on hearing women

Required reading before continuing.

I had a remarkably similar experience to Rachel’s. Actually, maybe it isn’t that remarkable. I’d guess that hundreds of women read that article and thought, me too.

On a Thursday in the spring of 2011, I spent the day experiencing a pain that was constant but bearable. I thought it might be pre-menstrual cramps or a pulled muscle. By the evening, it was no longer bearable and I asked my roommate to take me to an urgent care. She looked at me, doubled over in pain, and said we needed to go to the ER, not urgent care.

I’d been to the ER once when I was 10, when I broke my arm in a soccer game. Actually, I had broken it the day before. Maybe I have an extremely high pain tolerance. Maybe by 10 I was already used to downplaying my pain.

We got to the ER, where I struggled to fill out paperwork and told them my pain was a 10. Like in Rachel’s story, they assumed it was kidney stones.

I vomited on the floor of the ER because the pain was so intense.

They put me in a separate small room because I kept crying out in pain, then was told by a male nurse that the noises I was making would not help the type of pain I was experiencing.

I thought I was dying. I asked friends to pray for me because that seemed the only path to being healed while I waited for a doctor.

Five hours later, I was finally admitted. I went through the same spiel I gave to ER nurses – how the pain had progressed, where it was focused, what it felt like (a knife stabbing my insides then being twisted through my organs).

They gave me morphine. It didn’t help. They gave me Dilaudid. The pain dulled slightly. Like Rachel, it mostly just made me sleepy. I drank something that tasted awful and they did a CT scan. They found that I had a cyst that had overtaken my ovary. Luckily for me, it wasn’t wrapped around the fallopian tube like Rachel’s. The doctor told me that a cyst pushing on an ovary can cause some pain, especially right before your period starts. I told him it wasn’t just “some pain.” My cyst measured 6-7 centimeters, nearly triple the size of my ovary.

An appointment was set up for me with an OB/GYN who promptly put me on a birth control pill, saying it would help. I didn’t know then that the pill can’t do anything for an existing cyst. The OB/GYN didn’t recommend any other course of treatment.

Thankfully, my primary care physician recommended a different OB/GYN to me. My new doctor went over my scans with me again. We met in her office, not in the cold setting of an exam room. She told me that I could go off the pill if I wanted, that it wasn’t going to help. She told me there was no reason to leave a cyst of this size in my uterus. She told me I might lose my ovary. She told me it was up to me if I wanted the surgery, but that she recommend it. She gave me time to process and ask questions.

About a year after my trip to the ER, I had laparoscopic surgery to remove the cyst. My doctor tried to separate the cyst from my ovary, but it was too entangled. Like Rachel, I lost my ovary.

Later, my doctor showed me the images they had taken of the inside of my uterus. She pointed out the cyst and compared its size to my other ovary. She showed me a second image with a void where my cyst-engulfed ovary had been.

I have three small scars, undetectable to anyone but me. But there is a sisterhood of women who share my scars.

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a few hot takes

I know, I know. My last post (the “I promise I’m going to start writing more” one) was four months ago, but then the holidays happened and I moved in with a man and it’s my blog so leave me alone.

Anyway, just stopping by to give a few hot takes.

On Bernie’s “white people don’t” answer:

Hopefully, you’ve recognized the glaring issues with describing all people of color as living in a ghetto. That is the biggest takeaway here. But the second issue for me is that his response is also clearly that of a white man. One of the things Bernie said was, “when you’re white…you don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street.”

ERRRRRR (BREAKS SQUEAL) WHAAAAAAT????

I definitely know what it’s like to be hassled when I walk down the street, and I guarantee ALL of my female friends do too. And some of them also know what it’s like to be hassled by cops as we walk down the street or get pulled over.

That was a hot mess of a response from Bernie, and I’m sure it wasn’t thought through, just like I’m pretty sure he’s not racist or sexist, buuuut, I’m voting for Hillary.

On International Women’s Day (sort of):

My company tried to do some cool stuff for IWD, which is encouraging because women in tech go so unnoticed. They asked female employees to send in questions to the female leaders of the company. Sounds pretty cool, right? One of the questions was, “what one piece of advice would you give to women aspiring to be leaders?” There were some good responses, but they were all dismantled by one too-long answer that was summed up in these two sentences:

To be respected, you have to be liked at some level. Figure out how to be someone that men want to be with, rely on, enjoy, trust and respect.

ARE YOU FUUUUCKING KIDDING ME???

I am so dissatisfied and frustrated by this statement and flat out reject it as advice. We are past the age of trying to fit ourselves in around the men in power, and we shouldn’t be advised to do so by other women. I know what it’s like to be the only female voice in a room full of men. I know we get called bossy when we have opinions. I know it’s tempting to appeal to what’s comfortable for men. But nothing will ever change if we keep on that way, and if women keep telling women to just get the men to like them.

On riding a bike:

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Yesterday was the first day that really felt like spring, and I let myself get talked into a 9 mile bike ride. Which I fully realize is not that far on a bike, but if you know me, it’s a pretty big deal. And now weird parts of my body hurt.

Also:

breaking the cycle: thoughts on NYT “medicating women’s feelings” article

At the end of February, an op-ed came out in the New York Times called “Medicating Women’s Feelings.” You’ll probably want to read the article before continuing on. I’ll wait.

I’m so thankful for this article. Americans are scared to talk about mental health. I think many are also scared of women, especially “emotional” women, and I’m going to keep calling bullshit on that, as Julie Holland did.

“Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.”

Women are told not to be so sensitive, then not to be so bubbly. At work, have original ideas but don’t be aggressive about them. It’s confusing. As for many women, learning to understand my emotions and the way the world thinks of them has been a journey. For a long time, I was terrible at thinking through the levels of my emotions and expressing them to the people around me. Honestly, I’m still not great at it sometimes *cue side-eye* but I’m learning that my emotions have value.

2011 was a difficult year for me. Through family moves, deaths, a breakup, and a job ending, I felt everything dear was being violently ripped away from me. I was left in a very dark place, where I was quick to snuff out any light, content to sit in the cage of sadness I had built for myself. Then, in 2012, after talking with my parents, friends, doctor, and counselor, I decided to begin a low-dose antidepressant in conjunction with counseling.

I didn’t tell too many people, even close friends, when I started taking an antidepressant. But, I’ve realized since then that it’s not something I want to keep in the dark. The dark is where shame lives and grows, and I am not ashamed of who I am or the steps I chose to take to become who I am.

In her article, Holland says that more women than men are prescribed “psychiatric medication” and “are nearly twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder than men are.” I hate that those statements are true, that too many women are being numbed by over-medication, labeled with a misdiagnosis, and separated from society in yet another way. And, at the same time, many women and men with mental health issues go un-diagnosed.

Medication isn’t always bad. I was happy with my decision to take an antidepressant; I believe it helped me function and made it easier to sort through all the emotions I had, instead of being weighed down by only feeling sadness. After a year, I began to wean off the antidepressant, and let me tell you, it’s hard to come off. But I wanted to be back in the world fully. I felt I had to re-train the parts of my brain that had been numbed for so long. I had to remember that extremes don’t have to be bad and that feeling deeply is one of the most human things about us.

“We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

I believe Holland when she writes this. For me, medication was part of my journey to accepting my emotions, but it doesn’t have to be part of everyone’s experience. As women, we are emotional and sensitive beings, and it is a strength. Feeling is not weakness. Emotional responses are not weakness. They are human. They are vital.

it’s time to retire the cat lady jokes.

Seriously. This line is washed up. It’s old news. Sometimes it’s hurtful. Mostly, it’s a bad joke.

I have been the butt of the cat lady joke plenty of times. I’ve even wondered if I should just embrace it. Yes, I have a cat. Yes, I live by myself with said cat. Yes, I also have a phone case with a hologram of cats on it. But you know what, I bought it because it was $10 and ridiculous and I was in a season when I needed something silly to look at every day.

One of my coworkers decided to adopt a feral kitten that’s been living near her home. I overheard some other coworkers recounting how they’d warned her not to take all the kittens since, “ya know, don’t wanna become one of those crazy cat ladies.” This is a grown woman with adult children, a husband, a home, and she kicks everyone’s ass at work. Take in one stray kitten and suddenly she’s reduced to being a cat lady.

I could argue that no one makes jokes about being a “dog lady”. But that’s pretty silly logic. Dogs, cats, what difference should it make? At the root is a deeper issue, one that is wrapped up in all the other titles a woman hears when you call her a cat lady.

Loner. Loser. Failure. Ugly. Weirdo. Single. Dirty.

Google “cat lady stigma” and you know what comes up on the first page of results? The Wikipedia page for “spinster”. That’s right. Because even Wikipedia knows that at the root of calling a woman a cat lady is shaming her for her singleness. As my coworker story points out, singleness isn’t always a player in cat ladydom, but I’d argue it’s a founding factor in the characterization. Maybe I should say caricature-ization.

Do me a favor and think twice before you call a woman a cat lady next time. Consider what hurtful names she might hear instead, thanks to the negative stigma culture has created for those of us who find ourselves to be both female and cat owners.

I adopted my cat when I had roommates and a boyfriend. Now I have neither, but I still have my cat. And I’m pretty damn happy. I wasn’t trying to fill some void in my life when I got my cat, and I’m not trying to do that now. I mean, he’s a fucking cat. But that’s a major part of the stigma, that women are buying cats because they can’t keep a partner and want to fill a void they feel. Hey, maybe that is true for some women, and I hope their cat provides some comfort to them. Or maybe they’re just allergic to dogs.

My point is, let’s move on from the cat lady shaming.

boo

breaking the cycle: post 2, working women

As you all (should) know, the tech world is incredibly dominated by men. (More specifically, by white men.) I work for a software company that employs around 13,000 people worldwide. There are about 100 people in my office; 11 are women. Of those 11, only one is actually a software developer.

I was recently a “groomsperson” in one of my best friend’s weddings. I was so happy to be a part of his wedding, even though it seemed unusual to plenty of people that I, a woman, would be standing on the groom’s side. A couple weeks before the wedding, I was out to lunch with a big group of coworkers. As people shared their weekend plans, I mentioned that I was going to a bachelor party. “No, not bachelorETTE, a bachelor party, I’m a groomsperson in my friend’s wedding.” My casual addition to the conversation was met with laughter and jokes from my male coworkers, insinuating that if I was going to a bachelor party, it could only be as a stripper.

In the moment, I laughed and didn’t think much of it, happy to just be joking around with coworkers. But looking back, I wasn’t being treated as “one of the guys” in that moment. I was being singled out for my woman-ness. To be very reductive, I was essentially called a stripper for having a male best friend. And that is not okay.

As the Washington Post article described, nine women from the tech world came together to create this manifesto of sorts. They were tired of the treatment they, and many other women, were receiving in the tech world. So they shed some light on it. My experience in the tech world has not been as extreme as the situations they describe. Overall, I like the people I work with and I feel safe there. But I’m also fairly removed from the more “technical” side of things, as a writer.

The technical world has a clear woman problem. But women in all kinds of other jobs face similar treatment everyday. I’ve listened to friends describe their misogynistic bosses, who stare at the chests of female employees and intimidate women simply because they can. Women make up about half of the professional level workforce in America. But if you check the statistics on women holding leadership positions, the disparity is shocking.

Not only are we not getting the jobs, we’re being paid less. Under the Equal Pay Act, employers are required to give men and women equal pay if their roles are substantially the same. But women are still making only “77% of their male counterparts’ earnings” according to the White House. It makes no fucking sense that I should get paid less than my male counterpart, simply because I am a woman. And yet.

I’m a fan of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and I think Sheryl Sandberg is a boss, even though I still haven’t read Lean In yet. I loved when this ad for GoldieBlox toys aired during the Super Bowl this year. It’s good to have these girl-specific things, but how long will this have to be the way we encourage girls to pursue and succeed at traditionally male-dominated jobs? Will we reach a point in history where girls will be encouraged enough at school, at home, by mentors and neighbors, without these extra girl-specific programs?

At the root of this conversation is a necessary paradigm shift. The tech world can work on recruitment and retention of female employees, but the bigger issue is a change in thinking, one that applies across the board to women in all types of jobs. One that says women are fully valuable human beings, with the same capabilities, passion, and possibilities as men.