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We need to talk about women’s bodies – without shame | Fiona Sturges

I’m delighted that, in a slew of cultural projects, discussion of vulvas takes centre stage

Are vulvas having a moment? It’s a ridiculous question, I know, given that more than half of us have them. It’s like asking if bicycles are finally fashionable, or if fingernails are now a thing. But in these supposedly enlightened times, our lady-parts continue to be overlooked, misunderstood, bossed about and violated. Still, it’s been heartening of late to see vulvas (or vaginas, or fannies, or foofs – let each woman decide what she calls what’s in her pants) discussed more openly, shown off in museums and celebrated on television and in books. This isn’t about the vulva-shaped soaps and cushions flooding gift shops, or Gwyneth Paltrow and her daft vaginal eggs. I’m talking about cultural conversations and artefacts that illuminate and educate us all on matters that, by rights, should be common knowledge.

Earlier this year, Channel 4 aired 100 Vaginas, a joyful, taboo-busting documentary in which Laura Dodsworth interviewed 100 women and photographed their vulvas. The series highlighted how little the issues that have most impact on women’s lives, from sexual violence to childbirth, infertility and menopause, are openly discussed. This spring, the pop-up Vagina Museum – the first of its kind in the world – opened in Camden, north London, with the hope of breaking the stigma surrounding women’s bodies and sexuality, and has since launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to secure a permanent home.

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Veterans’ Hospitals Have a Cleanliness Crisis
On a warm November day in 2017, Representative Mark Takano, a California Democrat, met with a whistleblower who had serious concerns about the 270-bed Veterans Affairs facility in Loma Linda. Later that day, Takano took a tour of the hospital, and was shocked by what he saw. Grime encrusted the water fountains; the floors of the operating room were noticeably dirty. Takano called for the VA’s inspector general to launch an investigation, which found “inconsistent levels of cleanliness” in the main hospital building, and unwashed floors, dusty cabinets, and a sterile instrument resting on a dirty rack in the inpatient dental unit. The rate of infection among Loma Linda’s patients was higher than the agency average, and the housekeeping department was largely incapacitated by high turnover, poor pay, and shaky management. 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And despite Takano’s spotlighting of issues in Loma Linda, the facility still has 21 unfilled housekeeper positions.“The way many think of custodial staff does not reflect the value that they provide to hospitals,” Takano told me recently. “They are critical to infection control; we need to see these employees as skilled workers.”[Thomas Chatterton Williams: Do Americans understand how badly they’re doing?]In the VA, housekeeping positions are generally reserved for those who served. Retired service members struggling with mental illness or physical impairments fill many of those slots. As of 2015, roughly 65 percent of VA housekeepers were people of color; currently 85 percent are veterans. Unlike clinical hospital staff, who are less likely to be veterans or minorities, housekeepers aren’t required to have advanced degrees, and they rarely win public accolades. 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Yet one of his signature legislative achievements, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, has disproportionately targeted lower-level employees, who are typically veterans. Many of them are housekeepers.From 2017 to 2018, nearly 900 cleaning workers were suspended or fired as a result of the bill, many of them for specious reasons or minor mistakes. The president, however, boasted of the office’s firing spree just a few weeks ago, in Memorial Day comments dedicated to America’s fallen. “They don’t take care of our vets, we fire them,” Trump said. He enthusiastically estimated 8,000 employee terminations—many of them veterans—calling the fired staffers “sadists” and “thieves.”“They didn’t take care of our vets,” Trump said. “Now they’re gone. We got ’em out.” Those no longer in the agency include housekeepers, yes, but also clinical staff crucial to COVID-19 care. Although an analysis by the American Federation of Government Employees showed housekeeping as the top position targeted by the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, nursing came second.The necessity of VA housekeepers—and the story of their mistreatment—is vividly illustrated on the grounds of the Pittsburgh VA’s University Drive campus, a sprawling, 14-acre system built on top of an abandoned mine shaft. When the virus reached the Steel City in March, it circulated on the third floor of the Pittsburgh VA’s mental-health ward. Four housekeepers manned the floor in good times, but staff fluctuations in recent years had brought that number to as low as two. Just before the pandemic, the Pittsburgh VA acknowledged 36 custodial vacancies, and had three housekeepers on the third floor, all of whom were veterans. The oldest was in his 70s. The virus moved throughout the floor quickly. Soon most of its patients were sick.[Read: The biggest worry for doctors fighting the pandemic]None of the rooms in the mental ward were negatively pressurized, which heightened the chances of virus transmission. Staff witnessed dust spilling out of the building’s air ducts, and housekeepers spent precious time running water faucets—supposedly to prevent the spread of contaminants. Another puzzling policy that raised eyebrows on the third floor: COVID-19-positive patients were allowed to freely walk about, in and out of their rooms. This added stress to already-demanding eight-hour cleaning shifts. A VA Pittsburgh spokesperson did not respond to a detailed list of questions concerning conditions and policies on the floor.“In that situation, you’re constantly having to disinfect,” one housekeeper, who requested anonymity because of a fear of retaliation from management, told me. “Even if [patients] were wearing a mask, anything they touched you had to bleach clean. 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More than 24,000 VA patients and employees have been diagnosed, and nearly 1,700 have died, including at least 40 VA employees.As the Pittsburgh VA’s housekeeping staff contended with COVID-19, they surely could have used the hands of Kevin Patterson, a feisty Marine veteran who, for 16 years, cleaned many of the hospital’s nooks and crannies. I first met Patterson more than two years ago when on a reporting trip to assess the immediate impacts of the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. The office was created under Trump’s 2017 law and was responsible for the VA purge. At the time, Patterson was busy fighting an overwhelming number of proposed terminations as part of his work as the local vice president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Federation for Government Employees. Speaking in his cramped union office in 2018, Patterson warned that the purge was “getting the guppies instead of the trout.”The VA’s leadership has long undervalued housekeepers, and the federal Office of Personnel Management hasn’t updated the job description for VA housekeepers since the Vietnam War. As a result, many earn a lower hourly wage than their private-sector colleagues, which puts them on the edge of poverty. Their firing can be catastrophic to their personal finances.The AFGE warned that the 2017 law’s provisions could be exploited to fire employees without cause and crack down on union activity, but few lawmakers took their warnings seriously. 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W. E. B. Du Bois was torn between hope and rage. Following the First World War, challenges to colonialism in Africa and Asia, revolutionary labor movements, demands for women’s rights and universal suffrage, and the growth of what would become the modern Black freedom struggle portended a new, radical future. However, the harsh realities of imperial conquest, capitalist exploitation, the subordination of women, and horrific racial violence remained firmly intact. Black people fought back. But, Du Bois wondered, could democracy ever become a reality for Black folks?In 2020, across the nation and the world, people have turned out in unprecedented numbers to answer this question. We are again grappling with the failures of democracy, the specter of Black death, and the tension between faith and despair. We are again fighting to affirm the sanctity and beauty of Black life. 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Du Bois, echoing current debates about the efficacy of Black patriotism, supported the war effort and encouraged Black people to “forget our special grievances,” as he wrote in the July 1918 Crisis editorial “Close Ranks,” and stand “shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy.” Du Bois was widely excoriated, with his harshest critics calling him a traitor to the race. In December 1918, Du Bois traveled to France, where along with organizing a pan-African congress, he saw firsthand the devastation of the war and heard directly from Black soldiers and officers how American racism had wounded them in body and soul. “With the armistice came disillusion,” he later recalled.[From the March 1901 issue: W.E.B Du Bois on ‘The Freedmen’s Bureau’]Du Bois’s disillusionment deepened by the end of the summer of 1919. Racial violence had exploded across the country, from Washington, D.C., to Chicago to Elaine, Arkansas. The lynching of Black people had skyrocketed. On August 30, 1919, in Bogalusa, Louisiana, Lucious McCarty, a Black veteran, was shot, dragged through town, and burned to the howling delight of some 1,500 spectators. Two weeks later, Du Bois submitted the final manuscript of Darkwater to Harcourt, Brace, and Howe.The trauma of the war and the horror of the “Red Summer” explain the harsh racial world Du Bois depicts in Darkwater. 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Kendi: The American nightmare]Darkwater also speaks to the deep roots of our current struggle with the precarity of Black life and the traumas of premature Black death. “We know in America how to discourage, choke, and murder ability when it so far forgets itself as to choose a dark skin,” Du Bois lamented. He posed questions that still haunt Black parents: “Is it worth while? Ought children be born to us? Have we any right to make human souls face what we face today.” Having lost his first son, Burghardt, in 1899 at only 18 months, Du Bois pondered these questions from a place of personal sorrow, while also writing that Black mothers felt, and continue to feel, this pain even more acutely.At every turn in Darkwater, shadows seem to overtake the light. And yet, through the pain, Du Bois offers hope.Darkwater was the canvas for Du Bois’s bold postwar political vision and challenge to global white supremacy. This included ending European imperialism, pursuing economic justice and the redistribution of wealth, expanding the franchise and protecting the right to vote, recognizing the struggles and contributions of Black women, and investing in education. Darkwater represents a foundational moment in the long battle for Black freedom and democracy that endures with the movement for Black lives today.Du Bois also knew that any vision of the future for Black people had to be coupled with an appreciation for the beauty of life. In Darkwater, he wrote of his travels in the United States and abroad: the iridescent colors of the ocean in Maine; the vast living awe of the Grand Canyon; the heroic quaintness of France. “Grant all its ugliness and sin,” Du Bois wrote, “the petty, horrible snarl of its putrid threads,” but he could not forget that “the beauty of this world is not to be denied.”And above all else, there was the beauty and gift of Blackness. Tears welled in Du Bois’s eyes as he listened to the “wild and sweet and wooing” sounds of the jazz musician Tim Brymm and his military band playing in the small French hamlet of Maron. He delighted in memories of a walk down the streets of Harlem, surrounded everywhere by “black eyes, black and brown, and frizzled hair curled and sleek, and skins that riot with luscious color and deep, burning blood.” All this and more affirmed Blackness as a life-sustaining force that even the harshest forms of white supremacy could not deny.[Adam Serwer: The most dangerous American idea]“Which is life and what is death and how shall we face so tantalizing a contradiction?” Just as Du Bois asked this question in 1920, we ask it again a century later. Du Bois lived until 1963, leaving behind an enormous corpus of writings for us to learn from. Darkwater, however, rings especially prophetic. 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It was all so jarring. Normal had become bizarre. We arrived at our destination and secured our masks before exiting the car. We did not want to be the people to bring the virus back to this country.We received our negative results in the morning—relieved, but not surprised. We had been hypervigilant in New York. We were most afraid of what we might have contracted while traveling. There was the man behind us on the flight to Boston who refused to wear his mask properly. There were the taxis and the hotel in Boston. There was everything that our 1-year-old daughter might have put in her mouth when we were not looking.Feeling cavalier, the first thing we did on Sunday in Reykjavík was go to the playground. It felt like the first playground we had been to in forever. Our kids were overjoyed.On the walk back from the playground with my son on my shoulders, I felt a hand touch my back. It was our Danish friend Peter, happy to run into us. This was the first physical contact I had had with someone other than my immediate family in more than three months. We asked him to give us some distance. We told him that we had tested negative but wanted to be extra cautious because of our travel. He was surprised and questioned the need for our masks. COVID-19 was over in Iceland, he said. We told him about New York, the fear of getting sick, the overloaded hospitals, the long-term closure of schools and playgrounds, the economic devastation there and throughout the country, the lackluster federal-government response. We told him how grateful we were to be here in Iceland. Our masks weren’t for our safety, we said, but for his.[Molly Jong-Fast: The new New York will be better]Peter knew much of this. He had been watching the news and had seen the disaster of the United States’ COVID-19 response. But if it was that bad to live through, he wanted to know, why didn’t the country respond to the virus in a serious way, so that it could move on safely? I didn’t know what to say. I don’t understand it either.I have always seen Iceland as a laboratory for the future, particularly for the United States. Its leadership in climate change, renewable energy, gender equity, and so much more show what could someday be possible with real innovation and effort. Today, Iceland also shows us a vision of a missed present.A few days into our trip, with normal life beginning to feel more and more normal, I sat in a café on the ocean edge of the city and called into an urgent parents’ meeting for our children’s preschool. Our tuition was due imminently and so many questions were still unanswered. Preschoolers don’t do well in virtual classrooms, we all agreed, and what about child-care needs for those of us who are working, not to mention those of us who might have to go back to the office? How do we keep our beloved school solvent and teachers employed? It felt like I was calling into another planet. There was so little governmental guidance or support. There was still the virus.We love New York City. We are going to return. But we don’t know what New York will be when we do. After only a few days in Iceland and a taste of normal life, the city and the coronavirus already felt so far away. As we settle in for our summer here, we hope this is an early return to normalcy. What we fear, though—and what I think we know but struggle to accept—is that this is just a temporary reprieve. Soon we’ll be back in New York City, ready with our masks and rituals, steeling ourselves for the months ahead.
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edition.cnn.com
Bob Ross' time in the Air Force influenced him in 'The Joy of Painting,' pal says
Before Bob Ross introduced the world to “The Joy of Painting,” he served in the Air Force where he discovered happy trees and almighty mountains.
2 h
foxnews.com
Fourth of July: Why do we celebrate with fireworks?
Do you know why it’s popular to celebrate July 4 with a bang?
2 h
foxnews.com
Your Weekend Briefing: Halfway Through 2020
January feels like a decade ago. Here’s what you may have forgotten.
2 h
nytimes.com
Toledo police officer fatally shot outside Home Depot store: reports
A police officer was fatally shot outside a Home Depot store just after midnight Saturday in Toledo, Ohio, according to reports.
3 h
foxnews.com
As coronavirus cases skyrocket, US marks July Fourth with pleas for people to skip the parties
After a week of skyrocketing coronavirus cases in the United States, officials are issuing a stark warning this July Fourth: Skip the parties.
3 h
edition.cnn.com
MLB’s Cleveland Indians say they’re open to possible name change
Cleveland’s MLB team hasn’t always been called the Indians -- and the team indicated Friday it might soon be willing to change its name again.
3 h
foxnews.com
Military vets and fireworks: It's a complicated relationship
While the Fourth of July can be likened to one of America's biggest street parties — at least in pre-pandemic times — our celebration of the sacrifices made by our nation's warriors can cause intensely painful trauma reactions for some who fight our wars.
3 h
edition.cnn.com
Spouse cheating? 10 tech clues to find evidence
Years of marriage will hone a spouse’s instincts, and we often know when something seems funny. Smartphones, tablets, computers, and smart tech absorb adulterous evidence like a sponge. Once suspicions are aroused, a digital trail could contain many clues about a potential dalliance.
3 h
foxnews.com
Trump will host a scaled-back July 4th party at White House as coronavirus cases spike
Trump's guests will include members of the military and law enforcement, as well as doctors and nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle.        
3 h
usatoday.com
Britain has one of the world's worst Covid death rates. Now many fear it's about to drink itself into chaos
After four months of coronavirus lockdown closure, England's pubs are opening their doors again amid fears that this thirst for normality may risk further infections.
4 h
edition.cnn.com
Britain has one of the world's worst Covid death rates. Now many fear it's about to drink itself into chaos
The thought of a pint of beer in a proper pub is a dream that has sustained many people in the UK through the tough months of coronavirus lockdown, but as the doors to drinking establishments finally reopen after four months on Saturday, a potential nightmare looms.
4 h
edition.cnn.com
Lawyer for Epstein victims thinks Ghislaine Maxwell will die in jail
Ghislaine Maxwell will likely kill herself or “be silenced” in jail, a victim lawyer has reportedly predicted — a year after he correctly forecast Jeffrey Epstein’s early death behind bars. “I don’t think she is going to get out of jail alive,” Spencer Kuvin, an attorney for several Epstein victims, told The Daily Mail. “I...
4 h
nypost.com
July Fourth: Frederick Douglass found hope in our Declaration of Independence. So can we.
These are trouble times and the American dream may still be a dream deferred. But the great promise of our founding documents is worth chasing after.      
4 h
usatoday.com
Gilbert Burns comments on 'devastating' removal from UFC 251 after positive COVID-19 test
Gilbert Burns said he's "not feeling well" in his first comment since news of his removal from the UFC 251 main event.        Related StoriesMarina Rodriguez vs. Carla Esparza removed from July 15 UFC event after positive COVID-19 testConor McGregor offers condolences following death of Abdulmanap NurmagomedovOvince Saint Preux vs. Shamil Gamzatov rescheduled for UFC's Aug. 22 event 
4 h
usatoday.com