Your Questions Answered: Womxn’s Month

Written by: Madeleine Jenness

In January, we put out a survey to the community for women’s month asking people what issues they’d like to learn more about. Now, your questions are being answered!

I did research in order to best answer these questions in a well-informed way and not just using my own knowledge. However, there is an amount of this that I’ve picked up through sexuality classes, as well as my own personal research.

Our question to the community was:
“What women’s issues would you like to learn more about? Are there any women related questions you are scared to ask out loud?”

”What exactly does the term ‘womxn’ encompass? What is the origin and meaning of the word? In what ways is it more inclusive than ‘women’?” and also “Why the X, is it THAT important, can you truly decolonize in a colonized tongue, worth the fight?” (these questions were on the same topic so I’ve created one answer for both of them.)

The term “womxn” is generally understood to be both a trans-inclusive form of the word “woman” as well as a term of empowerment for women as a way to separate their identities being based off of men by removing the word “men” or “man” from the word for their gender 

“The term Womxn originated at the University of California, Davis in 1971. A Womxn’s Resources and Research Center aims to achieve gender equity, defined as “a world in which people of all genders, specifically womxn, transgender, and people with marginalised genders – have the opportunity to reach their full potential.” (Wikipedia)

We intentionally spell some words with an “x” in order to recognize the agency of womxn, individually and collectively, and to challenge the notion that womxn are necessarily defined through their relation to men. This spelling is intended to honor anyone who has ever, ever will, or currently identifies as a womxn.  (ucdavis.edu)

”I would like to know more about how women can cope [with] periods while being in a business setting”

A western business setting was really not developed with people who menstruate in mind. For those who get periods, we find we just have to work through the pain and blood coming out our vaginas, all while acting as if it’s just another day. In my experience, my period hasn’t caused problems in school or work beyond having to breath through some pretty awful cramps. But I am in a place of privilege. Some people who menstruate get horrible cramps that should not be just “walked off.” Others may bleed excessively, and some people may not even have access to the necessary products that make it so they can get through a workday. Access to products is absolutely necessary, and time off from work and school for debilitating cramps should be commonplace. 

“Menstrual leave, a policy that affords women suffering extreme period pain one or two days off work, already exists in several countries around the world,” says a BBC article titled “Can ‘Period Leave’ Ever Work?”

But the problem isn’t just that people need time off of work when they have their period. Some people are able to go about their day pretty much unbothered by the once-a-month annoyance. However, if you cannot afford menstrual products (which are all taxed as a luxury item, by the way, according to Wikipedia.) then it can make it impossible to go to work or class. 

Thirteen states have listed menstrual products as tax-exempt, not including Washington.

UW Bothell has free access to menstrual products in bathrooms and at the gym.

Really, the problem is a lack of accommodation for people who menstruate in the workplace.

“What are normal periods like?”

There’s really no such thing as a “normal” period, first of all. The idea that your period should come exactly 28 days apart is false, that’s just the average number. It’s different for everyone. “Your menstrual cycle lasts from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. A normal cycle can be as short as 21 days or longer than 35. This makes the average 28 days, but tons of people don’t have a 28 day cycle. The number of days in your cycle can vary from month to month too,” says Planned Parenthood. “When you get your period, it’s normal to bleed anywhere from 2 to 7 days.”

As for blood loss, that too can vary depending on the person. “The average person loses anywhere between 1-6 tablespoons of menstrual fluid during each period. It can be thin or clumpy, and varies in color from dark red to brown or pink. (When you first start having your period, it may last only a few days or be super light.) If your period is so heavy that you have to change maxi pads or super tampons every hour, call your doctor or your local Planned Parenthood health center.”

“A missed period is one of the first signs of pregnancy, but it doesn’t always mean you’re pregnant. Sometimes you skip a period for no reason at all, especially during the first few years of your period. Lots of other things can throw off your regular cycle and mess with the timing of your period.”

Reasons for missing a period other than pregnancy include using birth control, changes in hormones, being sick, poor diet/nutrition, stress, etc. For more information, you can visit plannedparenthood.org.

It can also be normal for periods to be irregular, but planned parenthood suggests that you talk to a doctor just in case.

“Consent “maybe=no”? And how to treat a female with respect?”

On consent, if you’re trying to initiate some sexy times with someone, you should be 100 percent certain that they’re into it as well. Consent is sexy! It’s as easy as asking “Is this okay?” “Do you like this?” “Would it be okay if I ___?” So if someone is saying things like “maybe” or “I’m not sure,” they may not be into it, and you should pull back and figure out what they actually want. Communication is key both in making sure the other person/people are having a good time, which can make it more fun for everyone!

On top of that too, it’s important to be able to tell your partner what you like, and to feel comfortable saying no. There may be a bigger issue if you feel you can’t talk openly with your partner about things you don’t like them doing, or you feel that they don’t listen if you say no.

Below is the phone number and email for UWB’s confidential advocate for those affected by sexual assault, rape, relationship violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment and other related experiences.

Elizabeth Wilmerding, UWBVAE@uw.edu, 425-352-3851

Regarding treating women with respect, I’d say that simply the “golden rule” applies best: treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Women are, surprise, people too. And we all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Basically, don’t judge women just off their looks, remember that we all are thinking and feeling beings in this strange world just trying to do our best.

“I would like to know more about women’s sexual health. I got sex ed in high school, but like most of us it wasn’t very good so I’d like to have a more informative class to learn about safe sex, maternity, late hormonal changes, and other issues.”

Good for you for wanting to learn more about how to keep yourself safe!

Let’s start with how to have safe sex.

Firstly, consent is necessary for everything. You should trust those you’re having sex with to be able to stay safe. Firstly, if you want to have sex but aren’t looking to get pregnant it’s absolutely necessary to use protection, AKA birth control. Here at UWB, to my knowledge we have access to free condoms at the front desk in UW1, at the front desk in the library, and in the Husky Village Community Center. However, according to Planned Parenthood, condoms have an 85% effectiveness rate for preventing pregnancy. The reason behind this is due to the rate of human error when using condoms, because for them to be effective they must be used correctly.

You can learn how to effectively use condoms on Planned Parenthood’s website. 

There are also other methods of birth control you can use, also listed on Planned Parenthood’s website. Planned Parenthood can help to get you birth control that works for your lifestyle.

Going back to condoms however, those and dental damns (a sheet of latex used for oral sex)  are the ONLY forms of contraception that prevent sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. STIs are also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) however, the use of the word “disease” creates a stigma against them and those that may have them, so the term STI is preferred. Planned Parenthood however uses the term STD, so just be aware STDs and STIs are one and the same.

“Anybody who has oral, anal, or vaginal sex, or genital skin-to-skin contact with another person can get STDs. Safer sex (often called “safe sex”) means taking steps to protect yourself and your partner from STDs when you have sex…One of the best ways is by using a barrier — like condoms, internal condoms, and/or dental dams — every single time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Barriers cover parts of your genitals, protecting you and your partner from body fluids and some skin-to-skin contact, which can both spread STDs,” says Planned Parenthood.

It’s especially important to use protection against STIs if you have multiple sexual partners.

Along with using protection, it’s also important to get yourself tested so that if you do get an STI you can get treated.

“Another way to make sex safer is to avoid drinking too much alcohol or doing other drugs. Getting wasted can make you forget how important safer sex is, and you may accidentally make decisions that increase your chances of getting STDs. It’s also harder to use condoms correctly and remember other safer sex basics when you’re drunk or high,” says Planned Parenthood.

“I’d like to learn more about women’s hygiene.”

Women’s hygiene is one of those things that has been snatched up by capitalism as another area in which people get convinced they need to spend money on, when really, you don’t need special products or anything to maintain a healthy vagina/ vulva. 

For starters, the vagina is self-cleaning, and you should NEVER put anything up there for the purpose of cleaning it, even water. Putting anything inside the vagina to clean it (also known as douching) can mess up the pH balance and can actually cause problems like yeast infections, STIs, and others according to womenshealth.gov.

As for the outer parts of the vulva, including the labia, clitoris, and clitoral hood, these can be gently cleaned with water and either your hands or a washcloth.

As the owner of a vagina, I know that a hygienic concern can be vaginal discharge or if you have any kind of smell down there. BOTH of these things are normal, although annoying. The discharge is a sign of a healthy vagina, and it part of the self-cleansing process. However, if the color or consistency dramatically changes, you may want to have it checked out.

As for smell, it’s totally normal, and is even a sign that everything down there is healthy. 

“It’s totally normal for your vagina to have a slight smell or odor. There’s usually nothing to worry about because the smell is mild and can be a sign of a healthy vulva and vagina. Often times, the scent you’re smelling is only something you can detect and not the people around you. However, if you’re noticing a strong or unfamiliar smell like a fishy or rotten odor, it’s time to pay a visit to your nurse or doctor,” says Planned Parenthood.

Things that can help however are to wear cotton underwear, bathe regularly, and maintain a healthy diet.

The following questions were not answered in this article, however please feel free to answer it yourself in the form of an opinion piece. Please email your answers to the Husky Herald staff uwbhh@uw.edu. We look forward to hearing your opinions on these questions and any other opinions you have. 

“Can you truly decolonize in a colonized tongue?

“More likely to consent to things before knowing what they are”

“Religions/cultures shun talking about periods”

“What can be done to have more women of color represented in film?”

“Male chauvinism” (I’m new in USA so in my country that’s a problem)

“How are women’s rights issues connected to environmental justice and access to water, climate justice, etc.”

”How do women feel about men in some religion can have more than one wife and what if women could also do the same thing. How would men reply to this type of question?”

”Why are women treated like men’s objects?

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