When I, a young woman, enrolled in Women’s Studies 220: Perspectives in Women’s Health in the winter semester of my freshman year, I thought I had women’s health figured out. I was curious about my own body. I searched anything I didn’t know and knew how to find the truth about the subject. Unlike many, I knew that people with vaginas don’t pee out of them. However, I hadn’t been in a sex-ed class since I was 12. I was always taught that a woman’s body was just like a man’s with a few alterations and that there were just two anatomical types of bodies in the first place.

When I walked into the class, I was so confident in what I thought I knew that I was completely oblivious to the things I didn’t. As it turns out, women’s health is much more than what people think it is — and it’s often misunderstood or dismissed by almost everyone, even by professionals in the medical community. Despite feeling like I already had enough knowledge of the subject going into the class, I had never even heard of an intrauterine device, or an IUD (a pregnancy-preventing device inserted in the uterus), I didn’t know what a pap smear actually entailed and I didn’t know that doctors are less likely to take the pain of female patients seriously. I had also never fully considered the intersections of race, socioeconomic status and disability as they pertain to women’s health. Having certain identities can mean higher rates of infant mortality for your child; it can even mean not being seen as a woman at all.

Women’s bodies are ignored by science, objectified by society and seen as one-size-fits-all. Diseases that disproportionately affect women are not always studied specifically in the context of women’s health. In many public schools, sex education preaches abstinence relentlessly and ignores safe sex practices that can help women protect themselves. The definition of consent, and the realities of sexual assault, are rarely discussed.

Composing half the population and having bodies that are entirely their own, women deserve to know the vital information that pertains to their everyday lives. They deserve to know the flaws in the the U.S. health care system; they deserve to feel they are receiving the best, most informed care they can get. It’s also vital for men to step up and to use whatever privilege in society they have to be informed and value women’s health and women’s bodies.

No one can assume full knowledge when it comes to women’s health — the field is too wide, and frankly, there’s so much information that not even the experts are fully confident in yet. Health is something that affects the lives of everyone, and because health classes today do not always include everyone (like transgender women), it is so important that we fill in the gaps where we can. Perspectives in Women’s Health was enlightening for me, but it’s ridiculous that I didn’t learn these vital things until my freshman year of college. Teaching women’s health, and teaching it as soon as possible, can answer some of the most important questions young women may have.

If you would like to learn more about women’s health, the women’s issues committee of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats and Students for Choice are hosting the Women’s Health Panel on Thursday, March 9 from 8 to 9 p.m. in the Annenberg Auditorium of the Ford School.

Griffin St. Onge is an LSA sophomore and a member of FemDems.

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