How to look good naked – the follow-up

The response to ‘How to look good naked… hmm’ has been phenomenal : so many reactions, positive and negative that have made for a richer debate and, in passing, have helped me to change too.  Coming back to something I wrote 5 months ago has been a salutary experience : like discovering a snapshot of the woman I was at that point in time, then seeing how much I’ve moved on since then. In other words, if I were to write the article today, it wouldn’t be the same.

Responding to the commentaries, particularly on the French blog is taking up a lot of time, so here are some necessary clarifications : –

“Women are good and men are bad”

If you managed to interpret my post in this way, that’s your problem! I could have called my post ‘Beauty with no self-esteem and the Bonehead Beast.’ It started out from the encounter between two people who had no business being together, both of them suffering at some level. The woman walked away more than ever convinced of her inadequacy rather than questioning how another person came to have so much power over her self-worth; the man walked away satisfied with himself and his little judgements instead of finding himself suddenly thrown out of bed by a woman yelling ‘Get out of my body right now, you freakiing moron!’

Equal treatment

I suggested at the end of the article that in the interest of strict equality, that we could also start judging men by the barometer of pornography also. Several people were quite shocked by this suggestion, coming from a ‘mental health professional’ and all. Dear readers, that way IRONY. (I’m English, we sometimes overdo irony). Obviously all judgements are harmful, both for the person judged and for the person judging. If I chose this example to press my point, it’s becasuse I thought it was so glaringly unmissable, kind of like an oversized porn penis…

Pornography

I have no proof whatsover that the change in our standards for female genitalia is linked to porn. I’m not an expert on the subject and have no intention of becoming one. I’m simply pointing out that the internet generation sees far more vulvas than previous generations while at the same time, sex ed is just as inadequate ever. Who’s doing the educating here?

The Holy of Holies

This description of the cunt (nabbed directly from Jules Winfield/Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction) upset a fair number of people. One guy who thought I was trying to say that cunts were superior to cocks, a woman who stated firmly that ‘women aren’t sacred’. Let me be clear, I believe that all of our sexual organs are sacred. If we experienced ourselves as being sacred, we would make choices based upon respect and esteem for ourselves and for others. Women’s bodies have been and still are subject to so much desecration that we urgently need to fix the damage. Viewing your body as sacred is a step in that direction. i

Personal tastes

I don’t want us to be standardized in any way whatsoever! Guys, you have the right to prefer, small/medium/large lips, whatever you like. But should what you find inside a woman’s panties not correspond to your personal tastes, then please, find the courtesy to keep your opinions to yourself!

Women as victims…

Several people (mostly men) unloaded a lot of vitriol concerning women as ‘the eternal women-self-perceptionvictims.’ The young woman I wrote about in the article clearly had self-esteem issues and working on self-acceptance is the first step for her, before going under the knife. As I said in the post, women are responsible for their choices and they are often complicit in the programming so deftly wielded in women’s magazines : programming that consists of exhorting readers to accept themselves on one page and encouraging them to improve their appearance on the next. Who’s buying these mags? Women, naturally. The programme ‘How to look good naked’ falls perfectly into this trap : admirable when it’s pushing women to see their body insecurities objectively, questionable when it makes them over to fit in with our standards, and frankly appalling when the women strip off on a catwalk in the middle of a shopping centre to demonstrate how much they now love their bodies.

Not victims, but complicit, maybe.

But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture : we live in a society where we learn very early on that we’re supposed to be pretty. We learn that how we appear is more valued than how we are. The message is passed onto girls by means of the dozens of ads, magazine covers and images of women they see every day, images that are often disconnected from reality ; it’s passed on when a woman minister is quizzed about her clothes, her hair and how she manages childcare rather than her political agenda; when a director is questioned repeatedly on the presence of strong female characters in his films (Joss Whedon, see below) rather than questioning any other director about the absence of strong female characters in their films; it’s passed on subtly in films where women only have 28% of speaking roles; it’s passed on with the shame that comes with becoming a menstruating woman; it’s passed on in a thousand ways, subtle and sledge-hammer obvious, which taken individually may appear insignificant. Taken as a whole, those messages twist and transform, and worse still, are taken to heart.

All of which leads me, despite myself, into the minefield that is any discussion of…

.. feminism

Rather than getting worked up about women ‘the eternal victims’, rather than normalizing sexism and minimizing its impact, would it be possible to question the society in which we live and which we are all responsible for? Could we question whether our society accords the same value to boys and girls? Could we listen to what women have to say rather than leaping off on the defensive? The word ‘feminist’ has been used as an insult by certain commentators, maybe people who are still bridling at feminism of the ‘All men are rapists’ variety, a confrontational feminism that was all about settling scores and reclaiming what had been taken from women.  That’s not my feminism but that doesn’t mean that we’ve reached equal status…

Women are shortchanged by a society that reduces them to their appearance, a world in which they themselves define themselves by their packaging. Men are disserved by living with women who are missing out on being themselves in the endless pursuit of appearing to be someone else. Nobody is served by this culture of superficial appearance. We will all benefit when feminism no longer needs to exist, when men will defend women’s rights, when women will defend men’s rights. When we will just be human beings looking out for other human beings. Period.

I’ll leave the final word to Joss Whedon, director of ‘The Avengers’ : “Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.”²

© Jacqueline Riquez

¹ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/10061148/Smallest-number-of-film-speaking-roles-for-women-in-five-years.html

² Joss Whedon – Discours donné à l’occasion de Equality Now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYNLgsZH7

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How to look good naked… hmm…

Recently a 21 year old woman came to me for a consultation about her menstrual cycle. A typical session ensued, nothing out of the ordinary, until the last 10 minutes when the real reason for this young woman’s visit emerged. It was nothing to do with her cycle and its ups and downs, nothing odd there. It was at the innermost heart of her femininity that everything was upside-down.

Between sobs, this bright young woman spoke of her fear of intimacy, her fear of being judged and rejected. She had lost all confidence in herself, in her ability to be in a relationship, particularly a sexual one because her vulva wasn’t ‘normal’: the inner lips were 2cm longer than the outer lips. She knew this was abnormal from the pornography that she had seen and her judgement was confirmed by the last lover who had seen her naked and had expressed his repugnance for her ‘oversized’ labia. Since my client is a young woman of the 21st century, she knew there was a way out of any physical difference that she couldn’t handle: she had decided to have cosmetic surgery to deal with her deformity. She had already saved £1200 and only needed £500  more to get the job done.

Over in my chair, tachycardia, the distinct impression that my blood was boiling, its pressure going through the roof but I did my best to maintain a modicum of professionalism and not yell ‘ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND??!!’ in the middle of a session. The very idea that a young man could find himself before the Holy of Holies, deride, cover it with revulsion but enter it anyway seemed like desecration. From this experience, my client had garnered that she was abnormal and not that her boyfriend was a moron.

She wouldn’t be the first woman to find herself face to face with ignorance disguised as a man. In the 19th century, the famous art critic and social thinker John Ruskin was so shocked to discover that his new wife had pubic hair, that the marriage was never consummated and Ruskin was propelled into a lifetime of abstinence, while retaining a fascination for young (hairless?) girls. Well, that was the 19th century, but how, in the age of information, with internet access can a young guy be so ignorant?

That’s part of the problem right there… our dear friend the internet, the one allowing you to read this blog, to dig up old, forgotten friends and to look at your house as seen from a satellite. Our dear friend is also a purveyor of pernicious pornography. What is pernicious is the fact that sex education seems to have slipped into the hands of pornographers and I have some doubts on what they have to offer. playboy_ad_brazilTake this charming ad from Brazilian Playboy… bearing in mind that nowadays, Playboy is pretty tame compared to most of what is out there on the internet.

A few statistics for you: only 16% of children make it to the age of 18 without seeing pornographic images.¹ A study carried out with 10,000 school age teens in France revealed that 80% of boys and 45% of girls between 14 and 18 years old had seen at least one pornographic film in the year leading up to the study.² Oh did I mention the study was carried out in 2004?… did you have internet on your phone in 2004? Nine years on, access to pornography is even easier than it was before. So what’s the link between all this and my client’s ‘abnormal’ vulva? Many of the images that you find of women in pornography, apart from some fetish-niche-markets, are of hair-free vulvas, with little labia. With photos, the vulva can just be retouched with Photoshop. For film, many of the actresses already have small lips or they’ve had surgery on them – labiaplasty, surgical reduction of the inner labia.

I breathe deeply and while my young client wipes away her tears, I give her a little lesson in body literacy. I explain that a girl’s lips grow when she becomes a woman. That each vulva is individual and unique, like a flower. That they’re not all symmetrical nor evenly coloured (check out the Large Labia Project for proof). I show her a book of the British artist Jamie McCartney, who in reaction to Panel-2-460x280stories of young girls undergoing genital mutilation around the world found it even more disturbing that women with rights and choices were having their lady-bits redone with a scalpel. He made plaster moulds of the vulvas of 400 woman which he assembled in 10 enormous steles that make up the The Great Wall of Vagina. (His one regret was that his subjects had to be completely waxed to better show off the vulva, and thereby avoiding a full plaster wax into the bargain) There are enlightened doctors using his work to show women what women look like, in all their splendid variety. Other doctors with a lesser sense of what is ethical are happy to line their pockets on the backs of women’s insecurities…

In the Wikipedia article on labiaplasty³, doctors are quoted as saying ‘the patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat, with no protrusion beyond the labia majora’ and doubtless they are speaking of adult women who have chosen this surgery and are thus responsible for their choices. But am I the only one thinking that there may be some element of men’s expectations implicit in those decisions? The fear of the dumbass prejudices of certain men that big labia are caused by women ‘sleeping around’? The desire to please one’s sweetheart? Anyone going out with me, would notice right off the bat that I have a generous nose. There’s no element of surprise, it’s there in the middle of my face. It’s not the same when a woman removes that final piece of underwear to reveal the Holy of Holies and her Prince Charming discovers that he is in the presence of a woman that hasn’t been retouched. It is hardly easy, in that most intimate of moments, to take on board rejection, refusal, revulsion. A woman’s cunt (anyone troubled by the word needs to visit the Cherish the Cunt website for wisdom, reassurance and a lot of fun) is not some globalized, standardized product. It’s not some bodily Big Mac that’s identical whether you’re in Manhattan or Manchester. Though it might well be heading that way if we don’t wake up…

Apparently, there’s little point hoping that sex ed in schools will right what’s wrong, considering they haven’t even discovered the clitoris yet – that’s another post… If you’re a parent, then please get the message through to your teens and pre-teens – subtly of course – so that we can take the reins back from the pornographers. And just in case any men have stumbled onto this page : Guys, it is really in your interest to discover how varied real women are and to learn to appreciate them, as they are, without requiring them to be surgically mutilated first. Otherwise, in the interests of strict equality, we are going to have to start judging YOU by pornography’s standards too… some of you may feel at a slight disadvantage…

(folks, that last bit was IRONY –  some people have been missing it…)

And now read the follow-up article…

© Jacqueline Riquez, 2013

1 http://www.educationsante.be/es/article.php?id=1004=

2 http://www.csa.fr/Etudes-et-publications/Les-dossiers-d-actualite/Les-effets-de-la-pornographie-chez-les-adolescents/Les-resultats-de-l-enquete

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labiaplasty

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Red and tender

This article was initially published in French in the magazine Rêve de Femmes.

What makes women who have tasted the Red Tent experience keep coming back for more? What is it about this experience that moves us? What is it about this particular space that creates a feeling of belonging? Jacqui Riquez, Red Tent facilitator, shares her vision of the growing popularity of these unique gatherings of women.

Thanks to the seeds sown by the Doulas de France five years ago, Red Tents are now popping up all over the place like wild poppies. The Doulas’ initiative and my Red Tent initiation propelled me directly onto the path of becoming a facilitator myself.

More deeply still, that first Tent touched me, opened me, enabled me to set off on a quest to discover my own femininity, not the denatured version that I had inherited but a new one : free, passionate and empowered.

The Red Tent that I went on to create was naturally in my own image and its story is also my own.

A place where tongues are untied

Once women’s words have been freed, they become a rising torrent, a tidal wave of all that we have held back, kept for ourselves, everything that we have accepted to leave unsaid, good little girls that we are. The red fabric draped around us, womb red, blood red, unleashes all that has been reined in.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the spontaneous emergence of the Red Tents was initially accompanied by doulas. The arrival of my first child heralded another birth, one that is far less noticeable and noteworthy in our culture : the birth of a mother.

It was there, once the euphoria of the birth had passed, that I discovered just how alone I was, how very alone. I was a mother, I was isolated and I was suffering with it, yet unable to identify the source of my suffering. I had emerged form this initiation utterly transformed, yet who cared?

Pregnancy fascinates, we bathe in the attention and the approval that this singular status confers upon us. Strangers place their hands on our bellies like temple pilgrims. Yet in no time, this veneration gives way to devaluation, especially with a standardized medicalized birth. The woman is unceasingly reminded of her inaptitude for the job : her body is not equipped for it, she’s not qualified, and her fears, subtly fed from all sides will take away all that’s left of her backbone. This process of dis-investment of the woman continues once the baby has arrived. The spotlight shifts abruptly : people only see the child. “Everything went well, did it?” – eyes riveted to the little one. Construction of the dam begins. I have so much to say but I learn to stay silent.

If this is how society receives me as a mother, the role in which I am universally recognized, what reception does it give to those experiences that are less valued? In a hyper-sexualized culture, women’s sexuality is open for discussion but from an angle as limited as the culture that generates it. What of the other topics? Infertility? The choice to not have children?  The unspeakable suffering of IVF? The tragedy of termination? Miscarriages, with the mis- suggesting we did it wrong ? Menopause and her little-known grand-daughter menarche? Menstruation?

The flow of words never dries up in the Red Tent when the talk turns to the latter, our silent blood, our muted menstruation. All we have to do is lay those cards on the table – the red ones – for us to make up for lost time, for years of silence. Sometimes we’re lifting a curtain that has been drawn for 40 years, an entire menstrual life under the sign of shame.

We bring joy where it was lacking, meaning where there was only suffering. The goal is not to find solutions for what we’re going through : the meaning comes from being able to share, the joy comes from being heard at last. Again and again, the women in the Red Tent hear their own feelings expressed and echoed in another’s words. The woman sitting opposite has been able to articulate what was still crude and shapeless in the other woman’s mind. In this softly safe atmosphere, we manage to find the words, to flesh out a vision, to understand and to be understood.

The Red Tents exist because the void called them into being 

A community of women is what we were missing, the support of other women. Beneath the appearance of restoring an ancient tradition, the development of the Red Tents and women’s circles are enabling a new paradigm of femininity to emerge. A femininity that brings together our multiple histories and our diverse origins : we can allow ourselves to be inspired by sacred traditions while drawing strength from the gains of the successive waves of feminism. We’re beyond the desire to simply glorify what was and now able to mine the missing elements from the past so that we may feel fully alive in the present.

Giving and receiving have traditionally been the woman’s domain. It is part of our make-up. For the last few generations, we’ve added jobs on to our previous roles. And to accompany this already impressive line-up, we’ve thrown in isolation : many of us live far away from our families, either through choice or through circumstance, severed from our roots, cut off from the possibility of being nurtured ourselves.

In the image of our Mother Earth, our Pachamama, woman is exhausted, her resources drained. Yet in order to support our professional lives and to shore up our ability to give, we too need to receive : the mothers need to be mothered!

When we enter the womblike space of the Red Tent, we find a Mother, gentle and benevolent, often different from the mother we have known. This idea of returning to the Source has become so strong for me of late, that I have taken to ending my Red Tents by reciting a 3000 year old Babylonian birth incantation : “The way is open for you, the way is clear. She will assist you, She the Creator, She who created us all. To the locks she will say ‘Be loosened.’ The door sills are apart. The door is raised. As a desired child, bring yourself forth.”

Most of the initiatory events of a woman’s life pass in silence, for most of us, with neither ritual nor fanfare. The Sacred Feminine, so long consigned to oblivion is re-emerging now, invigorated, revived.

Herein lies all the symbolic power of the Red Tent,

this gentle womb clothed in red:

through her, we may finally bring ourselves forth.

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Why I’m not done talking about menstruation…

A little word about words before I begin : between ‘period’ (too old), ‘menstruation’ (too medical), ‘moontime’ (too hippy) and ‘bleed’ (too gory), it’s really difficult to write anything without getting someone’s back up. I’m going to suggest a radical experiment : take all of these words and throw them in the washing machine with your next load, minimum 60°C cycle. Anyone with experience of washable pads or nappies knows that EVERYTHING comes out smelling of roses after being washed at a high temperature. Your words should now smell April-fresh, free of all negative connotations and judgements. They are empty vessels – up to you to choose what you want to place within them.

So this is why I’m not done talking about menstruation:

1 Because menstruation is a part of us, of our bodies, of our reproductive systems which, aside from anything else, are keeping our species alive (the value of which is occasionally debatable, I grant you). Why should I not be talking about something that is natural? Are there other bodily functions I should shut up about too? Remain silent on the subject of hiccups? Keep quiet about coughs? When it isn’t hosting the miracle of life, this woman’s body is shedding a skin every month, regenerating itself, maintaining its longevity, which is miraculous in and of itself. I’m talking about it.

So that women and in particular young girls learn something other than suffering, denial and shame. This is what we end up  leaving them with in the absence of open discussion of menstruation and of the body as a whole. Women’s bodies need to be rehabilitated, loved for what they are and – dare I say it – as they are. We tend to think of our bodies as ongoing renovation projects, and like all renovation, it’s never quite finished. When we manage to accept our bodies just as they are, and to talk about them without judgement but with love, I won’t need to talk about this any more. But that time is a long way off. I’m talking about it.

3 My mother left me with a precious gift round the time of my menarche. Her own menarche had been shrouded in silence but she told me that she never wanted to hear me using the term ‘the Curse’ – “your cycle is a blessing and the sign that your woman’s body is functioning as it should.” Over the last few years, I have really started to experience my cycle in this way, even more so since I started practising cycle awareness. I love my bleed. I would like for every girl and woman to be able to say the same. Until that time, I’m talking about it.

4 Amazing things begin to happen when menstrual dialogue opens up : cramps can ease, cysts can disappear, everything can change once our internal spring is allowed to flow freely. Opening up to dialogue opens you up to healing. I’m talking about it.

5 For a long time, my blood was relegated to the bin or the toilet, entirely understandable since it had no more value than any other waste matter. The epiphany of my menstrual cup began by bringing my blood out of its shameful exile. It only took a few cycles of wondering at the beauty of my blood on the porcelain of the wash basin before I hit on the idea of promoting it, turning it into a natural fertilizer. The plants loved it! I even have a friend whose green-fingered partner petitions her every month on behalf of his plants! But the ascension of menstrual blood doesn’t stop there: American researchers have discovered that menstrual blood stem cells have 100,000 times more growth factors than umbilical cord stem cells. Can you imagine a world where a woman could get paid as much for bleeding as for lap-dancing? I’m definitely talking about it!!

When it comes to menstruation, I’ve kept my mouth shut for over quarter of a century (makes a girl think). And I’ve had enough…

I’m talking about it!

What if you talked about it too?

Posted in Cycle consciousness, Femininity, Menstruation | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bring yourself forth

I am emerging… I am emerging from a 5-day residential of Body Mind Centering® and Authentic Movement with Mandoline Whittlesey centred on the pelvis and in the company of 19 other women – it was sublime, rich, filled with moments of exquisite beauty. Five days during which my brain learned what was going on in the body it has been dragging around for the last 43 years, then putting that knowledge into movement only to discover, in the end, that my body and I are in fact a single entity. The presence of all these women, femininity in all its multiplicity set other things in motion : tenderness, love, coming from them but also from myself. And a more awakened consciousness of what is this thing we call femininity, so long neglected, still nebulous.

What are women for? What is menstruation for? In the words of Dr Elsimar Coutinho¹, whom you may have seen in the film The Moon Inside You, “What’s the use of an ovulation that is not going to result in a pregnancy? No use!” For so long, the purpose of a woman was limited to her capacity to bear children, to nourish her family, to tend the hearth. As a bonus, she had this sensual, sexual body, the stuff of dreams and fantasies but a body that came with some major drawbacks : an annoying tendency to have babies and to bleed at the dark of the moon. The very conception of a woman was borne of the desires and the needs of men. [Should I really be using the Imperfect tense here?…]

But what if…?

What if the primary function of woman was to give birth to herself? What if her menstruation was there to fertilize her own earth, to build it up, to make it fertile? Beyond the biological sense of the word ‘fertility’, what would a fertile woman look like? Like an oasis, of lush and promising vegetation, a place where all things are possible. We have bought into a very simplistic view of our fertility, a version linked only to that of bearing children when in reality, a fertile woman is creative in all the spheres of her life. To those women who say, ‘Yes, but I’m just not creative…’ I would reply that you have forgotten your creativity, or that it has been repressed but it is there, waiting within you.

So many things can stand in the way of this creativity : ridicule, lack of encouragement, odious comparisons, neglect, violence… So first it’s derided. Then, we’re living in a society where the creativity that is valued is very masculine, it gives results, it flies high and goes the distance. It puts itself out there, sells, stands up to scrutiny. And it can be very scary!

Let us imagine woman differently. Let’s conceive of her as an integral part of the cycle of life. Every month, with the exception of during pregnancy, her body manifests the four seasons : the growth of an egg, its maturity, its transformation and its eventual return to the earth. Her hormones are coordinated in a constant waltz like waves. If we open our eyes, we can witness this cyclical life, turning to the rhythm of the seasons, we can recognize its presence within us put also perceive that we are a part of a global cycle, a cycle in which every single living creature on the planet takes part, with the exception of the creature with the biggest brain.

In the words of Penelope Shuttle, poet and author of the Wise Wound, “Every month, a menstruating woman has the choice to conceive and have a child, and devote 20 years of her life or you have a chance to give birth to yourself.” How many of us experience our cycles in this way? Our menstruation is perceived as a hindrance, a handicap, something that interferes with our lives. Our cycles are the storms where we would seek calm, circular instead of the coveted linear. We do not see that they open the path to creativity, that over the years they give us again and again the ability to give birth to ourselves.

I would like to share a powerful text with you, a birth incantation from Babylon, written over 3000 years ago (thank you Carla Esteves!)

“In the waters of intercourse, bones were created. With tissue of muscle the birthling was formed. In the waters of the turbulent and fearful sea where the child’s limbs are tied, into the midst of which the eye of the Sun does not shine – there the God Asarluhi saw him. He opened the bonds by which he was bound. He prepared the road for him, opened the route. The way is open for you, the way is clear. She will assist you, She the creator, She who created us all. To the locks she will say “Be loosened.” The door sills are apart. The door is raised. As a desired child, bring yourself forth.”

You are both the desired child and her mother. Bring yourself forth. Bring the powerful energies of your womb into the world. Nourish your earth and you will nourish the Earth. Whatever your age, live as the fertile woman that you are.

I was preparing my bags before leaving my residential and decided on a whim to pull a Féminitude card. It was the L’Enfantement card, Birthing, with its message : give birth to yourself without delay! What else?! I invite you to bring yourself forth into the world with me.

1 Inventor of the contraceptive implant and author of the book ‘Is Menstruation Obsolete?’ and presumably, a man who doesn’t eat eggs… (ovulations that don’t result in pregnancy…)


Posted in Cycle consciousness, Femininity, Menstruation, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Swimming against the tide

It’s 1986 and I’m 17. My relationship with the pill starts out with an emergency medical appointment. My sex life had begun the night before with the Canadian cousin of some family friends. He looked like Chachi from Happy Days and I was smitten. To the point where I went from 0 to 60 in the space of a single night… There was that blissful moment afterwards, blissful essentially because it was over – first times, right? Followed by the awful moment, with two innocents staring at the torn condom with sinking horror. Looking back, I’m guessing it was more a case of user error than a manufacturing defect. Whatever, I call my Saturday job, and mumble something to my boss about eating mussels the night before. That excuse has served me well over the years. And now here I am in front of the doctor who is scrutinizing me coldly. She berates me for being irresponsible and because I am 17, I don’t dare tell her that we were trying to be responsible. I leave not only with a prescription for the Pill but also for the morning-after pill.

The latter is problematic for the two pharmacies in the village, although it does allow the pharmacists a lot of leeway for working on their contemptuous look. “We don’t sell this kind of thing, young lady.” My father drives me to 4 other pharmacies, commenting on my now greenish pallor, “You have to be so careful with mussels!” Finally, we find a place that sells what this immoral girl needs. Apart from the humiliation, I felt like crap but that was before the next 24 hours, spent trying not to vomit the mega-dose of hormones making me nauseous while attempting to keep up an air of seduction for my inamorato.

My objective at 17 was very simple : to discover sex without paying the price. The pill was heralded as a passport to a land where pleasure reigned, or where pleasure might reign with a bit of practice… The cost, the risks, the side-effects – none of that was discussed in 1986 and they’re still not being discussed in 2012.

The great revolution of the Pill was putting contraception in the hands of the person who was the most affected by fertility, the one who would be harbouring the consequences of that night of passion, or that night of adolescent awkwardness that we would try to re-frame as a night of passion. In short, the woman no longer had to trust her sweetheart to master the subtle art of donning the condom and perhaps more significantly, sir would no longer need to get dressed before entering the Holy of Holies. But wait, that’s not true! The Pill doesn’t protect you from STD’s. So if you have to use a condom, why do you need to take the Pill too? Girls, tell me you are using condoms, aren’t you? We inherited a powerful message from our mothers, maybe even our grandmothers, for whom pregnancy out of wedlock was unthinkable: You. Must. Not. Get. Pregnant. But AIDS wasn’t around when Mum and Grandma were playing fast and loose.

Today in France, around 7 million women are using hormonal contraception, roughly 70% of women of childbearing age. That figure goes up to 86% of the 20-24 year old age group.¹ It’s understandable at some level: when I asked my first French gynaecologist if there were alternatives to taking the Pill, the reply was, ‘No. But you’re English, no? Go back home and get yourself a diaphragm! We don’t make them in France any more.’ It was the first time someone had suggested that I go back where I came from… But the message was loud and clear: there is no alternative.

The Pill has been authorized in France since 1967 and it functions by interfering with the woman’s natural menstrual cycle; the synthetic hormones you ingest when taking the Pill prevent ovulation and inhibit fertility. Synthetic hormones are not the same as the ones our bodies produce. When you examine the molecular structures of the oestrogen and testosterone present in our bodies, you see that they differ by a single electron. That tiny difference will determine whether a baby develops male or female characteristics. Imagine what the effect of an entire string of modifications found in synthetic hormones might have. Why are we using synthetic hormones in the first place? Partly because natural hormones are very expensive but mainly because drug companies are not allowed to patent natural substances or compounds found in nature… ²

Much is made nowadays of the safety of the 3rd Generation Pill. The side effects of those 1st Generation Pills – increased risk of pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis – are now recognized. Yet at the time (1967 to 1975) we were told that they were risk-free. Even today you can read on the website Avenir des Femmes [The Future of Women], mouthpiece of the pharmaceutical company Theramex, subsidiary of Teva, that the “safety of the Pill was established by a Conseil de Sages in 1966.” ³ (It’s worth noting that a Conseil de Sages, while literally meaning a Council of the Wise is a largely obsolete, municipal advisory body, made up of village worthies…) Just the words 3rd Generation Pill gives you the impression of something cutting edge, state-of-the-art. Yet in stark contrast to the 2nd Generation ‘mini-Pill’, the 3rd Generation doubles the risk of blood clots : between 600 and 1200 cases per year, causing between 20 and 40 deaths per year. ⁴ Since 2001 the Haute Autorité de la Santé (Health Authority) in France has recommended that girls and young women should start out systematically with a 2nd Generation Pill: this advice is frequently ignored by doctors and gynaecologists.

“Comfort and efficiency” trumpets the Avenir des Femmes, butsafety? Synthetic hormones, at four times the dose of their natural counterparts in the bodies of 86% of young women? Even our tap water contains hormones, residues of our hormonal contraception. ⁵

When I talk about my work and my training on the menstrual cycle, there’s this one response that I keep on coming across. It isn’t exactly expressed but you can detect it by means of a smile that’s just a little too fixed, as though I’ve just admitted to eating raw liver with my cornflakes in the morning. It took me a while to figure out that this reaction may have something to do with the predominance of hormonal contraception in our society. When we take the Pill, we no longer have a cycle. Our periods aren’t real periods, the emotional roller-coaster flattens out and we become more linear. Put that way, I admit, it all sounds tempting!

But this ‘advert-ready’ view doesn’t take into account the side effects of hormonal contraception. The head-aches, the depression, the weight gain, not forgetting the loss of libido – my personal fave, limiting conception all on its own-some – side-effects that few doctors speak of. And this view also keeps quiet about the long-term dangers of using these hormones. In 2011, for the third time since 1988, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer, an inter-governmental agency created by the WHO) classified the combined oral contraceptive as ‘carcinogenic for humans’ in the highest category of carcinogens in the company of asbestos, arsenic and plutonium.⁶ You’d be outraged if you went to see a doctor about stress, and got sent home with a prescription for cigarettes…

There is an atmosphere of complicity in all this, where the side-effects and the risks are tacitly accepted in exchange for the freedom the Pill accords us. I find it highly ironic that there has been so much polemic about a tiny minority of Muslim women who wish to wear a veil in France, when the vast majority of women are blinding themselves to the truth on a daily basis.

I shall leave the last word to Paula Weideger, writing in 1975 in her book Female Cycles: ‘It is not enough to say that oestrogen is like a poison that will harm or destroy, or that oestrogen is a blessing and ought to be considered sacrosanct. It is not enough to say that every woman has a right and a privilege to choose her poisons and name her saviours. I want to choose my medicines after I know their side-effects, not after their side-effects have ravaged my body.’

Some of the articles referenced are in French… sorry!

1   http://www.sante.gouv.fr/chiffres-et-statistiques-sur-la-contraception-en-france.html; http://www.avenirsdefemmes.com/medecine/gynecologie/contraception-pilule-anniversaire.html

2   http://www.ditchthepill.org/

3   http://www.avenirsdefemmes.com/medecine/gynecologie/contraception-pilule-anniversaire.html

4   http://www.elle.fr/Societe/Les-enquetes/Faut-il-avoir-peur-des-pilules-de-3e-generation-1819170. Excellent article qui résume la question des pilules 3ème génération.

5   http://www.sabotage-hormonal.org/spip.php?article25

6   http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/-depth/09/04/11/hormone-pills-list-carcinogens

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The Womb Blessing Attunement

What a beautiful moment that was. What a beautiful idea. What beautiful energy…

Of course, the process required a duvet and extra socks (not mentioned in the preparations) but once that was done I was able to leave my icy extremities and return to my womb. And once there, once I’d got my breathing hooked up with the waves of rising and grounding energy… I felt such a deep sense of connection to myself, to my centre, to the Earth and the Moon, and then to all the other women taking part in this same communion. The second part of the meditation where we connected with other women was the most powerful for me. The idea that we were all there at the same time sharing this energy with our land and sending it out, receiving it back. This was so much of what my experience has been with women since I started out on this path of Entente Féminine, a new paradigm, a new way of being a woman, of being with women. Yes!!

As a last little nod from the Universe, I decided to draw one of my Féminitude cards. [Féminitude cards by Monique Grande, éditions Souffle d’Or, for the time being only in French but soon to be translated by the Louise Hay Foundation]. I didn’t have to pull a card because it leapt out of the pile as soon as I began shuffling. Naturally it was l’Arbre Matrice, the Womb Tree, a beautiful card that has been following me for a while now. So many thanks to Miranda, Monique, Alexandra and all of the other wise women who have crossed my path over the years.

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