Posts By Ariana Barer

Part 4: Period Suppression

Forty years ago, women saw the Pill as a way for to gain crucial control over their family planning and attain the time and energy for life pursuits beyond labor, delivery, and child care.  According to USA Today, the FDA approved the first birth control pill to stop women’s periods indefinitely in 2007. If this sounds strange or scary to you, you may be interested to know that about half the women in the studies dropped out due to irregular and unscheduled bleeding and spotting that could last for four to five days, for the first year, that replaced their scheduled menstruation.  It’s like our bodies are trying to tell us something…. what.. could.. it.. be??  There are other pills on the market too that are designed to shorten monthly periods to three days or less or down to only four times per year.  Sarah Haskins has a great piece on birth control being sold as period control.

 

According to the Canadian Women’s Health Network, the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research stated simply that “menstruation is not a disease… [F]urther research on the potential health risks and long-term safety of cycle-stopping contraception is still needed,” particularly addressing the “impacts on adolescent development, since young women and girls are a target audience for cycle-stopping contraceptives… These contraceptives do not only reduce or eliminate menstrual bleeding, [they] also suppress the complex hormonal interplay of the menstrual cycle. The impacts of this cycle on women’s health are not completely understood.”  The Society noted that “it is also important that research address the social, psychological and cultural implications of menstrual suppression, as well as the biomedical effects.” They remain concerned that pharmaceutical campaigns used to market cycle-stopping contraception depict the menstrual cycle as abnormal, undesirable, unnecessary and even unhealthy. Messages telling us that processes associated with women’s bodies are “defective or need to be medically controlled can lead to negative body image, especially in young women.”  This is reminiscent of the fact that fat hatred, and other oppressions resulting in extreme eating disorders, can also lead to period suppression.  In these cases, it’s a pretty strong sign from the body that things are not ok.

 

Medical sociologists and feminists have questioned the need for a pill like this for most women who don’t bleed or suffer intensely during their periods, pointing out that it’s a normal life event, not a medical condition! Why medicate a normal life event if we’re not sure of the long-term effects?  [Please note: This is absolutely NOT meant as a critique of hormones used in FTM transitions that result in period cessation.]  Hormones in birth control pills can cause deadly side effects like blood clots and stroke.  No doubt, the pill has been a huge life-saver for many women who have so much to manage and not having to deal with a hemorrhaging, painful period on top of it all is useful.  AND… ultimately, it’s entirely likely that women wouldn’t have such rough time if we weren’t dealing with stress, environmental toxins, chemically-altered and non-nutritious “food,” psychological and physical trauma, and other things that we manage daily.  Our bodies tell us a lot of things that we aren’t able to respond to generously.

 

It’s interesting to note that our culture doesn’t tend to associate the end of periods with a lack of femininity in women.  Yet, a vasectomy seems to threaten masculinity so much that men don’t tend to opt for this low-risk, hormone-free, highly effective method of birth control.  It seems normal and acceptable that women’s bodies be put at risk to disrupt the cycle that produces life, to even out any moods that are inconvenient, and to tackle pain and discomfort that could be eased through other less destructive or preventative methods.  It has become so normal to control, manage, and regulate bodies for acceptable femininity that even the most harmful and unnecessary products or procedures are everywhere.

 

It’s hard not to recognize the economic possibilities of convincing 52% of the population that something their bodies do every month needs to be “fixed” with continuous pharmaceutical intervention.  And we thought disposable menstrual products were lucrative…!  We are told that menstruation is not medically necessary, that women shouldn’t have to suffer nausea, bloating, cramps, headaches, and depression.  But I can’t help but wonder where the studies and funding and education are that teach people how to reduce these symptoms through non-processed/toxic food, rest, heat, massage, and other forms of practical, ongoing care routines.  There’s very little money to be made and control to be gained from people knowing how to take care of themselves and each other.

 

“I believe that women regaining confidence through the explicit demonstration of their cycle and its powers in life could move from many conflicts within themselves into a female-defined world.  This would create a marvelous crack in the armor of patriarchy, and might help us all to break through to a world where being female will be a delight and a powerful lever of change.” – Asphodel P. Long (feminist theologian)

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Part 3: Herstories of a Menstrual Nature

One way to subvert society’s shaming is to break the silence on menstruation and let our stories flow!

 

Our moms and grandmas remember the enormous and uncomfortable pads that used to be connected with safety pins, hooks, tabs, suspenders, or built into the underpants themselves!  You can look those up on the Museum of Menstruation.  Self-adhesive pads were only available after the 1970s.

These contraptions were so horrible, it’s no wonder girls and women dreaded their periods.  We’ve heard stories like this one: No one talked with her about her period when she was young, so she got it in school and bled all over the desk seat.  She got up to hand in some papers and the female teacher didn’t even say anything to her.  When she realized, she had to run to her locker to put on her jacket then go to the washroom to deal with it all by herself.  Or this one: Having to make up excuses about not being able to go swimming with everyone else for 2 weeks and feeling worried they would figure out why she couldn’t go.

 

It’s taken our whole lives to alienate us from our bodies, so it will take time to reacquaint ourselves and learn how to be the experts of our own experiences, responding in ways that feel right and good. Inga Muscio, author of the book Cunt, says, “[B]y the time we’re twelve or so, society has convinced the vast majority of women that it is in our best interest to remain incontestably oblivious to our bodies outside the realm of tormenting ourselves into reflecting a certain standard of physical beauty.”  Inga describes her own experience of learning about periods in school, where the girls were separated out from the boys (heaven forbid boys learn anything about female anatomy) and brought in for “the talk” about “becoming a woman.”  First of all, one single thing that your body does should not determine your gender identity.  Lots of women don’t bleed every month: Trans women, post-menopausal women, high level athletes.  And second, what kind of effect does it have on a group of people constructed by society to know that when they enter that identity, it is through a horrible awful event that you just have to deal with by yourself and never talk about.  Inga talks about having to watch a video that told girls to keep spotlessly clean because menstruating girls tend to stink up the room if they’re not completely at one with personal hygiene. The video also told girls that any pain or discomfort they might feel, resided in their heads and had been collectively imagined by womankind for thousands of years.  How could you not grow up feeling dirty, inconvenient to others, angry or disconnected from your body. Or alone.

 

When I  was 11, my mom sat me down and told me about getting your period.  She explained about pads and tampons.  I got my period at camp that summer and one of the cool girls told me that I could talk to her about it if I wanted.  When I told my mom I’d gotten my period, she bought me a woman’s symbol that we put on a necklace together.  When we found out about organic non-bleached cotton tampons, we bought those instead.  And when I joined my university’s women’s centre and found out about the menstrual cup nearly 10 years later, we went out and got one of those.  I can’t even begin to understand how much this insulated me from misogyny, but I know the impact this had on me and my relationship with my body was profound.  I look forward to doing the same for my goddaughter!

 

Women have different ways of honouring the fact that they’re on their monthly cycle.  Some need quiet and stillness, others need friends, or food, or baths.  If we actually had the space to do the things our bodies are asking for during these times (instead of working in offices or factories or taking care of children), we likely wouldn’t feel grumpy or anxious or sad.  We might actually stop feeling negativity towards a bodily ritual that so profoundly and routinely reinforces how spectacular the human body is and it’s power to make life.

 

In the totally-life-changing book, The Red Tent, Anita Diamant wrote:

“The great mother whom we call Innana gave a gift to woman that is not known among men, and this is the secret of blood. The flow at the dark of the moon, the healing blood of the moon’s birth – to men, this is flux and distemper, bother and pain. They imagine we suffer and consider themselves lucky. We do not disabuse them.

In the red tent, the truth is known. In the red tent, where days pass like a gentle stream, as the gift of Innana courses through us, cleansing the body of last month’s death, preparing the body to receive the new month’s life, women give thanks — for repose and restoration, for the knowledge that life comes from between our legs, and that life costs blood.”

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Shout Back! Fest

The anarcha-feminist, queer, radical, anti-capitalist DIY music festival Shout Back! Fest is happening this weekend in Vancouver!  The organizers took some time to tell The F Word about the festival and the radical space it’s making in the community.

 

The F Word: Why did you decide to run the festival?  What’s up with the “current independent music culture” (as your Facebook page puts it)?

 

Shout Back: Why… well for me the question is why NOT. There is a growing community of female/queer/trans bands in this city and its incredibly inspiring. It feels like a really good time to start talking about gender politics and to celebrate the diversity of Vancouver’s DIY music scene. It’s also important to recognize that individuals can feel excluded even within “independent” music culture and that patriarchy hurts everyone. We believe that music/noise making is a powerful tool for liberating people from negative gender stereotypes and patriarchal structures, so what better way to prove this than by throwing a little festival!

 

The F Word: How did you get the festival going?  Is it collective-run?

 

Shout Back: The idea came up a couple of months ago. Basically a couple of us (organizers) were hanging out at a show talking about how many awesome all-female bands there are in the city right now. There are new bands starting up everyday and we thought it would be cool to throw an event that highlights all of this energy. From then we started meeting as a collective… Two of the core organizers live in a rad artist/punk/feminist house in East Van, so that’s been our unofficial hub!

The F Word: What are some radical aspects of Shout Back! that people can look forward to?

 

Shout Back: Well, I’d say the music is totally far out radical! A fine mix of folk, punk and everything in-between. The venues are radical too! It’s pretty cool that all spaces are artist/musician collective houses, and streets/parks. In addition to being able to invite all ages, the venues are much more affordable and community-minded than most bars or clubs. Last, but not least, there are going to be workshops on Sunday. Topics include: safer spaces in punk communities, capitalism and patriarchy, zine-making and anarchy is queer. Sounds pretty radical, right?

 

The F Word: Your wo/man/ifesto is a powerful statement! (We’ll let it speak for itself…)

 

Shout Back: An anarcha-feminist, queer, radical, anti-capitalist DIY music festival for anyone who wants it or thinks they might want it. A celebration in smashing patriarchy, showcasing artists who are underrepresented. This festival is for everyone who is disaffected or disgusted by the current independent music culture, dominated by straight, white males.

 

We refuse to adapt and accommodate this inherently oppressive, hierarchical structure. Let’s break the binary and build a new space, one that is safe, and inclusive, based on solidarity. Music for everyone.

 

We aim to affirm and encourage all artists doing it ourselves and empower us to keep moving forward, doing it together. Creating an environment where we break systemic barriers, help foster conversations and build relationships. Offering resources, workshops, and skill sharing. Solidarity in the struggle. Gender Liberation.

 

What we have is RADICAL and its time to party HarD.I.Y, shred, sing along, dance our hearts out, be heard, have fun and bring this to all things we do, every action.

 

Because we agree that patriarchy hurts everyone!
Because we agree that music + noise making are a force for GENDER LIBERATION!

The F Word: Is there anybody you’d like to thank for inspiring the patriarchy-smashing, anarcha-feminist, queer, radical, anti-capitalist DIY work you’re doing?

 

Shout Back: The name shout back! fest was inspired by Bell Hook’s book “Talking Back”. In the book she talks a lot about how writing is an act of challenging oppression by developing your own voice.  Like the act of writing, I believe that music and noise-making is a very strong method for spreading love, smashing patriarchy and liberating us from gender norms!

 

On a daily basis I’m inspired by all of the rad cats doing rad work in punk houses like the mansion and thor’s palace… without these folks, this festival would not be possible! And I honestly can’t speak highly enough of Girls Rock Camp Vancouver… they are one of the most important and exciting non-profits in Vancouver and have personally inspired me time and time agian!

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International Women’s Day, Purim, and Feminist Parenting

Today is International Women’s Day. It also happens to be Purim, the Jewish holiday celebrating (as always) a story of someone trying to kill the Jewish people and the Jews somehow surviving against all odds. I used to teach Sunday School at my synagogue, so I got used to summarizing our holidays so the kids would stay awake. And by “teach Sunday School,” I mean I hung out with a bunch of boys and girls who would rather have slept in than analyze Torah stories through a feminist lens… “Now kids, how do you think Rebecca felt when she had to leave her whole family and way of life behind to go marry Isaac?” Stuff like that.

This colliding of holidays is particularly special for me because it reminded me of some of my earliest feminist memories. I guess it’s no surprise that a lot of my feminism developed through, and in response to, organized religion. The first thing you need to know to understand how this works is that my mom is a HUGE feminist. Like, whatever the most kind of feminist there is… she’s that. It’s wonderful. The second thing you need to know is that on Purim, you wear costumes to celebrate.

The way I remember and probably taught the story of Purim (NOT the official story) is that it takes place in a Persian city called Shushan. The king has a wife named Vashti and he tells (not asks) her to come perform for his dude friends and she’s like “no thanks”. So, like any self-respecting king, he banishes his disrespecting, non-subservient, no-good wife. Then he realizes he’s down a wife and needs a new one, so he holds a contest. Shockingly, it’s a beauty contest (insert shock here). Meanwhile, Mordecai is a smart Jewish guy in the city (who refuses to bow down to stuff that isn’t the one and only deity he prays to, including the king’s wicked advisor) and works at the palace as a scribe. He overhears a couple of soldiers plotting to kill the king. His warning saves the king’s life. In order to thank him, the king makes his evil advisor (Haman) parade Mordecai around the city like royalty, which doesn’t help matters. Haman plots to hang all the Jews. Mordecai convinces his niece, Esther, to enter the wife contest so she can try and save the Jews. Not a super feminist plan as far as plans go, but she’s down. So, shockingly, she wins and the king totally falls for her. There’s a big rule that prohibits people from approaching the king uninvited. She risks her life (remember Vashti?) to go to him uninvited to reveal that she’s Jewish and ask that she and her people not be killed. He’s horrified and wants to know who’s big idea that was. Haman is outed, hanged from his own gallows, and the day is saved.

Action-packed story, right? Still awake?

So all the other little girls used to dress up as Esther, of course. She’s the heroine and the only lady, except Vashti who everyone (except my mom) either forgets about or vilifies. My mom’s a major Vashti fan.  So you can guess who I used to dress up as.  It was my little brother who would go as Esther. He’s cool like that. We had to explain these choices to a lot of people, but that’s just something feminists get used to doing. I want to give a big kudos to my Ma for always ensuring my Judaism was filled with feminism and making today the unexpectedly easiest combination of holidays ever. Happy International Women’s Day!

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Back to the Basement?

In the 80s, women’s organizations were forming, operating shelters and crisis lines out of individual homes.  Women knew at the time that there was an urgent need to provide ongoing and crisis support to women experiencing violence.  Long after the consciousness raising groups of the 1960s and 70s gathered in our kitchens and our basements, women still know that there is an urgent need.  Sexual assault services, shelters, transition houses, and resources centres now operate above and below ground in office buildings and community halls, but continued funding cuts are forcing women’s organizations all over the country to close their doors, sending women’s services in many communities back to the basement and private spaces of our homes.  As if women weren’t already doing enough unpaid labour!

According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s UNiTE to end violence against women campaign, “violence against women must be prioritized at all levels.  It has not yet received the priority required to enable significant change.”  The campaign declares that “the most effective way to fight violence against women is a clear demonstration of political commitment by States, backed by action and resources.”

The BC Liberal government cut funding to women’s centres across the province in 2004. Most funding available now is program-based, with little available for day-to-day operating costs.  It’s difficult to provide counselling services with no phones or lights!  These expansive cuts have raised many concerns about the state of women’s equality in BC.  The United Nations has agreed that the actions of the current Liberal government may have undermined women’s equality and breached Canada’s international treaty obligations.

To all those concerned about justice for women in Canada, let us know: Are the women’s services in your community at risk?  Are you mobilizing?  Can we support you?

In March 2004, the Campbell government cut 100% of the 1.7 million dollars that was used to fund the 37 B.C. Women’s Centres.  Rabble.ca broke the figures down to find that each centre received approximately $48,000 per year for basic operating costs and that this works out to be less than a dollar for each woman in B.C. for a year’s worth of essential services (crisis support, counseling, hospital and court accompaniment, referrals, shelters, transitions housing, and drop-in spaces for women’s organizations to meet).

CLOSURES SO FAR… (tell us if you know of others!)

In March, the Cranbrook Women’s Resource Centre was closed.  In May it was re-opened for 1 year thanks to some one-time funding.

In April, the Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre had to close its doors.

In May, the Vernon Women’s Centre closed its doors due to lack of funding.

In May, the Comox Valley Women’s Centre is also closing due to government funding cuts.

Last May, the Health Contact Centre in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver was closed by Vancouver Coastal Health.  It was one of the only places to access 24-hour services and its closure negatively impacts many members of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

IF THEY’RE DEFUNDING HERE, THEY’RE DEFUNDING EVERYWHERE.

In March, the government of New Brunswick eliminated 100% of the funding for the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women from the provincial budget.  The Council has been a crucial advocate for women in the province, operating at arms-length and speaking truth to power.

Since April 2010, the Lethbridge Womanspace women’s centre has been facing closure as a result of being denied federal funding.

THE WOMEN’S CENTRES ARE NOT ALONE.

These anti-woman policies show up across the board. When the BC Liberal government came to power in 2001, they rolled back the pay equity legislation established by the previous government, eliminated the Ministry for Women’s Equality and the Women’s Health Bureau, cancelled the $16 million universal day care program set up by the previous government, eliminated the Child Care BC Program, closed the Legal Aid Offices, and cut 50% of the funding for court ordered assaultive men’s treatment programs. All of this happened after campaigning with promises to expand affordable child care, promote wellness and preventative care, reduce domestic violence, and ensure equal access to legal representation and justice.

The Poverty and Human Rights Centre stated in their submission to the UN that the “government of BC should reverse recent regressive measures that have a discriminatory impact on women, in particular the most vulnerable groups of women, such as aboriginal women, immigrant women, disabled women and single mothers.”

WOMEN ARE STILL DOING THE HOUSEKEEPING, CLEANING UP MISOGYNIST MESSES.

Today women’s groups in Vancouver that are involved in the Missing and Murdered Women’s Inquiry are boycotting the inquiry because their request for financial support that would allow them to participate equally was denied by the province. In the meantime, police and the province have fully funded lawyers and staff to be able to do their work. Women again are being asked to do the “housework” without getting paid! (Put up and shut up.) The cuts to women’s services across Canada are eradicating women’s equality rights and freedoms. We know that violence against women is, as Wally Oppal states “a cancer on society,” yet he is not willing to advocate for women to be compensated monetarily to do their work. As 52% of the population, women are demanding that all government monies are budgeted with gender inequity taken into account and used to support all women and women’s work.

WE WILL NOT GO QUIETLY BACK TO THE BASEMENT.

We demand that the government of BC restore full and adequate funding to women’s centres across the province and ensure that women in all regions of the province have adequate access to a women’s centre. The withdrawal of the core funding to women’s centres silences British Columbian women, and we must have a voice in the decision-making processes that affect our lives.

For further information:

Elimination of Women’s Rights=Violence on Women and Children

Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

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