On Saturday, about 25 people of various ages gathered at the Tanglefoot building for the Empowered Women’s Health Workshop, hosted by The Bloom Collective.
The workshops were varied in topic and in style:
Birthing and Pregnancy
The first workshop, about a woman-sense approaching to birthing and pregnancy, was facilitated by Yolanda Visser, a local lay midwife who has been practicing for 20 years. Visser talked about how giving birth has become “medicalized,” but that there are other aspects to the process. For example, Visser focuses on a spiritual component as well, noting that birth is inherently spiritual as the miracle of life. She also makes sure to care for the mother as well as the child during the birthing process.
Some of the challenges of home birthing were also discussed. For example, in Michigan home births are legal, but in nearby states they are not.
Media and Marketing – “Pink” Products
Following this was a workshop about media and marketing targeting women for profit, facilitated by Julia Mason, asst. professor of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU and Mindy Holohan, a member of Kent County Friends of Coalition for a Commercial Free Childhood.
Mason began the discussion by talking about recent campaigns for breast cancer awareness. She stated her opinion that the issue of breast cancer needs to be focused on as a societal issue, rather than individual. On the subject of “pink” consumer products, she noted that it is important to be educated on whether or not the company you buy from will actually do anything concrete with the profits – Mason recommended www.thinkbeforeyoupink.com as a resource to educate yourself on which products are legitimate. She pointed out the contradiction of many of these “pink ribbon” products, noting that many women’s pharmaceuticals contain cancer causing chemicals, but then convince consumers to buy their products in order to fight cancer. The discussion was then led to the problems of a consumerism viewed as a fix for societal problems – most people present were critical of the current cultures which dictates that we all need more stuff to be happy.
Marketing Toward Young Children
Mindy Holohan focused on marketing toward young children – she read off some disturbing statistics (the average male sees his first pornographic image at age 11.5, a life size Barbie would have a 16 inch waist), saying “we are a culture in crisis.” To further illustrate her point, she passed around disturbing advertising images of dolls distributed in Happy Meals dressed provocatively and caked with make up, of 4 year old human models dressed in the same manner, and advertising for young males which shows unrealistically muscular men and promotes stereotypes. Holohan called on society’s fathers to step up and learn to be supportive for their young daughters as they navigate through this sea of advertising – “There is no time a girl needs her Dad more than early adolescence, but that’s when they’re pulling away.”
The next workshop, “De-Sanitizing Our Menstrual Health,” facilitated by GVSU student Rachel Hamilton and Lori Day, utilized a more hands-on approach. Materials and instructions for everyone present (whether or not they themselves menstruate) were shared to sew their own reusable menstrual pad. While everyone sewed, the facilitators talked about how our culture has made menstruation a taboo topic, and they encouraged everyone to get rid of that stigma and share their own experiences.
During discussion, it came up that many young women are confused when their first cycle occurs, because so little information about menstruation was given to them prior. Discussion continued to the problems of the most commonly used products – disposable pads and tampons. As with any disposable product, these are harmful to the environment, both in their manufacturing process and after being thrown out. They also contain toxins which are harmful to the body, most of which are added during the bleaching process (contradictorily, the only reason these products are bleached is give the illusion of cleanliness.)
Many alternatives were shared: reusable pads, menstrual cups (the Diva Cup and the Keeper were two brands mentioned), sponges and disposable cups, all of which are better for women’s bodies and the environment.
The final workshop of the day, facilitated by Kathy Reider of Intuitive Services, began with an explanation of the benefits of meditation: meditation gives one’s body the chance to everything down, and helps the body heal more quickly. Meditation connects you to the fullness of who you are, allowing you to have better relationships. Reider said, “being grounded is your natural state. Thinking is not.” The group was then led through a meditation technique, which some found beneficial, and others struggled to relax.
For the final twenty minutes, everyone participated in a go-around in which we shared what we do for our own health. Exercise, a healthy diet, using a menstrual cup, and many other ideas were mentioned.
Overall, the workshops represented a variety of opinions and encouraged productive discussion among everyone present.