Gyno doesn’t have to mean “oh no”

By Ann Varner

Over the years,  I’ve often mentioned having to go to my gynecologist to my friends and, much to my surprise, found my friends were not seeing a gyno even though they were either A. over 21 or B. under 21 but sexually active.

I was alarmed that they didn’t know it’s necessary to go to the gynecologist for much more than birth control or STD testing. Most didn’t know that it’s incredibly important to go for women wellness checkups, where the gynecologist will screen for breast cancer and do a pap smear to check for cervical cancer.

No, it doesn’t sound fun to have your most intimate parts poked and prodded by a doctor, but it is necessary. Screening for any issues that we may not be able to find ourselves is of the utmost importance to ensure we, as women, are taking care of ourselves.

We don’t need to go to the doctor only to cure an illness, preventative care can help to catch an illness early or keep it from happening at all. According to The American Cancer Society, 93 percent of women who become aware of cervical cancer in its earliest stage have a five-year survival rate, as compared to 16 percent who realize cancer at its most advanced stage.  Even more encouraging, when people detect breast cancer early on, this survival rate jumps to nearly 100 percent. With numbers like these, the significance of checkups can’t be overestimated.

There are many gynecologists out there, so you can have your preference of men or women. If you don’t have insurance, there free health clinics and Planned Parenthood offer these checkups.

I promise, it isn’t that bad. It definitely isn’t as bad as finding out you have cervical, ovarian, uterine, or breast cancer in the later stages. Take charge of your health.

A different kind of yoga class

By Kara Lewis

Last week, my friend and I attended a parking lot yoga class on the UMKC Hospital Hill campus. A local organization called Superhero Yoga hosted the event, and its volunteers helped bring in lots of perks: Yogurtini coupons, boxes of Insomnia Cookies, and a Lululemon giveaway.

The biggest perk, however, came with an inclusive teaching style and premise. Superhero Yoga president Isaac Collins explained what the organization does: teach trauma-informed yoga in inner-city elementary schools, using the practice as a tool to build healthy relationships.

Right away, the class differed from any other I’ve taken. Yoga newbies joined without shame, spreading out towels instead of mats, and Collins slid into poses right on the concrete. “Look at my dirty feet!” He exclaimed about halfway through the event.

Collins encouraged us to dance in our poses— trust me, it made chair pose a lot more enjoyable— lean on our neighbors for support during balancing poses, and move at our own pace. We made a hissing sound while in cobra pose, which Collins shared kids love, and listened to empowering pump-up jams, like The Script’s aptly named “Superheroes.”

But dancing and animal sounds aside, what is trauma-informed yoga?

According to Social Work Today Magazine, trauma-informed yoga seeks to help those who practice it “regain a feeling of safety inside their bodies.” While trauma often results in a feeling of numbness, yoga for trauma survivors identifies of the goal of once again inviting and managing sensation.

Even the smallest details of trauma-informed yoga, like a teacher asking before they touch a student to correct a pose, empower and give agency to those who practice. In an NPR article that observed the usage of trauma-informed yoga in a girls’ juvenile hall, one girl shared, “Being asked to be touched, it gave us a little power back in a place where all our power is taken.”

As I learned last week, trauma-informed yoga can really help. In fact, in an article published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers wrote that 10 out of 13 recent studies revealed yoga’s positive effects on schizophrenia, depression, and PTSD.

Since yoga can be seen as exclusionary and non-diverse— numerous studies have pointed out its majority white and upper-class following— it’s refreshing to see trauma-informed yoga welcome everyone with respect.

Want to read more? Now that you know what trauma-informed yoga is, learn how yoga instructors can incorporate it into their classes.

No Lax on Pink Tax

By Caroline Turner


I took a trip to Target last night and I unknowingly got wrapped up in some sort of pink trap.

As soon as I walked in I checked out the “deals” section in the front. Now looking back, I can’t help wondering why there was there so much pink?! The entire sale section had a few themes: back to school for teachers, back to school for girls, summer party, and kids’ toys. Just glancing at the toys section, I could tell it was for boys, with images of cars in dark blue and red color schemes. The section I got caught in was definitely geared for girls. I bought two packs of stationary cards as well as a few things for a friend’s upcoming birthday. The intended event of the cards was left semi- general, but they were in hot pink, and other pink hues signifying a girl feel. Actually, this girl feel was applied throughout sale section where there was an abnormal amount of pink, glittery, bubble lettered office accessories, school calendars, etc. I was surrounded by groups of young girls and women, and could hear them giggling to each other while I walked around the short isles. The only time I saw a boy, was when I was in front of a small section of tech gear, where I bought a portable device that was non-gender specific.

A couple weeks ago my cousin brought me a surprise gift of a planner and stickers, and told me they were from the same “deals” spot in Target. These stickers were also clearly gendered- with a mix of encouraging sayings like “You go girl,” etc. Did I get suckered into buying these bright, pink, sparkly items because they were so clearly gendered and drew me towards them?

The pink tax is the extra percentage of money that women are paying for “woman” branded products in all areas such as hygiene, clothing, and toys. New studies are being done as this issue is becoming more noticed among consumers. U.S. News stated that, “Women, who statistically already make less money than men on average, may pay a premium for items marketed to them simply because they aren’t aware of this so-called “Pink” tax. The tax is applied to items that both men and women use such as razors, shampoo, soap, jeans, t-shirts, and more, except the up-charge is only applied to products that are sold towards women. You can easily point to these price differences in products usually coated pink or shaped differently – what people in the industry have termed “shrink” and “pink” to sell to women. But these minor choices in cut or color for these “feminine” products do not amount to the hike up in cost, possibly up to 50% more than the “male” product.

Photo: New York City Department of Consumer Affairs


I like a splash of pink, or any color frankly, to spruce up my office décor or bathroom supplies: But when color becomes a technique of manipulative strategy to box women into spending unnecessary extra money it crosses the line. And why was Target not advertising its slightly gimmicky door deals to men? Big business is banking on the profits of us not being aware of these traps being set up to vacuum away our hard earned dollars.

Although most of the deals I got that day were really good deals (from $1-$5 max) and am happy with the items I got, I can’t help but wonder if I would have even been drawn to them in the first place if I were not so conditioned to buy the pink and pretty items marketed for women only.  In the end, I think I inadvertently got goosed by the business of the pink tax.


Accommodating Aunt Flo? You have options.

by Thea Voutiritsas

I think it’s safe to say most women don’t enjoy their periods, but there are several products out there to at least make it more comfortable. Here’s a list of period products to help you surf the crimson wave however you like.

Sanitary Pads – The traditional pad comes in a variety of sizes, depending on your flow and activity level. The thinnest are panty-liners are helpful on extremely light days, or to act as insurance for another mode of period protection. Mid-size or regular pads hold more menstrual blood, then the super and overnight pads are nice for those of us who are heavy bleeders. Most pads have a sticky bottom that attaches to your underwear. Pros: You have TONS of options. Plus, pads are noninvasive, easy to use, and safe for overnight wear. Cons: Not suitable for athletic activities. They can’t be worn while swimming, and can shift or even fall out if you’re running, jumping, or moving around a lot. They’re also not reusable, so do create waste.

Reusable Pads – These work similarly to disposable pads, but you can wash them. Pros: These are also noninvasive, easy to use, and safe for overnight wear. Eco-friendly. Cons: Not suitable for swimming or sports. Reusable pads don’t have adhesive, so they’re more likely to slip. They may not be easy to use if you’re on the go. If you carry a backup, you’ll have to keep the dirty one somewhere, or you can rinse it in the sink, but then it’ll be wet for a while.

Tampon with plastic applicator

Tampons – Tampons are one of the most popular period products in the U.S. They are made of absorbent material and compressed into a tiny tubular shape. They come in different sizes and absorbencies for heaver and lighter periods as well. Light, regular, heavy, super, and super plus are just some of the options. Some have a cardboard or plastic applicator to help with insertion into the vagina, but ones without the applicator are also available. Pros: Convenient for sports. Small and easy to bring along. Easy to dispose. Cons: Tampons create waste, and so do their applicators. Some may find insertion invasive. They cannot be worn for more than eight hours. Likely to leak if you have a heavy flow. Not safe during sex. Also, manufacturers are not legally required to disclose what materials the tampon is made of, though most tampons are a cotton-blend. Has been linked to toxic shock syndrome (TSS)


Softcups/FlexSoftcups are discs made of a flexible plastic ring, and a soft polymer “bag-like” attachment. The ring is inserted into the vaginal canal, then tucked behind the pubic bone. Then it forms to the shape of your body making a vacuum-like seal that catches the menstrual blood. It can be worn for 12 hours and can be worn during sex, but it is NOT a contraceptive. Pros: Hypoallergenic. Can be worn during sports, swimming, or sex. Small to carry and easy to dispose. Safe for overnight/long wearing. Cons: Removal can be messy before you get used to it. They create waste. Less size options.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual Cups – Most menstrual cups are made of silicone or rubber. The cup is folded and inserted much like the flexcup or a tampon. It should spring open and rest against the walls of the vagina, creating an airtight seal. Cups are reusable and can be washed with soap and water, and sterilized by boiling them. Can be left in for up to 12-hours. Most people carry a backup if they need to change it out midday, or you can wash it in the sink. Pros: Available in silicone or latex. Reusable/eco-friendly. Safe for overnight/long wearing. Cons: Limited size range. Removal can be messy as you learn.


Absorbent Panties (Thinx) – Thinx panties are period protection built in to your underwear. They work similar to panty liners, but without the risk of slippage. They come in a variety of styles and sizes. They are made of antimicrobial cotton that helps fight bacteria. Pros: Eco-friendly, reusable, machine washable. Built in protection that you don’t have to think about. Cons: Even the most absorbent size can only hold up to 10mL of menstrual blood (2 tampons worth), so it’s better as a backup on heavy days, but probably won’t get you through your period on its own.

This list is certainly not a list of everything that’s out there. Do your own research and take charge of your body’s natural cycle. Whatever option you choose, the important thing is that you’re comfortable, clean, and in-the-know about what you’re using. Experiment, be safe, and happy mensies!

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Can Suck, but it Doesn’t Have to: A Beginners Guide

by Danielle Lyons

Unless you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS, it’s a safe bet that you don’t know much about it. According to the good ole’ Mayo Clinic, “is a common endocrine system disorder among women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid. Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne, and obesity can all occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.”

It’s easy to hop on WebMD and freak yourself out with all of that information. After reading, I started to feel an impending sense of doom. The symptoms didn’t freak me out as much as not knowing what to do about it. But alas, there was a silver lining in the vast space of the World Wide Web. I discovered online communities of women who bonded over the same thing: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. These tribes of women willingly doled out advice, tips and often times, comfort. These amazing women gave me a better idea of what I was dealing with. They also gave me something that the doctors didn’t: Hope.


  1. Don’t be afraid to find some people you have this common ground with, whether it be through the internet or in person. It’s nice hearing advice or information about PCOS from a personal perspective. Although the support from our friends and family does help, finding someone that can empathize with is always a comforting feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask these women how they deal with certain symptoms. Or even what medications might be working for them. Some of these online communities include, PCOSupport, PCOS Awareness Association, Soul Cysters, Overcome PCOS and of course many pages on Tumblr

My initial visits, the doctor spent a large amount of time lecturing me about my weight and nothing about treatment that can be done. Anna Styers-Barnett of “The Feminist Breeder” had a familiar experience pre-diagnoses, when she was discussing menstrual concerns with a doctor. She goes on to say, “When I asked if I would have trouble getting pregnant, she said, ‘We’ll have to wait and see. It would help if you lost some weight.’ Words women with PCOS hear too often, without receiving a thorough evaluation or referral to the appropriate specialist.” Doctor’s appointments can be difficult and trying.

  1. I learned to be very direct with my doctors. I also learned not to let them tell me how I was feeling. They’ve seen so many patients, I can imagine that every so often they forget that not every patient comes with the same problems. If someone mentions a medication that’s working for them, don’t be afraid to ask about it if you’re interested. Or any question for that matter! Even if a medications just not meshing well with you, speak up. You have a say in how you’re treated. And if at the end of the day you’re not getting the treatment you need, feel free to try new doctors.

Self-esteem can be an uphill battle for PCOS sufferers. Excessive hair growth or loss, acne and obesity are common themes amongst those with PCOS. Many women describe as feeling, ‘Betrayed by their body.’ The excessive hair growth and loss have always been my biggest insecurities. I felt like my feminine identity was being taken from me. Meagan Morse, from the National Women’s Health Network newsletter recalls, “As my body changed due to PCOS, I struggled to reconcile the changes happening with my body hair and my sense of self.”

  1. It’s important to know that there are medications to help with these side effects. Definitely tell your doctor what side effects bother you. In many cases, these side effects can be managed. But in the meantime, do something that makes you feel good about you! With your body going through so much, self-care can be very essential. And lastly, don’t be afraid to talk about it to someone you trust. It can be a scary thought, but anyone that cares about you won’t cast any judgement.

A diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome doesn’t mean your life will be lesser. PCOS is hard, but it definitely isn’t hopeless. You have options, treatment and support groups available. I implore you to reach out, ask questions, and do what makes you feel good.

Throwback Thursday

By: Amanda Johnson

Last June, the World Health Organization published a revealing and haunting study. WHO found that nearly one-third of all women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence from a non-partner. WHO calls violence against women a global health problem of epidemic proportions.

Click the links to learn more:

Wonder Woman, Healer, and Educator: Professor Brenda Walker-Williams

By Amber Charleville

As I traverse the bumpy and challenging terrain of higher education, I’ve been helped along by a few Wonder Women occupying the role of educator. It’s even made me aspire to follow in their footsteps one day after I pursue my first dream of running a women’s health clinic.

When Katie (of Graduate Assistant Fame here at the Women’s Center) suggested I do one or two profile pieces on professors who have inspired me, one of the first that came to mind was Professor Benda Walker-Williams. I had Professor Walker-Williams as my instructor in two classes this past spring: Nursing 101 (along with the equally wonderful Professor Jolene Lyn), and Anatomy and Physiology Lab.

Professor Walker Williams. Picture from her personal collection.

Professor Walker Williams.
Picture from her personal collection.

Professor Walker-Williams has been in nursing for 30 years and has been a nurse educator about half that time. She’s been with us here at UMKC since 2008, full time since fall of 2010. Also an avid poet, one of her areas of focus is how art such as poetry, music, etc. can be used to facilitate healing. She was kind enough to make time for me in her busy schedule, and this past Friday we sat down to talk about nursing, science, being a woman professional, and some of the unique challenges she faces as a woman of color.


Amber Charleville (AC): Starting out with kind of a basic question, but what do you love about nursing?

Prof. Walker-Williams (WW): What I love about nursing is that you get to recreate yourself. […] I always feel like I want my mind to be growing and I want to be learning new things. I like to go outside my comfort zone, and so when I do that, in order to do that, sometimes you have to change your interest in nursing, and I love that nursing gives you the opportunity to do that.

AC: And what do you love about being a nurse educator?

WW: I love being among students who are  serious and motivated about coming into nursing gives as it gives me hope for the future profession of nursing. I feel like I am contributing to them and their knowledge, their ability to take care of myself, family members, or other persons who might be entering into the healthcare arena. I feel like this is my way of giving back, passing on some of my pearls of wisdom for those who are interested and want to know.

AC: How do you feel like nursing empowers you as woman?

WW: For nurses, you have to be able to critically think. You have to be able to think on your feet. You need intelligence and fortitude. It helps you to be strong when you need to be strong, and to tap into your weak side when you need that, too.  It teaches you to challenge situations, don’t just automatically accept what is – question, question, question.

I wish I had the gumption I have now when I first got into nursing because back then it was like what we taught you all in Nursing 101, talking about the folk image and the servant image*. We actually had the servant image more so when I first came into nursing. When doctors came around, you got out of the seat so they could sit in their special chair, and you brought them coffee or tea.  You made sure they had a pen and access to all the charts which were put on a chart rack.

My first job in pediatrics it was like that, and I kept thinking, “That’s not what I came into nursing to do.” So I’m glad to see a lot of that has changed. Particularly with nursing today, it does give you that fortitude to be strong.  Sometimes you need to be strong, particularly when you’re dealing with different healthcare issues, advocating for the client to get them the assistance they need. It takes a strong and a motivated person to be able to do that.

[*AC: ”Folk image” or “Servant image” refers to the old image of nurses tirelessly slaving at the bedside without complaint, the white skirts and the cap, the doctor’s servant without any autonomy in patient care.]

AC: As you mentioned, we talked a lot about the image of nursing and the profession of nursing in Nursing 101. What does it mean to you to be a nursing professional?

WW: It’s about how you conduct yourself. It’s about your ethical and moral principles that guide you day to day. How you interact with not only patients, but staff and the students here at the school or other colleagues.

AC: How do you feel about nursing being seen as “Women’s Work” and therefore not as important?

WW: Well, women have always historically taken care of the sick before the profession started. So it’s hard for us to totally get away from that stereotype or that image because it’s what’s put on us because we happen to be female. So, again, I think as time evolves, I can see some changes coming about. We have more men, more people from the LGBTQ community, more people from all walks of life. I think is a good thing because why not have representatives of all walks of life in nursing? I mean, that’s what it’s going to take because sometimes you need someone that looks just like you when you’re that person lying in the bed. When you make that connection, it might be what they need to get them to the next step toward wellness.

AC: Speaking of inclusivity, how do you feel the challenges and the experience has been different for you as a woman of color in nursing?

WW: Well, there have been some challenges, and I know they still exist. We all know even with us having a black president, you still have people who are… narrow-minded, I’d say. And we have the same thing in healthcare. As far as the nursing profession, we still have people who are narrow-minded, and so sometimes just because you are a person of color […] they don’t give you a chance.

You always feel like you have to work that much harder than other people would have to work to get the same recognition, the same… even pay. There have been a lot of instances where just because you are who you are, that’s what you’re going to get paid. It doesn’t matter about your education background or your experience. They automatically will give you a lower pay than some of your colleagues. There are a lot of injustices as far as that goes.

That’s a whole issue that I’m thinking someone will tackle one day, and who knows? It might even be me. I haven’t thought about this in a long time, but I know it exists. It’s something that needs to be dealt with.

AC: Definitely, and I know even in my class, the majority of the students are white like myself. So I think it’s important that the students of color do have persons of color on the faculty and staff, especially such a strong role model like you. It’s like you were saying with patients, it helps when there’s someone that looks like you. As a student, it lets you know there’s someone that understands where you’re coming from, and makes it easier to picture yourself in that position.

WW: Yes, right, it does!

AC: So, I know that you’re the director of the Anatomy and Physiology labs. Can you tell me a little about nursing as a science, why it’s important for nurses to be scientists?

WW: Well, that’s the spirit of inquiry, where you question. So that automatically leads you to using the scientific method. You need to figure out what is the answer? Why is the answer what it is? Do I need to challenge that answer?  And that’s important for when you have patients and you need to advise and teach them about their disease and how their body is responding, why they’re having the problem that they’re having.

AC: I just want to wrap things up by asking if you’re working on any research yourself right now?

WW: I have a few things in mind. I’ll be starting hopefully by the end of the year. I’m not sure if you know I write poetry and it’s kind of my therapy. And in grad school, I came up with an intervention that had not been done before, using my poetry. And so that’s the first thing on my plate that I want to address. How you can use poetry to deal with families and some family issues. It’s a way to make people feel important particularly when you write something about them. Sometimes people don’t see their own worth. They’re never told they have worth, and when an outsider shows them they have worth, it  makes all the difference in the world.


I just want to thank Professor Walker-Williams again for taking time out of her schedule to speak with me for the Women’s Center blog. She truly is a Wonder Woman, and I hope that she sees her own worth just as much as she helps her patients and students to see theirs!

Did You Miss These?

By Bonnie Messbarger

College majors that put women on equal footing with men.

Male politicians think birth control isn’t that expensive; everyone can afford it. Think again.

The American Life League says Planned Parenthood is like a drug dealer, but with sex.

Women who choose to be mothers are more likely to drop out of the sciences as men.

Heat Death

By Maritza Gordillo

Image c/o Flickr Images

I was browsing and stumbled across an article about 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez who died of heat exhaustion. Maria was constantly denied water breaks while working long hours picking grapes for the Merced Farm Labor in California. After working nine hours in the sun, she collapsed in the arms of her fiancé, and died two days after. The doctors that examined Maria’s body discovered that she was two months pregnant. When she was initially brought to a clinic, her family was instructed, by the labor contractor, to say that she had fainted while exercising. Is it physically possible to reach a temperature of 108 degrees while exercising? Maria’s, and her unborn child’s, deaths could have been prevented if the labor contractors would’ve taken the time to consider heat prevention procedures and the basic rights of a farmworker.

Maria’s family took Merced Farm Labor to court; the result was a $1000 fine and 400 hours of community service for the safety coordinator, and 40 hours of community service and 3 years of probation for the owner of Merced Farm Labor. Their attorney may even find a way to reduce the safety coordinator’s charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. This type of minor punishment for two deaths that were preventable sends a horrible message that the life of women farmworkers do not matter. Maria’s case is just one of many female farmworkers who get exploited by their labor contractors with no opportunity for water and restroom breaks or even proper shade. We should advocate against this unjust treatment of women farmworkers. If you would like more information about Maria’s case please visit the United Farmworkers Facebook page.

Too Many Black Women Are Dying From Breast Cancer

Image from

By Erica Rose

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I would do a little research into survival rates.  As it turns out, thanks to raised awareness, survival rates have increased among women in America. Unfortunately, according to Imaginis’ Women Health Resource the survival rates are not the same across all demographics, and in fact, the rate of survival among African American women is lowest of all women.

According to the website, incidences of cancer are reported at a higher rate among Caucasian women than African American Women (132.5 out 100,000 Caucasian women versus 118.3 out of 100,000 African American women). However the death rate from this disease for African American women is 33.8 out of 100,000 as opposed to 25 out of 100,000 Caucasian women. This means that 28% of African American women reported to be suffering from breast cancer die. Why is that?  The same source reports that Black women are diagnosed with later stages of breast cancer. The fact that Black women have the lowest rate of incidences of breast cancer, but the highest death rate suggests to me that we (and yes, I am a Black woman) are not being screened for this disease until it’s too late. Why not?

One reason may be a lack of health insurance and money. But self-breast exams are free. However, there have been many reports that self-examination is not the best method of screening only because lumps are not discovered as quickly as other screenings such as mammograms. But since most women don’t start getting mammograms till they are 40, self-exams are still the best way to stay healthy and they can be an easy way to check yourself if you can’t get to a doctor. Plus, performing a monthly breast exam on yourself is better than doing nothing at all. Also, there are resources available for all women, such as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, that host Breast Cancer Awareness Fairs and conferences that provide free screenings for breast cancer. 

It is easy as women to get wrapped up in all of our responsibilities. But we have to remember that we have to find balance in our lives. And an important part of the balance includes taking care of our health. I am writing this blog to simply say to all women that we should not allow caring for loved ones, our jobs, or our education get in the way of caring for ourselves. If we do not take care of us first, then we cannot care for others. Getting screened or screening ourselves for breast cancer is one way to do that, so let’s get it done.