A Period Memory

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College.

    Sitting in Mrs. Carter’s seventh grade Language Arts class during the fall of 2007, I slid down in my chair, legs spread out, relaxed – no care in the world. I always sat like that, not thinking about how much space I took up and loving how comfortable I felt. We learned about prepositions that day. Brandon Wilson, quite a bully throughout my time knowing him, sat directly across from me. I sometimes wonder if he ever saw it. I convinced myself he didn’t a few years ago when he reached out on Facebook to ask me on a date (I still got it). So he must not have noticed it, or maybe he blocked out the memory. Either way, it’s still pretty haunting.

Unlike the rest of my classes, Language Arts took two periods out of the seven I had. I didn’t mind. I loved the subject and Mrs. Carter was a real spunky teacher, so the two class periods didn’t bother me much. Her wit was quick, her accent thick – her class felt like the safest place to be. Though I can only imagine the 6 minutes in between periods would have been a great time to socialize with classmates, I never knew for sure. Thanks to a near disaster on a long bus ride years before, I always used the six minute break to run to the bathroom, whether I had to go or not (just in case).

    Down the hall, past my peers, I walked into my usual stall (the middle one) and my favorite bathroom (the one on the second floor of the old wing of the school), ready to sit and be alone on the toilet for a moment before heading back to class. I pulled down my khaki bermuda shorts to find a large, red stain. It looked like a murder scene. It took me a brief moment before I realized what had happened and I was quickly filled with terror wondering what to do next. I didn’t get a phone until I was in the eighth grade, so calling for help was out of the question. No one came into the bathroom during the entire 6 minute break, so there was no one I could ask for help. I didn’t carry a purse then because I felt like I had thwarted the patriarchy by being unfeminine in my clothing choices, so I had no tampon on hand. I didn’t know what to do.

School was important to me. I didn’t want to miss class. I wadded a bunch of toilet paper together, shoved it down my pants, and hoped I would make it through class. I spent the next 52 minutes of my life sitting with my back straight as a pole and my legs pressed so hard together that I could feel a heartbeat in my knees. I even crossed my ankles to the side. I took up as little space as possible. Never had I sat like such a lady during this class, or any class for that matter. I’m sure my grandmother would have been proud of my posture. I felt so small. I sat like that until the bell rang, at which point I quickly, but precisely, collected my things and went to the front office. They gave me a ratty, old pair of sweatpants to wear. Now everyone would know.


    This piece is the written form of a memory I had while listening to a speaker at a women’s history conference. The speakers were talking about the social justice issues surrounding periods: access to menstrual products in prisons, sex education and learned period shaming in schools, and access to medical services to address issues surrounding menstruation. Periods are complicated. A lot of people experience them, yet most memories and encounters with the bodily function are negative. The issues of menstruation are vast and in order to address the medical and emotional needs of the masses. It is necessary that a great many steps are taken in restructuring our educational values, how we treat the incarcerated, and the funding systems which support reproductive medical needs. The number of policy changes, and the of social and cultural overhaul which would subsequently need to occur, could very well be the topic of multiple books (and likely already are). But a simple first step is a bit more visceral.

    On top of policy changes, the action of speaking an experience into the ether can change lives. Despite the fact that billions of people menstruate, many feel isolated. The stigma of menstruation can be crushing and heavy. After years of understanding my body – how it functions and all the great things about being me – I still could not get out from under the weight of how small and dirty I felt in that classroom. That was ten years ago. I was socialized to take up less space, to be unseen, to be unnoticed and small. I thought that by dressing unfeminine, by taking up space, I could get out from under the pressure of that stigma. I didn’t. The memory rushed back without permission, and consumed my thoughts for a significant portion of the day. I wonder what might be different if we socialized kids differently: how might the human experience change?

Like I said, policy changes are necessary. But I argue that those changes are useless without changing the way we socialize kids. These discussions must start extremely young – well before the already heavy stigmas of puberty sets in. I know that many of my peers have similar memories consuming their thoughts, uninvited, on a regular basis. So I hope we can find ways to lift the stigma by fully supporting the bodies of children as we work toward lifting this harmful weight. Period.

#MeToo & the Medical Field

Written by Kendal Flowerdew
Kendal is a Senior at Sarah Lawrence College and will graduate in May, 2019

The Me Too Movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke in an effort to support young women of color who were survivors of sexual violence. As the movement gained momentum, they expanded their mission to support adults and people across the gender spectrum. In 2017, the Me Too Movement went viral with the hashtag #MeToo being used in support of survivors of sexual violence. Because of this sudden explosion of support, the #MeToo Movement was able to expand their platform and continue national conversations around sexual violence, in both the United States and abroad. While the Me Too Movement is often associated with “taking down powerful men or targeting individuals,” this is not the purpose of the organization. They want to support survivors of sexual violence and give them access to a “healing journey.” By the exchanging of the words “me too,” people are telling survivors that “I hear you, I see you, and I believe you.” In addition, they began a movement for radical community healing, where communities come together to make them safer for everyone and to protect the vulnerable members from sexual violence. They want to work against all the ways that have allowed sexual violence to flourish in our communities.

As part of community healing, I believe that work needs to be done to improve the medical care and treatment of survivors of sexual assault. A recent study by Priyanka Amin, Raquel Buranosky, and Judy C. Chang revealed what physicians see as their role in sexual assault care and the barriers they face in providing care. They stated two main categories of roles: clinical tasks and interpersonal role. Clinical tasks was further divided into “(1) screening patients for sexual assault, (2) completing and documenting a history and physician exam, (3) conducting a forensic exam by completing a ‘rape kit’…(4) providing appropriate treatment for injuries and sexually transmitted infections as well as emergency contraception, (5) providing referrals to sexual assault experts, sexual assault crisis lines, women’s shelters, and/or mental health professions” (Pg 5). Interpersonal roles including educating and providing guidance to survivors, giving survivors support after a disclosure is made, and advocating for patients, both at work and in the community.

The barriers to sexual assault care had three broad categories: internal barriers, physician-patient communication, and system obstacles. Internal barriers included fear of getting a disclosure of sexual assault, emotional burdens of sexual assault management, and personal opinions regarding sexual assault and sexual assault survivors. The physicians in this study described the current approach to the topic of sexual assault survivors is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because they felt unprepared or uncomfortable. With managing sexual assault comes feelings of powerlessness and frustration when patients don’t follow up with referrals or plans or when they choose to remain in the abusive relationships. There is also fear of triggering more distress in patients by bringing up the conversation of sexual violence. The preconceived opinions about sexual assault and survivors mostly surrounds difficulty believing report because they suspect ulterior motives for disclosing the information. The physician-patient communication barriers can include language barriers, difficulty helping patients feel comfortable disclosing or discussing sexual assault, and challenges that arise when patients choose not to disclose history of sexual violence. The two system obstacles are time limitations and competing demands. The healthcare system is set to prioritize certain patients over others and for seeing more patients with less time, which puts pressure on physicians to get through patients quickly.

While improving the medical care and treatment of sexual assault survivors will not solve the root of the problem, it can help with physician, mental, and emotional healing. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that a universal screening process be established for survivors of sexual assault. The American College of Emergency Physicians gives the policy recommendation that hospitals should “address the medical, psychological, safety, and legal needs of the sexually assaulted patient.” The plan set by the hospital for care should include counseling services and specifically address concerns about pregnancy and the treatment of sexually transmitted disease. In addition, systemic changes need to be made to address the problems of lack of time and competing priorities. With changes to the medical care and facilities, training for physicians should be required to address sexual violence. This will improve physician comfortability and competence regarding the topic. The training should specifically address communication skills, dealing with emotion, and understanding trauma.

Overall, the medical care of sexual assaults survivors by physicians is a point of concern that needs to be addressed in order to help survivors on their “healing journey.” The #MeToo Movement began in support of young survivors of sexual violence and has grown into a much larger organization providing support for many others. The medical community can help with the mission of the #MeToo Movement by providing exceptional, compassionate care to the survivors of sexual assault.

 

Bibliography

Me Too Movement . “You Are Not Alone.” Me Too, metoomvmt.org/home.

Amin, Priyanka, Raquel Buranosky, and Judy C. Chang. “Physician’s Perceived Roles, as Well as Barriers, towards Caring for Women Sex Assault Survivors.” Women’s health issues : official publication of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health 27.1 (2017): 43–49. PMC. Web. 12 Oct. 2018.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt and More…

If you are a current student at SLC, you probably received an email about a part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt that is on campus. You should take the time to check it out before you go on winter break. The lobby of the Performing Arts Center (part of the building closest to Westlands) exhibits it through Tuesday, December 14th.

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AIDS Ribbon on the White House

…And while I have your attention, I wanted to share some links that may be of interest.

Women and HIV/AIDS in the United States (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Grief Knows No Color: Adding Diversity to the AIDS Quilt by Rebecca Gross (NEA Arts Magazine)

Call My Name Workshop Program (The AIDS Quilt)

Mark your calendar: March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

*Photo by White House photographer Chuck Kennedy. (http://ow.ly/phIa3071Wia)

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It’s On Us – National Fall Week of Action

I came across the activities of a new student activist group, which may be of interest to the readers of Re/Visionist. It’s On Us is not the first student undertaking to combat sexual violence on campus but is part of a legacy of women’s rights activism at colleges and universities. I will cover past SLC campus advocacy and education on the topic in the near future.

***

Today marks the beginning of the It’s On Us Fall Week of Action, which is happening across the country. It’s On Us began in September 2014 as a project of the White House to “help put an end to sexual assault on college campuses.” As President Barack Obama noted in a speech, about 20 percent of college student women experience sexual assault, with few getting justice.

Since then, representatives from colleges and universities across the country have been working to bring the message of It’s On Us to their campuses.

SLC junior Emma Heisler-Murray told me she got involved because sexual assault has “been a clear issue on the campus.” (Students may remember two particular Campus Safety Alerts that have been sent out by the college administration in the last few months. These alerts disclosed reports of sexual assault.)

Heisler-Murray invites the campus community to participate in events during this Fall Week of Action because “anyone can benefit from it.” Tonight, the It’s On Us campus organization has planned a screening of the film The Hunting Ground at Titsworth Lecture Hall, starting at 7:00 PM.

The major event of the week, says Heisler-Murray, is the “Still Not Asking for It” protest on Thursday. You can find the full calendar here.

For more information: you can visit the It’s On Us page on GryphonLink or by emailing Emma at emurray [at] gm [dot] slc [dot] edu.