Skip to content
November 19, 2014 / ldejong4

If I were a Feminist Activist…

With the 100 year commemoration plans underway for the Irish 1916 Rising, I realised it had been over ten years since I learned the stories of the Volunteers from the back of a forty minute history class in Bray. I had forgotten most of it so while I had a friend visit from England last week we decided to make one of our tourist outings to the museum of Kilmainham Gaol – the landmark of suffering during the rebellion but also the birthplace of Irish independence.

After an excellent and very articulate tour by our guide, I was reacquainted with the harrowing stories of the executions. Familiar names of Dublin streets and train stations crowned the cold, dark cells along the narrow corridors of the gaol. The tour ended in the courtyard where the executions occurred. It was the excess of these executions by the British army that would sway the opinion of the Irish populace turning the rebels to martyrs forevermore.

Once the tour ended, I wandered around the museum exhibition studying artefacts, reading newspaper articles and love letters. I became very interested in the role of women during the rebellion from revising the Cumman na mBan on the placards. When I reached the little bookshop I spotted a book written solely about female activists during the revolutionary years. I bought it.

“No Ordinary Women” published surprisingly as late as 2003, tells the stories not only of the renowned activists but also of women whose stories became lost in history or just never made it into books. I am very much enjoying reading this book as I’m in awe at these women risking so much by standing up for what they believed was right and just. Women didn’t have the right to vote in Ireland until 1918 and few were educated to the same level as men. Their role in political activism clearly comes from a space of passion. I admire these women. They are inspirational. Learning more about them brings me to question – if I were an activist, what exactly would I be?

If I were an activist, I would be a feminist activist but in a very different context to the political. I am not as thick-skinned as the women during the Rising and I wouldn’t have the patience for a role in politics. Nor would I put my efforts into calling for financial and status equality on the corporate ladder. And as much as I admire the concept of raising awareness, I dislike the term and feel it should be renamed do something or get shit done because the raising part costs money and the awareness part very often stops there. We’ve all seen the Emma Watson speech, which stirred our passions and motivations but many minds were numbed again with the latest Kim Kardashian pictures before winding down with an episode of whatever fifty series we’re following. So if I were a feminist activist, I would reveal and fight for the untold stories of women’s suffering today. But I would like to see changes – not just awareness being raised.

As a highly sensitive person, I have some allergies, which prevent me taking many medications. I otherwise break out in rashes from head to toe, stop breathing (this only happened once) or conk out for the afternoon (I secretly love this). Because of this, I have had to look after my health from a preventative point of view. My flatmates mock me saying I’ll be alive at 200 but hopefully I won’t still be living here then. As a result, I have become very interested in functional health or holistic medicine. I first address my diet when I’m sick and I visit a health food store before the pharmacy and a pharmacy before the doctor. Through my own experience I have become particularly fascinated with women’s health. And it is in this area I would be an activist in – women’s health.

Women’s health

Women’s health is not talked about in the public domain to its full potential. We learn a little bit in school and maybe a tiny bit more if you happen to take biology for the Leaving Cert. I remember having a girls only sexual education class in primary school where the teacher told us about periods (even though we knew already) and showing us the difference between sanitary pads and tampons with drawings on the blackboard. That was more or less it. A year or so later, when I first experienced cramping, I thought I was very hungry and ate two bananas. The pain didn’t subside and I realised what it was. I remembered reading in Sugar magazine that gentle exercise relieves cramps so I ran around my back garden a few times. That did not help! I ended up in bed with aspirin and a hot water bottle. This was a whole new experience. I thought I had already figured life out at 14…

There is a huge range of issues women can suffer with relating to their reproductive system and their entire hormonal network and the symptoms vary for every woman. Many of these problems are claimed incurable and symptoms are treated accordingly instead, for example PCOS. Women with PCOS are medicated with hormones to control painful and heavy periods, they might be medicated for acne and then later for heart disease. Even take something as normal as menstruation – women experience a vast number of issues here such as back pain, heavy or lack of periods, skin issues, irregularity, cramping that can feel like a bruise to feeling so painful that women faint. Many women experience PMS and it can be so bad that suicidal thoughts and ideation can occur – this is a very real issue that can’t be ignored.

When I was in my mid-late teens, I was prescribed the pill to treat cramping (dysmenhorrea). It worked but after a few months I had side effects. I was prescribed another. It worked but again experienced other side effects. Then I was prescribed another and it worked really well. No side effects. Suddenly, a year later I broke out in bad cystic acne. I gave up on the pill and saw a dermatologist. She recommended I take Roaccutane to heal my skin but in order to take it, I must be on the pill because it has detrimental effects on embryos. I did my research and decided against it. The potential side effects (including depression) just weren’t worth it for me personally. I decided to let my skin clear naturally and just take strong painkillers in bed once a month. That once-a-month day in bed turned into a few more days and bad PMS. It was interfering with my work life and I’d had enough. So last year I went to a different GP and told her my story. After a ten-minute chat, I left with two prescriptions for different pills – “take one until you experience the side effects and then take the other and keep rotating.” When I got home, I had a good think and decided the whole thing was ridiculous. Why could nobody fix me? I knew the pill wasn’t for me and I didn’t want to suffer anymore. I was angry with the system, frustrated and incredibly upset. My feelings motivated me to give up on the GP and figure this problem out for myself.

One year, a stack of books, hours of YouTube watching and article reading later, I am happy to finally graduate from the school of my own period! What were my main lessons?

Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalances are the main reasons so many women suffer and it is difficult to accurately diagnose them. It is also a social problem because we accept it as a norm in our culture. I now firmly believe that it is NOT normal to be bent over with PMS or cramps every month. The current conventional methods to treat these problems are NOT enough.

The Pill

The pill is wonderful for what it is – a contraceptive. But our bodies are not deficient in it so I believe it is the wrong answer for treating hormonal imbalances that cause issues such as bad cramping and even PCOS. Using the pill to mask symptoms is putting a band-aid on a broken car bumper. If the GP gives the pill to a girl for cramps then they are ignoring the underlying root cause – hormonal imbalances. The imbalances will therefore be masked, and unknown to her could potentially get worse only for her to experience difficulties with conception later down the line.

Not just a Period

As children, we were only taught about our monthlies but in fact that is only one quarter of the story. The rest of the cycle is also significant and there is information available today for women to fully understand their bodies every day of the month. It is empowering to learn the language of your body. There are four stages and four different hormones. Fully understanding each of these stages allows you to very accurately predict ovulation and menstruation, decide what types of food will best support your system and understand what days your hormones will best enable something courageous or something creative. I have even read about many women using the natural signs of their body (morning temperature, cervical fluid and position) as a natural contraceptive that is 99% effective. Unfortunately, such methods are not taught. They are shunned as the wrongly claimed “inaccurate” natural method or the Vatican method but I take a different view – it is the non-profit method.

Diet and Lifestyle

Our diets and lifestyles massively affect our hormones. Period. I have read in magazines that chocolate and sugar do not cause acne because acne is a hormonal problem. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve seen. Granted, sugar does not directly cause spots but it causes our hormonal levels to change – adrenaline jumps, which affects our skin. Adrenaline is a hormone and the big news is that ALL our hormones are connected. They belong to a system called the endocrine system so if you mess with one, it will affect the other. This is also why stress (hormones) can cause skin problems and it can also delay ovulation hence making a woman’s cycle length longer.

The first main tip with diet is to aim for blood sugar stabilisation. Not eating when you’re hungry is just as bad as regularly pumping sugar into your body and it’s something I had to change. I used to wait an extra hour even when very weak to avoid the lunchtime rush in town. Now I try to bring snacks. Secondly, the more vegetables you eat, the better and even more so when they are varied. Think about eating as many colours as you can!

As women, we are life carriers. When we are pregnant with girls, we carry in our bodies half of our to-be grandchildren (female foetuses have all their eggs for a lifetime). It is a beautiful truth so we must treat our bodies with gentle and loving care. But what works for one woman is different for another. My rule here is listen to your body. Obsessing over magazines that push vegan, paleo or low carb diets is not the way. If it works for you, great. If not, don’t let the stress of it take over. Our society is nuts for having all the right answers to diet and lifestyle and frankly, I’m fed up with a lot of the marketing nonsense. All in moderation and it’s important to be good to ourselves with treats now and then. Through experimentation of different foods and diets, we can figure out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t.

Finally on this point, our society is also obsessed with exercise and with having tight abs for example. Again, it’s a crazy thing to go from sitting at a desk all day working to exceedingly push oneself in the gym. We are mad for sit-ups, crunches and running marathons. I believe again that listening to what is right for you in the moment is better. Women can damage or over exhaust their psoas muscle, which can cause menstrual problems and issues with the sympathetic nervous system.

Hormonal disruptors

Hormonal disruptors, as scary as they sound and indeed they should, are found everywhere. Essentially, they are things like harsh chemicals and parabens found in cosmetics, household cleaning products and our environment including drinking water (e.g. fluoride). They won’t kill us but they can most definitely affect our endocrine system especially if you’re a sensitive like me. Many women use a crazy amount of cosmetics on a daily basis – shampoo, conditioner, face wash, face cream, make up, perfume, fake tan, moisturisers, deodorants, nail varnish, toothpaste, mouth wash etc. Even pads and tampons contain harsh perfumes! All of these that you buy in most supermarkets and that are manufactured by large conglomerates such as Unilever, P&G and L’oreal (this includes The Body Shop and La Roche Posay) contain parabens. So depending on your problem, you might want to reconsider where you shop. I now go to health food stores for most of those or just don’t use what I don’t actually need. Your skin is the largest organ in the body and it absorbs. My rule of thumb is, if you can’t eat it, avoid putting it on your skin. Our hair and nails also have pores.

Our System

Unfortunately our socio and economic systems make it difficult for women to find the answers to their problems. We rely on GPs who only give a very short amount of time. Functional doctors (who give almost an hour per appointment) and nutritionists are very expensive. We accept strong medication (the pill, roaccutane, anti-depressants) from an industry whose main interest is profit. More natural approaches to healing work but there is very little funding. We have to work hard to pay our way through life leaving very little time to do our own research and change our diets. And now in Ireland, we are being asked to pay for water that still contains fluoride (one of the few countries in the world).

A Mind-Body Connection

Finally, I admit that it is not an easy thing to sit down and write about such personal things. A woman’s reproductive system and her cycle is a private thing to her but unfortunately it can be disregarded, even disrespected in our culture. It can be very embarrassing for young girls to get their period and we are taught to hide it. Few women talk about it openly and we don’t know how much men know or how they could react if we raise the topic. With all these mixed feelings, women can have a negative mental and emotional relationship with that part of their body. In my view, this affects the physical body. It is therefore important, as part of a healing process for women, to look at and question that relationship and to be good to themselves. Some women will benefit from talking more and others from journaling or meditating for example.

So if I were a feminist activist, this is an area I would fight for. I would want to see changes in the pharmaceutical and medical system and better education for all women. I clearly have a lot to say about the topic but I still have a lot to learn.

If you were an activist, what would you fight for and why?




Leave a Comment
  1. 2rokin / Nov 19 2014 8:18 pm

    Great article, thanks Lisa. This affirms a lot of what I’ve learned along the life journey…

  2. ldejong4 / Nov 20 2014 2:50 am

    Thanks! Glad you like it 🙂 It’s a big issue that we don’t talk about much. X

  3. allthingslizzie / Dec 2 2014 2:54 pm

    This is so fantastically written… well done missy. Keep on this track – as we’ve spoken before.. there are so many things us women are afraid to talk about when we shouldn’t be!

  4. ldejong4 / Dec 2 2014 3:30 pm

    Thanks Lizzie! Yeah it’s a really long article… haha well done for getting through it. Hope you’re well. PS Owen said to come back to us 🙂 X

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: