1710-1712 E Michigan Ave, Lansing, MI 48912 info@womenscenterofgreaterlansing.org 5173729163

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

Coping with the holidays

The holidays are an exciting time of good cheer, warm family traditions, and spending time with friends. Or, are they?

The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. The holidays often present a dizzying array of demands — cooking meals, shopping, baking, grief, being with family who have differing beliefs, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. And with COVID-19, you may be feeling additional stress, or you may be worrying about your and your loved ones’ health. You may also feel stressed, sad or anxious because your holiday plans may look different during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Something sets you off, and before long, you feel stuck in an endless loop of intrusive thoughts, anger, or being overwhelmed. Your body tenses, your breathing quickens, and you can hear your heartbeat pounding in your ears.

When you feel anxiety kick in like this, it’s time to calm yourself down. The first step is awareness. It’s a good idea to learn to recognize the first signs of anxiety and get to work right away before experiencing an episode.

Some of these strategies may feel difficult the first few times you try them, but with some practice, they can offer a quick path to relief from your feelings of anxiety.

Breathe

One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. It may sound basic, but basic is great when managing anxiety symptoms.

Breathing deeply and slowly is key to experiencing the full benefits of it. It’s also a good idea to focus your thoughts on breathing and nothing else.

When we draw our attention to our breathing and really focus on it, the thoughts that trigger the anxiety start to become more distant, our heart rate slows, and we start to calm.

Some people find 4-6-8 breathing particularly effective.

  • Breathe in for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 6 seconds.
  • Exhale slowly for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel calmer.

Name what you’re feeling

When you’re experiencing an anxious episode, you may not realize what’s going on until you’re really in the thick of it.

Recognizing anxiety for what it is may help you calm down quicker.

Name that this is anxiety — not reality — and that it will pass. When you are in a heightened state of anxiety, you want to disrupt that cycle, and for some people, thought-stopping techniques are effective and as simple as saying ‘stop’ to the internalized messaging that heightens anxiety.

In other words, consider recognizing that what you’re feeling is anxiety and talking yourself through it.

Embrace absolute truths. Tell yourself “I will get through this — one way or another.”

Naming your sensations and feelings may help you step away from them. This is anxiety, it is not you and it won’t last forever.

Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique

When you’re overwhelmed with anxiety, the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique could help calm your thoughts down.

Here’s how it works:

  • Five. Look around the room, then name five things you see around you. These can be objects, spots on the wall, or a bird flying outside. The key is to count down those five things.
  • Four. Next, name four things you can touch. This can be the ground beneath your feet, the chair you’re sitting in, or your hair that you run your fingers through.
  • Three. Listen quietly, then acknowledge three things you can hear. These can be external sounds, like a fan in the room, or internal sounds, like the sound of your breathing.
  • Two. Note two things you can smell. Maybe that’s the perfume you’re wearing or the pencil you’re holding.
  • One. Notice something you can taste inside your mouth. Maybe that’s the lipgloss you’re wearing.

This technique works best if you pair it with deep, slow breathing.

Try the “File It” mind exercise

The “File It” technique works particularly well if you’re lying awake at night thinking of all the things you have to do or haven’t done, or if you’re rehashing something that happened during the day.

These are the steps for performing this exercise:

  1. Close your eyes and imagine a table with file folders and a file cabinet on it.
  2. Imagine yourself picking up each file and writing down the name of a thought that’s racing through your mind — for example, the fight you had with your spouse, the presentation you have to give tomorrow at work, or the fear you have of getting sick with COVID-19.
  3. Once the name is on the file, take a moment to acknowledge the thought and how important it is to you. Then, file it away.
  4. Repeat this process with every thought that pops into your head until you start to feel calmer (or sleepy.)

The idea with this exercise is that you’re taking a moment to name your triggers, examine them, and then consciously put them aside with a deadline to tackle them later. In other words, you’re validating your own feelings and making a plan to deal with them, one by one, when it’s a better time.

Hopefully these tips will help you through the upcoming holiday season!

As always, counseling is available at the Women’s Center. Please call 517-372-9163 to schedule an appointment.

Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

October 25, 2021

Chocolate is something we all crave and love, but just like most things in life, it comes with a price. This tasty treat is highly calorific, making it something we must eat in moderation to avoid any health concerns.

If you’re looking for an excuse to enjoy a sweet snack today, you’re in the right place. Although still highly calorific, dark chocolate is considered the ‘healthier’ type of chocolate. Read on to discover a few proven health benefits of dark chocolate.  

1. It May Improve Blood Circulation

In a study reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), it has been found that the consumption of dark chocolate may improve blood circulation. This is because the cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate help to maintain endothelium-dependent vasodilation, which contributes to normal blood flow.

Although studies show that cocoa flavanols may improve blood circulation, the effects are usually mild, so don’t expect life-changing results after eating some dark chocolate. As great as that would be, the process is unfortunately a whole lot more complicated.

2. It Contains Magnesium

Dark chocolate contains magnesium, which is a mineral that your body needs for various different functions. Magnesium is most commonly known for contributing to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue and helping to maintain normal bones. It also plays an important role in metabolism, making it good for muscle function.

As you can see, magnesium is an essential mineral that your body needs. You can meet your magnesium intake through a variety of different foods including leafy greens and fruit, but when you fancy a treat, dark chocolate provides the solution.

Some people choose to take magnesium supplements alongside a balanced diet to ensure they are reaching their daily magnesium intake. In the EU, the recommended daily intake for magnesium is 375mg, but this may differ outside of the EU.

3. Many Other Nutrients!

There’s a reason as to why dark chocolate is labelled ‘healthier’, and that’s because it contains quite a few different nutrients. As well as magnesium, dark chocolate contains zinc. Zinc is required for the normal functioning of your immune system. It also supports normal skin, hair and nails, which is why it is found in many cosmetic products.

Eat Dark Chocolate!

Extensive research has shown that dark chocolate has more health benefits than alternative sweet treats. But, while it does contain some health positives, it’s important to remember that dark chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Dark chocolate sold on the market is stacked with sugar, making it just as unhealthy as other chocolate treats. It’s wise to limit yourself to a small bit of chocolate every now and then, rather than over-indulging every single day.

To end this guide, here’s a top tip for you. When shopping for dark chocolate, look out for the cocoa content. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain. We recommend looking for anything above 70% cocoa content. Although it might be slightly more expensive, you can take comfort in knowing its chocolate of the best quality.

Inclusion Matters in Breast Cancer

By Emily Wegenke, MSW Intern

All people are at risk for being diagnosed with breast cancer, that is why an inclusive breast cancer awareness month is critical. Women of color have a heightened risk for being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer (Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, n.d.). Although white women are diagnosed at higher rates than women in the BIPOC community, Black women have a 31% mortality rate, this is the highest mortality rate of any racial group (Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, n.d.). Why you may be asking? One reason is that BIPOC women are not screened as early as white women. This may be a result of lack of access to quality insurance or not knowing family history.

When a patient has a family history of breast cancer it is recommended that preventative screening starts five to ten years prior to the cancer diagnosis of a family member (Azu, 2019). For people who were adopted or do not know members of their family are unable to voice this concern to their medical team. Leading to women being diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages making treatment options more difficult. Utilizing universal screening earlier than the recommended age of 40 is a step to ensure that individuals malignant tumors are found at a treatable stage.

It can feel overwhelming to read about the barriers the BIPOC community faces for breast cancer. Take a deep breath. Advocating for yourself within a medical setting is the first step to ensuring early prevention for a possible cancer diagnosis. If your doctor is not willing to hear your concerns, it’s okay to ask to be referred to someone knew. Ultimately, you must feel comfortable when working with your oncology team.

For more information about the impacts of breast cancer on black women check out the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners website: https://www.bcpp.org/resource/african-american-women-and-breast-cancer/

Pinkwashing: What is it?

Written by Emily Wegenke, MSW Intern

Cancer has become so pervasive within our lives that it is not uncommon for someone to have a personal connection to the disease. This has led many of us to know October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A month where everything around us turns pink in support of those living with cancer. For some, this is a triggering month as they continue to grieve loved ones who died too soon because of this vicious disease. For others, it’s continuing to process the emotional and physical impact of the invasive rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgeries. This month has become lost in the pink spewed by marketing campaigns to lure shoppers into their stores. Overlooking the many scars those living with breast cancer carry with them every day.

Pinkwashing is a term used to describe a company that implements campaign slogans and pink ribbons into their marketing for the month without donating to the cause or creating products that in turn cause breast cancer (More, 2019; Think Before You Pink, 2002). The billions of dollars that are used for marketing this month could directly support breast cancer by donating the money to research labs, nonprofits or cancer centers that specialize in breast cancer (More, 2019). Ensuring that those who are diagnosed see the benefits of the donations. 

The breast cancer community doesn’t need to see businesses lined with pink ribbons. They need to see improvements in their care. There needs to be change in better access to healthcare to ensure individuals with hereditary mutations have access to preventive measures. They need to have a quality team of oncologists overlooking their care. They need to be prepared to address roadblocks because the healing process is not linear. 

This isn’t to say that all people diagnosed with breast cancer hate pink. It’s a reminder to really listen to those living with cancer. Ask them what pink means to them. Do your research on companies during the month to see how much of their actual profit is being donated to breast cancer research. It’s up to us to create a society in which thrivers can heal from their diagnosis.

Check out Everyday Health or Breast Cancer Action for more about Pinkwashing or head to this link for a video on how to do a self-breast exam.

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! 
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