Women's Health Is Society's Health | Omega

Why are women's health and wellness a direct indicator of a whole society's health and wellness? Columnist Marianne Schnall discusses women's power to be well in their bodies and in their businesses with Dr. Christiane Northrup.

Marianne: Your philosophy toward women’s health and wellness is very synergistic to the Omega Women’s Leadership Center’s approach to leadership, in terms of tuning into our inner wisdom. How would you, personally, define power? What does power mean to you?

Christiane: I love that question. Power is the ability to empower yourself and others. We are moving into a partnership society, and the only power that works is partnership power. We are brought up in a hierarchical mind-set or mythology, where we have God the Father, who is male, and under God the Father, we have everything that’s not male and everything that’s not human. So if you look way, back at the feminist literature, a lot of the feminist spirituality leaders would point to this hierarchical pyramid with God on top, followed by men, women, children, and then nature. The person who is most Godlike in our personal theology is the one who has the right—the God-given right—to determine what everyone else should think, wear, look like, and how they should spend their money. What I’ve realized over the years is that this hierarchical model of power—patriarchal model of power, if you will—is the thing that is often running a woman’s immune system, endocrine system, and central nervous system. No matter what I did, as a woman, I did not have the power to change that mindset for women.

—Dr. Christiane Northrup

I look now, for instance, at the cesarean section rate in many hospitals, not only in America, but in the world. I see that it is approaching 50 percent. I say to myself as a feminist, “What could possibly have gone wrong with the feminist movement that 30 to 50 percent of women would turn their bodies over to technology to birth a baby through high-tech surgery?”

It is because our authority, our power, has been placed outside of us. And therefore, I regard my very personal work with women’s bodies as the most political work possible.

Marianne: In many cases, women are running on autopilot, not even realizing we are handing over our power. So many of the factors that impact us are subliminal.

Christiane: That’s exactly right. The physical body is very concrete, it’s very literal, and it’s in many ways like a small child or a small animal. It needs to be nurtured and cared for in order to run a different program. I wrote an article in women of power: a magazine of feminism, spirituality, and politics years and years ago before I wrote Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, where I cited the statistic that one in three women will be raped in a lifetime. I also stated that the language of the body speaks to us about the battering and abuse of the feminine: one in three women has a hysterectomy, 40 to 50 percent of women have cesarean sections, 60 percent of women have premenstral syndrome, and 70 percent of women have menstrual cramps. It’s the body that tells us we’re off track.

One of the major hurdles of my whole career has been the notion that when we suggest that a woman is living and contributing to her state of health, we are blaming the victim. That stops people. Sonia Johnson, author of From Housewife to Heretic, a book about a Mormon woman who revealed that it was the Mormon Church that defeated the Equal Rights Amendment, said there are certain things that stop you, and when you get to the point where they no longer stop you, then you regain your power. When you believe that you’re consciously causing breast cancer, you’re consciously creating a fibroid, you’re consciously getting menstrual cramps, you completely step out of your power, because the idea just makes you angry. You think, “How dare you? How dare you say that I brought this on myself?”

But the point of power—since we’re talking about power—is to be willing to realize that you, personally, as a woman—by your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and beliefs—have more ability to influence your health than any doctor, insurance company, drug, or healthcare plan. And that is because every thought we think creates a metabolic cascade in our body that is either creating live messages or die messages.

Sonia Johnson said there are three words that stop us: witch, bitch, and lesbian. It’s interesting—we’ve come far enough so that it’s cool to be a lesbian, so that’s good. Witches, I don’t know, not so much. I gave a talk to the Girl Scout Council years ago when I was named Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scout Council. I got up to talk about my first years at Women to Women [a clinic devoted to women’s health care, cofounded by Christiane Northrup]. Men would sit outside in their trucks and rev the engines because they were certain that because this was a women’s health center, we would be bashing them. And then the word on the street was that we were a bunch of lesbians, and of course we practiced witchcraft and all the rest of it.

I said to the Girl Scout Council, “There are three words that each of us should own and they will no longer have the power to stop us. What is a bitch? It’s a female dog that protects her puppies. I’m a bitch. What is a witch? It is a woman who believes in the religion of the earth and follows the cycles of the moon, which also govern agriculture and planting. I’m a witch. What is a lesbian? A woman who loves women. I’m a lesbian.”

I got a standing ovation. Because once you name it—that’s the old feminist power of naming—then it doesn’t have power anymore.

Marianne: Right now, with all the problems humanity faces, it feels like there is an urgent need for women to own our power and contribute our voices and influence into the world.

Christiane: We don’t know what kind of power we have. For instance, baby boomer women are the largest and richest demographic in the world. They account for 80 percent of the decision making process in 80 percent of all purchases. They don’t know it!  [laughter] And if we use our power—not like men use their power, not creating that hierarchical steeple—but instead create power structures based on the wombs that women know about. We know about this kind of power inherently in our physical bodies.

Marianne: What do you think is possible for women, the world, and yourself?

Christiane: I think it’s possible to live heaven on earth. And one of the things that I’m seeing that just tickles me is a birth movement among twenty and thirty somethings. Among the movement are thought leaders like Latham Thomas, who runs a company called Tender Shoot. She teaches pregnant women about nutrition. This whole group of young women includes my daughters so I’m up close and personal. They’re entrepreneurs, they love their lives, and they’re figuring out how to be the source of their own income. And most of that source is through the Internet and affiliate agreements.

The new business model is: If I do well, I’ll teach you how to do well and we’ll all rise together. It’s a cooperative model that you actually see in action in network marketing. It’s completely new. The old model is: I will be the president of the bank or on the board of the bank and we will have these huge bonuses and the tellers will get just above minimum wage. The new model is a partnership model, and if you look at the compensation plan of a network marketing company, you will see that you can’t possibly do well unless you’re helping others succeed, too, and everyone has the same opportunity going in. Everyone has the same opportunity. The playing field is absolutely level.

I believe women-owned small businesses are the fastest growing segment of the economy, so that’s extraordinarily important. The other thing that I am seeing is these cooperative ways of raising children. I frankly think we need to go back to tribes. No single adult should ever be home with a bunch of children. Some can do it. I would have shot myself. [laughs] That is not a model that really works. That single-family home, one person staying home with the kids without any help is an aberration of human history. It never really even existed until the Industrial Revolution. So I see people working out other arrangements. I think that needs to happen, where we’re cooperating and raising each other’s children. I don’t think you can have enough mothers. We need as many mothers as you can possibly have.

So I’m excited about the younger generation coming along. It’s a paradox for me. I remember when my daughters were going to New York City, having their first pelvic exams, with someone who called herself holistic. This person was cold, distant, and didn’t even warm the speculum. Forty years ago, thirty years ago, I had all the speculums on heating pads in the drawers and little footies, you know, and my daughters called and said, “Doesn’t it bother you that you’ve been out there doing this work and all these years later, this gynecologist doesn’t even warm the speculum, and she’s a woman?”

I said, “Well, honey, the way I’ve always gotten through the night, is geologic time. The time it takes to move a glacier.” [laughs]

In geologic time, women got the right to vote in 1920, but we’ve been chattel and slaves for 5,000 years, so we’re moving ahead at warp speed! That’s how I have to look at it. Because you look around and you still can’t believe it.

Marianne: You lead a very busy life. In what ways do you personally practice self-care and keep yourself centered, amongst all the busyness and inputs that there are in modern life?

Christiane: Well, the first thing I realized when I was raising young kids—it’s the old Roseanne Barr line, “My husband comes home at the end of the day, the kids are alive, I’ve done my job.” [laughs]

I remember when I first saw her on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, I fell to the floor laughing. I was laughing so hard, because it was so true. But now my kids are grown, and my life is my own, but I have found it is absolutely essential for my health to bring the deliberate pursuit of pleasure into my life every day. I have learned Argentine tango and we have a wonderful tango community in Portland, Maine. I dance two to three times a week. I just was reviewing some studies from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine that reported partner dancing decreasing the risk of dementia by 74 percent.

It’s better than any other activity you can do. Golf does nothing. I understand golf and it is very special in my family, but if I look at it as a sport and all the stuff that goes along with it—how much water gets used and the pesticides that are applied to the greens. There are also the good old boys in the club and the many clubs where women can’t tee off until the men are done, it’s like the last bastion. But the interesting part to me is my dance class where I can go and dance for two hours for five bucks—that’s given me as much or more value than a country club membership. And I love that. [laughs] Everybody can go. And it doesn’t matter what you believe and it doesn’t matter how much money you earn. What matters is you can dance in a close embrace and create a love story for three minutes. That’s all that matters!

Marianne: Are there any last words of wisdom or a message that you would most want to instil in women at this moment in time?

Christiane: Yes, at this moment in time, my message is: the future is ours. I have no doubt about it. There’s an old quote from Sonia Johnson that I love, “Women are rising like yeast all over the planet.”

And they are! Look at that seminal book by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky. To me, that was the turning point of this millennium when they wrote, “The entire planet is finally waking up to this truth. Self-development for women is the answer to many, if not most, of the world’s problems.” Nicholas D. Kristof—an amazing journalist who works on behalf of human dignitiy and freedom—had gone to report from Tiananmen Square in 1989 during the protests. There, he and his wife realized that 200 to 300 people died during the demonstrations, but every year millions of women and girls are either killed or neglected. He said the world just called this “a women’s issue.” That’s where the rubber hits the road for all of it.

There’s a TED talk by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, she works with entrepreneurs all over the world. And she asks people, for instance in Bosnia, “Who are your women business leaders?” The men say, “We don’t have any.” She then goes in and finds that the women are running the dairies and they’re selling the raspberries. The thing is, when women start running their own businesses, it just uplifts everybody around them. Here in my own home, I have to have a refrigerator full of food, because you never know. I might have to serve a meal to God-knows-who. [laughs] That’s how women are. We have these breasts. We want to nurture the world. But we have to include ourselves. And when we include ourselves, then everything works.

© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Discover More