Why Women & Their Bodies In Health & Illness Is My Favorite Class This Semester

On top of the courses required for all students majoring in Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa, I need to take four elective classes in the GWSS department. This spring, one that I chose was Women & Their Bodies in Health & Illness, taught by Dr. Janette Taylor. Although the semester is barely halfway over, I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the course. I can’t seem to shut up about it when I’m around my friends… I hope they’re not tired of me!

But just in case they are, I’ll give them a break and tell you all about it instead this time. I’m obsessed. If I can convince even one person to consider taking this course, then I’ll have done what I set out to do. Without any further ado, let’s dive right in to the reasons I love Women & Their Bodies in Health & Illness!

1. We explore a huge variety of topics

By reading about and discussing so many subjects, I think my knowledge of women’s health has grown by leaps and bounds. Topics we have covered so far include: gynecology exams, sexually transmitted infections, lesbian health, inequity in healthcare, menstruation, medical school training and transgender rights. Future topics involve: sexual assault, birth control, pregnancy and childbirth, mental health and domestic violence. Women’s health is definitely not a one-dimensional subject.

2. Classes are heavily discussion-based

Typically, we push our chairs into a giant circle at the beginning of class and dive into the day’s readings from there. While I appreciate the opportunity to learn about women’s health, I love having the chance to find my own voice even more. Few of us are used to talking about our bodies so openly and honestly.

In just one class session, so many different points of view are expressed. We learn from our own and others’ experiences, drawing upon what we've absorbed through books, TV, movies and the internet as well.

Most of my classmates are upperclassmen, but there is one shy freshman who eventually admitted that she didn’t feel she had anything to contribute to our discussions. She felt the rest of us all knew so much more! Right away, I raised my hand to reassure her: I’m a junior and every week I learn something new or have a misunderstanding cleared up for me!

It's not limited to collegiettes, either. Admittedly, there is only one guy in the class, but it's always interesting to hear what he has to say about the things men don't know or misunderstand when it comes to women's health.

3. It’s a refreshing break from more theory-heavy courses

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of my GWSS courses. But the readings for some of them are so dense, and, well, kind of boring at times. Between the conversational tone of many of the essays we read (such as old articles from Ms. Magazine) and the free-flowing discussion during class time, Women & Their Bodies in Health & Illness never feels dull or irrelevant to the real world. Since it is cross-listed in the Nursing department, about half my classmates come from GWSS and half from Nursing, which means the class feels more practical than many others I’ve taken.

4. More than ever, it’s important to talk about women’s health

With reproductive rights under attack by the current administration, it often seems as though the advances for which feminism fought and won are on shaky ground. It’s crucial to do our own research, learn to spot misinformation and reject prejudice in all areas. Although this isn't a journalism class, it helps to keep up with the news, since it's a frequent topic of discussion here! We often talk about the steps we can take to fight back and create change right now, as well as how what we're learning and experiencing informs our dream careers as healthcare providers, activists and whatnot. 

5. The professor has a great sense of humor

She strongly believes that laughter helps us learn! She’s not afraid to make fun of herself or drop some advice she’s picked up along the way. She got tired of reading the papers she assigned students in her previous classes, so this semester we’re the guinea pigs in her latest experiment. Every few weeks we have to make a meme – yes, you read that right – about a recent topic, then create an abstract and bibliography to explain the meme.

Definitely not an assignment I’ll forget about any time soon.

It’s hard to believe our semester together is already halfway over. I’ll miss Women & Their Bodies in Health & Illness when it ends, but I’m determined to never stop learning and asking questions. This course has so many real-world applications for sure, from educating my friends to calling out inaccurate information frequently accepted as the truth. I highly recommend that you take this class if you have the chance!

Photos: cover, 1, 2, 3