Written by Martha Barry, PhD, Racial Justice Director, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
I am female. I love many females. We are interesting, complex, thoughtful, courageous individuals who sometimes prioritize others over self. Growing up, I remember learning at 19 that my mother had high blood pressure. Her doctor put her on medication. It took some time before the medication regulated her pressure. I often wondered if her caring for five children, a husband, a household, a part-time job, volunteering, and community work had an impact on her blood pressure.
Health. What does it mean? One dictionary definition says “the state of being free from illness or injury.” The absence of something is not necessarily well-being. Health can, in some perspectives, be limited to one’s physical or mental health. Our physical health involves how well we handle stress, how much sleep we get, how much exercise we get in any given week, if we are drinking enough water, flossing our teeth, and getting preventive health treatments (mammograms, colonoscopies, dental cleanings, etc). Mental health is important. How someone is facing big challenges in life, as a female, can include paying attention to one’s emotional well-being, one’s personal connections to other humans and the natural world, while being mindful of self, not simply others. While these concepts are often where we start thinking about health, in reality, health is much more encompassing.
As a female, I not only think about my own health, but about the health of my loved ones, family, friends, and neighbors. As a white female, there are physical conditions, such as skin cancer, I need to monitor due to the sun’s impact. And yet the social determinants of health, as highlighted here, include racism. I am not targeted by racism. Think about the stress of racism on female health. (This is not to say that racism does not impact male health). Studies reveal the impact is real.
Racism and health. Females reproduce. Think about women who carry infants in their womb. It is powerful to watch her body change to accommodate a growing child. It can be a happy time. It can also bring added stress; the stress of caring for other children, aging parents, a job, a household, a spouse or significant other. Think about how that stress, as a female of color, can be multiplied by the oppressive system of racism. Will her doctor reflect her background and potential lived experiences? (Be Asian, Latina, Native-heritage, African-heritage?) Will her doctor be aware of their own implicit racial biases in order to treat her with the deep respect and care she deserves as she nurtures another human life? The intersection of female health and the outcomes of racism cannot be underestimated. As numerous health inequities indicate, racism must be considered for women of the global majority deserve to live long lives, contributing amazing ideas, products, thinking and more to our world.
So as we head into Mother’s Day weekend, a holiday designed to put attention on females who are or have raised children, think about the current and long-term health of your beloved female. Remember, women’s health matters. Ask a female you love about her health, today. Prioritize her!