#ItBeginsWithZ

Let’s Talk About Vaginas

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No, but seriously; let’s. We really don’t talk about them enough—especially in a non-sexual context. The word feels strange to write, and even stranger to say out loud. Even my phone corrects “vagina” to “cagina”, as if an inanimate object could also feel awkward. Well, that taboo ends here! This is an important issue that could save your life—and a lot of young women really don’t have a clue about it. Now that is awkward.

Okay, brace yourselves, ladies (and any men who were unknowingly lured into reading this through the word “vagina”) here it comes: pap smears. What a terrible name. Smear. Smear. They really don’t make it sound appealing, do they? But in all honesty, It’s not that bad. The procedure takes probably less than thirty seconds in all, and it doesn’t hurt even slightly.

You can get a pap smear by booking in an appointment with your doctor, or at a women’s health clinic. Basically, they take you into a private room, just like any other doctor’s visit, and ask you to remove your underwear and lie on an examination bed. This bit is rather awkward, but remember: they are trained professionals and have probably seen thousands of vaginas in their time. They use a hard plastic tool called a speculum (not to be confused with a spatula) in order for them to see your cervix. From there, they take a quick sample of the cells and send them away for testing. And then you’re done!

Now, I would definitely recommend seeing a female doctor—at least for your first time. It’s much less awkward. My usual doctor is male, and I’m also friends with his daughter. The vagina jokes he made certainly didn’t make me feel more comfortable. The female doctor I sought out, however, was kind and made general conversation and even gave me some information for this article.

So, what the Pap smear actually does is test for any abnormalities in the cells around your cervix which can eventually lead to cervical cancer, as well as testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. HPV, which is an infection of the skin around think, moist linings of the body (like the nose, mouth, throat and genital) results from close skin contact, isn’t something to be overly concerned about: 4 out of 5 people will have it in their lives, mostly with no symptoms. Your body will usually clear it naturally in 1-2 years, but in some cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.

According to the Cancer Council, about 1 in 10 Pap smears reveal abnormalities, though less than 1% of these abnormalities lead to cervical cancer. Even so, all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation or number of partners, should be tested every two years from the ages of 18-70 (or younger,  depending on what age she became sexually active).

In 2017, based on recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee, the Australian Government will make some changes to the Pap test. Women aged between 25 and 74 will undertake a HPV test every five years, which may also include various other tests. These changes are estimated to reduce the number of cancer cases by a further 15%. Hooray!

However, until then, Pap tests are absolutely necessary. Soldier through that awkwardness, and it could potentially save your life! Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer had not had regular check-ups. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with a simple test—these tests have halved the mortality rate. Can you really ignore that?

Listen to your vagina, and don’t be afraid to talk about any problems you may have, no matter how seemingly miniscule. Don’t become another statistic because you were too embarrassed to ask. After all, happy vagina, happy life. Preach it, ladies!

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Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition–yes, yes and more yes!

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If you are yet to experience the magnificence of the Definitive Edition of Tomb Raider, you’re seriously missing out. Better yet, since it was released in 2013, it is fairly affordable—you can get it from EB games from around $36-47, depending on whether you want a new or pre-owned copy. This game is absolutely fantastic, and you can sleep well knowing your money was spent on possibly the best game that features an awesome female action hero.

The story follows the story of Lara Croft, an ambitious archaeology graduate, through a game of survival and instincts in the fictional lost island of Yamatai, just off the coast of Japan.  Croft, following in the footsteps of her highly-esteemed and late archaeologist father, believes she’s cracked the mystery of Yamatai and their benevolent Sun Queen, Hemiko. However, when wild weather suddenly appears out of nowhere, Lara Croft and her team are shipwrecked and must fight for their lives against the untamed wilderness, and a crazed, sacrificial cult—the Solari Brotherhood— bent on slaying anyone who dare oppose them.

This Lara Croft shows her emotions. We see her cry, freak out, and try to reason with her assailants before she kills them. She shows that being a woman is not a weakness, nor are emotions a weakness.

The quality of the Tomb Raider games have come a long way since their release in 1996—this game is no exception, with fantastic graphics and easy-to-learn gameplay. Furthermore, the characterisation of Lara Croft is very pro-feminism: while she is a gorgeous woman (based on model Megan Farquhar) it is not her looks that at all contribute to her freedom. No, Croft is brilliant because of her mind, her survival instincts and dedication to those she loves even in the face of grave danger. Croft shows compassion, intelligence and that emotions are okay; they can be conquered. I especially liked the fact that, despite her looks, the game does not call any unnecessary attention to her breasts or other female body parts that are typically sexualised. The only thing I can criticise, honestly, is her hair—it’s always perfect, despite the weather or gruesome occurrences. I’m totally jealous my hair isn’t like that. Croft begins this rebooted origin story as a startled, unexperienced woman, before conquering her own fears and becoming a badass warrior, unlocking the strong woman within.

Well, I can’t say i’ve ever played a game where you’re literally thrown into pools of bood. Did someone say “dead bodies everywhere”?

Surprisingly, the game actually features quite a bit of gore—as one would expect with a sacrificial, bloody cult and an ancient merciless Sun Queen. Tomb Raider is by no means a “fluffy” female video game. It’s gory, action-packed and kick-ass! Lara Croft is the ultimate female action figure.

I rate this game a 4 out of 5 stars. My only complaint? I wish it lasted longer!

Small Acts of Bravery, Small Acts of Kindness

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I still believe there is kindness in this world. Even though we are engulfed with war, disease, suffering, death, hate and torture, I still believe there is hope.

A few days ago, I somehow popped my tyre while driving. Don’t ask me how. I just heard a massive BANG and there it was. A flat tyre. Now, normally I would have called family friends to come and help me. The only problem was: I now lived three hours away from them.

Oh, dear! I thought. How is it possible that I can write thousands upon thousands of words and analyse philosophical ideas, but I can’t change a damn tyre?

I was freaking out—and kicking myself for not learning to change a tyre sooner. That was when a random guy asked me if I was okay—and he helped me, with no thought of himself, not even accepting my offers of money as thanks. I was bewildered—and grateful.

Similarly, a few years ago I was at a petrol station, and my cards declined—one of which was supposed to contain child support payments from my father. I tried $20 on each. Declined. $15. Declined. $10. Declined. Even $5—once again, declined. I was humiliated to the point of trying even $2, while counting up ten cent pieces from my wallet. And that was when a man stepped out from behind me and paid the rest of what I owed.

“Don’t worry about it, mate,” he said. “We’ve all been there.”

And then he left without another word.

A tyre and some money; for them, it may not have meant much. But for me, it meant the world. Could it be that there are genuinely good people out there? People who are willing to help others with no thought of themselves?

My mum once told me a story about how she saved a woman from a rather dire car crash accident. She crawled into the overturned car to pull the woman out of the wreckage. At any moment, the car could have burst into flames: but she did it anyway.

I can’t say if I’ve saved a life—I’d like to hope someone else would have intervened if I hadn’t. Two years ago I was holidaying in Vanuatu at a place known as the Blue Lagoon—essentially, a very deep, very blue swimming hole. A mother was there, waiting to catch her two girls who were jumping off the wharf into the lagoon—only, it was much deeper than she anticipated. She began to struggle. She began to call for help—scream for help. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I had to do something. Grabbing the girl—who couldn’t have been older than five—I slowly made my way to where I could touch the ground, banking on the idea that I could hold my breath for longer than she could. The mother cried, thanking me. Did I save her? I don’t know. But I did something, and that’s my point.

Something is all it takes, no matter how small, to change someone’s world. Small acts of kindness, small acts of bravery—that’s all it takes to change the world. So, what will you do? All it takes is one tiny step. Will you take it?

Life inside a book: wouldn’t it be nice?

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I can’t help but think life would be better if we lived inside the universe of a novel. Probably not Game of Thrones, though dragons are pretty awesome, though still: how amazing would it be to practise magic or shoot lightning bolts out of your fingertips?

That last part—sadly—is pretty irrelevant to my point and this article.

Some of you may have heard of the best-selling Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead—it recently also became a film (one I am particularly upset with. I mean, seriously. What is up with filmmakers ruining perfectly good books?). Calm down, I’m not writing about Vampire Academy. But I am going to write about Richelle Mead—sort of.

Richelle Mead is a brilliant author, and has written some of the best material I’ve ever read. She also happens to be the one who ignited my passion for writing and all things wacky. Sadly, her adult novels—which I’d argue are some of her best work—are largely unknown.

Her most recent venture is the mind-blowing Age of X series, which is set in a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists who unleashed a deadly virus. Obviously, the deadly virus part is bad. But how she describes society adapting to overcome this danger is truly remarkable.

Gameboard of the Gods, the first instalment in the series, is mostly set in the Republic of North America (AKA RUNA). In this society, religion has all but been extinguished, thus eliminating religious conflict. Gene pools have been rigorously mixed in order to fight off the disease before a cure was created, so there is no racism or underprivileged minority groups. Gender equality has finally been achieved, as well as equal pay. RUNA also has strict birth control regulation—citizens are embedded with a contraceptive implant until the age of 20, where they are able to conceive up to two children.  If citizens are able to prove they can financially support their family, they may be allowed up to four children—though strictly no more. This removes many issues we experience today, such as teen pregnancies, childhood poverty and a population that is too large for the Earth to possibly sustain. Education is also strongly embedded into RUNA’s culture, with a year of compulsory tertiary education for all students.

I understand some of this stuff is pretty controversial—particularly the control of procreation. I have had many discussions with friends about this; do people have the right to choose? What are the consequences of this?

I fully support a person’s right to choose—within reason. This policy is nothing like China’s disastrous one-child policy, in which 400 million births (mainly female) were prevented. There is no gender inequality in RUNA. And proving you can support your children isn’t paying for them—it’s not elitist, it’s logical. It encourages parents to first further themselves (and the country) before they procreate. In Australia, the average couple has 1.7 children—four is a lot.

This issue isn’t about control; it’s about sustainability. The Earth doesn’t have enough resources for our growing population, and it will be the poor who suffer.

Whether or not you agree with this strict kind of control, you have to admit they solve many issues with a few simple steps—steps that allow society to flourish. The needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the few—somewhere along the line, I think we’ve forgotten that.

I know RUNA isn’t perfect. There are a lot of issues that haven’t been addressed. But you do have to admire the superior—in theory—society. We could end world hunger, end gender inequality, end religious wars (mostly). It sounds great until the banished gods return—with a vengeance, I might add—in a power-scramble for followers. It’s called Gameboard of the Gods for a reason. But that’s beside the point.

My point is: RUNA sounds great. I would gladly live there, and I think we could learn a lot from fictitious worlds like this—admittedly, with some modifications. Someone should notify the politicians immediately.