I’ve been learning a hard lesson lately, and while it is fascinating, it is also frustrating.
Any topic about women – whether it be menstruation, pregnancy, or really anything to do with the female gender, usually finds itself in two different scenarios. In the first, we find a group of (mostly women) gathered together swapping real life stories, narratives of truth and experience. In the other we find experts, outsiders and those (men and women) who want to be in the discussion, but have yet to enter its domain.
Of the two, whose insight bears more weight?
As a woman, I want to say the group who speaks from lived experience. However, as a researcher, I know that there is truth in the expert. While we may not always agree with an expert’s opinion, that does not mean there isn’t truth in their words. And there is a difference between what is true and what is right.
Let me explain.
If a male medical professional were to comment on a women’s experience of childbirth or menstruation, and let’s be honest many have, do we see it as valid? Some would say yes, others no. What I tend to notice is that we are often critical of the opinions of male medical staff. Of course they do not understand what we are feeling, but they do understand the medical field and there is value in fieldwork and observation methodologies. And female medical professionals do understand what we are experiencing because they experience it too. They may be out of touch with our reality, but their reality is what informs the opinions and practices of our medical industry. What their truth says, often goes.
But that doesn’t mean it is right.
What I am trying to draw attention to is that although something may not be of benefit to women, it does serve a purpose, and that purpose may not be good. We may not like everything we hear about pregnancy or menstruation from the medial expert, talk show host or news anchor, but there is truth in what they are saying. Whether positive or negative, the words that help frame how society views the issues that affect women’s lives matter. They matter because they shape perception, and perception shapes how we respond to our world.
So the next time you hear something that makes the feminist inside of you want to grab hold of someone, digest it, re-frame it and challenge the concept with your own truth. Being in discussion with both “scenarios” of women’s health is necessary if we are going to see change in the way women are cared for. Getting upset, storming out and refusing to consult with those, who in our opinion are misguided, does little to help the confusion.
I want to leave you with some insight, so that maybe the two scenarios we often see at odds of one another, may blur together and create a reality where what is true is also the right thing for women. As summer approaches, and more so the opportunity to grab a good book and sit out on the porch, I want to share some of my favourite reads to get your spring/summer readings list off to start. Both fiction and non-fiction, the following list is only a fraction of what has influenced my insight and opinions on women’s health. I hope they encourage, enlighten and educate you to find some balance in advocating for a better and healthier future for yourself and women everywhere. And if anything, they may just lighten the mood a bit, because we all need an escape at times. And please do comment and add a few of your own titles. Together we can learn from each other.
1. Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation (2009)
Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
2. The V Book (2002)
Elizabeth G. Steward M.D. and Paula Spencer
3. Misconceptions: truth, lies, and the unexpected on the journey to motherhood (2003)
4. The Birth House (2007)
4. The Red Tent (2007)
5. The Woman in the Body (1987)
6. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
7. Feminist Technologies (2010)
Eds. Linda L. Layne, Sharra L. Vostral and Kate Boyer
8. The Bel Jar (1963)
9. New Blood (2010)
10. Manifesta : young women, feminism, and the future (2010)
Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards