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Self-Advocacy and the Health of Black Women

Amid a pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black and brown individuals, and a national reckoning over racism, people are now forced to pay attention to the shocking realities of racial inequities that damage the health of people of color in America.

Systems of discrimination and inequality generally intervene in women’s access and quality of care and medical assistance. Oftentimes, judgements of morality get in the way of women receiving healthcare, especially when it comes to reproductive healthcare and healthcare for plus-sized women. Systems of medicine are also guilty of actively marginalizing women by dismissing their symptoms. 

I speak from personal experience in saying that for Black women, there’s something deeply unsettling about being in a doctor’s office. There’s an elusive discomfort that’s difficult to describe, yet somehow we know it’s unique to us. For some, it makes us question whether we should even go to the doctor at all. And though it may be true that everyone feels some level of discomfort in these spaces, the difference is this: being a Black woman puts us at a disadvantage in every arena of life —and at this point, many of us have come to accept it —  but this is one place where we truly can’t afford it. This is the one place where it can mean life or death.

Equity is a central issue in healthcare as inequalities reveal the larger aspects of power, oppression, and discrimination that ground our understanding of circumstances like poverty, disadvantage, oppression, and poor health.

Developing skills in listening to and working with local communities would require significant changes in the quality and distribution of healthcare. That said, a general commitment to human rights may not provide the kind of equity gains that are necessary in women’s health. Rather, a commitment to eliminating specific inequities, including gender inequities, should be a central theme in healthcare ethics. Attention to the intersections of gender and race within the medical field has the potential to deliver direct health benefits to Black women. 

Even with this action plan however, Black women are still vulnerable in a doctor’s office, so what can she do to advocate for herself in a system that doesn’t pay attention to her?

Here are three questions a Black women should have in her back pocket to ensure that you’re getting the best care:

1. Have you had the proper informed consent conversation with your healthcare provider?

You have the right to ask questions, discuss details about the suggested treatment and viable treatment alternatives, all while feeling comfortable enough doing so, in a judgement-free setting.

2. Are my health concerns being fully addressed?

You should be able to leave your doctor’s office with the confidence knowing that your health concerns are being investigated appropriately.

3. Am I my own biggest advocate?

Your care relies heavily on how you express your symptoms and listen to your instinct. There is no medical textbook or doctor in the world who is going to understand how you experience your own symptoms better than you. Intuitively, if something feels ‘off’ to you, it probably is, and it is time for doctors to listen.

Remember that when it comes to healthcare providers, you have options. If you’re being repeatedly dismissed by your doctor, or have been prescribed medications to mask your symptoms — rather than get to the root cause —  it may be time to explore different avenues.

The system is flawed, but with knowledge comes power. As a Black woman, it’s important to understand how we’re feeling and communicate our symptoms as clearly and accurately as possible. Listening to our instinct is critical — don’t be afraid to ask questions, push further and seek out all of your options. In a system stacked against us, being our own advocate is the most effective tool we have to receive the care we deserve.

— Rachael Bailey, Intern

Combating The Gender Wage Gap

Contrary to popular belief, much of what the news and media sources portray in the plight of American women is false. These faux facts have been repeated so often that it is easy to conform to these beliefs. When it comes to the 23 more cents that men make, over half of the American male population refer to it as “fake news.” No matter how many times economists attempt to refute the gender wage gap, the proof is always in the pudding:

Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns – while doing the same work.  

No matter how you cut it, women’s earnings are typically behind those of men as it takes a woman almost 16 months to earn what a man earns in just 12 months.

Several factors contribute to the wage gap, the largest being occupational segregation and unconscious gender discrimination. Occupational segregation is rooted in stereotypes of “women’s work” vs. “men’s work”, unconsciously steering women into certain fields that often tend to pay less. And though gender discrimination in the workforce is illegal, it still happens right under our noses.

While the overall gender wage gap is an important representation of how women make less money in wages than men across the country, we must consider the specific influential factors. And when examining these factors, it is important to recognize that race and ethnicity also play a role in this economic inequity because: equal pay is crucial for all women. 

Black women typically make 61 cents for every dollar their white male counterpart makes. 

The larger pay gap that women of color experience is a grand example of intersectionality. As women, they face the same structural barriers and gender-based discrimination. As people of color, however, they face additional barriers that further their pay gap. This is because women of color frequently work in lower-paying jobs, work fewer hours, and experience more substantial caregiving burdens. For example, women of color are more likely to work in lower-level and lower-paying roles in comparison to white women, even with high levels of education. 

It is a common misconception that the differences in career opportunities and wages are a result of “women’s choices.” This statement only furthers the structural realities that limit women’s abilities to compete with men in the labor force. While one could argue that women of color choose to work in service-sector occupations, that are often lower-paying, it is hard to disregard the fact that women of color often enter the workforce with significantly different barriers than white women. 

While Black women have pushed the needle of diverse representation in fields like STEM and medical professions, they have also faced extensive occupational segregation that narrows their job options to those with lower pay. In contrast to the perceptions held about the work ethic and values of white women, Black women are subject to the unfair expectations and biased assumptions about their place in the workforce. Even as they do work to break the glass ceiling, Black women constantly face stereotypes and resistance in not seeming professional enough for the traditional, societal image of success. 

So how can we combat race and gender biases? What can we do to reform equal pay?

If there are an endless number of factors contributing to the pay gap for women of color across the country, there are just as many opportunities to change the status quo. It only takes a single person to start a shift in the culture of bias that allows the continuation of the wage gap. 

If you want to push for change in the workplace, advocating for change in your environment is the place to start. Speaking up in situations of injustice is an example of how white people can use their privilege as an ally in the workforce. And because national change starts at the local policy level, it is also important to support these changes that help ease the accessibility of things like paid leave and affordable child care for working women. 

As always, education is a necessary tool to better our understanding of the world around us. Researching the race and gender biases within the workforce allows for a better acknowledgment of Black women’s experiences.   

Unfortunately, the narrative of men’s societal contributions as doctors and soldiers but women through the supervision of the home and children is embedded into the very foundations of America. These stories of female ineptitude do not romanticize femininity, they only promote sexism and bigotry. American women are among the most informed and strong-willed human beings in the world. To continue the story of their manipulation into domestic roles is divorced from reality and demeaning. 

One could blame it on sexism and racism, which are both deeply rooted in our culture or the patriarchal mindset that places women in the backseat. But contrary to popular belief, working women of all races and ethnicities are superheroes and they most definitely deserve your support. 

— Rachael Bailey, Intern

This Lockdown is a Mental Health Crisis in the Making

During this unprecedented and peculiar time of COVID-19 and sheltering-in-place, I have seen more than a few people talking about settling into this space to read, meditate, sing, dance and remember how to find sacredness in the simplest of things. They talk about the world slowing down; humanity healing.

The kinds of practices that the so-called “positivity movement” suggest may not be helpful to everyone–at least not in the form we typically find them on Google or YouTube. Many of us need much more careful guidance.

I believe in much of this sentiment. It is important to uplift ourselves and each other during this difficult time. There is value in making the most of this unusual moment.

But, and as often happens in life, our obsession with staying positive–both individually and culturally–means that we do not create space for the complex, real, raw human experience. We fail to create the space for people to feel safe in speaking their struggles. This failure has the potential to silence and shame those who are suffering alone, inside their homes. This will make them feel that there is something wrong with them because of their inability to emotionally cope.

I believe we need to stop romanticizing this lockdown, because, quite simply, it is a mental health crisis in the making. Here are some things I would like us all to have in our minds during this time, so maybe we can hold space for both ourselves and each other in a more complete and loving way.

First, being safe and secure in your home is a privilege. Many people in our community are still working to make ends meet and are struggling to buy food. Some people cannot buy food because by the time their benefits come in people have stockpiled everything first.

Second, many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, are coping with childhood trauma. In effective trauma work, the last thing we ever want to do is unleash a tidal wave of old emotions all at one time. The already overloaded nervous system cannot handle it. To feel it all at once would be too much.

And that is exactly what is happening to many people right now.

Add to this that our health is under threat. Add to this that some of us are losing loved ones. Add to this that there are clearly other unknown political agendas at play. Add to this the fact that many people are under enormous financial pressure. Add to this that many people with children are now unable to access any personal space at all. Add to this that many people are unable to get out into nature and are being suffocated by four walls around the clock.

Many people are going to be feeling agitated, angry, depressed, anxious, and afraid. Many people will be feeling confused, trapped, and alone.

I want you to know that if you feel these things, regardless of your history, there is nothing wrong with you and it is not shameful. This situation is overwhelming. It is traumatic in and of its own right and re-traumatizing for those of with unhealthy histories.

We will learn much during this time. Some of us will learn to be quieter or to need less. Many of us will get precious hours with our loved ones that will be treasured and remembered forever. But most of us will also suffer. Some will end up in serious emotional crisis because of it. Not everyone will have access to the help they both need and deserve.

Let us understand that each of our experiences will differ greatly, and be equally valid. It is okay if you are enjoying your time away from work. It is okay if you feel completely panicked by your sudden loss of income. It is okay if you are enjoying singing along to old music whilst spring cleaning your home. It is okay if you feel all of these things or sit somewhere in between. It is okay if how you feel seems to swing back and forth from day to day or even moment to moment.

No one is failing. We are all doing our best.

So let us please hold one another softly in the harsh reality of this unprecedented moment. Because if we can do that above all else, humanity really will heal.

The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing is still serving the community in this time of uncertainty. Please feel free to reach out to us via email, Facebook, or phone call if you have any questions.

Melina Brann, Executive Director

Why Imposter Syndrome Is So Common and What We Can Do About It

Have you ever watched a candid interview with an A-list celebrity where they admit to self-doubt? Jodie Foster once said that when she won her first Oscar, she thought they’d given it to her instead of Meryl Streep by mistake. And in her HBO Special, the pop queen of confidence, Lady Gaga confessed, “I still sometimes feel like a loser kid in high school and I just have to pick myself up and tell myself that I’m a superstar every morning.” 

This can be baffling, considering the mass love these talented stars receive. But, it’s also comforting for those of us who suffer from the dreaded imposter syndrome to know we’re in good company. Most of us are familiar with that heavy sense that we’re winging it, and it’s just a matter of time before the bouncer will show us the exit door. No matter how much we accomplish, we still can’t shake that sense that we’ve tricked everyone into thinking we’re the real deal. 

These feelings can hit women hard because, socially, we’ve been taught to be modest and downplay our strengths. But, imposter syndrome affects everyone. In fact, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people across the board have experienced it at some point throughout their lives. Hiding in the shadows of perfectionism, it gives everyone that universal feeling that they’re a total phony.

Imposter syndrome usually reveals itself in the form of a critical inner voice. When you’re about to post on Instagram, it warns you nobody will like that photo. When you pass a magazine stand, it chastises you for not looking like the photo shopped image staring back at you. When you score a work promotion, it assures you that clearly, it was just dumb luck. 

A few years ago, I noticed dark imposter fears creeping into my psyche, and I became curious about their origin. Whenever they surfaced, I took a step back and searched for historical connections.

I realized at the root of these thoughts were past negative experiences or off the cuff remarks from others that had stuck with me. Understanding where these thoughts came from was the first step towards freeing myself from their grasp. 

We can’t really get rid of negative thoughts altogether, but we can make them powerless. The next time that dreaded feeling that you’re a fraud looms over you like a dark cloud, here are some simple tips to help take control back.

Name That Voice

You may be well acquainted with that nasty inner voice. It finds a way to downplay your victories, and when you make a mistake, it’ll never let you live it down. Trust with full faith that this voice is not the real you. It has absolutely no say in what you’re capable of.  

“I’ve named mine,” says author and CEO of Interact Studio, Lou Solomon.  “Her name is Miss Vader, after Darth Vader, and she says awful things like ‘you don’t deserve to be here. These people are really smart.’ 

The beauty of naming that voice is once you can hear and understand it, you can do something about it. Thankfully, for every villain, there’s a hero. You also possess that loving, supportive voice. She sees reality, serves as your intuition, but most importantly, she calls out the villain’s lies. 

Don’t Chase the Candy 

At times, I’ve worked as hard as I could to get ahead. I treated life like a video game where each level I encountered gave me extra points. The issue here was each time I achieved that level, it felt great at first, like a sweet burst of candy. But later on, the feeling didn’t last. Somehow, I ended up back at square one, staring into the horizon at the next milestone I hadn’t reached. 

I’d always assumed that a successful career automatically led to a successful life. But I wasn’t looking at the full picture. Nor was I looking deeply at the meaning behind my work. I had to get honest about the type of career that would nourish my soul. When you go deep within, and ask the tough questions, you can transform your career into a calling, and find what you were really meant to do. Suddenly, those negative inner words lose their weight altogether.

Shine Your Light Outwards

Your attention can only work one way. When you’re turning inward and analyzing every failure, you may be missing out on some big opportunities to serve others. Thought leader Marie Forleo uses the concept of comparing your awareness to a flashlight. 

“When your light is focused on helping people, you’ve got zero light shining in on you,” she says. “That means you have zero attention on your fraud feelings, which means they practically disappear.” 

Negative thoughts about your abilities aren’t able to affect you when you’re engaged with others. You’ll be too busy to notice the inner critic, and it will have no choice but to clear out. 

When facing imposter syndrome, one of my biggest mistakes was giving these thoughts credit. I’ve come to realize just because those negative words are there, doesn’t mean they’re true. You don’t actually have to engage or try to ‘figure them out.’ Self-doubt is part of being human, but we don’t have to let it take the wheel. Go deeper, and listen to that heroic voice. She always knows what to do.

Juneteenth 2021

Juneteenth

Many people are unaware of what Juneteenth commemorates. Historically, the Fourth of July marked the beginning of freedom people in the United States. This was not the reality for enslaved people in Texas. It took two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for the news to reach Galveston Texas. On June 19th, 1865, enslaved people in Texas finally received their freedom. 

Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Acknowledging the wrongs our country has made throughout history while creating a space to honor those who tirelessly fight for equity. We should not become complacent with Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday. There is more work to be done to address the inequities within our country. 

This weekend the Lansing area has different events to celebrate the freedom of enslaved people in our country. These events tell the truth of our history while creating a space for people to gather and reflect on the continual barriers people of color face in our country. 

Saturday June 19, 2021

  • Juneteenth Festival (517)
    • 4 to 10 pm 
    • Reo Town Pub, South Washington Ave, Lansing MI
  • Lansing Juneteenth Celebration 
    • 9 to 9 pm 
    • Alfreda Schmidt Southside Community Center
  • Juneteenth Celebration and Parade 
    • 11 am
    • Alfreda Schmidt Southside Community Center

Sunday June 20, 2021

  • Jazz and Poetry Night 
    • 7 to 11 pm 
    • UrbanBeat, 1213 Turner Rd, Lansing MI

— Emily Wegenke, MSW Intern

Challenges Women Face In The Workforce

As Equal Pay Day (for white women) has just passed, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the current challenges that women in the workforce face.

First, why is it important to look at the workforce in segments? The short answer is that people are multi-dimensional and they may be a part of many marginalized groups at once. Therefore, it’s not only important that we talk about how policies impact certain groups, like women, we also have to talk about other compounding factors and systemic issues that women face based on their race, age, and class – we call this intersectionality.

In the business world, understanding intersectionality is an important part of practicing inclusion because it defines how different facets of identity contribute to our unique perspective and team participation, as well as the ways in which different types of discrimination overlap with one another.

Intersectionality serves as a reminder that when you address discrimination toward one group, it’s important not to neglect or disregard further discrimination of groups within that group. A business that focuses on being culturally diverse and inclusive should also make efforts to ensure that their space is as accessible as possible to people with disabilities, for example.

Women face more challenges in the workforce than men. Period. For example, women’s wages have grown more slowly than men’s wages, persistent racial and ethnic disparities in wages only compound challenges for many women of color, who disproportionately work in low-wage jobs. This means that women must work more, while making less and struggling to get ahead.

Within the workplace itself, women continue to grapple with long-standing inequities, including the gender wage gap that stems from a lack of supportive work-family policies, biases ingrained in workplace culture, discrimination, and occupational segregation that reflects women’s overconcentration in low-wage jobs. The unique experiences of women of color—who live at the intersection of compounding gender, race, and ethnic biases—are often ignored entirely, meaning that the practices and attitudes that devalue their skills and limit their opportunities for advancement frequently go unchallenged.

The barriers women face in the labor market and the challenges associated with managing work and family responsibilities mean that women often perform paid work that is nonstandard or undervalued—working at the margins of the economy to make ends meet. This has historically been the case for women—especially women of color, who were expected to work outside the home at a time when middle- to high-income white women were not and who were segregated into low-skilled and low-wage occupations such as domestic servants, seamstresses, laundry workers, and farm laborers. Their exclusion was further codified in 1938, when domestic workers and farmworkers were excluded from legal protections, including minimum wage requirements, in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Women still make up 95 percent of domestic workers, and a majority of them are women of color and foreign-born and non-U.S. citizens. These women are often mistreated due to the intimacy of their jobs and the lack of regulations and workplace protections.

Additionally, women in particular have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. The pandemic has also intensified challenges that women already faced. Working mothers have always worked a “double shift”—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor. Now the supports that made this possible—including school and childcare—have been upended. Meanwhile, Black women already faced more barriers to advancement than most other employees. Today they’re also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community and the emotional toll of repeated instances of racial violence falls heavily on their shoulders.

Furthermore, many mothers are considering downshifting their career or leaving the workforce, and mothers are significantly more likely to be thinking about taking these steps than fathers. Among mothers who are thinking about downshifting or leaving, a majority are leaving because of childcare responsibilities.

So what can we do?

To address the challenges that women face both at work and at home—especially women in low-wage and nonstandard work, including many women of color—policymakers must work toward a new social contract that includes four key components.

First, workers should be assured fair and equal wages, with an increase in the minimum wage, elimination of the tipped minimum wage, stronger equal pay protections, and robust overtime and wage theft protections.

Second, workers should be assured high-quality jobs with essential workplace protections and benefits, including access to earned sick days, fair scheduling, broad health and safety laws, and protections against discrimination and harassment.

Third, workers, especially women, need policies that accommodate and support their caregiving responsibilities, such as inclusive paid family and medical leave and quality and affordable child care.

Fourth, policymakers should listen to and prioritize workers’ voices when creating new policies to ensure that they address the holistic needs of all workers. This should include partnering with unions and ensuring that workers are able to form unions and bargain collectively under labor law.

When policymakers boast about the U.S. economy, they fail to recognize the complexities of women’s daily lives and their diverse experiences in the workplace. It is time for policymakers to acknowledge and address the challenges that women face in the workplace and in managing their caregiving responsibilities without supportive work-family policies. By understanding the disparities faced by the nation’s most vulnerable workers, particularly women of color, policymakers can begin to tailor policy solutions to meet workers’ current and future needs.

Doing so will only grow in importance as the nature of work changes and workers no longer have access to traditional employer-provided benefits and workplace protections. Policymakers must prioritize new and essential workplace standards that reimagine labor laws and workplace protections and benefits in order to ensure the economic security of all workers, particularly women. When developing and touting economic policy proposals, policymakers must seek a real-world understanding of all women’s lives—including their everyday experiences and the challenges they face.

— Melina Brann, Executive Director

Navigating Post-quarantine Socializing

2021 didn’t exactly start how we had hoped as COVID-19 continued to spread. However, vaccinations have been a game-changer and after a very long and isolating winter, people are ready to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather in the company of friends and family.

Following the easing of some restrictions, restaurant patios are busy with those willing to brave the chilly spring afternoons in order to share a meal or drink with others face-to-face. Taking the time to bond and rebuild our connections with others while we can is not only important for our well-being, but it may help us survive if COVID-19 restrictions are put back in place.

Even though social distanced gatherings are permitted, not everyone has the same ideas about what their post-quarantine interactions with others will look like. Will you only meet up with people if they are vaccinated? What does it mean if you are not included in your friend’s first group outing? Are you comfortable telling your sister that you’re not ready to see anyone in person just yet? These decisions exist in gray areas of social interactions, are up to individual interpretation of the rules, and can lead to uncomfortable, awkward, and potentially upsetting interactions.

So how can you balance the need to reconnect without being pressured into social interactions you are not ready for? Or how do you manage these social rules without hurting feelings along the way?

Directly communicate your socializing needs.

Most people tend to want to avoid conflict. So when ideas around how to properly following regulations differ, or when people have differing levels of desire for social interaction, it can feel challenging to find a balance between making sure your needs and the needs of others in your social circle are being met.

Satisfying social relationships are built on a foundation of being responsive to each other’s’ needs. Even though direct conversations about disagreements can feel uncomfortable, they are actually linked with more relationship satisfaction later on. This means that it may actually be better for your relationship if you speak up and say that you’re not comfortable under certain circumstances. You will likely be pleasantly surprised (and relieved) about how willing other people are to accommodate your needs.

Handle rejection.

One of the really awkward parts of navigating social life out of quarantine is how to handle restrictions on how many people can get together at once. This can lead to difficult decisions about who is and isn’t invited to social outings. Feeling left out is naturally unpleasant and can make you wonder if it’s a sign of something wrong in your relationships. Similarly, knowing that you have excluded someone can make you feel guilty and avoidant of them.

Instead of letting these uncomfortable feelings push you away from others, use it as a sign that you really want to reconnect with those people. Reach out and tell them how excited you are to see them soon. This provides a clear signal of how much you value the relationship, your intentions for the future, and reduces the likelihood of these relationships breaking up because of something that is ultimately out of everyone’s control.

Build resilient relationships.

COVID-19 has made it clear how important our social relationships are for keeping us afloat in chaotic times. It is important that people take advantage of the time we can spend together to invest in and strengthen these bonds by safely navigating in-person socializing when possible. However, it is also normal to expect there to be some discomfort as guidelines can put personal and interpersonal needs at odds.

In these moments, directly and clearly communication what we need and looking for the best intentions in others’ actions could go a long way toward sustaining these bonds.

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