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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

The Connection of Dragon Boat Paddling and Breast Cancer

The Origin of Breast Cancer Paddling

In 1996, doctors in Vancouver, Canada challenged a commonly-held medical belief that strenuous upper body exercise in breast cancer patients could lead to lymphedema. They gathered a team of thrivers for a six-month training program (with the goal of racing at a festival), and the very first BCP team in the world, Abreast in a Boat, was born. Their goal was to prove that the repetitive motion of dragon boat paddling would dispel this theory and sure enough, these pioneering women completed their six-month program without a single case of lymphedema. In the process, they also learned that the social connections formed among teammates appeared beneficial to both the paddlers’ physical and mental health.

Breast cancer thrivers are also a driving force behind the growth of dragon boat in the United States. Teams participate in races locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. According to the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC), there are currently over 260 BCP teams across the world, representing 33 countries. In July 2018, more than 125 BCP teams traveled to Florence, Italy to race on the Arno River at the IBCPC’s International BCP Festival. In March 2023, BCP teams from around the world will gather in New Zealand (newzealandbcs2023.com) to again celebrate our Sisterhood.

The Flower Ceremony has become a heartwarming tradition of dragon boat festivals. Incorporated into a busy day of racing is a stirring moment for breast cancer paddlers to gather and reflect on their journey. Flowers are thrown into the water to embrace their sisterhood and to honor those who have died from breast cancer.

The pairing of dragon boat with breast cancer recovery is pure genius. A diagnosis of breast cancer is challenging; but joining a dragon boat team and paddling with other breast cancer survivors is empowering and life-affirming. It is a refreshing dose of exercise, connection, and positivity that makes one feel alive!

Many breast cancer thrivers may never have participated in organized sports before their diagnosis, and they now have the opportunity to demonstrate how exercise can help reduce the chance of recurrence and bring more hope and joy into their lives.

Dragon Boat Opportunities 

2021 Virtual Event

  • The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing invites you to take part in the Capital City Dragon Boat Race which will be virtual again. It is set for Thursday, September 16th through Sunday, September 19th, 2021. Join in the fun by clicking here

2022 Race

  • We are planning on hosting the Capital City Dragon Boat Race in person next year! 

Women Drive The Consumer Spending Economy, But Don’t Hold Enough Financial Power

The women of today make up more than half of the U.S. population and have a huge influence on our economy. In fact, women control over $20 trillion in annual consumer spending and drive 70-80% of all consumer purchases in the U.S. Not only are women buying for themselves, they’re often the sole person buying for their family and children. Aside from their purchases, their shopping decisions and expectations have an even greater impact, making it important for brands to understand the power this demographic holds.  

Here are a few key statistics surrounding women’s spending habits and power in the U.S. economy: 

  • In 2019, consumer spending by women in the US totaled $6.4 trillion. [Source: Catalyst]
  • Women make 91 percent of new home purchases. [Source: Top Media Advertising]
  • An average of 89 percent of women across the world reported controlling or sharing daily shopping needs, household chores and food prep compared to approximately 41 percent of men. [Source: Nielsen]
  • Women spend more money per grocery shopping trip than men, averaging out to $44.43 per trip. [Source: Nielsen]
  • In 2019, 45 percent of women said they make the majority of household and/or children’s purchases within their homes. [Source: Civic Science]
  • About half of women in the US believe that having minority-held leadership positions is important and believe that retailers would benefit from hiring Chief Diversity Officer positions. [Source: First Insight
  • 55 percent of women in the US say they would temporarily stop shopping at a brand or retailer who released an offensive product. [Source: First Insight

While women make up the largest portion of consumer spending, they still face unique financial struggles, such as the gender pay gap, female entrepreneurs receiving less than 3% of VC funding, and the “motherhood penalty” making a long-term impact in women’s ability to accumulate wealth at the same rate as men. Despite these obstacles, the number of women in the U.S. workforce has surpassed that of men and their purchasing power and sense of financial empowerment is starting to increase too. 

Check out the visual guide from Lexington Law below that highlights key facts on women’s spending power, quotes from notable women and tips for women overcoming financial obstacles. 

Why Are Women 16% More Likely To Have Mental Health Issues Due To COVID-19?

Coronavirus has left the entire nation in panic. It has taken loved ones, taken a toll on medical professionals, disrupted employment, and led to psychological devastation. Uncertainty is prevailing everywhere, and that has made a detrimental impact on both men and women’s mental health. 

Stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety issues are getting severe with each passing day. Women especially are being disproportionately impacted. According to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in March, women are 16% more vulnerable to coronavirus related stress, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and worry. Around 53% of women and 37% of men are likely to suffer from mental health issues due to the coronavirus.

Around 57% of mothers and 32% of fathers of young adults have expressed that their mental health condition has worsened due to the pandemic. During the initial phase of lockdown, the figures were not so mind-boggling. In March, 36% of mothers and 31% of fathers were stressed due to coronavirus. The gap was only 5%. The psychological impact of coronavirus may increase if the situation doesn’t drastically change soon.

Why are women so vulnerable?

Women are facing the toughest challenge ever since the COVID-19 outbreak. Single mothers who have lost jobs during the pandemic are going through a very stressful time. Unemployment assistance will only last for so long. With no money or support, anxiety levels and depression have escalated in the last few months.

Questions about paying rent, school tuition fees and how long unemployment benefits will last have wreaked havoc on a single mom’s mental health. As it is, women are paid less than men due to gender discrimination in the country. Women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men due to the gender pay gap; and that’s even less for women of color. Economic shocks have increased their depression and anxiety levels. 

The condition of the stay-at-home moms is not better either. Many of their responsibilities have tripled during the lockdown period. From a gender equity viewpoint, partners should take 50% responsibility for household chores. But has that happened during the Pandemic? How many households are there where men take equal responsibility for household chores? With so many responsibilities and the anxiety about the uncertain future, their stress level has gone up. 

Numerous articles have outlined the increased amount of stress and responsibilities working moms are facing in the home, something which has not affected working dads in the same way.

When it comes to pregnancy, depression is already a common occurrence. The pandemic has brought added stress, isolation, and economic uncertainty. Dr. Pooja Laxmi, who works as an assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., has expressed her concern over the mental health of pregnant women. She has observed a steady rise in perinatal anxiety and depression. Those who were already going through anxiety are now showing symptoms of depression as well, especially given the restrictions on movement and outdoor activities with the pandemic. 

According to the World Health Organization, gender disparity is there when it comes to mental health issues. Depression and anxiety predominate in women. And, this type of mental health disorder becomes a serious problem for one in 3 women in society. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders and substance abuse. Every 1 in 5 has a high rate of alcohol dependence. Only 1 in 12 women have alcohol dependence. 

According to the American Psychological Association, women tend to suffer from anxiety and depression more because they tend to continuously focus on the negative emotions and problems instead of thinking about problem-solving techniques. They then tend to internalize emotions, and this can trigger loneliness, withdrawal, and depression. Environmental stressors also play a big role here.

Coping mechanisms  

Although studies are showing women becoming more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and stress than men, the pandemic has given rise to many experts, journalists and commentators exposing not only the problem, but sharing ways to mitigate stress and anxiety wherever possible. 

Coping mechanisms

  1. Pregnant women should have an honest discussion with doctors about depression and side-effects of medication. They can consult doulas and behavioral therapists online. 
  1. Articles on coping with job-related stress during COVID-19 can be helpful and provide a road map to navigating uncertain periods ahead.
     
  2. Finding dedicated time for self-care and relaxation. Taking a walk around the neighborhood, watching inspiring documentaries on Netflix, or scheduling time to stay away from emails, calendars and digital devices are just a few simple ways to focus on yourself.
  3. Online counseling has become an important way for many people to manage stress and depression, as an increasing number of medical professionals offer their services via the internet. 
  4. Have a discussion with your partner and those in your household about division of responsibilities. 
  5. Take advantage of technology that allows you to connect with friends and family. Loneliness has become a real problem for many people, but there are ways to ensure continued connection and communication. 
  6. To address various physical and mental health issues, you can call the OWH Helpline no 1-800-994-9662 from 9 am to 6 pm. 

COVID-19 is still a deadly viral infection. The economic impact and health hazards are too huge to be ignored. However, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on mental health as well, and it shouldn’t be ignored either. The government should take adequate steps to address mental health concerns along with the physical. 

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

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