Dear Kellyanne Conway – This is what feminism looks like

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Ms Conway spoke at the CPAC convention last week on the contemporary definition of feminism as anti-male and pro-abortion. I consider myself a feminist and don’t identify with either of these definitions. I heard about her commentary as I was driving between appointments and reflected on my “feminist” activities on the same day as she was speaking at the convention. Following is the run-down of what a feminist does on her day off from her usual job as a physician serving women – the ultimate feminist job.

  1. Awake at 6 am to make breakfast for daughters as they head out to high school.
  2. Text with 26 year old son about upcoming interview for nursing school.
  3. Spend 2 hours on Haiti non-profit, Helping Haiti Work, that grants microloans to women and operates a sewing center that constructs reusable menstrual pads for sale in the community. Women that participate in this program are empowered to be leaders in their families and communities.
  4. Volunteer at a local public elementary school tutoring first graders in reading and math. 90% of the students in this school are children of color. The teachers are dedicated and constantly working to involve each child in the curriculum.
  5. Grocery shopping for the week. My husband and I split this task, but he often does more than 50%. Arrive home and start dinner in crockpot for husband and daughters as we will be eating at different times. I cook because I love to and not because I am the mother. Husband also does his share of meal prep.
  6. Drive across town to the MN legislature. I have volunteered to speak before the Health and Human Services Committee in opposition to 2 bills that are being introduced to restrict access to abortion. I am NOT pro-abortion, but rather pro-choice and pro-contraception. Along with many of my colleagues, I feel that government should stay out of the room when a physician is counseling a patient.
  7. Attend a year-end meeting of our independent medical clinic, one of the few non-hospital owned clinics left in our area. I am a board member of this clinic and up for re-election so give a 5 minute speech about the value of independence and what measures we need to take in the future to stay that way. My value as a board member is based on experience, working hard and ability to appreciate other’s opinions. Being the only female board member is a responsibility I do not take lightly.
  8. Head back to St Paul to attend a visit to an Eastern Orthodox church, arranged thru Tapestry, an interfaith group of women that works to break down religious and cultural barriers thru education and service. I am proud to be one of the 3 founders of this growing organization but saddened to know that our existence is needed now more than ever. It was interesting to hear the stories behind the iconography that is so much a part of the Eastern Orthodox religion, but also to reflect on the similarities between the Jewish faith and to view the women in the pictures as wearing the traditional head coverings or hijab. During the social hour following the church tour, I lamented with my Muslim friends about the difficulties of encouraging our teens to stay involved in their respective religions. We found that we shared many of the same difficulties as well as joys.
  9. Arrived home around 9:30 and discussed husband’s experience at local town hall political meeting that was attended by 1000 constituents but not our legislator. We made plans for future involvement in politics and discussed our shared values with our daughters.
  10. Crawled into bed around 11 pm as I had an early morning surgery and clinic the next day. This is where the real feminist is unleashed – advocating for free birth control, vaccinations, knowledge about our bodies and how they work and access to health care as a human right and not a privilege.

Feminism is the right to be treated as an equal human being and to be able to make our own choices. That is not anti-male or pro-abortion. That is human decency and what I teach both my sons and my daughters.

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The American Welcome Mat Has Been Pulled

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Our country is deeply divided on many issues, the most recent concerning immigrants from Muslim countries. I find it disturbing that the wealthiest country in the world is shutting the door on those that are the most marginalized and in need of our grace and acceptance. Arguing with those who don’t believe as I do doesn’t work. But sometimes personal stories cause others to stop and consider how we may appear to the rest of the world.

I have felt more acceptance and a welcoming spirit during my travels abroad than I have felt from my own neighbors here in Minnesota. During a recent trip to China, our guide became lost during a 6 hour trek thru terraced rice fields. When asking directions of a young man on the path, he offered to show us the shortcut to our final destination. He saw that we were wet and cold and had us stop by his house so that his elderly grandmother could fix us hot tea and serve us oranges. Three hours later we arrived safely at our destination and he waved at us as he turned and walked back home.

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I have been welcomed into humble Haitian homes and served a Coke, knowing that the family may have skipped a meal in order to purchase the beverages.

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When we traveled to Kenya as part of a medical mission trip, my group was hosted and feted almost every night for hours at a stretch.

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Tapestry, a movement I co-founded to increase interfaith dialogue and acceptance, has been welcomed into Muslim, Jewish and Christian places of worship in the Mpls area. Unfortunately, it has been the Christian places of worship that have expressed more reservations when it comes to accepting the beliefs of another religion. In an attempt to spread the wonderful work that we are accomplishing, I have spoken to representatives of churches outside the metro area about hosting similar gatherings in their communities. I have not been successful in receiving a single invite. Those Christian communities who follow the same teachings of Jesus that I do – welcoming the poor, oppressed and marginalized – won’t let anyone cross their threshold who doesn’t “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior”, to quote one person that I spoke with. And yet we Christians have been warmly welcomed and hosted by both a synagogue and a mosque.

Even Pope Francis has spoken out on the treatment of refugees by Christians. “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

One final story about why America is already great. This picture depicts a Chinese American girl born in China, a girl whose father was born in Ecuador and a girl whose mother has survived breast cancer twice due to medical research in the US. These girls used their time last weekend to help pack reusable menstrual pad kits for less fortunate girls in Haiti. What are you doing to keep this country great? Are you reaching out to those who are less fortunate with a helping hand? Or are you supporting the America First Agenda where those who have much refuse to share with others. img_1551

Traveling the world without leaving MN

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I love to travel. I am curious about other cultures, love to try new foods, meet new people and trek to historical sites. But with a full-time job and 2 high school daughters still at home, my adventures can be more limited than I wish. Going to work each day provides me with the ability to act as an armchair traveler. In the course of a week, I can see patients from Laos, Russia, China, India, Mexico and Africa.  Some of these patients are new immigrants to this country; others have been here for a longer time but are still considered first generation. Although they may have become more integrated into American culture in their everyday life, pregnancy and childbirth often reveal more traditional beliefs.

In talking with patients and their families I often learn more than I could in a book,  as most of what they believe is oral tradition and not published in the literature. Women from the Hmong culture often wear a red thread bracelet that is thought to ward off bad spirits and  keep their spirit intact. They eat only warm foods after childbirth. Indian women often rely on their mothers or mother-in-law to provide help with childcare and cooking for the first few months after delivery. Some cultures have a fear of contraception as causing future inability to have children. Immigrant families often come from countries where family is both physically and emotionally close. Health decisions for an individual are made after consultation with other family members.

While I find all of these traditions interesting and worth further research, it can also make my day much more difficult. New immigrants often do not speak or understand English well enough and need the services of an interpreter. The fees for the interpreter service are paid by the clinic. Speaking thru an interpreter can lengthen the visit to twice the normal time and still not provide the same amount of information. Some cultures are distrustful of western medicine and patients may not believe test results or diagnosis. Needing to explain the medical problem numerous times to different family members when there is a sense of urgency  ( labor and delivery) can make me feel like tearing my hair out!

And then life has a way of helping me to reset my expectations. Last week my interfaith women’s group (Tapestry) hosted 2 immigrant high school students from Green Card Voices. These young women eloquently shared their stories of coming to this country as young teenagers, without speaking the language and after leaving behind close family members in their native countries. They moved in with family in MN that they had not seen in over 10 years and were quickly enrolled in school. These family members were working long hours and didn’t have the opportunity to help the students with their integration into a new school or culture. The students expressed appreciation for those Minnesotans who smiled at them on the bus, helped them in school as tutors and teachers and were willing to reach out to their families with assistance. Might I have been one of those who could provide that extra smile or help with understanding of a medical diagnosis?

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Immigration has been a looming topic in the upcoming election. Many Americans fear immigrants and their different dress, religions, language and behaviors. My patients and the students from Green Card Voices are no different from the majority of Americans – they want to be loved, respected and to work hard for a better future for themselves. They are especially appreciative of the freedoms that this country affords – freedoms that were worth risking their futures for.

Seeing one of my immigrant patients at the end of the office day can often make me late leaving the office. This happened a few weeks ago as I was trying to make my daughters evening soccer game. As I was rushing to get into my car, I passed the patient sitting on a bench outside the office building. She was patiently waiting for her ride as she did not drive. I reflected on the stories of the students – their long bus rides on public transportation to a school across the metro area that specialized in integrating newly immigrated high school students. As an American female, I can drive, work and provide the fees for my children to participate in activities outside of school. These are opportunities that women in the developing world would never be able to dream of. Taking the extra time each day to provide health care to an immigrant patient is part of my “give-back” for the gift of being part of this country.

If you see someone today who may be “different”, whether from another country, different skin color, disabled or speaking a foreign language – please take the time to smile and offer assistance if needed. Consider this gesture your way of “traveling” to a foreign land without leaving American soil.