Using Menstruation for Earlier Health Interventions

tampons

A crocheted tampon case. Photo by Towe My (Creative Commons)

I never thought I’d write about tampons, but I now recognize that menstruation and access to feminine hygiene products are critical issues that need to be discussed and de-stigmatized. When a friend sent me an article about a “smart” tampon that is in development, I knew I had to write about it.

In Designing a Tampon that Can Test for Cervical Cancer, I discuss the NextGen Jane project’s efforts to develop a tampon that can test for STIs and cervical cancer using the menstrual fluid it collects. It’s a project that has the potential to revolutionize health care for people with a uterus, but a lot of questions still need to be answered. How will NextGen Jane address health literacy issues? Will it be accessible to people in poverty or the homeless population? Will they develop an alternative for gender non-binary people, transgender men, and women who cannot use tampons? I really enjoyed working on this article because I learned a lot about the barriers to reproductive health care for people with a uterus. The article was published last week, and it was later quoted in Marie Claire and Teen Vogue.

What are your thoughts on home-testing? Would you use a smart tampon to test for medical conditions?

We Have to Stop Using Male Rape as a Punch Line

deliverance meme

Traditional concepts of masculinity contribute to a culture in which male rape victims are ignored, dismissed, and even laughed at, making it nearly impossible for male victims to come forward and report their rapes. This facet of rape culture is particularly prominent in pop culture, where male rape victims are not treated with the compassion and validation they deserve.

I delve into the treatment of male rape victims in TV and movies in my latest article for Bitch Media: Male Rape is No Joke — But Pop Culture Often Treats it that Way. Some of the shows and movies I explore in this article include Deliverance, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Wedding Crashers, and Outlander. I hope you give it a read and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Finally Starts to Address the Impact of Trauma

kimmyIn an article published last week on Bitch Media, I discuss how season two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt finally starts to address the impact of trauma on the title character.

This light-hearted comedy has been met with plenty of criticism for its classism and racism, but does it get it right when it comes to trauma?

Read the full article: As a Sexual Assault Survivor, It’s Powerful to See Kimmy Schmidt Grapple with PTSD

And keep an eye out for my next article in Bitch, which will focus on the depiction of male rape victims in film and TV.

Do you watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? What do you think about the show’s depiction of trauma? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Where Do You Fall on the Pink and Blue Line?

If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “boys will be boys” at any point in your life, my latest article “Why Your Kids Need Gender Neutral Toys” is for you. I dug into the research behind whether there’s any merit to the criticism of gendering toys and gendered toy marketing and discovered it’s more complicated than I imagined.

From nature versus nurture to the proliferation of gender stereotypes to views on gender roles, there are so many factors that impact both sides of this debate. Some believe that biology dictates toy and color preferences, while others believe biology is only one factor that contributes to a child’s masculine and feminine characteristics.

Read on to find out more about the two sides of this debate, then let me know in the comments where you fall on the pink and blue line.

gender-neutral-toys

 

It’s Up to All of Us to Close the Gender Gap in STEM Fields

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day established to “celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.” This year’s theme is #PledgeForParity, which aims to highlight the World Economic Forum’s prediction that global gender parity will not be reached until 2133 due to a plethora of factors that have slowed progress toward closing the gender gap.

One area in which progress has slowed over the last 30 years is the gender gap in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). To help create more awareness of how substantive this gap really is, I dug through a pile of research, including the American Association of University Women’s report Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing. I also sat down with several women in STEM fields to talk about their experiences.

What I learned is that children develop gender biases as early as age 3 (yikes!), and that without early intervention, these biases will continue to contribute to the gender gap in STEM fields. To learn more about my findings, including what factors contribute to the gap and how we can make a positive impact to help close the gap, read my article The Truth About Why Little Girls Need STEM Toys.

The Truth About Why Little Girls Need STEM Toys

Star Wars Toys Aren’t Just for the Boys

Star-Wars-Girls-Featured

Originally published on FatWallet. Reprinted with permission.

Carrie Fisher, the actress behind the Princess Leia character in the “Star Wars” franchise, recently turned to Twitter to support fans who are protesting the lack of Leia merchandise available in the wide inventory of “Star Wars” toys currently gracing shelves. And for good reason – Disney, which purchased Lucasfilm, LTD, in 2012, currently has no plans to manufacture Leia dolls or action figures.

Really, Disney? This is an iconic character who started off as a princess and went on to become a politician, Jedi Knight and a general. Who wouldn’t want to add her to their action figure collection?!

What’s more, Leia isn’t the only female character conspicuously missing from “Star Wars” merch. In November, fans started the Twitter hashtag #WheresRey after noticing that Rey, a new female character played by Daisy Ridley, isn’t included in an early version of a “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” toy set.

John Hasbro, president of the Hasbro Brands unit that makes the set, feels this backlash is misguided, insisting that Rey is “very well represented” in other Hasbro toy lines. “The franchise is every day becoming more inclusive of both genders. It’s really picking a needle in a haystack,” said Hasbro.

But is there actually merit to this backlash? According to Forbes contributor Monika Bartyzel, Disney already has a firm grip on the female market through its line of Disney princesses, so its marketing efforts for the “Star Wars” franchise has been narrowed to solely target the male demographic.

Ahem. Will all the female “Star Wars” fans please stand up?

“STAR WARS” ISN’T JUST FOR BOYS

Listen, Disney, you’ve got this gendered toys thing all wrong. Princess toys aren’t just for little girls, and “Star Wars” toys aren’t just for little boys. Research shows that dividing toys into gender categories encourages kids of both genders to develop attributes that might not be the ones you actually want to foster. Namely, princess toys lead girls to believe that attractiveness and appearance should be their main focus, while typical toys for boys emphasize violence and aggression.

That’s not to say that any of these toys are bad. The important takeaway from this research is that it’s the gender-typing that has a negative impact on kids. Seriously, let kids play with the toys they like.

And “Star Wars” fans of all backgrounds are showing Disney there’s a high demand for strong female characters. What Rey merchandise is out there is selling out so quickly, stores are struggling to keep them on the shelves.

GET “STAR WARS” TOYS FOR THE WOMEN OF “STAR WARS”

“Star Wars” may have a history of throwing in token women, but that seems to be changing with the emergence of characters like Rey and Captain Phasma. To shop for merchandise that celebrates the women of “Star Wars,” see my original post published on FatWallet.com.

How to Find Out “Wot Went Wrong” With Your Relationship

So you’re on a date with someone new. You feel like you’re really hitting it off, and maybe you even go on a few more dates after that first fateful meeting. You’re stoked. Butterflies are ravaging your insides, and suddenly romantic comedies don’t seem so far fetched anymore.

You wait for those three obligatory days of silence to pass, still buzzing with excitement. But when day four arrives, there’s no phone call.

You tell yourself not to worry. Your new beau may have been busy. Or maybe he/she didn’t want to seem too eager. So you wait another three days.

Still no phone call.

You decide to take the initiative and call to set up another date. Voicemail. The butterflies are getting pretty aggressive. This is weird … you thought you’d really hit it off.

Several days pass with no return call. You decide to try a text message this time. No response.

So Wot Went Wrong?

Nope, that’s not a misspelling. WotWentWrong is a free online service that allows users to send customizable feedback requests to past dates via email or text message to try to find out what exactly went wrong with the relationship. According to Audrey Melnik, the site’s founder, the goal of the site is to help people find closure when a date simply “vanishes,” as well as potentially help people make improvements to their dating style through (hopefully) constructive feedback from past dates.

WotWentWrong Founder Audrey Melnik

WotWentWrong founder Audrey Melnik

“WotWentWrong is the breakup app for couples who never really broke up,” said Melnik. “Instead someone just faded away, and the lack of explanation makes it difficult for the other party to move on. We’re providing a socially acceptable way to tie up the loose ends, learn from what happened and improve your dating Zen for the next relationship – no stalking required.”

The “fade away” strategy is nothing new, so it’s no surprise that Melnik experienced her own fade-away-date who helped inspire her to create the site.

“There definitely was a guy in my life who helped ‘inspire’ me to create WotWentWrong,” said Melnik. “A few years ago I had a first date with someone who I’d actually known for a number of years. He contacted me through Facebook a few months after ending a long-term relationship.

“We had a great first date – drinks, dinner, and he invited me up to his place for a goodnight kiss. He initiated all of it. Then…he vanished. No follow-up call, no more communication from him, nothing.

“I didn’t get it – why would he invite me up to his place if he wasn’t interested? Was the problem me? Him? I really wanted to know the reason, but there was just no socially acceptable way for me to find out. I couldn’t call – unless I wanted a reputation as a stalker — and an email could have gotten forwarded to his friends and turned me into a joke (Note from Mika: I would argue that this could still happen with the feedback requests sent through Wot Went Wrong. What’s to stop someone from forwarding that on or showing the text to a friend?). So, I wound up creating my own way to get this kind of information in these unfortunate situations.”

While WotWentWrong is a free service, it generates revenue through “hyper-contextualized” ads that are included at the bottom of the dating feedback reports. This is one of the reasons users must select options from pre-filled forms when requesting feedback — the ads are generated based off of the feedback provided by their exes. For example, someone might see an ad for a book on how to stop being late if their feedback report indicated they have a problem with punctuality.

The site launched in January, and as of the end of March, the site has had 48,000 unique visitors per month and more than 1,200 feedback requests sent. Of those 1,200 requests, 350 “exes” have responded. Melnik admits it is currently unclear how many of these interactions are legitimate as many people may still be testing the site out.

While Melnik feels this is a great response, the feedback has not been completely positive. Some of the most common criticisms she has received are:

  • The site is a self-esteem crusher.
  • Despite the site’s claims to help users avoid being stalkers, the site actually provides a tool for stalkers.
  • Using the site makes you appear desperate.

The backlash hit the Twittersphere so hard that Melnik felt compelled to respond through a post on the WotWentWrong blog.

So what do you think of this service? Is it really providing a more socially acceptable way to contact past dates who simply vanished, or are the site’s critics on to something?

Louis CK on Masculinity

Image via gawker.com

When I started watching comedian Louis C.K.’s show LouisI expected to spend those 25-minute episodes laughing as Louis poked crude fun at the world around him à la his stand-up shows. And while the show does have some legitimately funny moments, I was surprised to discover that Louis’ show actually presents a more realistic comedic depiction of his life (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) that makes viewers feel equal parts awkward and uncomfortable. It’s quite brilliant, actually. The viewer spends a few minutes laughing at snippets of his stand-up, then is shown the gritty reality behind some of his jokes.

Because of this painfully honest style, Louis C.K.’s show actually hits on some interesting, often uncomfortable subjects. The show focuses on the comedian’s life as a 42-year-old single dad, resulting in many episodes featuring some of his less than successful dating experiences. Most of them are just painful to watch, but the season one episode titled “Bully” actually takes this a step further by highlighting an age-old gender role issue: the nice guy vs the bad boy.

In “Bully,” Louis is on a date that is actually going well. He and his date are at a coffee shop enjoying donuts and watery coffee when a group of teenage boys barrel in and are so rowdy that he and his date cannot hear each other talk. Louis tries to take control of the situation by telling the boys to keep it down, but his assertiveness back-fires on him when one of the boys decides to challenge Louis.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading.

For those who do want to know what happens, keep reading and/or click here to see a video clip on Gawker.

The teenager saunters over to the couple’s table and menaces them with a feigned civility that is dripping with the potential for violence. After a long minute of this charade, the kid proceeds to threaten to kick Louis’ ass, showing him his cut up knuckles that he claims are the result of a recent beat down he bestowed upon some other lucky victim. Louis is forced to beg the kid not to beat him while his date watches in stunned silence. It’s humiliating for Louis.

And it gets worse.

After the kids leave, Louis tells his date he can’t go around fighting because he has to think of his daughters, but as his date asserts that she thinks he did the right thing, it’s clear she’s being insincere. Louis calls her on it, and she admits the whole situation was a turn off. She says she would’ve been upset if things had turned violent … but it was still a turn off. She says,”It’s like a primitive thing or something. I mean, you see this guy totally debase himself just to be safe. It’s a turn off.”

Louis is floored. He tells her, “I gotta ciritize you a little bit for that. That’s why there’s wars and stuff — women like you that choose stupid strong people over the weak and the gentle.”

I almost wish his date had tried to argue with him, but instead she says, “I’m a grown woman, and my mind is telling me that you are a great guy … but my chemistry is telling me that you’re a loser. I’m surprised by my own reaction, and I have no defense.”

At this Louis tells her it’s time to get her a cab, angrily batting away her attempts to pay for their meal and making a point to open and hold the door for her as they leave the cafe. I found my breath caught in my throat as the scene came to a close, a touch of shame for my gender creeping its way into my psyche.

I definitely didn’t expect to watch Louis dramatize this kind of subject matter, and I most certainly have a greater deal of respect for him because he was able to use a comedy show to force me to think about an ugly truth: like his date, most women would find Louis’ lack of “machismo” a turn off.

I considered what my reaction would have been if it had been me. Truthfully, I’m not really sure how I would feel about my boyfriend had he been the one saying in defeat, “Please don’t kick my ass.” I mean, those are pretty emasculating words. But would I really enjoy watching him fight some stranger? Would it make me feel like he was more of a man? I tried to imagine it, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t really want to. I couldn’t reconcile violence for the sake of violence, even if it meant leaving the cafe with our tails between our legs.

So do we really want our men to fight? Yes, we do … but not really. A truly “feminine” answer, right?

The crux of this issue is that we have created a lose-lose for men when it comes to “proving” their masculinity. The men who choose to abstain from fighting are weak, but the men who choose to fight are violent hotheads. We want them to be both the bad boy and the nice guy all in one — emotionally sensitive partners who have the ability to transform into a vicious Hulk if necessary. It’s just plain ridiculous.

How would you feel if this were you and your partner? Would you look down on your partner if he/she begged off a fight? If you’re able, I’d suggest watching a video clip of the episode before commenting.

How I Found My Memories of Abuse in the Office Break Room

I recently started a new job, and like any new employee, I did a lot of observing during my first couple of weeks. There’s nothing really special to report about the building itself, but two rooms have given me pause almost every time I am in them: the break room and the bathroom (and not for the reasons you’re thinking).

Both the break room and bathroom have the warning signs of relationship abuse posted in places that force you to read them (on the mirror and right above the microwave). The first time I read them, I felt like someone had socked me right in the gut. From warning sign #1 and on, I found myself mentally checking off behaviors I experienced in past relationships:

 

  • You met during a crisis, and your partner “saved you.” Check.
  • Your partner abuses alcohol or drugs. Check.
  • Your partner is jealous and possessive. Check.
  • Your partner criticizes, humiliates, and/or yells at you. Check.
  • Your partner blames you for how they treat you. Check.
  • Your partner makes you feel like you can’t do anything right. Check.
  • Your partner makes you feel like you are wrong, crazy, stupid, or inadequate. Check.
  • Your partner repeatedly and wrongly accuses you of cheating. Check.
  • Your partner ignores you, gives you the silent treatment, or hangs up on you. Check.
  • Your partner blames all arguments and problems on you. Check.
  • Your partner puts people down, including family and friends. Check.
  • Your partner has a bad and unpredictable temper. Check.

And so on…

It’s not that I didn’t know I had been in multiple abusive relationships. Four years of therapy helped me realize that. What made me feel so overwhelmed by the posters was the stark reminder that I was once the girl those posters are targeting.

I am a huge advocate for therapy because it definitely helps bring about the healing process, but therapy is not a miracle cure. I can’t speak for others who have experienced abuse, but for me, memories of those days have a tendency to burst through my psyche at unexpected moments — like when I’m warming up my lunch and start reading posters about abusive partners.

Those memories are tough because they are usually accompanied by a surge of emotions that are difficult to process: anger, embarrassment, guilt, sadness. Sometimes those old feelings of inadequacy, defeat, and depression even start to resurface. And when you’re finally able to wrangle those emotions under control, you’re left with the knowledge that you have been forever changed by someone you thought loved and cherished you.

Be a part of the solution
Whether verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual, abuse is never acceptable. Never.

If you see the warning signs of abuse in a loved one’s relationship, say something. Not sure how? I’d suggest checking out the Red Flag Campaign, which encourages people to use what they call a “bystander intervention strategy” to help prevent abuse.

Do you see the signs of abuse in your own relationship? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The call is free and confidential, and the line is available 24 hours a day. I would also suggest reading the article Are You Dating an Abuser? from Psychology Today. It was published in 2008, but the information is still just as relevant. It provides some great early warning signs to watch out for so you can catch the signs of a potential abuser before you become emotionally attached.

Lastly, I have a non-academic piece I suggest everyone read: Good Consent, a piece published this week on The Good Men Project. It’s a great opinion piece that talks about how consent is different for everyone, and we all need to learn how to communicate with our partners in order to ensure we are getting honest consent from them in our relationships. I’m not naive enough to believe an abuser is going to take anything away from this piece, but I have faith everyone else will. The first step to having a healthy, non-abusive relationship is mutual respect and strong communication.

Respect your partner(s), get consent, and do your part to prevent abuse. After all, you may know someone just like me who could use your help.