Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

March 12, 2014

Teen Voices Magazine is Back, Improving the World for Girls Through Media

For 25 years, Teen Voices magazine has provided a place for journalism and other writing created by and for teenage girls. This great publication, originally based in Boston, was on the brink of shutting down last year, but Women’s eNews took it under its wing, with plans to build upon its mission of improving the world for female teens through media.

The first stories published by the new Teen Voices are now online and tackle diverse issues including recovering from anorexiawhy some women wear hijab and others don’tfeeling unworthy; and letters to celebrities as role models.

design contest for the new Teen Voices logo is currently open to 12-19 year olds; the deadline is April 3. You can also follow Teen Voices on FacebookTwitter and tumblr.

And if you’d like to support Teen Voices, there’s an IndieGoGo campaign running now through the end of March to raise funds for a “virtual newsroom,” including mentorship and paid writing assignments for teen girls.

We’re excited to see Teen Voices not only keep going, but expand the opportunities for its writers. Women’s eNews explains the need for this program and the goals:

Teen Voices at Women’s eNews will provide opportunities for education and interaction so that young women can develop and amplify their voices and contribute to issues that personally affect them.

Young women in the U.S. and around the globe often have limited knowledge of the policies, practices and rituals that influence their lives directly, giving them little opportunity to voice their approval or objection. Consider this:

  • Alongside nudity and hypersexualization in film, female teens and women between the ages of 13 and 20 are more likely than others to be referred to as “attractive” as their main attribute, according to theWomen’s Media Center’s 2012 Status of Women in the U.S. Media report.
  • Young female characters are outnumbered by boys 3-to-1 among the top-grossing G-rated family films, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media. This trend makes young women invisible, removes role models and results “in negative gender stereotypes imprinting over and over.”
  • Female teens surveyed by the Girl Scouts in 2011 accepted that their lives should be like that of women on reality TV shows and expected a higher level of drama, aggression and bullying in their own lives. The media is influencing young women to believe that “it’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another.”

Teen Voices at Women’s eNews will provide honest and objective information about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, and serve as a powerful outlet for young women to express their views on issues of particular concern to them.

The project is being led by Lori Sokol, Ph.D., the new publisher of Teen Voices at Women’s eNews, theWomen’s eNews editorial, marketing and development staff and a diverse board of teenagers who will consult and advise on the issues being covered.

Don’t forget to check out the IndieGoGo campaign today!
Also! Our Bodies Ourselves has multiple back issues of the print edition of Teen Voices that we would like to give away. They are available for the cost of postage, $13 per box. If you are interested, send a check made out to “OBOS” to: Our Bodies Ourselves, 5 Upland Road #3, Cambridge, MA 02140. Be sure to include the address where the magazines should be sent. For more information, email: office AT

January 17, 2014

The Real Danger of the NuvaRing

If you read the recent Vanity Fair article about NuvaRing contraception, “Danger in the Ring,” you could be excused for coming away with the conclusion that NuvaRing is deadly and should be yanked off the market immediately.

But hold on.

NuvaRing, a hormonal birth control that is inserted into the vagina, contains estrogen and etonogestrel, a form of progestin that’s different from what’s in the most common low-dose combined birth control pills. As the Vanity Fair article describes, it is also the subject of ongoing lawsuits about dangerous blood clots.

Marie Brenner’s article focuses heavily those lawsuits alleging harms from the device. What it doesn’t do is put the risk of harms from NuvaRing in the context of other hormonal birth control options, or discuss real magnitude of risk of any of these options.

All hormonal birth control with estrogen carries some risk of blood clots. These are referred to as venous thromboembolism, or VTE, and can be fatal. The risks of the most common combined oral contraceptives are quite small.

The latest FDA safety announcement (2012) estimates that for every 10,000 women taking birth control pills over the course of one year, between three and nine cases of blood clots may occur. In fact, the risks are thought to be higher during pregnancy (five to 20 cases per year for every 10,000 women), and much higher right after birth. By comparison, among non-pregnant women who do not take birth control pills, the number of cases per year ranges from one to five.

Some types of birth control, such as the newer types of pills (like Yasmin and Yaz) containing the progestin drospirenone, are thought to cause a greater risk. These pills have come under more scrutiny in Europe and the United States, with Europe taking a more active role in reviewing the risks. Some women’s health advocates, including Our Bodies Ourselves, have questioned allowing these newer pills to remain on the market because they pose a greater clot risk without offering any major benefits over older types of pills.

The factors to consider when weighing the risks and benefits of NuvaRing or other non-pill alternatives may be different, however, because non-pill alternatives offer more convenience and less chance of missing a dose.

Part of the problem in determining what’s “best” for any individual is the lack of clarity surrounding the increased risk that comes with using NuvaRing. Indeed, different studies have yielded different results: A BMJ study included in the Vanity Fair article found about a 90 percent increase in risk; a FDA paper reports a 56 percent increased risk; other studies have reported “similar” rates of venous thromboembolism between the ring and the regular oral contraceptives.

Looking at the BMJ study, which seems most alarming, lets consider the actual numbers. The researchers explain a 90 percent increased risk would result in 7.8 incidents of VTE per 10,000 exposure years. That means, for example, if 1,000 women each used NuvaRing for 10 years, there would be about 8 incidents of VTE among them in that decade (1,000 women x 10 years = 10,000 exposure years).

So, while different methods of hormonal birth control carry different levels of risk, in general hormonal birth control is very safe for most women. Of great concern, however, is that women aren’t given this information to help in their decision-making.

recent article in Huffington Post describes the FDA approval process for NuvaRing and alleges that Organon — the company that made NuvaRing, which pharmaceutical giant Merck now owns —  maneuvered to keep clot risk information off the product label. To date, the NuvaRing label does not feature the same “black box warning” that the birth control patch carries, which notes a higher risk than the pill. Instead, the NuvaRing product label simply notes that smokers who use the ring may have “serious cardiovascular events.” The NuvaRing website does include some information on comparing the risk to combined oral contraceptives, but the FDA-approved label does not make this as clear by not including it in the black box warning that carries the most important safety information.

Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, and a strong advocate for close review of drug safety, has responded to the concerns:

The most heartbreaking part of the Vanity Fair article are the accounts of women who never knew that the contraceptive ring was delivered a higher dose of hormones and is slightly more risky than pills. No clinician should offer women these products without fully disclosing the risks, and encouraging women to try alternative, safer forms of contraception if they haven’t already done so.

Agreed. While the risk to an individual woman may be low with any of these birth control methods, women must be informed that newer options — including the ring, the patch, and the newer pills — may be more risky than older-style combined oral contraceptives.

In addition, health care providers need to stay on top of the evidence, and should make a point of discussing the benefits and the risks. All women should have the information they need to make good choices for their own health.

Related: Hormonal Contraception and Heart Risks

December 6, 2013

The Ideal Labia is Your Own: Online Sites Push Back Against “Model” Genitalia

labia library
Cosmetic genital surgery on the labia has been of both increasing interest and concern in recent years. Many attribute this to the fact that the most readily available images of vulvas, which happen to be in pornography, don’t tend to show much variation in shape, color, hair, or other characteristics.

A few resources exist to help promote the idea that there is a much wider range of what is normal than we often see in media. The Labia Library, run by Women’s Health Victoria, is a small photo gallery of labia, primarily of white-appearing women. The site also addresses body image concerns in the section Are My Labia Normal?.

Writing in the Daily Life, an Australian publication, Melissa Brock does a terrific job contextualizing the concerns women have about their bodies (and a ridiculous Catch-22 when it comes to censorship guidelines):

In Australia over the past 10 years, medical rebates for labiaplasty (surgical reduction of the inner or outer labia) and vulvoplasty (surgical remodelling of the vulva) have risen from 640 claims in 2000-01 to 1565 in 2010-11, though the real number of procedures is thought to be much more. At the same time, mainstream pornography has become more explicit, showing extreme close-ups of hairless female genitalia. Previously hidden behind a bush of hair, labia are now under close scrutiny. The type typically featured in pornography are known as the “Barbie” or “clamshell” variety, where everything is neatly tucked away. And just to complicate the matter, Australian censorship and print publication guidelines dictate that the inner labia must not protrude beyond the outer labia. Houston, we have a problem. Many women are not designed this way and have started to question whether they are “normal”.

Brock goes on to describe her own experience visiting the online Labia Library:

I was alone in my bedroom on a computer looking at women’s genitals. Surely I was doing something wrong. I would have to clear my browser history. But that thought was short-lived because, devoid of the lingerie, the ambient surroundings and orgasmic groans of pornography, it was fascinating. I never knew what other women actually looked like down there. It was strangely liberating. It turns out I’m not alone – Butera says the site survey has been “overwhelmed by positive comments”. Hannah Cooper, 38, a personal assistant from Sydney, says of the library, “When a friend suggested I check it out, I thought eeek … but it wasn’t gross and it wasn’t sexy. They were all just so different and it makes sense. Everyone has a different face – it follows that people would have different labia.”

On tumblr, the Large Labia Project includes photo submissions from readers who believe their labia are “large” — the point being that all sizes of labia can be “normal” and beautiful. These resources make it easier for us all to see that outside of pornography, everyone is different. Another excellent resource on this topic is Scarleteen’s article “Give ‘em Some Lip: Labia That Clearly Ain’t Minor,” and the accompanying illustrations from Betty Dodson.

In part because of anxieties about the appearance of their genitals and lack of examples of the wide range of genitals, some women have elected to have cosmetic surgery to make their appearance more “normal.” The New View Campaign has a lot of good info on cosmetic genital surgery, including this set of FAQs.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (in the UK) recently released an ethical opinion paper on the subject of genital cosmetic surgeries to guide doctors on this issue. The paper emphasizes the lack of high-quality or long-term evidence about the safety, risks or even patient satisfaction with these surgeries, explaining that doctors “must be aware that they are operating without a clear evidence base.”

There are currently no controlled trials or prospective studies investigating the clinical effectiveness or risks of labiaplasty procedures. There are small case reports and a few larger retrospective studies, all of which offer scant descriptions of methodology or study design. Since the surgical studies are authored by the surgeons who performed the operations, there is little independent evaluation.

RCOG also emphasizes that “so-called norms” presented in media are “digitally modified and should be challenged by those who deal with women requesting labial reduction for ‘aesthetic’ reasons.” To learn more about normal vulvas and issues around cosmetic genital surgery, read previous posts:

And, finally, here’s a video on the difference between porn sex vs. real sex, using food as props. It’s more about function than appearance, but still well worth a look. YouTube Preview Image

November 8, 2013

Here’s What ABC World News Did, and Did Not, Get Right in Report on Egg Donors

by Diane Tober / Associate Executive Director, Center for Genetics & Society

ABC World News joined other media this week in addressing the astonishing 74 percent rise over the past 10 years in young women providing their eggs so that other women can create families.

Correspondent Cynthia McFadden interviews egg “donors” and fertility practitioners to explore the risks of egg retrieval, and chats with anchor Diane Sawyer about the story. While the segment lets several misleading statements stand, it gets some important things right.

First, the report is clear about the point that young women, primarily college students, are recruited to become egg providers with offers of thousands of dollars (yet use of the term “egg donor” for what is a commercial transaction is misleading). Women who are considered better-looking are typically paid more, as are white and Asian women, and those who have higher SAT scores and/or athletic skills. More money also goes to “proven donors” — women whose eggs have been used by “intended parents” to achieve a successful pregnancy.

The story also correctly reports — and expresses appropriate surprise about — the lack of short- or long-term tracking of egg providers’ health and the fact that there is no national database for egg providers. As Dr. Jennifer Schneider points out in the segment, egg providers are “not considered patients — they’re considered more like vendors.” They essentially disappear as soon as the procedure is done.

Now let’s turn to the inaccuracies in the ABC World News story.

McFadden interviews Dr. Joel Batzofin, a reproductive endocrinologist, who states that although “nothing is risk free,” egg extraction is “essentially risk free.” He describes the short-term complication known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or OHSS as “extremely rare” and says it occurs in less than 1 percent of cases.

Unfortunately, his claim remains unchallenged in the segment, despite emerging evidence that OHSS occurs much more frequently than that. One prospective study analyzed OHSS rates in 339 women who produced more than 20 ovarian follicles. 49 (14 percent) were hospitalized due to OHSS, 13 (3.8 percent) needed intravenous fluids, and 9 (2.7 percent) needed to have fluid drained from their abdomens.

Egg providers are commonly stimulated to produce more than 20 follicles, and therefore appear to be at much higher risk for OHSS than is currently being reported. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than 21 eggs were retrieved in 40.3 percent of the retrieval cycles performed on “oocyte donors.”

Furthermore, preliminary collaborative research on egg provider experiences by CGS and We Are Egg Donors has found numerous cases of women experiencing OHSS to the point where they are bedridden for a week or more. Even though doctors and clinicians assure egg providers that OHSS is “rare,” no one is surprised when it occurs.

When donors are in pain and bloated to the point where they look six months pregnant — after their eggs have been retrieved — they are told that this is “normal,” and to rest and drink plenty of fluids. These cases are not even diagnosed as OHSS, let alone reported or tracked, so there is no data to substantiate that it only occurs in 1 percent of cases.

The ABC World News segment is equivocal in its discussion of links between egg retrieval and cancer. McFadden reports that “there are no known long-term medical issues for donors,” but goes on immediately to say that this is “a world of difference from saying [that there are] no long-term issues.”

In fact, some data does suggest that the synthetic hormones used in egg retrieval may increase risk of colon, ovarian, uterine and breast cancers, though it is difficult to prove the connection due to the delayed onset of cancers in former egg providers and infertility patients.

One Dutch study published in Human Reproduction by Dr. Flora van Leeuwen followed over 19,000 women for 15 years and found that those who had undergone at least one IVF cycle were approximately twice as likely to suffer ovarian malignancies as women who had not undergone IVF treatment.

So how does the ABC World News report rate overall? We recognize that it is not possible in a three-minute segment to cover the entire gamut of egg retrieval risks and experiences but would have liked to hear a mention of the side effects of Lupron (which is used off-label and has been known to cause strokes and a variety of dangerous side effects) and Clomid (which has been linked to increased cancer risk in women who don’t go on to become pregnant).

We would also have liked to see correspondent McFadden question the claims made by Dr. Batzofin, and point out that he and others in the infertility industry stand to profit from taking eggs from young women.

At the same time, we applaud ABC World News for its clear and explicit call for follow-up studies of egg providers and for a national database to track their short- and long-term health.

This post was originally published on Biopolitical Times, the blog of the Center for Genetics & Society.

Plus: Raquel Cool, co-founder of We Are Egg Donors, explains the need for a group that supports women considering or who have provided eggs for fertility purposes. Also check out this petition (started by OBOS, the Center for Genetics and Society, and other organizations), which calls for a human egg extraction health registry and for warnings on ads and notices seeking egg donors. And read one young woman’s experience as she contemplates donating her eggs.

September 25, 2013

“After Tiller” Focuses on Real Life Stories of Abortion Doctors and Their Patients

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After Tiller” is an important new documentary that explores the controversies around third-trimester abortions in the wake of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.

Only four doctors in the United States now offer the procedures; the filmmakers explore how these providers “risk their lives every day in the name of their unwavering commitment toward their patients.”

Reviewing it for The New York Times review, film critic A.O. Scott, referencing a scene in which a young, pro-life woman’s request for abortion is discussed, calls it “one of the most illuminating discussions I have seen about the complicated reality of abortion.”

He concludes:

Documentaries can rarely be judged as works of dispassionate, neutral reporting since few of them aspire to uphold those journalistic criteria. Rather, a documentary should be assessed as a representation of the world as it is, from a perspective that is itself part of that world. “After Tiller” is impressive because it honestly presents the views of supporters of legal abortion, and is thus a valuable contribution to a public argument that is unlikely to end anytime soon.

New York Times editorial page editor Dorothy Samuels praises the film for taking “a complicated subject beyond the familiar muck of abstract and often ill-informed talking points to deliver a frank portrayal of the real life situations of the physicians and their desperate patients.”

Similarly, Jason Bailey, writing in The Atlantic, calls it “a rare consideration of the abortion debate that moves past labels and abstracts and takes a long look at the people involved. It is a showcase for empathy, a quality lacking in many conversations on the subject.”

The film premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is starting to open around the country. Scheduled screenings are listed online. Not playing near you? You can request a screening to bring “After Tiller” to your town. You can also follow @AfterTiller on Twitter, and like the documentary’s page on Facebook.

Want to learn more? Head over to PBS, where Tom Roston talks with “After Tiller” filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson on the Doc Soup blog.

July 18, 2013

Women Make Movies: New Releases Include Films on Virginity, Women in Prison and Body Image

Tired of not seeing women’s stories, told by women?

Women Make Movies, a non-profit founded in 1972 to address the representation of women in media, has just released it’s 2013 catalog of films.

We haven’t seen these yet, but here are a few films that might be of interest:

A Girl Like Her” by Ann Fessler: The haunting story of over a million women in the United States who were pressured into surrendering their babies for adoption in the 1950s and 60s when “nice girls” didn’t get pregnant.

The Grey Area: Feminism Behind Bars” by Noga Ashkenazi: Female inmates at a maximum women’s security prison in Mitchellville, Iowa, share their diverse experiences with motherhood, drug addiction, sexual abuse, murder, and life in prison.

How to Lose Your Virginity” by Therese Shechter: Shechter reveals myths, dogmas and misconceptions behind this “precious gift.” Sex educators, porn producers, abstinence advocates, and outspoken teens share their own stories of having — or not having — sex.

Mothers of Bedford” by Jenifer McShane”: Shot over four years, “Mothers of Bedford” follows five women — of diverse backgrounds and incarcerated for different reasons — in dual struggles to be engaged in their children’s lives and become their better selves. It shows how long-term sentences affect mother-child relationships and how Bedford’s innovative Children’s Center helps women maintain and improve bonds with children and adult relatives awaiting their return.

Saving Face” by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject), “Saving Face” is a harshly realistic view of some incredibly strong and impressive women. Every year in Pakistan, many women are known to be victimized by brutal acid attacks, with numerous cases going unreported.

The Fat Body (In)Visible” by Margitte Kristjansson: In this insightful short documentary, Keena and Jessica speak candidly about growing up overweight, and the size discrimination they have faced. Their stories detail the intricacies of identity and the intersection of race and gender with fatness — and how social media has helped this community enact visibility on their own terms.

In other film news, PBS’s Frontline has released “Rape in the Fields,” an investigation of abuses of U.S. immigrant agricultural workers. The accompanying website has interviews, live chat transcripts (including a Spanish-language chat), and additional information. The film was a partnership between Frontline, Univision News, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

May 17, 2013

Angelina Jolie, Breast Cancer, and You: How to Make the Right Decisions for YOUR Health

Angelina Jolie on the cover of Time magazineAngelina Jolie certainly has good intentions in sharing her experience with breast cancer genetic testing and her decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy, and her announcement marks another welcomed example of well-known women coming forward about personal health issues.

But it is now up to women’s health advocates to ensure that the media coverage and public debate that follows does not offer false information or false hope — which I fear it will, if women are not fully informed about all the issues involved before imagining that Jolie’s decisions would be the right ones for them.

Already, women in the United States undergo a higher rate of mastectomies than women in other countries. “Breast cancer experts believe that many women undergoing mastectomies don’t need them and are getting them out of fear, not because of the real risks,” Diana Zuckerman, president of both the National Research Center for Women and Families and the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund, wrote this week.

First, women need to remember that BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations occur in less than 1 percent of the population. To decide whether testing for breast cancer genetic mutations makes sense for them, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable health care provider. According to the National Cancer Institute:

The likelihood that a breast and/or ovarian cancer is associated with a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is highest in families with a history of multiple cases of breast cancer, cases of both breast and ovarian cancer, one or more family members with two primary cancers (original tumors that develop at different sites in the body), or an Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) Jewish background. However, not every woman in such families carries a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, and not every cancer in such families is linked to a harmful mutation in one of these genes. Furthermore, not every woman who has a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast and/or ovarian cancer.

The steep price tag of testing, around $3,300, is of concern, though some women considered appropriate candidates for testing may be covered, all or in part, through their insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, genetic counseling and BRCA testing, if appropriate, are considered preventive services and are covered without cost-sharing.

If a woman does seek testing, she needs to consider the pros and cons of all possible approaches to positive test results. While a bilateral mastectomy reduces the risk of getting the disease by 90 percent, about 10 out of 100 women who have their breasts removed will still get breast cancer in the underlying tissue. And there are numerous potential problems with such surgery that need to be fully discussed, such as infection and mobility impairment.

For those who choose this radical surgery, there is also the decision about whether to pursue breast reconstruction and, if so, what kind. Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, there are major unresolved safety issues, especially for silicone breast implants.

Some women choose to forgo reconstruction entirely, though most media fail to mention this. The truth is, some women have no problems with their “breastless” bodies, nor do their sexual/intimate partners. Some women also find that modern prostheses are comfortable and offer a satisfying appearance.

Moreover, not all choices — even what might be ideal in a given circumstance — will be possible given financial constraints and lack of adequate medical coverage or support. As Cheryl Lemus, managing editor of Nursing Clio, a blog on gender and medicine, writes:

In order for all women to have the right to red carpet healthcare [...] then all women don’t just need money and insurance, but also the other resources Jolie highlighted in her op-ed, which include the supportive partner/spouse, family, an understanding employer, reliable transportation and childcare, and “time” in general.

Sadly, we know this is often not the case.

We also need to be honest about what we know and don’t know about breast cancer and risk. According to the NCI, women who have inherited a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are approximately five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who do not carry the mutation.

The way the numbers break down, about 12 percent of the general population — or about 120 women out of 1,000 — will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives, compared with about 60 percent — 600 out of 1,000 — who have inherited a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

Yet there are other factors, such as environmental exposure, that influence breast cancer risk. Some women living in communities with high levels of toxic exposure may have elevated breast cancer risk for a non-heritable reason.

The NCI also notes that the risk factor for those carrying the mutated gene is based on research on large families in which many individuals have been affected by cancer. We still have many questions to answer about genetic and environmental influence:

Because family members share a proportion of their genes and, often, their environment, it is possible that the large number of cancer cases seen in these families may be due in part to other genetic or environmental factors. Therefore, risk estimates that are based on families with many affected members may not accurately reflect the levels of risk for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers in the general population. In addition, no data are available from long-term studies of the general population comparing cancer risk in women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations with women who do not have such mutations. Therefore, the percentages given above are estimates that may change as more data become available.

This heightened interest in breast cancer genetic testing caused an uptick in the stock of Myriad Genetics, which has a monopoly on BRCA1 and 2 testing. OBOS is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Myriad Genetic’s patenting of human genes, along with the ACLUBreast Cancer Action, a number of scientific organizations and researchers, and Lisbeth Ceriani, a single mother whose circumstances led her to seek breast cancer genetic testing and who felt stymied by Myriad’s monopoly.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last month and is expected to issue a ruling this summer. Its decision will have a major impact on whether or not scientists will be able to improve upon the current test as well as the future price tag for such testing. In the meantime, let’s hope that thousands of women don’t make hasty decisions about testing and treatment without careful consideration of all the issues involved.

As Zuckerman writes:

As an actress whose appeal has focused on her beauty, surgically removing both her breasts when she didn’t have cancer was a very gutsy thing to do. But if we care about women’s health, we need to stop thinking of mastectomy as the “brave” choice and understand that the risks and benefits of mastectomy are different for every woman with cancer or the risk of cancer. In breast cancer, any reasonable treatment choice is the brave choice.

December 7, 2012

Judy Norsigian on PBS “Need to Know”: Women’s Health in Texas

As attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care continue, some states are slashing their budgets for family planning clinics.  The PBS news show “Need To Know“ examines the effects of these cuts on women in Texas.

The episode features Our Bodies Ourselves Executive Director Judy Norsigian, who offers an historical perspective of the fight for women’s reproductive freedom.

The episode airs today and tomorrow on various PBS stations. Click here to find your local station and air times. Here’s the full summary:

Need to Know examines how the Texas legislature has slashed funding to family planning programs because conservative lawmakers believe these programs may encourage women to get abortions.

Anchor Scott Simon interviews Pam Belluck, a health and science writer for The New York Times, who looks at what’s happening to these programs in other states.

And from “American Voices,” Judy Norsigian, one of the authors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” provides an historical account of women’s health policy debates over the past 40 years.

October 29, 2012

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry: New Documentary on History of the Women’s Movement

A new documentary, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry,” chronicles the history of the women’s movement from 1966 to 1972, including the genesis of Our Bodies Ourselves, the founding of NOW, and other historical milestones.

The filmmakers are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to finish the project, and have a little more than a month to go. Check it out to learn more about the project and consider supporting their efforts.

The creators note that the film doesn’t aim to romanticize the women’s movement and will cover controversies “over race, sexual orientation and leadership that arose.”

Here’s a clip with the founders of Our Bodies Ourselves talking about their perspectives on women’s health and women’s bodies more than 40 years ago. Included is a discussion of their first women’s health course, organized when they were in their 20s, and turning their collective knowledge into a book. (Neat fact: the first version they distributed was run off on a copying machine, making it perhaps the first zine ever.) The clip includes lots of images from the early editions. of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”


May 31, 2012

Media Coverage of Health News

If you’ve ever questioned the accuracy of media coverage of medical news, Health News Review is a great go-to resource. The site has excellent resources to help people critically read health news articles and learn what to look for in news reports, which often overstate or misstate the potential impact of the newest test or treatment.

You can also go to HRN to find reviews, written by the site’s medical experts, of specific medical news stories.

Medical news stories are reviewed for a number of criteria, like whether the costs and potential harms of any treatments are explained, if the story medicalizes normal variations and states (like menopause or wrinkles), whether conflicts of interest are identified, and whether a story discusses the quality of the evidence.

For example, HNR recently reviewed a Wall Street Journal article on long-lasting birth control.  The study found that methods such as the IUD and hormonal implants, which don’t require action on the part of the user once the method is in place, are far more effective than methods like the Pill, which require a woman to take a pill daily. HRN notes that while benefits and availability of these methods are covered, the article doesn’t address costs or side effects, especially in comparison to other methods.

The site also provides tips for understanding studies and a blog for additional topics and discussion.

February 7, 2012

The War on Women’s Health Care: Judy Norsigian Joins Discussion on Influence of Conservative Groups

On Monday night, OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian discussed the politicization of women’s health on Al Jazeera with Hadley Heath, a senior policy analyst with the Independent Women’s Forum, and Tara McGuinness, senior vice president for communications at the Center for American Progress.

“Inside Story” host Shihab Rattansi was well prepared for what turned into a very interesting discussion. The questions on the table included: Is women’s health being damaged by politics in the U.S.? Has the controversy over funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening underlined the extent to which conservative groups now influence women’s health access?

On the subject of Komen backpedaling on its controversial decision to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood, Nosigian said: “What we see here is a conservatizing trend in this country that I think has emboldened many … I saw the reversal of the decision simply as damage control. I do not think there has been a profound change in perspective at all.”

McGuinness made this valuable point: “This was an effort to politicize what is not a political thing … I think when it comes to women’s health, there aren’t two sides to this issue.”

Even though Komen executive Karen Handel, who drove the decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, resigned this morning, the controversy is far from being closed.

Watch the discussion below.

February 6, 2012

Pink Ribbons, Inc. – A Closer Look at Breast Cancer Marketing

With all of the criticism of Komen’s defunding of Planned Parenthood last week, many people are starting to take a more critical look at the organization and its pink ribbon campaigns, asking how much good is really being done for women in breast cancer prevention, research, and treatment.

The timing seems perfect, then, for showings of “Pink Ribbons, Inc.,” a documentary film directed by Léa Pool that takes on corporate pink ribbon campaigns, pinkwashing, and what really happens as a result of this cause-related marketing.

Variety called the film “indignant and subversive,” saying it:

resoundingly pops the shiny pink balloon of the breast cancer movement/industry, debunking the ‘comfortable lies’ and corporate double-talk that permeate the massive and thus-far-ineffectual campaign against a disease that claims nearly 60,000 lives each year in North America alone.

Based on the trailer (below), I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, and will be shown in several U.S. cities over the coming weeks and months, including San Francisco, D.C., Madison, and Nashville. It also opened in Canadian theaters last week.

November 22, 2011

Sexuality, Pleasure & Safety: How to Know What You Really Really Want

What you Really Really Want book coverImagine if sex education covered not only important information about how to protect your health and prevent unwanted pregnancy, but also how to have really good sex — including how to know what you want and how to value your needs and desires along with your partner’s.

As The New York Times Magazine reported this past weekend, a truly comprehensive sex-ed class does exist — one that gives as much weight to female orgasm as to navigating complex emotional and physical terrain. Sexuality and Society is a highly regarded senior elective at Friends’ Central School, a co-ed, Quaker, college preparatory day school in Philadelphia.

Now what if there were a book — a workbook of sorts — that could be used in a class like this, and made available to teens and young adults everywhere who don’t have a progressive forum for discussing sexuality?

Luckily for everyone, that book exists.

What You Really Really Want” is the latest title on sex and sexuality by Jaclyn Friedman, co-editor of the 2008 hit anthology “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape,” and a contributor to the 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” In her new book, Friedman takes on the role of your smartest, most honest, least judgmental, down-to-earth friend, serving as a helpful guide through 11 chapters on defining, understanding and owning your sexuality.

The book’s subtitle — “The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety” — explains the roadmap within. To make the most of this excursion, Friedman encourages readers to do two things: Write every day, with a pen or keyboard, and love your body — and not just in general; you should spend at least 30 minutes a week doing something that “makes you feel nothing but good.”

Jaclyn FriedmanOne of the book’s elements that readers will find particularly useful are the “dive-in” exercises that encourage thinking through how to apply what you’ve read to your own circumstances. At various times, Friedman pauses and encourages you to ask questions, assess your comfort zone, and identify the tools you need to overcome barriers to expressing your sexuality. These check-ins come across as authentic, which is difficult to pull-off on the printed page. That success is largely due to Friedman’s engaging writing style and genuine concern for women’s health and safety; she is the founder and executive director of Women, Action & the Media, which works for gender justice in media, and has been an outspoken advocate for challenging the ways society shames women.

The first chapter, aptly titled “You Can’t Get What You Want Till You Know What You Want,” opens with a discussion of influences on sexuality, from family and religion to our peers and partners. Friedman also provides a concise summary of confusing media messages that limit women to a “teeny window of ‘correct’ sexuality” combined with artificial ideals, followed by a dive-in exercise on media representations of women:

Dive In: Think back to some adolescent media crushes—that song or album you listened to over and over, the magazine subscription you thought would change your life, the book you picked up again and again, the movie you imagined yourself starring in, the video game you played and played and played, the TV show you just couldn’t miss. What drew you to these particular experiences? What, if anything, did they say to you about sexuality? What lessons did you learn from them that you’ve since rejected, and what did you learn that you still adhere to today? If you could go back and tell your adolescent self something about your media choices, what would it be? Get out your journal, and write about it for five minutes.

“What You Really Really Want” gradually shifts from looking at external influences that can prevent women from developing their own sexual identity to exploring different identities and assumptions about sexuality. Following sections on gender and sexual orientation, readers encounter this exercise:

Dive In: Make a list of all the words you can think of that you’ve used yourself or heard someone else use to describe someone’s sexual orientation. Don’t hold back—list the slang and slur words right alongside the more formal terms. Next, cross out every word that you think no one should ever use about anyone. Then cross out every word that you personally would never use to describe someone else. Then, of the remaining words, cross out every one that you wouldn’t want anyone else to use when describing you. Lastly, cross out any word that’s left that you would never use to describe yourself.

Write all of the words that are left in a new list. How do they make you feel? Do they describe your sexual orientation? Are there facets of your orientation that words don’t exist for? If you feel like it, invent a word that helps fill in those gaps.

It may seem like a lot of self-analysis, but that’s exactly what’s needed. As The New York Times Magazine article points out, teens have a difficult time articulating their own desires, in part due to the abundance of manufactured sexual imagery that creates false and harmful standards for what we (or our partners) should look like naked and how we should act.

Friedman wisely concentrates on the individual reader before expanding the discussion to include sexual partners. And even then, Friedman doesn’t offer advice on how to find a compatible sexual partner; rather, she helps the reader to define what compatability even means:

We all get dealt a different hand when it comes to what we’re capable of, and we all need partners who contribute different things. Is it important that your sexual partners are funny? Smart? Good dancers? Sweet with children? Great at communication? This is where you can get specific about bedroom skills, too: How talented does your partner need to be in the sack, and what qualifies as sexual talent to you?

Once you figure out what qualities you want in a partner, it’s time to add another layer of choosiness: How important is each quality to you? Because, let’s get real, nobody’s perfect, and you’re unlikely to find someone who simultaneously checks all of your boxes. Maybe you’d love to have a partner who is really athletic, but you wouldn’t rule out someone who was less active. On the other hand, it may be a total deal breaker if your partner doesn’t like to read. Get clear on what’s cake vs. what’s icing, and you’ll be steering yourself toward what you really really want before you know it.

Making a list for ourselves is one thing, but healthy sexual relationships require honesty with our partners about pleasure and safety.

“Talking freely about sex and safety with your partners not only makes sex more fun and relaxed—because you’re worrying less and getting more of what you really really want—but also makes it easier to tell the great partners from the ones you want to avoid before you get too hurt,” writes Friedman. “And that information means your intuition will get better and better, which means you’ll get even better at knowing your own desires and boundaries and finding people who can simultaneously respect and satisfy you. In short: It’s the best possible kind of positive-feedback loop.”

Besides offering examples of what, how and when to communicate, Friedman also provides an exercise that returns to the personal history and influences that can block us from advocating for our own needs:

Dive In: Pay attention this week to the times when you’re not speaking up. Do you want seconds at dinner but are afraid to say so? Do you actually want to wear that outfit, or are you doing it because you think someone else will like it on you? Did your friend or partner hurt your feelings, but you aren’t letting them know? Make a note each time it happens. Then, when you’ve got some time, pick one example and write about what it felt like. And then write about what it might have felt like if you had gone the other way and spoken on your own behalf.

Students at Friends’ Central School are fortunate to have a terrific teacher and a supportive educational environment that encourages exploration of these issues. Maybe, just maybe, other schools will start to follow suit. For the rest of us — and for those forward-minded sexuality classes — “What You Really Really Want” can make a lifetime of difference.

Excerpts of “What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety” are printed by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Photo credit: Mandy Lussier. This post is a stop in Jaclyn’s blog tour. Check out yesterday’s stop at WIMN’s Voices. If you’re in the Chicago area, join me on Nov. 30 as Jaclyn reads from her book at Women & Children First (7:30 p.m.).

October 25, 2011

The Legacy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”: Sex, Plumbing and Menopause

Great segment on “Our Bodies, Ourselves” on NBC Nightly News! We’re delighted they featured some of the original authors and women talking about what the book has meant to them. And the camera shots provided good context, showing the many different editions over the years. We’ll post video here once it’s available. (see below!)

A few quick observations:

- Didn’t know Mona Charen was taking part, or that she’s still angry “Our Bodies, Ourselves” separated sex from marriage.

- We need to see and hear more younger women activists like Veronica Arreola, and Veronica’s daughter is super adorable.

- NBC censors must be ridiculously tough these days. From Brian Williams’ introduction:

“Our Bodies, Ourselves” was ground-breaker, a game-changer. It got its start in life as a short pamphlet 40 years ago this month. Then, it became a book and started arriving in American homes. And it was a revelation for women for what it talked about, like sex and plumbing and menopause, information a lot of women at the time weren’t getting from their mostly male doctors. For some it quickly became a kind of bible for the female body in terms of health and empowerment. …”

My partner asked me if the 1971 edition included home improvement advice. For the record, the book did not.

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June 3, 2011

“Reel Grrls” Empowers Young Women to Create Videos, Take on Corporate Giants

You might have missed the internet dust-up, but the story is a cool one – a Seattle group that helps young women learn media production had its funding from Comcast cut after the company saw this tweet:

OMG! @ Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!? #mediajustice
Reel Grrls

In response, a Comcast VP of communications reportedly sent the group a message saying the corporation could no longer fund the group’s summer program.

Perhaps evidence that you shouldn’t mess with grrls learning media skills, the group went public with the message and generated sympathetic media coverage in national news, tech, feminist, and other outlets.

After a negative response started up, someone higher up at Comcast apologized to the group and offered to reinstate the promised $18,000 for summer camps, attributing the previous action to the unauthorized response of a lone employee. Reel Grrls has responded by declining the funding, and plans to focus some of their energies on exploring issues of free expression and media consolidation.

While Comcast’s initial response was unfortunate, I suspect the incident has been educational for the Reel Grrls and others. As the Seattle Times editor wrote:

What a great lesson for the girls of Reel Grrls. They experienced firsthand what a concentrated media means for freedom of expression. They were taught about the consequences of speaking truth to power. Most important, they were taught about the power of their voice and the impact of their words and visuals.

Here’s their video response. You can support the Grrls by making a donation online.