lot of misconceptions about what a PAP test is, when they need it, and when they are and are not being tested for STI's. I believe that responsibility lays squarely at the feet of the doctors. They need to do a much better job of asking the right questions, not making assumptions, and informing women of what tests they can get, what tests they need and why, what those tests will tell them, and what they are and are not being tested for. However, since I have little faith in most doctors to do this, until such time as it actually starts happening, it's really up to us to find the information ourselves and insist that our doctors, even if they might think we don't need them, give us the care and testing we believe we need.