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Her Name Was Susan Cox Powell

Her name was Susan Cox Powell.

We went to high school together.  Though we didn’t know one another very well, we had a lot of mutual friends.  I remember her as someone who was gracious, intelligent, and kind.  Susan had a beautiful smile.  She disappeared in 2009.  Interviews with Susan’s friends have shown that her relationship with her husband was abusive.  He shoved her, slapped her, wouldn’t allow her to buy groceries for the family, and locked her out of the house.   Her father-in-law had a disturbing obsession with her, and took voyeuristic photographs of her.  Susan left a will in a safe deposit box that said if she disappeared it “wouldn’t be an accident”.

Her sons’ names were Charlie and Braden.

They were taken on an impromptu “camping” trip at 12:30am, in the middle of a snowstorm, by their father, the night that Susan disappeared.  Three years later, Charlie and Braden had started talking about that night.  Braden drew a picture of a car with three occupants, and when he was asked about his drawing, he said “Mommy’s in the trunk”.  One year ago today, they were killed by their father, who took a hatchet to their tiny bodies before setting a fire that would ultimately kill all three.

I am convinced that Susan’s husband killed her.  I am convinced that we will likely never find her, her friends and family will probably never have closure.  I am convinced that we should learn from this, that we should be tireless advocates for those who are abused by their partners.

  • Intimate partner homicides account for 30% of all deaths of women.
  • Everyday, in the US, three women are murdered by their partner.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes.

It is easy to think that you are smarter than a woman in an abusive relationship.  It is easy, to look at the situation, and think “she should have left him”.  In reality, it is incredibly difficult to leave an abusive relationship, especially when you have children.  It is common for abusive partners to use children as a way to get their partner to stay in the abusive relationship.  According to her will, Susan’s husband told her that he would “destroy” her if she tried to leave him.

It is hard to be the friend or family member of someone who is in an abusive relationship.  It is hard not to have those thoughts.  It is hard to watch someone’s personality deteriorate in the face of abuse.  It is hard to be supportive, to lend an ear, to watch your friend or family member walk back into the home they share with their abusive partner.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline has some very helpful tips on how to help a friend or family member who is in an abusive relationship.

Since the National Domestic Violence Hotline was established, domestic violence and intimate partner homicide has taken a drastic downward turn.  The Hotline is funded by the Violence Against Women Act.  The VAWA is currently being debated by our nation’s elected leaders, and it may not be re-authorized.  This would be an unspeakable tragedy.  Please, write to your senator, write to your congressional representative.  Tell them to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

Her name was Susan Cox Powell.

Her sons were Charlie and Braden.

I am burning a candle in their memory today.

I am also emailing my representatives, in their memory, to try and make sure that other women in her situation have the resources necessary to leave abusive relationships.

 

Edit: For those of you who would like a form letter, please see the one I have drafted below.

Dear Senator/Representative/Congresswoman/Congressman   ,

I am writing you today in memory of  Susan Cox Powell, and her sons, Charlie and Braden, to urge you to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

This act provides the funding necessary to assist women who are in domestic violence situations, and since its inception in 1994, the number of domestic violence incidences have decreased dramatically.

Decreasing domestic violence is not a partisan issue.

Sincerely,

Sex Positivism In Medicine

It looks like medical professionals are getting on the sex-positive bandwagon, and it’s about time.

Yesterday, the American Association of Pediatrics recommended that pediatricians give their young female patients advance prescriptions for Plan B.  For those of you outside the US, if you are under 18, you cannot get Plan B over the counter, and need a prescription.  Plan B has been available over the counter for those 18 and over for about a year now.

The FDA originally decided that it should be available over the counter to everyone, regardless of age, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s decision because of her doubts that young women under 18 would use it properly.  This is despite Plan B being safer to use than aspirin or ibuprofen, especially since it is impossible to overdose on Plan B.

This comes one week after the American College of OB/GYNs has recommended that hormonal birth control pills be available for everyone over the counter, just like condoms.  I can’t tell you how excited this makes me.  It is so important that young women have access to things like this, so they can engage in healthy sexual activity without fear of parental judgement, pregnancy, or the heartbreaking choice of abortion.

With studies showing that teenagers in the US have less sex than teenagers in other first world countries, but are getting pregnant more often, access to emergency birth control in conjunction with comprehensive sex education could help that pregnancy rate continue to decline.

Oppa Condom Style! And a Poll!

With reports from North Korea showing that the general populace has a hard time finding any sort of contraception, a group of South Korean activists have launched several balloons, hoping they will drift across the border and find their way into the hands of North Koreans.

Among other essential items like sanitary napkins, toothpaste, underwear, socks, anti Pyongyang information, and flashlights, over 5,000 condoms were airlifted to drift north.  According to this article, the groups who normally send balloons like these are North Korean defectors, Christian groups, and the South Korean right wing party.

Does anyone else find it somewhat incongruous to see that list?  I did a double take.

[I would like to give thanks to someone on the Jezebel fan page for the title of today's post.  I'm unsure if I should thank them by name, due to Google searches, but thanks anyway.  It made me giggle.  If you don't know the reference, what, have you been living under a rock this whole time?  Treat yourself to the magic that is the Gangnam Style video.  Heck, do it even if you've seen it before.]
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Today, the Director of the CIA, David Petraeus has resigned his post, citing an extramarital affair as the reason for his resignation.  While I know that within the military there are laws against adultery, and his affair could have had the potential for blackmail and a subsequent security breach, I am outright disgusted at the way the media is treating this entire situation.

I have seen no less than 10 news stories questioning who he had the affair with, and, sure enough, someone has dug it up.  Why are we, as a nation, delighting in what has to be an incredibly painful situation for General Petraeus, his family and friends, and his alleged mistress?  He has resigned his position, and is effectively bowing out of the public life, and has done so with dignity and grace.  To be quite honest, I am looking forward to my imagined utopian-esque future when non-monogamy is no longer a Big Deal for the media.  Give the man some peace.  He’s done the right thing here, and no one should be getting blasted by the media.

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San Francisco has decided to no longer prohibit gender reassignment surgeries from the list of covered medical treatment under the city’s Healthy San Francisco program, a sliding scale health care coverage system that can be used by everyone in San Francisco.  Though the city currently does not have the capacity or surgeons who are skilled in this particular type of surgery, so this is a mostly symbolic move for the city.  Transgender patients currently are able to receive hormone therapy, counseling, and regular medical care under Healthy SF.

While I am glad that the city takes these concerns seriously, gender reassignment surgeries are extremely expensive, and can go into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the specific services provided.  As someone who is cisgender, I can’t imagine the mental anguish of someone who doesn’t feel that their body matches their identity and mentality.  I am glad that there may be a solution for the transgender in my community in the next few years.

But to be honest, as someone who is currently covered under this program, I’d like to see Healthy SF start providing some other services first, specifically preventative and non-emergency dental care.  So many other medical problems can be circumvented with regular cleanings and filling of cavities that seems rather odd to me that there hasn’t been a big push for this sort of service.

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In other news, I am considering offering a weekly podcast compilation of each week’s posts.  Do me a favor, and cast a vote below to let me know if you’d like to hear my dulcet tones reading my posts each week!

Men’s Rights and Feminism: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

I found this video of one of my absolute favorite Jezebel writers, Lindy West, through the Skepchick blog.  Lindy speaks to a lot of the experiences of female bloggers, especially feminist bloggers.  The amount of hate and vitriol that is directed towards female bloggers is absolutely nauseating, and it seems to be increasing in intensity.  Offhand, I can think of two bloggers I love who have been the target of some particularly nasty stalking and abuse lately, Laci Green and Surly Amy.  My dear friend, Nixie Pixel, has also been a target at times.

I attracted the attention of the MRA (Men’s Rights Activists) subreddit a few months back, due to my Dark Side of Geek Feminism post.  I had some pretty severely conflicting emotions about the fact that, by and large, they all agreed with the post.  Until that time, my only experience with the Men’s Rights movement was through some grumblings on a few of the feminist websites I had been frequenting.

I spent a lot of time on the subreddit, and read a lot.  I cringed every time I read something that was clearly sexist, whether biased towards men or women (a few instances of the posters referring to women that they perceived as acting entitled as “cupcake” really irritated me).  Overall, though, I was surprised to find myself in agreement with a lot of the threads.

I believe it is a tragedy that men who are raped are not taken seriously, and have a harder time getting access to necessary mental health treatment.  I find it infuriating that there are women who actually use rape accusations as a form of bullying, extortion, or to smear a man’s name.  I think that the courts should stop being automatically biased towards women in custody hearings.  These were the main points I read about, and I no longer think of the MRAs (as a whole) as a bad movement.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this shift in my views.  I honestly believe that both sides could use a little more positive PR.  It is my understanding that both sides are trying to draw attention to injustices and attempt to rectify those injustices.  Feminists and MRAs just want to be treated with respect and as though their gender doesn’t determine how they should be treated in everyday life, in the workplace, and by the justice system.  Both sides have their trolls, and their radical elements, but in the end, we all want to be treated equally.  In order to do this, we have to stop vilifying each others movements.  We have to stop accusing entire genders of being culpable for the actions of those few who behave badly.  Yes, making that mental shift is difficult, but it has to happen if we are actually wanting equality for all.  Otherwise, we are undermining our own movements, and creating an Animal Farm mentality, where some are “more equal” than others.

I still think the PUA (Pick Up Artist) community is full of crap though.  Sorry, Lindy, I don’t foresee my thoughts on that group changing anytime soon.

Let’s Get Idealistic

There’s been so much in the news in the past few months about abortion, contraception, and a woman’s right to choose that as I said in a previous post, I’ve been overwhelmed.  I’d like to take a moment to get a little idealistic.

When I was in high school, I took a class about early human development.  We learned about the stages of pregnancy, and the different stages children go through in their first two years of life.  At one point in my class, we were given the task of brainstorming the ideal situation to have a child.  We already knew that adoptive parents had to fulfill certain criteria in order to be able to have a child, so we were told to imagine a “test” of sorts that a woman (or a set of parents) would have to pass in order to have a child.

If I remember correctly, we came up with the following points:

  • Financially stable, with at least six months worth of income in accessible savings.

We came up with this because pregnancy and raising a child are both expensive.  There’s also the risk of complications with the pregnancy or child’s health leaving one or both parents unable to work for a period of time.  We thought that at least six months of income in the bank would help ease that potential burden.

  • Emotionally stable, with a supportive network of friends and family.

Just like the financial cost, pregnancy and raising a child can be unexpectedly difficult, emotionally.  We learned about postpartum depression, and how the woman’s emotional state can affect the child’s development in the womb.  Having a supportive network of friends and family, especially people who are geographically close, is important to making sure that the parents can have a break occasionally.

  • Good health, and good health insurance.

Making sure that the woman is already in good health when she gets pregnant, and maintains her health during the pregnancy were also stressed during my class.  Proper nutrition and regular exercise, as well as the ability to see a doctor when necessary, were things that we deemed of highest importance to the development of the child.

  • A stable and safe place to live.

Being teenagers in the suburbs, we were imagining owning a house with a large backyard.  While I no longer think that is necessary, I do think that living in a relatively safe neighborhood, and taking the proper precautions to baby-proof your house are incredibly important.

  • Ease of access to hospitals, schools, and other important services.

I think this one is self-explanatory.

I am close to many women who have had children without checking any of these boxes.  Their children are happy and healthy, and they are excellent mothers.  I still think that all of these are important things to have in place before I consider having children, and that is why I chose to get an IUD.  When I decide to have children, it will be because I am ready.  This is not a criticism of any woman or her choices.  I fully realize that this is an idealistic list.

I would posit that is also idealistic of the Republican Party to expect to reduce accessibility to contraception and abortion and to somehow still not have any unwanted pregnancies occur, or for parents to not need some sort of assistance to care for their children.  Abstinence education just exacerbates these problems.  People are going to have sex, and sometimes, despite precautions, pregnancies occur.

If you had to come up with a list like this, what would you put on it?  Do you think that the list we came up with in high school was good?  Have you formulated a similar list?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Book Review: Sex at Dawn

If you’re a fan of Dan Savage, you’ve probably heard Dan talking about this book on his podcast, Savage Love back in 2010.    In the book, authors Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. explore “The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.”

Covering everything from the form and function of the modern human, to the ways that we act in relationships, Sex at Dawn turned the study of human sexuality upside down.  Through observing and drawing parallels between modern humans, and our evolutionary cousins, the Bonobo chimpanzee, the authors draw the conclusion that modern humans have a difficult time with monogamy because we are genetically engineered towards multiple partners.

On the website for Sex at Dawn, a chart by Franklin Veaux maps the different relationships that modern humans engage in.  The overlap is fascinating.

Although it may seem that the authors are advocating for non-monogamous relationships, they claim that is not their purpose.  An excerpt from the FAQ on the website for Sex at Dawn:

So you’re recommending the everyone should have an open marriage or not get married at all?

Definitely not. We’re not recommending anything other than knowledge, introspection, and honesty. In fact, as we say in the book, we’re not really sure what to do with this information ourselves. We hope Sex at Dawn advances the conversation about human sexuality so people can focus more on the realities of what human beings are and a bit less on the religious and cultural mythologies concerning what we should be and should feel. What individuals or couples do with this information (if anything) is up to them.

It took me longer than I expected to read Sex at Dawn, because each page has information that borders on revelation.  I found myself having to stop frequently just to absorb each new piece of information.  I am normally the type of person who breezes through books, but I simply couldn’t do it with Sex at Dawn.  The authors did an amazing job at fully researching the topic, and presenting it in a way that is entirely accessible to those of us who are not in the academic field.

If you are struggling with any sort of infidelity in your relationships, read this book.  If you found yourself suddenly no longer attracted to a partner after going off of hormonal birth control, read this book.  If you are curious about how and why the modern human body and sexual organs are shaped differently than every other species, read this book.

If you’d like to support Nice Girls, you can purchase Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality through this link.  As an Amazon Affiliate, I will receive a small amount of the price of your purchase.  Thanks!

I’m Overwhelmed

There is so much talk going on right now regarding Todd Akin’s ridiculous comment about “legitimate rape” that it is actually making my head spin.  Of course, that also could be the cold medicine I am taking too.  But seriously, I tried opening all of the pages I bookmarked and I actually managed to crash my Google Chrome browser.   Bear with me, there are a lot of links in this post.  Oh, and the images are gifs.  I’m not sure why they aren’t animating on my blog.

If you’ve been under a rock (or curled up in bed and sick like me) and haven’t seen the clip, here it is in all its facepalming stupidity:

So, Todd Akin actually has spoken to a “doctor” who believes that a woman can’t get pregnant due to rape.  Here is a direct quote from Dr. Willke, via the New York Times,

“This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,” Dr. Willke said of a woman being raped, adding, “She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.”

Someone, please, take that man’s license to practice medicine from him.  He clearly didn’t attend his anatomy or human reproduction classes.  Spastic tubes?  Really?  Of course, every doctor with any sense is denouncing Dr. Willke.

As every politician who makes a controversial remark, Akin has attempted to backtrack, to “clarify” what he “misspoke”.  First by saying that he didn’t mean “legitimate” rape, he meant “forcible” rape.  Of course, this is the same language used by Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, in the legislation he co-sponsored with Akin!  (Psst.  Romney also was pretty proud when the quack Dr. Willke endorsed Romney as a presidential candidate!)  When Romney and Ryan started distancing themselves from Akin, even denouncing his remarks, Akin “clarified” further, by saying he only meant “false” rape.  Honestly, at this point, he’s just digging himself further and further into a hole.

Now, even though Romney and Ryan have denounced Akin’s remarks, when the GOP drafted their Party Platform earlier this week, they refused to add wording that would allow a woman to have an abortion in cases of rape and incest.  Congratulations, Republicans.  The official stance of your party now says that a woman should be forced to have any child she conceives.  Do you include the mentally challenged 10 year old who was raped by her uncle in Kansas?  Yep.  According to GOP policymakers, that little slut had it coming.

Honestly, at this point, I’m ready to just throw my hands up in disgust.  Just like this Jezebel writer.

Oh, and some pretty awful people at American Vision are comparing the backlash against Todd Akin to “political gang rape”.  I just…  I can’t even begin to describe how much that blows my mind.

My First Planned Parenthood Experience: Part 3

You can read Part 2 here.

I had my follow-up appointment following my HPV diagnosis yesterday.  I was scheduled for a culposcopy and possible biopsies if the gynecologist found any abnormal cells.  Until yesterday morning, I had a pretty ambivalent attitude towards the appointment.

My thoughts went something alone these lines:  I have an STI.  Unfortunately, my STI is not one that I can just take an antibiotic and it will go away.  HPV is a virus.  I have no control over which strain I was exposed to.  I was concentrating on being as healthy and stress-free as possible so that my body could fight the virus better.   I thought that I had reached a point of acceptance.

Even though I had spent at least 8 hours researching HPV, reading about statistics, and learning as much as I possibly could about it, I woke up yesterday morning and was terrified.  I know that several women on my mother’s side of the family have had complications due to cervical cancer.  While I know that cervical cancer is caused by particular strains of HPV, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a genetic component to the cancer as well, if there was some way to be more prone to HPV turning into cervical cancer.

I spent at least an hour crying in bed, with Fiance comforting me.  He has really been amazing through all of this.  I expected him to be just as stressed as me.  After all, we haven’t used a barrier method in a long time, and if I have HPV, it means that he does too.  Instead, he took the diagnosis in stride, and focused his efforts on comforting me.  My dear friends wrote uplifting and encouraging things when I confessed my anxiety.  Thank you, girls, it really meant a lot to me.

The culposcopy was similar to a really long pap smear.  Unlike with a pap, the gynecologist did not use any lubrication when inserting the speculum, and the speculum was opened a bit wider than normal, which was uncomfortable.  The gynecologist cleaned my cervix with a saline solution, and then she placed a cotton ball soaked with vinegar against my cervix.  The cotton ball was so cold!

The vinegar will apparently react with any abnormal cells, and make it easier for the gynecologist to see if the virus is creating warts, or, worse, cysts and pre-cancerous growths.  She then used a culposcope, which is similar to a microscope, to examine my cervix.

I am sure you can imagine my relief when the gynecologist told me that she didn’t see any abnormal cells, and I didn’t need to have any biopsies performed.  She was pretty surprised herself, and told me that this only happens about 1 in 20 times that she does a culposcopy.  She did, however, take a sample of the cells inside my cervix, which will be tested.  I’ll receive the results in about two weeks.

I want to reiterate that without Planned Parenthood, I wouldn’t have been able to receive this sort of screening without basically going hungry for a couple of weeks.  Please, if you have the chance and the liquidity, consider donating to Planned Parenthood.  Your donations help women and men receive vital sexual health care and information.  It certainly helped me.

No Moral Abortion?

The Kansas State Board of Healing Arts has stripped Dr. Ann Neuhaus of her license to practice medicine following malpractice allegations.  She didn’t maim anyone during surgery.  She didn’t prescribe the wrong drugs.  She didn’t misdiagnose someone.

She refused to force a 10 year old girl to give birth, and gave her a late-term abortion. Read the rest of this entry

Happy Contraceptives Day, Everyone!

Today is the day that the provision in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act regarding women’s sexual health goes into effect, and I couldn’t be prouder of our nation.

Today is the day that your health insurance is required to start providing the most essential of sexual health screenings and all FDA approved contraception without co-pay.  This is huge.  According to CBS News, these are the services that your health insurance is required to provide without charging you a co-pay:

  • Well-woman visits, including an annual check-up for adult women to get recommended preventive services, and additional visits if women and their doctors determine them necessary.
  • Contraception and contraceptive counseling: Women will have free access to all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling without a co-pay. Most workers in employer-sponsored plans are currently covered for contraceptives.
  • Gestational diabetes screening for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant, and those at high risk of developing gestational diabetes. Women who have gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future and the children of women with gestational diabetes are at increased risk of being overweight and insulin-resistant during childhood.
  • HPV DNA testing every three years for women who are 30 or older, regardless of Pap smear results. HPV screening has been shown to help reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer.
  • Annual sexually transmitted infections (STI) counseling for sexually-active women. Such sessions have been shown to reduce risky behavior in patients; only 28 percent of women aged 18-44 years reported that they had discussed STIs with a doctor or nurse, according to HHS.
  • HIV screening and counseling for sexually-active women. From 1999 to 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 15 percent increase in AIDS cases among women, and a 1 percent increase among men, suggesting an increased risk for women.
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling for pregnant and postpartum women, including access to comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers, as well as breastfeeding equipment.
  • Interpersonal and domestic violence screening and counseling for all adolescent and adult women. An estimated 25 percent of U.S. women report being targets of intimate partner violence during their lifetimes and screening will lead to interventions to increase their safety.

Already covered under the law are other free preventive services for women recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a group of doctors that advise the government on treatment guidelines. These include mammograms every 1-2 years for women over 40, cervical cancer screenings and prenatal care.

The ever-awesome Guttmacher Institute has put out a video explaining why contraceptives need to be covered under health insurance, and another detailing why abortions are a necessary thing to be covered under health insurance too.

Of course, there are those who believe that this is A Bad Thing.  Most amusingly, so far, has been Pennsylvania Representative Mike Kelly who, in a spectacular show of insensitivity, has compared today to both Pearl Harbor and 9-11.

Here’s a newsflash for you, Representative Kelly, pap smears are nothing like acts of war.  I should know, as I’ve lived through both.

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