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A gynecologist tweeted about periods, and a great discussion about gender happened.

A trending hashtag started an important conversation about what words we use.

A gynecologist tweeted about periods, and a great discussion about gender happened.

How would the world be different if men had periods?

It's certainly not a new question. More than 40 years ago, Gloria Steinem wrote "If Men Could Menstruate," a sharply satirical take on how society treats men versus women.

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.


"So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?" wrote Steinem. "Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event."

She goes on, joking that if men could have periods, they'd "brag about how long and how much," they'd view them as signs of strength and masculinity, and they'd fight to ensure "sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free." Reading that, one can't help but think about how different the world actually is.

Recently, the hashtag #IfMenHadPeriods trended on Twitter, revitalizing Steinem's decades-old criticism for the modern day.

In a string of tweets, Dr. Jen Gunter, OB-GYN and writer, began dishing out some real talk about periods that roughly 50% of the population can't fully appreciate. Within a few short hours, #IfMenHadPeriods started trending.

The tweet that sparked the trending hashtag spawned a conversation that both was and wasn't what Gunter intended.

"It was the end of a larger tweet stream about menstruation that started in response to mansplaining about periods and mood," Gunter wrote in an email. "Some guy tried to correct a woman by saying ovulation affects mood not menstruation. So I started tweeting about all the ways periods are inconvenient."

"Lots of people responded, many shared their own stories. I tweeted about accidentally inserting 2 tampons, ripping out pubic hair with pad adhesive, and the bloodbath of changing a tampon on a train for example. Many people seemed to like to hear that the same period issues they've had a GYNO has also experienced."

In starting the conversation, Gunter's goal was to vent and bond with others who have periods — gender aside. But somewhere along the line, #IfMenHadPeriods became the hashtag of choice for people responding to Gunter's tweets, presenting an unforeseen problem.

The hashtag, unfortunately, misses one very crucial point: Some men do have periods — transgender men.

Some trans men — that is, men who were assigned female at birth — jumped in on the hashtag to helpfully remind others that they exist. The responses to their tweets tended to range somewhere between "Trans men aren't really men" and "You are a woman," neither of which is particularly helpful.

Is this just another example of "hurt feelings" and "political correctness run amok?" Not exactly.

"The refusal to accept and recognize that there are men who menstruate and get pregnant and there are women who have penises and don't, contributes to the relentless assault on trans people in courts, legislatures and on the streets," ACLU staff attorney and trans man Chase Strangio wrote in a Twitter direct message, explaining that human bodies are more complicated than a reductive gender binary narrative suggests.

In regards to the trending hashtag, Strangio said, "there are better ways to call out sexism than erasing the bodies of people who are not cisgender."

This type of reductive language that labels people according to what body parts they were born with has real-life consequences.

For example, a Lambda Legal study of health care found that many trans men were denied reproductive health care simply for being trans.

“I called a gynecologist’s office trying to schedule a hysterectomy," reads a trans man's story in Lambda Legal's report. "I told the receptionist that I was a transgender male. Two days later, I received a phone call telling me that the doctor did not take cases like mine and referring me to a hospital. I remember feeling like a freak. I called the second number. The receptionist told me they didn’t deal with transgender men either."

Kelley Cantrell was one of the most vocal critics of the hashtag, and they've written about the real-life effect this type of messaging has on trans men and non-binary people in the past.

"For the trans men (and anyone else who identifies on the masculine spectrum) who go to OBGYNs or get yearly exams at their [primary care physician], it creates a really uncomfortable environment when their healthcare providers refer to them as women and use female pronouns," Cantrell wrote in an email. "Healthcare providers need to be more up to date on the queer community's healthcare issues so that they can foster inclusive, safe spaces in their hospitals and offices."

All of this is to say that, yes, it can be tough to find the balance between inclusive language and effective messaging. So what to do?

On one hand, the overwhelming majority of people who have periods are women, so it makes sense to refer to that as a "women's issue," right? On the other hand, it's not just a women's issue, as it ignores people who have periods but aren't women. Go too far in one direction, and people are being actively excluded; go too far in the other, and the core message gets completely diluted.

The balance between the two is something I've been wrestling with for years.

Sometimes, inclusive language comes off as a bit clunky, as evidenced by a recent Planned Parenthood tweet that used the term "menstruators" rather than "women." But maybe that's just because, in many ways, inclusive language is still a work in progress.

The response to Planned Parenthood's tweet was really heated, with some cisgender (non-trans) women arguing that not explicitly saying "women" was dehumanizing and a number of trans men, non-binary people assigned female at birth, and their allies praising the organization for making the good-faith effort to be inclusive.

Completely lost in the conversation prompted by the tweet was discussion of the actual topic at hand: the tampon tax. And maybe that's the fine line we need to keep an eye on.

There are real issues that need to be addressed in the world. So long as that's the case (as it will always be), the question of tact will come up.

In the case of the #IfMenHadPeriods tag, it seems like the discussion — which was about addressing institutional misogyny — veered off track. To get back, it's worth checking in again with Gunter.

Photo by Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images.

"I hate that people feel menstruation is a taboo subject," wrote Gunter. Her tweet with the #IfMenHadPeriods hashtag was toward the end of her longer stream of tweets about one guy who tried to mansplain menstruation. "I'm actually quite sad it was the tweet that mentioned men that was the one that got picked up attention wise. The stream was about menstruation not men or gender."

"The point of my tweets [was] about the challenges of menstruation and patriarchy. It seems some of that was lost in translation."

Do some men have periods? Yes. Are most people who have periods women? Yes. Are trans men really men? Yes. Does society impose penalties such as taxes and employment discrimination on those who have periods? Yes.

As long as we can all acknowledge the above truths, we can have a good-faith conversation about what words we use to try to create change. Because here's the thing: All those people who were replying to trans men on that hashtag? The ones tweeting things like "You're not really a man"? They're not helping advance any cause.

Photo by Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images.

For this type of nuanced conversation to be productive, it's important we agree on the question being debated. In this case: Does inclusive language come at a political or social cost to a movement's effectiveness, and if so, what do we do moving forward? One example might be the question of whether saying "women's rights are under attack" is more effective than saying "reproductive health care is under attack." The latter is certainly more accurate and more inclusive; but is it as politically effective?

That's the line we need to walk. Effectiveness doesn't need to come at the expense of accuracy or inclusion, but it often does. It's by sitting down with others committed to the same cause (but who might have differing tactical viewpoints) and having a conversation about these nuanced aspects of life that we can help create better, more effective, more inclusive political movements that work for everybody's interests.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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