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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Women's Wisdom // Communication As A Moral Imperative



Hospital bracelet -- such a lame accessory :(
After being rushed to hospital last week for symptoms of Endometriosis, I feel a very strong urge to create a platform for Women's Wisdom, especially as the issue of women's health can be a taboo topic. Education is an incredibly powerful tool, and as scared as I was during my health emergency, the knowledge I had helped to keep me calm during these hours of excruciating pain. My sister, Ileana, has been by far my biggest influence and encouragement in learning more about what it truly means to be a woman, and so I asked her to write a piece to inspire my readers in the same way she has me for so many years.  I invite you all, Women and Men, to engage in this circle of shared experiences, questions, and support. 

Here is the first installment of what will hopefully be a new series of guest posts on the blog from my incredibly informed and eloquent sister, Ileana Ramirez, surrounding Women's Wisdom.
(For more information on Endometriosis click here)
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For women, talking about our bodies is a moral imperative.
Women’s bodies are complicated.  The hormonal changes a woman goes through in one month are equal to the changes a man will go through in ten years.  Our anatomy is internal and inherently mysterious.  We orgasm, get pregnant, give birth, and age in ways that are biological, spiritual, emotional, and unquantifiable.  And yet, as the feminist writer Germaine Greer wrote, “I know of no woman for whom the body is not a fundamental problem.”  Centuries of Christian dogma preached that sex is sinful, women’s bodies are the root of lust, and labor pains are the curse of Eve.  Understandably, most women regard their bodies with shame and childbirth with fear.  
Shame + Fear = Silence.  
As girls, we grow breasts and cover them up.  We menstruate and hide it.  We have sex in secret from our mothers.  As women, we fail to orgasm, get abortions and diseases, miscarry, and experience crippling post-partum depression.  All in silence.  
Our silence alienates us from other women, with devastating effects.  Studies show that nearly half of American women experience sexual dysfunction, dissatisfaction, and low drive.  The United States, which has the lowest rate of midwife-attended birth in the industrialized world, also has the second highest rates of maternal and infant mortality.  Modern birth practices, failure to breastfeed, and postpartum depression break down a mother’s ability to bond with her baby in ways that correlate with increased bullying, depression, and violence in children.  
We are in crisis.  We are compelled to address these issues by speaking out about our bodies in loving communities of women.  These communities should be made up of our:
Sisters: Our siblings, our friends, and our peers.  These women are going through the same experiences we are and can relate to our problems and concerns.
Mothers: Our role models of all shapes and ages.  These women can answer our questions because they have already experienced what we are going through.  At times a Sister can serve as a Mother when she has more experience with an illness, having a baby, or going through a relationship milestone.
Daughters: Women in need of advice and support.  These women use the value of our experiences to help guide them.  A Sister can become a Daughter when she is facing a new dilemma that we have already been through and processed.  


Historically, women lived and learned socially.  We birthed our own babies with the help of midwives, raised each other’s children, and exchanged sacred knowledge about our bodies and sex.  As we face the crucial problems of our physical and emotional health, we must create safe communities where we candidly speak, share, and learn together.   
I entreat you: Build safe, judgment-free spaces to share.  Have weekly coffees with your Sisters, video chats with your Mothers.  Talk to your Daughters DAILY!  Create open, engaging platforms where it’s ok to cry, laugh, and explore.  Share books, websites, doctors, and homeopathic remedies.  Talk.  
Start ‘Em Young
The most important time in our lives for these candid conversations is the time when they are the least available to us.  When girls enter puberty, changes to their bodies coincide with bitter social conflicts.   For many of us, getting our periods is a source of embarrassment, growing breasts makes us afraid of unwanted attention from men, and our budding sexual desires are confusing to understand in the context of our moral upbringings.  
The path to being well in our bodies begins with healing our inner Daughter.  We have to consider the path we trod, the gifts our Mothers gave us along the way, and the negative attitudes we have that limit our ability to rejoice in our bodies.  Were we allowed to talk about our bodies when we were young?  Were we discouraged from exploring our anatomy?  Did we live in fear of abuse?  Talk to you inner Daughter.  Tell her it is ok to feel sad, scared, or confused when she looks in the mirror.  Tell her she is beautiful and unique.  Then teach another Daughter in your life how to have these conversations with herself.  
Talking with your Daughter about sex teaches her how to talk to her future partner about sex.  Giving her a voice gives her power over her body.   Allowing her to express her fears and insecurities shows her these feelings are normal and can be processed in a loving, productive way.  Create a safe space for her to ask questions at a time when the questions get harder to answer.  In the absence of a strong woman’s guidance, a little girl will turn to media and popular culture for answers about her body and sexuality.  That shudder-inducing thought should send you bolting to her room for an honest chat.  
It’s ok. I’ll wait.  
Talk About Sex — A LOT
You’re back?  Great.  Because that's just the beginning.  The responsibility to talk doesn’t end with young girls and their bodies.  We have work to do with our Mothers and Sisters too, mostly on the subject of sex.  Do not be discouraged if this is difficult at first.  When I was in college, I reconnected with a childhood friend who was concerned about having sex with her boyfriend.  I told her a little bit about my personal experiences and answered her questions.  A week later, I heard from mutual friends that she was calling me a slut behind my back.  
We equate sexual experience with sexual deviance.   The problem with this kind of thinking, other than its inaccuracy, is that it shames women into a silence that actually encourages sexual stupidity and promiscuity.  If we keep silent because we fear the judgment of our Sisters, then the only way we learn about sex is by repeated experimentation.  Trial and error is a sloppy way to gather information!  Women with less sexual education are more likely to suffer unwanted pregnancies and STD’s and to engage in sexually reckless behavior.  
Talking about sex with our Mothers and Sisters helps us become more confident lovers who know what we want from our partners.  Together we learn to make better decisions about how to choose a partner, have more fulfilling intercourse, and take ownership over birth control and pregnancy.
Don’t Skip the Baby Talk
And let’s get to the subject of babies.  Most of us don’t even think about getting pregnant until we have settled into our partners and our careers.   By the time we approach the subject of birth and raising children, we have a vacuum of birth experience three decades wide, filled with media images that tell us that childbirth is painful, babies are a life-ruining miracle, and mothers are asexual beings who serve up blood sacrifices with a side of pancakes over a spotless breakfast table.  
Rather, I believe that having children is the source of our biological power.  Our bodies create a new organ to grow, house, and feed each baby until it is ready for this world.  The experience of birth—just like the experience of sex—can be pleasurable and gratifying.  Or—just like sex—it can be violent and devastating.  We must share positive birth stories and real-life experiences of motherhood.  We must combat damaging cultural messages and show our Sisters and Daughters that birth can be beautiful and that we can raise our children intentionally without losing our identities.
We are also compelled to share our birth processes with other women and girls.  Seeing my sister-in-law in labor changed my life.  I encountered the standard operating procedures of a hospital and decided what I wanted differently when it was my time.  I then passed the experience on to my sister, who was present for the birth of my second son.  This is our legacy and the root of our wisdom.  
Not Just a Stethoscope or Screen
Talking to doctors and in virtual communities is helpful but limiting.  Western medicine is predicated on the myth that our minds, bodies, and souls are separate.  This is reflected in medical specialization: practitioners can treat your brain, your heart, your cancer, but not the full picture of your physical and spiritual well-being.  We don’t select doctors who reflect our religious beliefs, morals, and sociocultural identities.  This may not matter when we have a cold, but a doctor will be a poor guide through the murky waters of giving a baby up for adoption, or losing your sexual attraction to your partner, or going through menopause with acceptance and dignity.  And it’s just plain sad that we share our sexual failures and traumas with our doctors and total strangers on the internet, but not with our loved ones.  Speak up, and statistics suggest that one of your Sisters has been where you are and knows exactly how you feel.  


So talk.  Brazenly and loudly.  Because we are beautiful and mysterious.  Because it is our moral responsibility to the women who will come after us.  And because, sometimes, it just feels good to let it out and set it free.  
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Ileana Ramirez is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a Masters in Business from the College of William and Mary. She is a mother of two, a convert to the church of natural childbirth, and an advocate for women's health.