Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Egalitarian Catholic Spirituality

The Virgin Mary is worshipped throughout Catholicism almost as much as, if not more than, Jesus. A few years ago, a large group of Catholics actually petitioned the Vatican to elevate Mary to Jesus' level - they were turned down because that's not how theology works.

The hierarchy and doctrine of the Church have a long history of misogyny, heterosexism, and mistreatment of women. Women must be subservient, silent, obedient, and serene breeders (if not chaste virgins for life).

In practice, however, particularly among the lower classes, the spirituality of Catholics is more woman-centric. Check how many shrines to Mary are in your neighborhood, how many rosaries hang from rearview mirrors (or that people wear, which a good Catholic isn't technically supposed to do), how many Mary/rosary tattoos you see. Then all the Catholic woman saints and leaders: St. Joan of Arc, Dorothy Day, St. Barbara, Mother Theresa, St. Ursula, Princess Diana (I'm aware that she was Anglican, but that didn't stop my childhood parish from praying to her), etc. In spiritual practice, Catholicism gets rather egalitarian.

The hierarchy may topple from the scandals in a largely secular world, but people will continue the rituals, symbols, traditions, etc. of Catholicism. Which means the worship of a female icon isn't going away anytime soon.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Vagina Monologues

The V Day Campaign, the season in which The Vagina Monologues performs, is upon us again. Formed 14 years ago and still going strong, The Vagina Monologues (the play, the book, the movement) balances validating activism, unity, good humor, and welcoming. Through story-telling, awareness is awakened: the personal is still political.

I first read The Vagina Monologues in spring '04, right around the time I graduated high school. Until reading it, I thought that I was malformed and diseased - too mortified and ashamed to talk to anyone about it. The controversy around The Vagina Monologues, years after it began, had sparked my interest in my budding feminism. Oddly enough, I was working as a receptionist in a Catholic parish office when I first read it! (I also read Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix at that job!) Before reading Eve Ensler's magnum opus (opa?), I was honestly not aware that anything between my knees and my neck existed. My physical self-awareness was sparked by The Vagina Monologues, and by no means am I alone in that.
From there came The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, CUNT by Inga Muscio, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, flannel menstrual pads, menstrual sponges, menstrual cups, vibrators, sex positivity, trans advocacy, and everything I have going on today.

Spring '09 was the first time I actually saw The Vagina Monologues play, which I co-assistant managed at my internship at The Milwaukee Gay Arts Center. My all-women college, Alverno, also hosted a student-run performance as well - it was ridiculously difficult to get a performance approved there!! You'd think that an all-women college would have been among the first places to advocate anything that supports women's awareness, but they were so afraid of being pegged as a "lesbian school".
Before seeing the play, The Vagina Monologues really felt like a private, personal, secret thing of my own. It was MY experience, shared with others who didn't seem real. Sitting in FOUR sold-out shows, though, opened up the doors to this community. Matrons, young girls, transwomen, lesbians, sex workers, rape survivors, virgins, allies - all these people seeking validation and finding community. It was a powerful thing, which made The Vagina Monologues more real as a social force powered by shared experience.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Socialized Men and Woman, Service Professions

Among the major differences between socialized men and women, at least in America, is between our options. For men, many career options are presented, including service professions (more specifically, the military and clergy). They have an array of informed choices at their disposal*. For women, though, the only career option is service. A woman must make her own alternative options, fighting her way down that path the whole way.

* though certain career/life professions, such as homemaker and nurse, are considered emasculating for a man. After all, why would a man knowingly choose a woman's role when it's clearly subservient?

Full, Free Documentary: Miss Representation


The thing is, and I thought this when I interned at Project Girl, it isn't entirely "the media's" fault that depression and eating disorders are so prevalent - a strong support system in an individual's life can help overcome that influence. But altering mainstream standards is easier than providing personal support to millions of people.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My ParaGard IUD

I got the ParaGard IUD (http://www.paragard.com/) for FREE the other day, thanks to Illinois Healthy Women (http://www.illinoishealthywomen.com/) and Planned Parenthood (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/).

Step 1: I applied to Illinois Healthy Women. Other states, such as Minnesota, have similar programs that cover costs for female reproductive health. This was roughly a 2 month process since they had to process all my paperwork, including my low income.

Step 2: Upon receiving my Illinois Healthy Women card, essentially an insurance card, I had a consultation at Planned Parenthood for the ParaGard IUD. I knew that I didn't want anything messing with my hormones, and the ParaGard is just plastic with copper coils. Upon getting the information from the doctor at Planned Parenthood, I decided to get it.

Step 3: The actual IUD insertion procedure. I had to eat and treat the morning like any other day, no fasting. The staff at Planned Parenthood gave me 600mg of ibuprofin and checked me to make sure I'm clean of STIs. For privacy and security, no guests were allowed past the waiting room - I have great pain tolerance, but I was nervous and wanted someone's hand to hold. Since I was texting my closest friends the whole time, I squeezed my cell phone.

Just like with a regular pap smear, I was all set up with the stirrups and speculum. This is uncomfortable for some people, but doesn't bother me. Then the doctor, with whom I was discussing sexual health the entire time (she loved me for being so well-informed and curious), coated my cervix with a numbing agent - this looked like brown vaseline. Next, she dilated my cervix with a metal rod about the thickness of a regular chopstick. This was the most painful part! I felt like I was having the biggest menstrual cramp of my life!

Finally, she inserted the ParaGard IUD. I had asked to see it before the entire procedure, it was much smaller than I was expecting: I'm very petite and the Y-shaped IUD was the size of my thumbnail. A string hangs out of it, outside the cervix for about an inch, so that it can be removed quickly and easily.

Step 4: Recovery. The entire insertion procedure took less than ten minutes, but the intensity of the pain made me nearly faint. I told the doctor that I felt like I was passing out and she greatly appreciated this - people pass out all the time, but they don't tell anyone so how can the doctor know whether this is normal or a diabetic seizure or something else?

I lay on the medical bed, free of the stirrups and speculum, for about 20 minutes until the dizziness subsided. There was no blood, but all the cramps felt like a much stronger version of my normal period. My periods are very light and I was glad that the doctor had warned me that they would be worse from now on (still better than pregnancy!). As soon as I was steady, I got to go. The rest of the day, my cramps were terrible and I mostly lay around in bed with more ibuprofin and hot soup. Two days later, I felt completely back to normal.

The ParaGard IUD lasts for 10-12 years. The copper wires on it irritate the uterine walls to great more buildup, so an egg can't implant. Also, the acidity of the vagina is altered by the copper so much that sperm cells can't fertilize an egg. At 99.5% effectiveness, the ParaGard IUD works more often than getting your tubes tied. It doesn't not protect from STIs/STDs or HIV/AIDS, only pregnancy. Again, the only drawbacks are stronger periods (spooting should be expected, but I haven't bled at all) and that menstrual cups (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstrual_cup) can't be used. The ParaGard IUD is effective immediately, though the doctor told me to not put anything in my vagina for 24 hours - with all the pain I was in, I wouldn't have wanted to anyway.

So now all my condoms will be used only when toys are shared and with new male sexual partners.