Behind Every Strong Woman

by Carolyn Zhou | 10/12/16 1:04am

Talking to Maggie Sherin ’18, Io Jones ’19 and Anna Clark ’19 would make anyone believe in women’s ability to enact.

During the winter term of her sophomore year, Sherin interned in a medical clinic in Kenya. She worked under five clinical officers, who are medical experts in between doctors and nurses. Although there were two female clinical officers and three male clinical officers, she interpreted it as a male dominated space.

Sherin said she mostly shadowed two of the male clinical officers in order to learn about different illnesses and ailments.

“The women were highly regarded as clinical officers, but the men were more respected. Certain people would only want to see the men.”

She noted some of the cultural differences in gender roles between Kenya and America.

She recalled that she received comments on wearing athletic clothes while running – often from women.

“One of the nurses told me, ‘You’re going to send all these boys to Hell — you’re wearing shorts, you’re going to make them think sinful thoughts.’”

Although Sherin posed this as a cultural difference, the incident seems reminiscent of the dress codes that some public schools adopt in the United States. The criticism Sherin received echoes the justification many give for dress codes. The argument goes something along the lines of, “The way girls will disrupt the boys’ learning!”

The age of marriage and at which women gave birth surprised Sherin, who worked a lot in the maternal ward, and saw several mothers aged 13 to 15.

“Seeing girls who were younger than me have their second or third child was pretty shocking to me,” she said. “I was working in a pretty modern tribe, but I saw a lot of traditional practices, like polygamy.”

Sherin is thinking about becoming an OB/GYN, but noted the male-dominated nature of the profession.

She recalled that several male alumni who are doctors encouraged pediatrics over other specialiations. Several female alumni noted that pediatrics, with its more flexible hours, makes raising a family easier.

“And that really got to me — thinking about being in a career that is so time consuming and having to take into account family. And thinking about how you’re going to raise children and being successful in your profession at the same time,” Sherin said.

Policies like paid maternity leave and redistributing responsibilities between parents could help alleviate some of Sherin’s worries. Policy change, in fact, can sometimes be the best way to change cultural attitudes toward women. Io Jones ’19 and Anna Clark ’19, the current co-presidents of the Dartmouth’s Planned Parenthood chapter, founded last year by Steph Brown ’16, Cally Braun ’18 and Meaghan Haugh ’17, want their chapter to be involved in politics. In particular, the group is involved with local elections — something that may not be on the radar of the average Dartmouth student but affects many in our community. Planned Parenthood, while a non-partisan organization, endorses candidates.

On following local politics closely, Jones noted that, “It’s really great having the knowledge and the facts when you’re talking to people about candidates you support.”

“It’s sometimes easy to forget about issues of access, especially if you’re from a place like New York,” Jones said.

“Or Vermont,” Clark added.

On the overall goal of the club, Jones explained, “We just want to bring awareness of a lack of access to people who might not know that these issues even exist.”

For example, Clark recalled that last year, the New Hampshire Executive Council defunded Planned Parenthood, leaving over 10,000 women in the state without access to proper healthcare for six months.

“These elections might be local, but they matter,” Clark said.

In addition to being directly involved with politics, Jones said that she would like the club to lessen the stigma around discussing women’s health issues.

“A lot of people hear the words Planned Parenthood and think abortion, but it’s so much more than that,” Jones said.

She also encouraged men to join the group.

“I think Dartmouth was really missing this unique mix of a women’s rights and political action group on campus. It is inspiring to know that we can and already have started to spread awareness on campus and actually affect change in New Hampshire and national politics,” Jones said.

Clark noted her excitement at being involved with a women’s rights group that promotes political protection.

Clark added, “I do not think that a woman’s right to her own body should ever be subject to conversations of doubt or threatened by policy, whether it be at the national or local level.”