My Favorite Books of 2019
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

Welcome to the third annual Femtastic year-end book review!

This year was my first full year in grad school, which is definitely reflected in the list. In 2018, I “read” 52 books, only 2 of which were audiobooks. In 2019, my total number is 48 books - 15 of which were audiobooks! Not bad, but shows that when I had free time in grad school, I was less likely to want to read (than say, listen to an audiobook…or more often, a murder podcast) because I was already doing so much reading for school. I clearly tended toward fiction rather than nonfiction for the same reason.

As usual, lots of books with strong female leads, authors of color, and WWII history - including a surprising number of WWII-era nonfiction and fiction released this year that is set in Italy, which is not the typical setting for most WWII books. Also many books set in the American South, and many immigrant stories. Anywho, if you like Obama’s book lists, like in previous years some of my faves are his faves too or were already on my list for 2020!

All books are ranked in (very rough and inexact) order within each category.

Top 10 Fiction

1.    An American Marriage (Tayari Jones)
Beautiful and enraging story about how our country and criminal justice system treats black bodies. This destroyed me (in a good way?)

2.    A Place for Us (Fatima Farheen Mirza)
Ditto; felt like I needed a group therapy session to process but it’s gorgeous. If you’re a first-gen immigrant, particularly from a South Asian family, it will resonate.

3.    The Power (Naomi Alderman)
Sci-fi bestseller that explores what would happen if women suddenly became the physically dominant sex. Everyone who grew up in a male body should read.

4.    Salvage the Bones (Jesmyn Ward)
Jesmyn is my favorite author discovery of 2019. She’s a two-time National Book Award winner, which she won for this book and the next on the list. Everything she writes is haunting, visual, and beautiful. This one is about family and poverty in Mississippi in the days leading up to (and just after) Hurricane Katrina. The Kindle version of this book is currently only $2.99.

5.    Sing, Unburied, Sing (Jesmyn Ward)
Ward’s second National Book Award–winner. As usual, her work is lyrical and moving. Again set in rural Mississippi.

6.    House at the Edge of Night (Catherine Banner)
Transports you to a remote little island off the coast of Sicily. Anyone who grew up in a small town or is familiar with Italy will relate. Explores the impact of the Fascist party and both World Wars in Italy.

7.    The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna (Juliet Grames)
Funny, moving, and generally excellent read for any Italian American or other person who descended from southern European immigrants that migrated to the American northeast in the 20th century.

8.    Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel)
Dystopian and will definitely freak you out about pandemics, but worth it. Couldn’t put it down. I probably wouldn’t have picked this one out for myself, but my friend lent it to me and I’m so glad she did.

9.    On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Ocean Vuong)
Gorgeous. Poetic. May resonate with LGBTQ+ folks, folks who are first generation immigrants to America (especially from east/southeast Asia), people who grew up in rural areas, those touched by the opioid epidemic…so basically everyone.

10. Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)
If you grew up around marshland, you’ll be transported right back. If you didn’t, you’ll probably also be transported. There’s a mystery element as well, but it’s so different from any other book in the mystery/thriller category that it won’t feel that way.

Top 5 Non-Fiction

1.    I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (Michelle McNamara)
Could not put it down. If you like true crime and serial killer stories, you’re welcome. The evilness of this man is astounding. If you get scared of the dark easily, are a woman who lives alone, or live in a detached family home with windows on the first floor…you might not be able to sleep for a while. Major trigger warning for sexual assault, physical violence, etc.

2.    The Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 (Stephen Puleo)
INCREDIBLE story of the Great Molasses Flood (yes, really) of 1919 in Boston. Sounds funny and whimsical, but actually killed lots of people and devastated an entire neighborhood of poor, politically vulnerable Italian-American immigrants. Delves into the political climate and unrest of the time and how that culture contributed to the tragedy and shaped the trial in its aftermath.

3.    The Pope and Mussolini (David L. Kertzer)
If you like World War II, you have to read this. Tells the story of how the Catholic Church was complicit (and knew it) in the atrocities committed by Mussolini and Hitler.

4.    Men We Reaped: A Memoir (Jesmyn Ward)
I tried but I can’t put it better than the succinct description at the link: Ward “contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the risk of being a black man in the rural South.”

5.    The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy (Michael Lewis)
Written by the author of bestsellers like The Big Short, Moneyball, Flash Boys, etc. Anyone interested in or learning about government should read to realize how federal agencies impact policy in the background, outside the fanfare of Capitol Hill. Will make you angry and scared by how the Trump administration has gutted KEY federal administrations, removing executives with decades of expertise and endangering us all in the process. You’ll also learn a lot of very interesting (and sometimes fun) facts about the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture.

Top 5 Audiobooks

I’m very, very picky about narrators, so any audiobook I actually finish is pretty good. I also listened to the entire Harry Potter audiobook series (7 books), which is obviously the number one winner of everything, always, but I won’t list it here because that goes without saying. Jim Dale narrated the whole series and I love him deeply. I started Book One during my spring finals, which is the best therapy money can buy.

1.    Beneath a Scarlet Sky (Mark Sullivan)
Again, great for WWII junkies. I have read a ton about WWII but only in this year have there been any popular books that detail how the Nazi regime interacted with Mussolini’s fascist party in Italy. You need to read it if your WWII history lessons haven’t focused much on Italy (same goes for the next book on this list). Based on true events. Kindle version is currently only $5.99 and apparently it is “soon to be a major television event from Pascal Pictures, starring Tom Holland.

2.    From Sand and Ash (Amy Harmon)
Excellent and amazingly narrated. “Italy,1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.” It's also a love story involving a priest so there's truly something for everyone!

3.    Evil Has a Name: The Untold Story of the Golden State Killer Investigation (Paul Holes, Jim Clemente, Peter McDonnell)
I listened to this immediately after reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (McNamara), listed above, because I couldn’t get enough. Golden State Killer is the scariest serial killer I've ever heard of, and I've heard of many. McNamara’s book ends before he was found and arrested in 2018. This book goes into the details of how he was finally discovered (awesome genealogy lessons!) after evading authorities for 50 years.

4.    What the Wind Knows (Amy Harmon)
A mix of fantasy and historical fiction about the violence in Ireland in the 1920s. Great narration. Lil bit o' romance.

5.    Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered (Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff)
My favorite podcast is My Favorite Murder and this book is essentially a joint autobiography written by the hilarious hosts. If you don’t listen to the podcast, you probably won’t get it. If you do, you’ll love it.

Hankering for more great reads?

Additional Fiction

-      News of the World (Paulette Jiles): A top fiction runner-up. Post-Civil War Texas and interactions with Native American tribes. Soon to be a movie starring Tom Hanks, who literally could not be more perfect for the role of the protagonist.

-      The Summer Before the War (Helen Simonson and Ricarda Huch): Another runner-up for me. Classic historical fiction set in the English countryside.

-      And the Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini): By the author of The Kite Runner. You will learn a lot about the realities and complexities of Taliban control of Afghanistan and what it meant for women. Hosseini's books are always incredibly moving and provide a very informative, historical glimpse into various moments of 20th century Afghanistan.

-      Three Daughters (Consuelo Saah Baehr): Again, you’ll learn a lot about Middle Eastern politics through a sweeping story, described as a “historical saga that chronicles the lives, loves, and secrets of three generations of Palestinian Christian women.”

-      The Immortalists (Chloe Benjamin): a story about  bonds between siblings that is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. Starts in 1969 Lower East Side, journeys through the absolute terror of the early HIV/AIDS epidemic.

-      Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng): Bestseller, mystery, great beach read. Soon to be a Hulu limited series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

-      Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman): Depressing but darkly funny in a very British way. Reese Witherspoon is producing a movie based on it.

-      The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris): Based on interviews conducted with real Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. If you haven’t read more than 10 books about the Holocaust, this was a 2019 bestseller so I’d recommend it. I’ve read so many about the topic though that this didn’t really stand out for me.

-      Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng): Ng always delivers on a great, contemporary, family-based thriller of a beach read.

-      Exit West (Mohsin Hamid) Fiction but definitely gives you a glimpse into the terror going on in places like Syria. “A New York Times bestseller, the astonishingly visionary love story that imagines the forces that drive ordinary people from their homes into the uncertain embrace of new lands.”

-      Unsheltered (Barbara Kingsolver): Beach read-ish. A little mystery, a little historical fiction, a little present-day family drama.

-      Gilead (Marilynne Robinson): This won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004. I can see why because the writing is beautiful. But is also very…rambling. You might like if you’re from the Midwest or South. “An intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart.”

-      Split Level (Sande Boritz Berger): This review by Foreword said it best: “sets a 1970s Jersey housewife on a provocative collision course…a sharp portrait of female empowerment. Through sensitive insights, a woman finds an honest version of herself after realizing that her ideas on the nuclear family have made her erase vital parts of her identity.”

Additional Non-Fiction (many of which were written by our talented Femtastic Podcast guests!):

-      When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew (Hendrika de Vries): Memoir of growing up in Nazi-occupied Germany. I felt honored to have Hendrika on the podcast to tell her story.

-      A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (Sonia Purnell): true story of female spy, Virginia Hall, and how she changed the course of WWII through her work in France  

-      What a Body Remembers: A Memoir of Sexual Assault and its Aftermath (Karen Stefano): Trauma and recovery in the aftermath of assault, including interactions with an insensitive criminal justice system. Karen spoke beautifully on the podcast about taking baby steps to healing after trauma.

-      Being Mean: A Memoir of Sexual Abuse and Survival (Patricia Eagle): I LOVED interviewing Patricia on the podcast, where she talked about the illegal abortions she received pre-Roe v. Wade. The podcast is the first time Patricia had ever spoken about her abortions publicly, but she felt it necessary to speak out given the recent attacks on reproductive rights in many states.

-      We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor (Editors: Marika Lindholm, Cheryl Dumesnil, Katherine Shonk, Domenica Ruta): Funny and heartwarming, with stories from people like Amy Poehler, Anne Lamott, and Elizabeth Alexander. I interviewed co-editor Marika Lindholm on the podcast about what it’s like to be a solo mom in 2019.

-      At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir (Marlena Maduro Baraf): Memoir of growing up between Panama and the U.S. as a Spanish Jew with a mentally ill mother in the 1950s and 1960s

Additional Audiobooks:

-      The Silent Patient (Alex Michaelides): Bestselling thriller. Starts off a bit slow but then gets entertaining. Fantastic British accents.

-      Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman): Fantasy. I was looking for something to listen to that would fill the void I felt after listening to the entire Harry Potter series. It’s no Harry Potter, but I understand why it was recommended as a rebound after HP.

-     Where the Desert Meets the Sea (Werner Sonne): Jewish refugees in Post-WWII Palestine

Started but didn’t finish mostly because my library loan expired before I could get into it and I wasn't attached enough to get on the waitlist for them again:

-      There, There (Tommy Orange): I couldn't get into it but I’d try again because so many people love it. Contemporary Native Americans living in Oakland.

-      The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan): Couldn't get super into it but might rent again because it won the Man Booker Prize. Australian countryside.

-      Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders) – Yes, that Lincoln. Fantasy mixed with historical fiction? Couldn’t get into the unique writing style, but many people love it.

-      Circe (Madeline Miller): fantasy/mythology. People recommended to me but I did not like. 

-      Small Fry: A Memoir (Lisa Brennan Jobs): Written by the daughter that Steve Jobs abandoned in her early years. If you’ve read about Jobs (which you should – read the Isaacson biography), you already know that he was an asshole, so this is just a look into the specific ways in which he was an asshole to his daughter and her mother. Poetic writing but I got bored because it felt like more detail than I wanted about her life at the time, and I already knew a lot about Jobs and his relationships from the biography.

-     The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins): Bestselling psychological thriller that became a movie starring Emily Blunt. I was listening to this on my waterproof iPod while swimming laps but I never finished it because I stopped doing pool workouts. Haha. I only got a maybe a couple hours in, but it was definitely entertaining and well-narrated with nice British accents. I'd restart it! 

How to Read More This Year
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

Following my post listing all of the books I read in 2018, I was surprised to get a *ton* of messages from people asking for advice on how to make time for reading. And these questions got me to thinking! I know for sure that I don't have ~loads~ more free time than your average person (cough, cough, grad school - and before that I was working full-time like err'body else). I usually sleep 9-10 hours per night. And I waste plenty of time on Instagram like the rest of us. I'm not special. But I think what it comes down to is prioritization, and a little bit o’ strategy.

 So, in response to all of your messages, and at the high risk of sounding pretentious, here are my recommendations on how to make more time for reading this year - or at least what works for me. I'd love to hear about your way of doin’ thangs!


I make time for reading at the following times (and no, not every single day or every single time):

·     I read before bed. My Kindle is always either on my nightstand or in my day bag, so that I can…

·     Read throughout the day when I otherwise would be bored scrolling through Instagram or compulsively checking email

·     I read on planes (you always have to power down large electronic devices for takeoff anyway, so if you just read instead then you don’t need to change a thing!)

·     I read instead of watching TV or movies. (Basically, my main theory is that I read more than other people because I spend less time doing the alternatives that we usually fill in for reading - tv, movies, social media, etc.)

·     I read on the bus or subway from my Kindle or the Kindle app for iPhone (more on that later).  Sometimes the bus makes me nauseous or space is just too crowded, but I do it when I'm in the mood. Same goes for long car rides.

·     I read in waiting rooms, in long lines, while getting pedicures, while getting my hair done (LOL these last two items...they happen infrequently, but when they do, I am prepared), when I'm waiting for the doctor/dentist to come in the exam room, while getting my car serviced...basically any time I have to wait for more than a few minutes.

·     I read when I’m bored or when I want to turn off my mind. I often have a hard time finding a show I can get into, or even picking out one show/movie when there are a million options before me on Netflix. So it's just easier to get in bed with a book, and I am usually more entertained and engaged by a book than I would be by one of the alternatives.

·     I read when I’m out at restaurants by myself, partially because I have no shame. I will go to a restaurant and ask for a table for one or a seat at the bar (yeah, even during busy periods), and I will sit and eat by myself while reading. I similarly read while having my coffee in coffee shops.

·     Driving/walking down the street/cleaning/doing dishes/walking your dog/doing laundry/staring into space/at the gym: this is where audiobooks come in. I’m not a big audiobook person (I think I only listened to ~2 last year), mainly because I always find the readers' voices too flat and my mind ends up drifting elsewhere (podcasts are my jam though...obvi). But if you like audiobooks, you can listen to books at almost any time. And you can get almost any book worth reading on Audible these days (more on that later too).

·    I’m not gonna advocate for or against it, but I’m pretty sure toilet reading is like a total thing. I’ve not *never* done it. I’m a bit too germaphobic to store magazines or books near the toilet (and honestly it kinda freaks me out when I see them in other people’s houses…like how LONG are you sitting there for and are you eating enough fiber!?) but if it’s your thing…an easy, achievable resolution could just be that you read every time you take a poo. Just wash your hands, please.




I’m not made of money, and I couldn’t possibly read as much if I had to shell out ~$12-18 every time I wanted to read a book. You probably already know how to use your local public library for physical books, but what you might not know is that most public libraries these days let you rent e-books and audiobooks too! You never even have to leave the house!

Go to the website or branch of your local library and figure out how to get in on this wonderful, publicly funded action! On my library’s site, you can browse titles, make wishlists, place holds, and more. When the book is checked out, I just click a button and it’s delivered to the device of my choice. Voila! I love it.

If for whatever reason your library doesn’t have the book you want, or the waitlist for a book is too long, you could always of course just buy the book. If you’re not sold yet on e-books but you are still cost-conscious, it’s worth noting that e-books are always significantly cheaper than hard-copy versions of books.


If you get ~30 pages into a book and you're bored, just put it down and move on to a different book. For those out there who are Type A like me, you will struggle with this at first. I used to *have* to finish every book I started (I also used to only read non-fiction because I thought I had to be "productive" at all times, but that's a blog post for a different day).

But then two things happened: a) someone told me "there are too many good books in the world to waste time reading one that's bad," and b) I realized that I was not reading as much as I wanted because I was forcing myself to finish books that bored me. Let's focus on that one a little more...

If you are reading a book that bores you, reading it just for the sake of finishing it will feel like a chore. You will find excuses to do things other than read, because even though you want to read more books this year, the particular sucky book you're trying to finish is not good. It will sit on your nightstand, and you will sit on your butt in front of the TV.

How do you know *when* to move on from a book? I know, I know...sometimes books start out boring and then get better! You just *HAVE* to find out if this is one of those books!

First of all, always read the reviews. Someone might have figured out this issue before you. Second, and most important of all, NOTICE IF YOU ARE FINDING EXCUSES TO AVOID READING THE BOOK. If you would rather match the socks from your clean laundry than read that book, move on.

On what?

I know Amazon is like the capitalist devil these days, but nobody else delivers books like they can. I mean, they *exist* because of book sales, so they better be good at it, right?

1.    Kindle

I personally love my Kindle. I got the Kindle Oasis for Christmas, which is the schmanciest one they make. You definitely can downgrade and be totally happy though. I’m not up-to-date on all of their new models, but historically the cheapest, most basic one is like $70. I do recommend getting one of the models that is backlit, which means you don’t need a reading light. They are great for dark planes, cars, or when your bedmate is asleep. I also prefer the Kindle models that give you the option of clicking actual buttons to turn the pages because I find the touchscreens for page-turning a little annoying, but that’s just a personal preference. You can get any of the refurbished/pre-owned Kindles, including perfectly pleasant past models, for relatively cheap ($100 and far less, depending on the model).

If you’re a real splish-splasher, the Oasis is also waterproof, but for me that’s a mostly unnecessary feature given that I mainly read in bed. But it’s good to know for the two times per year I decide to take a bath. Probably also a good feature if you have kids, because they are destructive little monsters. The Oasis also has a nice, ergonomic design and the text on the screen flips when you flip the device over, which is amazing because I usually use my right hand for turning pages, but sometimes I do roll over in bed and then I need my left hand. ;)

I swear this isn’t an ad for Kindle (unless you guys at Amazon are reading this…I will accept compensation) but another bonus is that you can read PDFs for work, school, etc. on Kindle. I find this a better format for when I’m on the bus or just need to get away from my computer. You can easily send PDFs to Kindle through a few different ways, including a desktop app that is literally called “Send to Kindle” where you can drag and drop documents.  

All in all, the Kindle makes reading better for me because it’s a device solely devoted to reading. I can’t get distracted by texts or that email I need to send (it also doesn’t emit blue light and thus disrupt your Circadian rhythms). So I actually read.  But with that being said…

2.    Kindle for iPhone/iPad and Kindle Cloud Reader

You don’t need a fancy device to read a darn book, which I know you know because you’re reading this on some sort of screen right now. The Kindle app is totally free, which means you can read from your phone or iPad wherever you are without needing to buy a second device solely for reading. You can also use the Kindle Cloud Reader to read in a web browser at any time. One of the things I love about Kindle is that it syncs your reading spot across devices. So if I read til page 10 on the Kindle app while I’m on the bus, when I open my physical Kindle at home, it will sync to page 10 (as long as both devices were connected to the web or a cell connection).

3.    Audiobooks on Audible

Tbh, I don’t even know how I’d listen to audiobooks if they *weren’t* on Audible. Nearly every book worth reading on Amazon offers an Audible version. The Audible phone app for playing books is totally free. You can buy the books one-off, or if you read a lot of audiobooks, you can become a member of Audible. Don’t quote me on the specifics because we can both Google it, but Audible membership is like $14 a month. For that, you get at least 1 book credit per month, towards almost any book. Those credits roll over from month to month. With the membership you also get discounts on additional audiobooks you buy through Audible. Audible has great sales all the time where you can get books for like $3, and they also have started podcast-style “Audible Original Series” productions, which are totally free to listen to.


Is this post too long? Probably. But you said you wanted to read more this year, so if you can't get through a blog post...God help ya.

What are your own strategies for reading more?! I wanna hear 'em all!

My Top 14 Books of 2018
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

If you're a book-lover, you may have been following my reading series this year, where I broke down what I read in Q1, Q2, and Q3.

I'll give you the full list for the year below, including Q4, but I know you've just been dying to read another "BEST OF THE YEAR" list, so I'll do that for ya first. Oh, and you'll notice that Obama and I loved a lot of the same books. Great minds. ;) 

Here are my TOP FOURTEEN BOOKS for 2018. I couldn't pick ten. Sorry.


  1. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
  2. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  3. Bad Blood by John Carreyou
  4. Educated by Tara Westover
  5. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  6. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  7. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger by Soraya Chemaly


  1. Forever by Pete Hamill
  2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  4. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  5. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  6. Red Tea by Meg Mesezske
  7. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

And here's the full list of 52 books for the year (no, I did not plan that and no, I did not read one each week, precisely), including Q4, all in one place! More detailed descriptions are in the full blog posts for each quarter, linked above.

Fiction (I read mostly historical fiction, as you'll see):


1. People of the Book, Geraldine Rogers (Jewish history spanning centuries and continents. Very cool.)

2. Pachinko, Min Jin Lee (learned a ton about the Japanese occupation of Korea, and how terribly the Japanese treated and discriminated against Koreans)

3. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (early 20th century American South)

4. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd (1830s Charleston, South Carolina)

5. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (modern take on what it might look like if the Civil War ended differently)

6. Forever, Pete Hamill (NYC, spanning from 1600s to today; a must-read if you live in or love NYC)

7. The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant (early 20th century Boston)

8. Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate (state-sponsored kidnapping of poor white kids in the early 20th century American South for adoption by wealthy white families)

9. Rules of Civility, Amor Towles (1920s New York City)

10. Shanghai Girls, Lisa See (early 20th century China and U.S.)

11. Dreams of Joy, Lisa See (early Communist China!)

12. Last Train to Instanbul, Ayse Kulin (I thought I knew a TON about WWII, particularly as it concerns the Holocaust, but this book taught me about the incredible role that Turkey played in getting its Jewish citizens out of Nazi-occupied Europe.)

13. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly (WWII historical fiction, examines the lives of female Holocaust victims and Nazis)


14. Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks (1660s Martha's Vineyard) 

15. Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan (1930s-40s New York City gangsters)

16. The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah (set in 1970s Alaska)


17. Red Tea, Meg Mezeske (debut novel of my friend; a page-turning murder-mystery set in Japan)

18. The Alice Network, Kate Quinn (a gripping man-hunt, about spies in both World Wars)

19. The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish (feminist historical fiction set in 17th century London, rich with Jewish history and philosophy, spanning centuries and locations)

20. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (set against 20th century Afghan political events)

21. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See (If you like Lisa See's novels, you'll like it. Great at Chinese historical fiction,  so-so on everything else.)

22. The Atomic City Girls, Janet Beard (Classic WWII historical fiction set in Tennessee)

23. The Ninth Hour, Alice McDermott (Irish-Catholic, early 20th century Brooklyn)

24. The Paris Wife, Paul McClain (depressing; about Ernest Hemingway's relationship with his first wife. TLDR: Hemingway was an immature, self-absorbed asshole, and their whole relationship teetered on (or went right over) the edges of emotional abuse)

25. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a classic, but I only got through maybe half because I kept falling asleep.)

26. A Kind of Freedom, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (starts out in 1940s New Orleans, goes to present day New Orleans)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (recommended by Lindsey Pollaczek of the Fistula Foundation  during my interview with her about obstetric fistula. Set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it tells the story of twin boys growing up at a Catholic hospital)

Q4 (Disclaimer: Q4 was my first semester of grad school, so my reading was...sporadic.)

28. The Fourteenth of September, Rita Dragonette (women in the Vietnam anti-war movement - you can also skip the book and just listen to my podcast interview with the author!

29. Warlight, Michael Ondaatje (beautiful, beautiful writing; post-WWII London and English countryside)

30. Munich, Robert Harris (WWII in Europe. If you've read a lot of WWII books like me, you can probably skip this one and the next)

31. We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter (Holocaust historical fiction, France and Eastern Europe) 

32. The Romanov Prophecy, Steve Berry (if you like Dan Brown books, you'll like this thriller set in Russia)

33. The Overstory, Richard Powers (beautiful, powerful writing)

34. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (weaves stories together from 17th century Africa, to 19th century slave-holding America, through Jim Crow, all the way up to today. Beautiful.)



1. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande (must-read)


2. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond (must-read)

3. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance

4. Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead-My Life Story, Cecile Richards (by the outgoing, long-time president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of Texas Democratic governor Ann Richards)

5. About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America, Carol Sanger (reads like an academic text, but is great)

6. Epidemiology: An Introduction, The Open University (this one and the next books are great, free, quick primers for anyone wondering wtf "public health" is!)

7. Introducing Public Health, The Open University


8. The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine N. Aron (helped me understand how your nervous system plays a huge role in your personality, and mine is definitely more ratcheted up at all times than a normal person's)

9. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (Definitely read it if you like military planes and WWII aviation history in the Pacific theater)

10. The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson (Chicago World's Fair, and the famous murderer H.H. Holmes)

11. A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), Barbara Oakley (the study and time management tips are useful to everyone. Even if you're just someone with a lot of work on your plate.) 

12. Epidemiology and the People's Health: Theory and Context, Nancy Krieger (this is a TEXTBOOK that I basically read for fun, so bear that in mind, but it's interesting. The history of epidemiology, how the medical field has studied and conceptualized disease, and where the field is going now.)

13. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (TLDR; your grandparents were a lot less innocent than you think)

14. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyou (tells the story of Theranos, the startup you probably remember hearing about and then may remember seeing that its CEO is going to prison. Because the whole company was built on an ever-escalating pyramid of flat-out lies and a mix of internal manipulation/intimiation that will make your worst boss seem like a true leader.)

Q4 (Since this was my first semester of grad school, I read a TON of non-fiction textbooks, academic papers, reports, etc. but I will spare you those.)

15. Becoming, Michelle Obama (loved getting to know MoBama a bit better; if you read this book, you definitely won't listen to the rumors about her running in 2020!)

16. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger, Soraya Chemaly (if you're a woman who has ever been angry, or a man who has ever interacted with a woman, read this)

17. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi (what happens when a neurosurgeon is diagnosed with terminal cancer)

18. Educated , Tara Westover (girl grows up in a sheltered, devoutly Christian, homeschooled household where she barely learns to read. Ends up in the Ivy League.) 

What were your favorite books of 2018? What are you dying to read in 2019? Let me know!

Yet Another Destination for Your Listening Pleasure: iHeartRadio
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

In addition to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Soundcloud, and pretty much all other podcast players...Femtastic Podcast is now on iHeartRadio! Woohoo!

What I've Read So Far: Q3 2018
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

A continuation of my lists from What I've Read So Far: Q1 2018 and Q2 2018, here we have my summer reading. I'm about to start grad school next week, so I have a feeling my reading will very much fall off in Q4, with the exception of LOTS of textbooks and academic texts. I will miss you dearly, leisure reading.

Top Fiction Pick:

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

I had heard of this book, but I finally read it once Lindsey Pollaczek of the Fistula Foundation recommended it during my interview with her about obstetric fistula. Set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it tells the story of twin boys growing up at a Catholic hospital. I loved the characters, the setting and history (I honestly didn't know much about Ethiopian history other than that it'd be colonized by Italy for a short time in the 20th Century), and the medical procedures described (not in a gory way - I'm super squeamish, but reading about surgical procedures didn't bother me) - including the surgical repair of obstetric fistulas.

Top Non-Fiction Pick:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou

This tells the story of Theranos, the startup you probably remember hearing about and then may remember seeing that its CEO is going to prison. Because the whole company was built on an ever-escalating pyramid of flat-out lies and a mix of internal manipulation/intimiation that will make your worst boss seem like a true leader. This book blew me away. It's like a master class in how NOT to run a company.


Other Fiction:

  • Red Tea by Meg Mezeske
    This is the debut novel of my friend and former colleague, Meg - and it's a page-turner. Set in Japan (where Meg lived for a while), it's a murder mystery that will keep you glued to the pages til the end. I particularly loved the descriptions of Japanese culture and landscapes.
  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
    Y'all know I love me some classic historical fiction, and this one is a gripping man-hunt of sorts. It's set in Europe, about spies and both World Wars. I quite enjoyed it.
  • The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
    So this one felt very similar to (the also good) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (which I read in Q1), in that it's another bestselling recent novel about rich Jewish history and philosophy, spanning centuries and locations. This one is feminist, tho! It's set in 17th century London.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
    This one had been on my list for a while because Hosseini's The Kite Runner is one of my very favorites. I'd started reading this about ten years ago but stopped because it was too depressing. The second time around, it was definitely still depressing but very interesting, and I quite enjoyed learning about 20th century Afghan political history and the impact of the Taliban's rule. This, and all of Hosseini's books, provide useful context for the political and historical issues surrounding Afghanistan, in a way that is accessible and engaging - and not at all like a textbook or a news article. At its heart, it's a moving fictional story, but the political background of the setting is crucial to the story. His books are definitely worth a read if you'd like to understand more about Afghanistan.

You Can Skip These Fiction Bestsellers, IMHO:

  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
    If you like Lisa See's novels, you'll probably like this one. But I find that most of them are great at Chinese historical fiction, and so-so on everything else. I keep reading them though.
  • The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
    Classic WWII historical fiction to the point of being generic, but I felt like it never really went anywhere. Liked learning the history though.
  • The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
    As usual, I enjoyed the historical setting (Irish-Catholic, early 20th century Brooklyn) but felt like this one didn't have any teeth.
  • The Paris Wife by Paul McClain
    OMG, this was so depressing. It's about Ernest Hemingway's relationship with his first wife. TLDR: Hemingway was an immature, self-absorbed asshole, and their whole relationship teetered on (or went right over) the edges of emotional abuse. It reminded me of The Talented Mr. Ripley in that the settings were beautiful but I hated the story.  I couldn't stop reading it, but GOOD GOD was this depressing. It put me in a bad mood.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    I know this one's a classic, but I only got through maybe half because I kept falling asleep. Literally.
  • A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
    I really wanted to like this one. It starts out in 1940s New Orleans, and I loved that part. Until it went to present day New Orleans. It was depressing and I wasn't in the mood. It was one of those situations where you have to watch in slow motion as a main character makes terrible choices. I got maybe 60% through.


Other Good Non-Fiction:

  • The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron
    My therapist gave this to me years ago but I never read it because a) self-help books can be super boring and cheesy and this one definitely reads that way at times, and b) I did not believe that I was sensitive because I'm not particularly emotionally reactive, which is the trait that most people associate with sensitivity. What I learned is that I AM highly sensitive, and that my sensitivity manifests itself in a tendency towards overstimulation. This confirmed a lot of what I learned about in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (which is a book that completely changed my life and self-conception, and which I also avoided reading because I didn't think I was an introvert. I was very wrong. You should definitely read it whether you're introverted or not). Both books helped me understand that that your particular nervous system plays a huge role in your personality, and mine is definitely more ratched up at all times than a normal person's. This book definitely helped me understand myself better, including but not limited to my tendency to startle easily, become overwhelmed and irritated by loud environments, have a hard time with change, and even to be sensitive to allergens. Hello, daily Zyrtec.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
    I was super late to this one, but it was a perfect book for me. Definitely read it if you like military planes and WWII aviation history. Learning about the bombers blew me away - I couldn't believe how insanely dangerous a job it was. Like, it was actually insane that they put men on these horrifically unreliable planes. Most aviation deaths did not occur during battle. Read it. Interesting WWII history, a true story, and generally badass. Plus, most of my WWII knowledge is of the European theatre, and this gave me better understanding of the challenges of the Pacific theatre. Very glad I read it. I enjoyed the entire thing.
  • The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
    I really didn't understand the hype. Was cool to learn about the Chicago World's Fair, and the famous murderer H.H. Holmes, but I was pretty bored the whole time. I wanted more murder and intrigue, less explanation of the challenges of constructing a fairgrounds.
  • A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley
    This one came at the recommendation of a friend who is an academic coach at the University of Colorado, as I was telling her I'm a bit anxious to start grad school and be thrust back into quantitative classes. I've always found math challenging. While this book concentrates on math and science, its lessons are applicable for ALL kinds of work or study. I enjoyed it because it gave me a refresher on some time management "best practices" I want to implement now that I'm going back to school. I don't know that it will help me excel in math or science, but the study and time management tips are useful to everyone. Even if you're just someone with a lot of work on your plate. Definitely glad I read it before starting school again.
  • Epidemiology and the People's Health: Theory and Context by Nancy Krieger
    Warning: this is a TEXTBOOK for a class I will maybe have to take during my grad program. So it reads like a textbook. That being said, I found it very interesting to learn about the history of epidemiology, and heartening to learn that intersectionality and health disparity (on the basis of gender, race, socioeconomic class, geography, etc.) are major, vital contemporary foci of the field of public health. You probably won't be interested in this unless you want to learn more about how the history of how the medical field has studied and conceptualized disease, and where the field is going now.

True Crime Audiobooks/Podcasts:

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (I listened to the audiobook.)
A murder mystery. This is from the author of Gone Girl, so if you liked that (I didn't) you'll probably like this. I don't know exactly why I didn't like it, but I do know that the resolution felt too abrupt. There's going to be an HBO mini-series of it, so maybe that will be better.

West Cork
True crime podcast series from Audible. A murder case in Ireland in 1996. Do not waste your time. It's super long and ends without solving the murder, and they spend WAY too much time going over boring and irrelevant details. They could have said the same thing in half the time. If you're itching for a good true crime podcast, just listen to the first season of Serial again.

In the Dark, Season 1

I liked this podcast but I don't really understand the hype. It's about the abduction of a kid in Missouri in 1989, and basically about all of the ways the police department screwed up. It's interesting, but it's no Serial.


This podcast was hugely popular last year, and I understand its popularity to an extent. I didn't know much about the Italian mob in mafia heretofore, especially that in Providence, RI. Cool. But it's not very gripping, there's no particular plot, and I stopped listening perhaps halfway through.

Katie is Interviewed about Authentic Allyship
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

Our host, Katie Breen, was recently interviewed at Parillume's June 2018 SHINE Soirée in Denver, Colorado. Parillume is an organization for survivors of sexual violence, and its founder, Lisa Foster, interviews Katie about privilege, authentic allyship, and activism. 

Watch the video here or by clicking the photo below. Katie enters at 17:25.

To learn about upcoming SHINE Soirées in Denver, click here.

To learn more about Parillume, click here.

Katie's TEDx Talk is Live!
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

Katie recently spoke at TEDxBoulder. Check out her talk on privilege, activism, and allyship, by clicking here or on the photo below.

What I've Read So Far: Q2 2018
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

We're back! At the end of the first quarter of 2018, I detailed in the post, "What I've Read So Far: Q1 2018," the back-story on why I'm posting what I've read this year, and the list of books I read in the first three months of 2018. 

Here's the list of what I've read in the second quarter of 2018 (March through June)!

If you read just one of these books, I'd pick "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond for a better understand of how poverty in America works, particularly in the area of housing. Truly eye-opening.


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond (top pick of the quarter, top pick in non-fiction)

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance (runner-up of the quarter, runner up in non-fiction)

Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead-My Life Story, Cecile Richards (by the outgoing, long-time president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of Texas Democratic governor Ann Richards)

About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America, Carol Sanger (reads like an academic text, but is amazing)

Historical Fiction:

Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks (1660s Martha's Vineyard)

Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan 1930s-40s New York City) (top pick in historical fiction of the quarter)


The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah (set in 1970s Alaska but I don't think that counts as historical fiction)

Academic texts:

Epidemiology: An Introduction, The Open University

Introducing Public Health, The Open University

(both super-short, free or nearly free little primers that I personally think would be interesting to anyone who wants to learn more about what public health, epidemiology, infectious disease control, etc., is all about)

What I've Read So Far: Q1 2018
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

During my interview with Washington Post writer Julia Carpenter last April about the untold stories of female change-makers throughout history, we ended up geeking out about books...a lot. 

So much so that fans of the podcast asked if I would make a recommended reading list, like the ones Bill Gates puts out at the end of every year. Well, I said that I would...but that was almost a year ago and I had sort of forgotten about it. 

So to make it up to all you reading queens (and kings) out there, here's the list of what I've read in the first three months of 2018 (Q1). You'll notice a lot of strong female leads, oppressed groups rising above their obstacles, and historical fiction. Shocking, I know.

A couple of disclaimers:

- If the book made it in front of me in the first place, it came either recommended by friends or highly acclaimed by critics. So they're all good. I haven't rated anything less than 4 out of 5 stars.

- I would write you a brief synopsis of each, but Amazon does a better job.

- These are in no particular order, although the last one on the list, Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters," was by far the most impactful of those I've read in even the last few years. It happens to be the only non-fiction book I've read so far this year. In fact, it's the only non-historical fiction book I've read this year. At least I'm consistent.

- No, I'm not reading about current events right now. That would be stressful. Books are supposed to be an escape. ;)

Without further ado...

1. People of the Book, Geraldine Rogers (incredible amount of Jewish + religious history, spanning centuries and continents)

2. Pachinko, Min Jin Lee (learned a ton about the Japanese occupation of Korea, and how terribly the Japanese treated and discriminated against Koreans)

3. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (early 20th century American South)

4. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd (1830s Charleston, South Carolina)

5. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (you can guess)

6. Forever, Pete Hamill (NYC, spanning from 1600s to today; a must-read if you live in or love NYC)

7. The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant (early 20th century Boston)

8. Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate (state-sponsored kidnapping of poor white kids in the early 20th century American South for adoption by wealthy white families)

9. Rules of Civility, Amor Towles (1920s New York City)

10. Shanghai Girls, Lisa See (early 20th century China and U.S.)

11. Dreams of Joy, Lisa See (early Communist China!)

12. Last Train to Instabul, Ayse Kulin (I thought I knew a TON about WWII, particularly as it concerns the Holocaust, but this book taught me about the incredible role that Turkey played in getting its Jewish citizens out of Nazi-occupied Europe.)

13. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly (WWII)

14. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande (non-fiction; must-read)

Happy reading! Don't forget to protect your eye-balls! 

The Case for 12-Month Birth Control Prescriptions
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

About 43 million American women are at risk of unintended pregnancy. Of them, 12.4 million use birth control pills, patches, or vaginal rings - all hormonal, prescription methods which generally require monthly patient refill, and are reliant on the user’s continuous use from month to month in order to avoid risk of unintended pregnancy.

However, women face huge obstacles to continuation of contraceptive methods in order to avoid unintended pregnancy. In particular, there is a high monthly burden of time, cost, and energy expenditures required of women in order to refill and pick up these prescriptions month after month - especially for women who work hourly-wage jobs, do not have access to reliable transportation, live in rural areas, or already have children. It is clear that providing women a longer supply of their contraceptive methods leads to greater continuation of the methods, fewer unintended pregnancies, and less cost per client - outcomes that are positive for women, healthcare professionals, and health insurance companies alike.

Giving women access to extended supplies of contraceptives can addressed through a two-pronged approach: state or federal policies that allow for prescriptions of one-year supplies of birth control, coupled with thorough education for providers on this policy change.

Women who receive a one-year supply of their preferred method of birth control have been found to be 30% less likely to experience unintended pregnancy compared to women receiving a one to three-month supply. However, dispensing patterns currently vary by state and insurer, with most insurance plans limiting prescriptions to one or three-month periods, and most states doing nothing to change this. While laws requiring insurer coverage for 12 month-supplies of oral contraceptives have been enacted in twelve states and the District  of Columbia since 2015, some states have experienced a lack of utilization of these new policies due to lack of provider awareness of the laws.

In the case of Oregon’s 2015 roll-out of this policy, for example, many healthcare providers, pharmacists, and health insurance companies were unaware of the new law or did not have time to update their internal technology systems to allow automatic approval of 12-month birth control prescriptions; in the case of one insurance company, it took 11 months from the time the law took effect in January 2015 to update their systems to prevent disapprovals for these prescriptions.  And of course, certain insurance plans were exempt from the law, including federal insurance plans like Tricare and Oregon Health Plan, whose client base of low-income women is arguably the demographic group most likely to benefit from this policy. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services received so many complaints in 2016 that it issued a bulletin, a full year after the law went into effect, to remind insurers of their obligations and the penalties for lack of compliance under the Oregon Insurance Code.  

It was suggested to Oregonian women seeking these prescriptions that they may need to educate their providers, pharmacists, and insurance companies about the law. This is hardly a solution, particularly given that this law was specifically designed to reduce the burden on women of receiving their contraceptive prescriptions. Passing policies that allow for 12-month supplies of contraceptives is the first step towards addressing the public health problem generated by allowing for only short-term supplies of contraceptives; however, these policies are ineffective without ensuring thorough education for providers, pharmacists, and insurance companies on their benefits.

Some states have enacted solutions outside of 12-month prescriptions to expand contraceptive access, including allowing birth control to be sold over the counter, or allowing patients to obtain prescriptions from pharmacists, online services, or smartphone applications without first requiring an in-person visit to a physician. However, each of these solutions has run into complications in practice, ranging from minimum age requirements for prescriptions, limits on the type of contraceptives that pharmacists can prescribe, and if the patient needs a prior visit to or prescription from a physician.  While policies that allow for 12-month supplies of birth control have also proven to be imperfect, they are, in my opinion, the simplest route to ensuring continuation of contraceptive method.


Foster, D., Hulett, D., Bradsberry, M., Darney, P. and Policar, M. (2011). Number of Oral Contraceptive Pill Packages Dispensed and Subsequent Unintended Pregnancies. Obstetrics & Gynecology, [online] 117(3), pp.566-572. Available at: 

Guttmacher Institute. (2017). Contraceptive Use in the United States. [online] Available at:

Guttmacher Institute. (2017). Moving Oral Contraceptives to Over-the-Counter Status: Policy Versus Politics. [online] Available at: 

Lehman (2017). Insurers To Get Reminder About Oregon's Prescription Birth Control Law. [online] Available at: 

Portland Monthly. (2017). Are Oregon’s New Birth Control Laws Actually Helping Anyone?. [online] Available at: (2017). Did You Know That Oregon Law Guarantees a Full Year of Birth Control? | Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon. [online] Available at:

Steenland, M., Rodriguez, M., Marchbanks, P. and Curtis, K. (2013). How does the number of oral contraceptive pill packs dispensed or prescribed affect continuation and other measures of consistent and correct use? A systematic review. Contraception, [online] 87(5), pp.605-610. Available at:

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2017). Oral Contraceptive Pills. [online] Available at: 

This is Rape Culture: The Cosby Mistrial
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

By now, you are likely familiar with the news that the Cosby case has ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury.

58 women give the same account of Bill Cosby raping them. 58 women said that they were drugged and sexually assaulted by a beloved celebrity with a then-sterling reputation, and many of them didn't come forward until years after the incident because they didn't think anyone would believe them. 58 women had their privacy invaded by the press and defense team, their credibility called into question by the public at every turn, and their every life's decision, sexual or otherwise, laid bare and analyzed in a courtroom and in the press, because many people didn't believe them. The accounts of 58 women were called into question because the account of one famous man contradicted these accounts.

Cosby admitted on the stand that he bought sedatives with the intention of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with.

Yet the jury just cannot reach a conclusion on his guilt or innocence. Because it's not clear whether these 58 women are going through brutal public dissection for attention or money, or to bring down a beloved celebrity. Who admitted to buying drugs with the intention of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with.

This is rape culture. This is why women don't report sexual assault.

The Aftershow: Episode 7
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017


Wanna learn more about the topics discussed in Episode 7: Conscious Period and Menstruating While Homeless? Read on. If you haven’t heard it yet, clickity-click here to listen.

Scary Chemicals in Tampons

The scariest culprit is glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, ruled a likely carcinogen by the World Health Organization. An October 15 study showed that 85% of commercial tampons/pads contained glyphosate. Cotton is sprayed with the herbicide to ward off the weeds and bugs that destroy it. 96% of American-grown cotton is genetically modified, according to the USDA, which means that 96% of American cotton is sprayed with Roundup (article contains links to full studies).

Scientific studies have linked the chemicals in Monsanto's biocides to Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and cancer.

There is no research that indicates the safety (or not) of commercial tampons.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has introduced legislation EIGHT TIMES between 1997 and 2014 that would support research into such the health risks of feminine hygiene products. It has never gone through. The legislation would direct the NIH to “research whether feminine hygiene products that contain dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other chemical additives like chlorine,

“We know that formaldehyde releasers, dioxin, pesticides and other harmful chemicals are found in feminine care products. What we don't know is exactly how these chemicals are impacting women's health.” 

“Internally worn products, such as tampons and cups, are worn in the most absorbent part of the body, off and on, for literally decades. Yet there is a paucity of independent research that addresses the potential risks associated with these and other menstrual products.”

 Well, that's a bummer. Luckily, thanks to Conscious Period you can get high-quality, BPA-free, chemical-free, dye-free tampons that support women living in homelessness! 

And here are some other informative links about topics discussed in the episode! Yay!


Menstruating While Homeless

Huffington Post looks at the problem in San Francisco

Glamour interviews 4 women about their experiences

LA Times looks at need of shelters for feminine hygiene products

Effects on women of not having sanitary period products

NPR: Girls in developing countries around the world not going to school once they hit puberty because of lack of water 

The Pink Tax

The “pink tax” typically refers to price differences between identical products/services marketed to women vs. marketed to men (such as razor blades, body wash, children's toys, etc.)
Washington Post explains the pink tax

The Tampon Tax 

The “tampon tax” refers to the 39 US states that charge a sales tax on feminine hygiene products as “non-necessary” goods (even though other products, like candy, soda, or Viagra, are exempt). 

Washington Post explains the tampon tax 

Cosmopolitan explains the tampon tax



Lastly, check out Conscious Period going viral! Watch this (hilarious) video by Buzzfeed to meet CP's incredible cofounders (and Femtastic guests), Annie and Margo - and learn what it's like to be one of the millions of women going (aka bleeding) without feminine hygiene products. #ThisisNotaLuxury


Act Now to Stop Ohio's Dangerous (and Unconstitutional) Abortion Ban
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

PLEASE READ IF YOU CARE ABOUT WOMEN. Tell Kasich to veto the "Heartbeat Bill," which would ban abortions, EVEN IN THE CASE OF RAPE OR INCEST OR HEALTH OF THE FETUS OR MOTHER, after what they say is six weeks of pregnancy, but is actually four weeks after conception - before most women even know they are pregnant.

You might be confused. Why is it actually four weeks after conception instead of six? Because “first day of last menstrual period" (LMP) is used as the standard starting point by doctors to determine weeks of pregnancy. This is because implantation of fertilized eggs is a very complicated business and it’s difficult to say exactly when it happens. So doctors use the woman’s first day of the last period as the starting point.

So let's say you have your period because you’re not pregnant. Ovulation happens two weeks after that, and the week that happens is when you are most likely to get pregnant. So let’s say you ovulate, and during that week, sperm fertilizes the egg. Then two weeks later, your first period is missed. Now let’s assume that you are someone who gets very regular periods, or who even HAS monthly periods (different types of birth control, IUDs, and BODIES make regular periods not a reality for millions of women). So, since you’re one of those people who gets their period at the exact same time every month, you’re alarmed. You think you might be pregnant. But many doctors will tell you to wait one to two weeks after missing the period to take a pregnancy test, as the levels of the pregnancy hormone, hCG, may not even be detectable before that point, so pregnancy tests in the first two weeks after the missed period are unreliable and often give false negatives.

So you wait two weeks after the missed period, and you discover you’re pregnant. But this is America, and Roe v. Wade has been in effect since 1973 and says it’s unconstitutional to limit abortion restrictions before fetal viability which the law (but not the medical profession) says happens at 24 weeks, so you have 18 weeks to make some very personal choices, right? Wrong. It’s already too late. In the eyes of the medical profession, you're technically already at six weeks of pregnancy, even though fertilization only happened a month ago, because "date of last period" is used as the standardized starting point. And if you live in Ohio, where they’ve passed this bill that outlaws abortion after six weeks, you have no choice but to carry through with the pregnancy. In effect, this law bans almost all abortions.

Sounds unconstitutional? Sounds like it goes against Roe v. Wade? That’s because it does. Similar states have tried to pass laws just like this one, and they’ve been struck down in court. This law will likely also be struck down as unconstitutional, but in the meantime while the legal battle ensues, women in Ohio are forced into pregnancy, regardless of the circumstance. Regardless of rape, incest, or the health and safety of the mother. Regardless of the fact that women’s choices have been protected since 1973 in this country.

And the whole reason Roe v. Wade passed? It wasn’t that the court was super progressive about women’s rights, or because the conservative justices put aside their religious beliefs. The reality is that in 1973, Roe vs. Wade was decided by a Court that was comprised of a majority of justices who were nominated by Republican presidents and therefore considered "conservative" justices. There were only two dissenters, only one of whom was conservative.

Roe v. Wade was decided the way it was because of the appalling number of women who were DYING due to self-induced or back-alley abortions, or because they were forced to carry through with dangerous pregnancies. Roe v. Wade was passed to save the lives of women who would otherwise die if not given the option of safely and legally aborting their pregnancies.

Sign the petition and call the office. The number is: 614-466-3555

P.S. They use the term "heartbeat" to prey on people's emotions. At six weeks, a fetus does not have what we would think of as a proper heart; rather, it has blood vessels that pump blood. "Heartbeats" like these can happen in petri dishes. Check out the Youtube videos of it.

P.P.S. Republican Representative Jim Buchy was a strong proponent for the bill, which he said would “encourage personal responsibility.” “What we have here is really the need to give people the incentive to be more responsible so we reduce unwanted pregnancies.” So since this doesn’t allow exceptions for rape, incest, or dangerous pregnancies, this also means that these women should be “more responsible” for their situations?

When asked what he thinks makes a woman want to have an abortion, he admitted that he’d “never even thought about it.” He says: “Well, there’s probably a lot of reas— I’m not a woman.” He laughs. “I’m thinking now if I’m a woman why would I want to get … Some of it has to do with economics. A lot of it has to do with economics. I don’t know. It’s a question I’ve never even thought about.”

The Aftershow: Episode 6
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

The aftershow this week is this: GO VOTE AS SOON AS YOU CAN.

First and foremost, VOTE.

If you haven’t already voted (if early voting is available in your state) or made a plan to vote on Tuesday, DO SO NOW. 

Block off some time on your calendar. Make sure colleagues know you’re unavailable at X time because you’ll be voting (and if they give you any shit, tell them to suck it because employers are legally obligated to let you vote. Check out your state's laws on this here). Ask a friend (or 12) to go with you for accountability. Host a party with an “I Voted” sticker required for entry. 

Second, make sure you’re voting informed ALL THE WAY DOWN THE BALLOT. 

Read here (or listen to Episode 6) for a reminder of why voting for your local officials is so important, and check out voter guides like BallotReady to stay informed. And/or (if BallotReady isn't available in your state yet) check out the voting guides of organizations you care about. 

For example, Planned Parenthood offers a voter guide for every single state here, and some state ACLU chapters, like Colorado’s, offer comprehensive voting guides. Search in the Googles for “ACLU of (Insert Your State Here) Voter Guide 2016” and see what comes up.


Volunteer to make calls from the comfort of your home to remind Hillary supporters to vote. If you live in the Denver area, come out an canvas with me (and Lena Dunham!!!!) on Saturday in Denver, or phone bank on Monday.

Donate so that we can turn out more voters in battleground states where Hillary needs to win. Can you spare just $5 or $10 to give to Hillary’s campaign?

FOURTH, don’t forget about the Senate.  

It’s time to take it back. The New York Times says it’s almost a pure toss-up right now. Chip in $5 like I just did to help mobilize a last-minute push to get our the vote and help take back the Senate.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund and UltraViolet need funds to recruit volunteers in three key states where progressive women are running against right-wing Republicans. Here’s the quick summary on these races and what’s at stake:

· In Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty is running against Senator Pat Toomey, who wants to put abortion providers in jail and still refuses to even tell voters whether he supports Trump

· In New Hampshire, Governor Maggie Hassan is running against right-wing Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is anti-choice, opposed federal equal pay legislation, and called Donald Trump a "role model." 

· In Nevada, it's Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto vs. Representative Joe Heck, who is so anti-woman that he would criminalize abortion for rape victims. He also voted for "personhood" legislation so extreme it would ban some forms of birth control.

Polls show that each of these races are pure toss-ups--and if these progressive women win, it's a virtual lock that Democrats will win the Senate.

That’s it. 


The Aftershow: Episode 5
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

In the last episode, I spoke to April Greene of The Magnolia Fund, which provides financial and practical support for women who need assistance in obtaining abortions.

First and foremost, The Magnolia Fund is made possible entirely by the contributions of people like you. Please consider donating to the fund here. Your contribution will make a meaningful, lifelong impact on the woman it helps.


And without further ado, some resources about topics mentioned in the episode:


The Hyde Amendment and why it’s total BS:

The article linked to above describes how the Hyde Amendment is a policy that bans the use of Medicaid to cover the cost of an abortion.

“Since Medicaid enrollees are predominantly low-income women, the Hyde Amendment has essentially turned abortion into a luxury item for women who can afford to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket.”

The article also touches on the absurdly high cost of abortions for those on public assistance and not – because even if you’re not on Medicaid, abortions are often not covered by private insurance.

“A first-trimester abortion cost an average of $470 in 2009… Second, these women must also bear the practical costs imposed by state restrictions, like multiple doctor’s office visits and unnecessary waiting periods. A low-income single mother who needs to pay for travel to the nearest clinic, a night at a hotel due to a mandatory waiting period, childcare, and lost earnings from work, could end up paying an additional $1,380.”

And what about the Affordable Care Act, you ask? According to, some ACA plans do cover abortion and some 25 states have done so…Eight states do not allow an exception for cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.”

Read here about Barbara Lee and the Each Woman Act, which seeks to undo the damage that the Hyde Amendment and the ACA’s abortion bans have created. The act would require: 

a) If a woman gets her healthcare through the federal government, she will be covered for all pregnancy-related care, including abortion.

b) Federal, state, and local legislators will not be able to interfere with private insurance markets to prevent insurance companies from providing abortion coverage.


The Sham of Crisis Pregnancy Centers

If you’d rather laugh before becoming furious and sad, here is Samantha Bee’s hilarious take on the sham of Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

This article details the report that NARAL conducted on crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in California, as mentioned in the episode. “CPCs strategically misinform and deceive pregnant people, always with the same underlying (or explicit) message: bring the pregnancy to term.

91% of centers visited by NARAL doled out misinformation about the effects of abortion on a person’s physical and mental health, saying that having an abortion would increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility, miscarriage, and/or depression that results in suicide.”

This article offers a nice primer as well: "CPCs increasingly look just like doctor's offices with ultrasound rooms and staff in scrubs. Yet they do not provide or refer for contraception or abortion. Many pregnancy-center counselors, even those who provide medical information, are not licensed. And even some workers who are licensed, such as nurses and ultrasound technicians, repeat myths about abortion and contraception.”

"Every year, thousands of women…seek help at what appear to be secular medical clinics but are actually Christian anti-abortion centers. Throughout the United States, there are at least 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers [crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics nationwide by 3 to 1], many of which belong to two religious anti-abortion organizations — Care Net and Heartbeat International. 

All of this is supported by tens of millions of federal and state dollars. At least 11 states now directly fund pregnancy centers…Many states refer low-income pregnant women to anti-abortion centers on health department websites.

Few states, however, have any laws regulating how pregnancy centers interact with women.”

Thankfully, California has enacted the FACT Act, which requires crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they are not licensed as medical facilities by the state. It’s a step in the right direction in one state.


States Requiring Doctors to Read False Medical Info to Patients Receiving Abortions

 This article describes how, “according to the Guttmacher Institute, women in 17 states must be counseled on points that are wholly unsupported by the medical and scientific community at large, like the link between abortion and breast cancer, fetal pain, or long-term mental health risks from abortion like depression and suicide for women.”

 And Broadly has compiled a state-by-state list of the lies that abortion doctors are required to tell women. The information in these abortion-specific informed consent materials is chosen by legislators, not doctors.

“Though lawmakers insist that such policies are meant to ensure that women are making informed and safe choices about their own bodies, the informed consent materials are often rife with medically inaccurate and misleading statements.”

Abortion and Parental Involvement Laws

Advocates for Youth describes parental involvement laws that require either parental notification or consent for abortions to be performed on minors as a “threat to young women’s health and safety.” 

“The majority of states – thirty-nine as of December 2013 – currently enforce laws that require a young woman to notify or obtain consent from one or both parents before she can receive abortion care. Yet research has shown that these laws often delay young women’s access, endangering young women’s health and safety, and leaving too many alone and afraid. Ideally, any woman…who is faced with an unintended pregnancy can seek the advice of those who care for her. But for those who can't…or who face the threat of violence in their homes—it is best for them to seek the advice of a trained medical professional.


Well now, wasn’t that depressing?


Here are some links to reproductive rights organizations mentioned in the episode:


National Network of Abortion Funds

All Above All

Spark: Reproductive Justice Now

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

Access Reproductive Care Southeast

Katie Speaks at Ignite Boulder
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

Your brave leader/host/HBIC, Katie Breen, recently spoke at Ignite Boulder on why sex ed in America sucks. Watch her here saying "clitoral stimulation" and using her arm to simulate putting on a condom in front of 1000 people.

The Aftershow: Episode 4
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

Sorry for the delay, peeps! I usually drop the Aftershow post a few days after releasing its accompanying episode (this one being Episode 4: Campus Sexual Assault and Title IX). But this time, I decided to go on vacation instead! It's been a long and busy summer, spent not only launching the podcast and holdin' down a day job, but also filming a docu-comedy reality tv show with MTV for said day job. While on vacay, I was invited to speak at Ignite Boulder on Thurs 9/8, so I've been busy prepping for that as well. Anywho - here it is, in slightly less comprehensive form because I'm busy AF:

Dear Colleague Letter

Tara mentioned the Department of Education's Dear Colleague Letter, written in 2011, which told colleges and universities:

"The U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) believe that providing all students with an educational environment free from discrimination is extremely important. The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.
In order to assist recipients, which include school districts, colleges, and universities (hereinafter "schools" or "recipients") in meeting these obligations, this letter explains that the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence. A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion. All such acts of sexual violence are forms of sexual harassment covered under Title IX. [Internal citations omitted.] "

You can read more about the letter here

You can learn more about Title IX, which is most widely known for its impact women's college athletics, here.


You can read more about gaslighting here, in a helpful explainer from the National Domestic Violence Hotline. TL;DR:

This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power (and we know that abuse is about power and control). Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.

Book and Documentary about Campus Sexual Assault and Title IX

Jon Krakauer, author of bestsellers-turned-movie-adaptations "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air," wrote Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Missoula is the location of the University of Montana, where the Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to Missoula police between January 2008 and 2012. The book is an excellent case study on the huge problem of campus sexual assault in the US, including how police and universities all too often mishandle the cases and victim-blame the survivors. "Krakauer’s devastating narrative of what happened in Missoula makes clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses, and why rape victims are so reluctant to report

The Hunting Ground is a documentary that "follows undergraduate rape survivors pursuing both their education and justice, despite ongoing harassment and the devastating toll on them and their families." You may have seen Lady Gaga at the Oscars performing the song "Til It Happens to You," which she co-wrote for the film. 

"Since the film’s premiere at Sundance, it had been screened at the White House and hundreds of college campuses across the country. The documentary has inspired new laws in New York and California and changes in campus policies."

Joe Biden's Work on Campus Sexual Assault

Biden helped spearhead the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. In 2014, the task force launched the It’s On Us campaign. 

See more of Biden's remarks on college sexual assault here and here. Read here about his efforts throughout his career to end violence against women. Read here to learn about his efforts to use federal funding to clear rape kit backlogs.

Read his moving letter to the survivor of the Stanford sexual assault perpetrated by Brock Turner, the rapist that spent a mere three months in prison.

Read here about how Biden and Obama announced that they refuse to visit colleges and universities that are not taking sexual assault seriously.

And here is a tear-jerking photo of Vice President Joe Biden comforting a CU student and sexual assault survivor after seeing her crying following her speech about campus sexual assault.

The Neurobiology of Trauma

This is the video Tara mentioned about what happens to the brain following trauma, and thus why and how the lives of trauma victims are so detrimentally impacted. This, of course, is the case not only for victims of sexual assault, but those who have experienced any type of trauma, such as war, car accidents, robberies, house fires, seeing someone die, or any other acutely traumatic incident. 

CU Students and Their Rapes and Stuff

Read here about the case I mentioned of men, one of whom is a student at the University of Colorado, using Title IX to fight the disciplinary actions they received from their universities following allegations of sexual assault. They believe that they did not receive due process in their sexual assault investigations and that their universities were biased against in the investigations because they were male.

And here is the case of the CU student who was convicted of rape and instead of going to prison, got two years of work release and probation. Gosh, male bias is so tough. 

The Aftershow: Episode 3
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

As promised in Episode 3, here's some fuel for your noggin' related to the topics we discussed.


On the exclusion of female pleasure from our conversations about sex:

In the interview, I highly recommended the book Girls & Sex, by Peggy Orenstein. In this NPR interview, the author discusses the importance of talking to young women about their bodies and their pleasure, and the importance of ignoring cultural messages that tell them to disown their own pleasure while focusing on their partners'.  

"Parents don't tend to name their infant baby's genitals if they're girls. For boys, they'll say, 'Here's your's your waist, here's your

Then they go into puberty education class...and you see only the inside anatomy — that thing that looks like a steer head, with the ovaries and everything — and then it grays out between the legs, so we never talk about the vulva, we never talk about the clitoris. Very few girls explore, there's no self-knowledge, and then they go into their sexual experiences and we expect them to be able to have some sense of entitlement, some sense of knowledge, to be able to assert themselves, to have some sense of equality, and it's just not realistic that that's going to happen."

A suggestion for anyone wanting to learn more about female sexual desire:

Melanie recommended the book Come as You Are, "an essential exploration of why and how women’s sexuality works—based on groundbreaking research and brain science." TL;DR: every woman's sexuality is different, and stress/mood/emotional attachment 100% impact women's sexual desire.


TL;DR: THEY ARE VERY RARE. In the podcast, we discussed how when Melanie teaches young people about victim-blaming and slut-shaming, she frequently runs up against the insidious, tragic cultural belief that many rape accusations are false.

In Donna Zuckerberg's article "He Said, She Said: The Mythical History of the False Rape Allegation," she reports:

"The most commonly accepted statistic is that 2-8 percent of rape allegations are false.

To be absolutely clear: that means 2-8 percent of the reports made to the police are later proven to have been made by somebody who knew that the person they were accusing was innocent. And when you consider that many victims choose not to go to the police at all, the ratio of people who have actually experienced sexual assault to people who have falsely claimed to have experienced sexual assault gets—one presumes—even larger. The number of false rape allegations is small: it’s not zero, but it’s small. The amount of fear and worry and hand-wringing about these false allegations is disproportionate to their actual prevalence."


LGBQ/T Sex Ed, Bullying, and Suicide:

In the podcast, Melanie and I discussed the importance of including lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and trans (LGBG/T) individuals in discussions about sex education. Not only is it important that these folks receive accurate, applicable information about STIs, pregnancy prevention, and sex just like their heterosexual or gender-conforming peers, but it's also incredibly important that these identities are normalized - not only for the folks who identify as being non-heterosexual or non-gender conforming, but for those who don't.

LGBT youth experience bullying at elevated rates. The National School Climate Survey conducted by GLSEN in 2011 reported these statistics on bullying:

82% of LGBT youth had problems during the previous year with bullying about sexual orientation. 64% felt unsafe at school due to sexual orientation. 44% felt unsafe at school due to gender identification. According to surveys cited in this article, 4.6% of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt, while between 10-20% of lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents have done so. By comparison, 41% of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide.

Regularly including LGBQ/T folks in discussions of sex ed helps normalize these identities, reducing isolation and internal shame among those who fall into these groups, and giving heterosexual and/or gender-conforming folks the chance to become familiar and comfortable with identities formerly seen as "other."


Melanie discussed that one reason sex education should be intersectional is that much scientific research, including that related to sexual and reproductive health, was performed on non-consenting people of color.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, for example, "was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service studying the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African-American men in Alabama under the guise of receiving free health care from the United States government."

Henrietta Lacks, whom I mentioned in the podcast,  had a best-selling book written about her. "She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance."

America also looooooves to forget its eugenics programs, which STERILIZED AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN UNTIL THE 1970s. Yes, you read that right.

"U.S. women of color have historically been the victims of forced sterilization. Some women were sterilized during Cesarean sections and never told; others were threatened with termination of welfare benefits or denial of medical care if they didn’t 'consent' to the procedure; others received unnecessary hysterectomies at teaching hospitals as practice for medical residents. In the

North Carolina's eugenics board wasn't disbanded until 1977, and the law allowing involuntary sterilization wasn’t officially repealed until 2003.

"It began as a way to control welfare spending on poor white women and men, but over time, North Carolina shifted focus, targeting more women and more blacks than whites.  A third of the sterilizations performed in North Carolina were done on girls under the age of 18.  Some were as young as nine years old.

During that time period [from 1929 to 1974], 7,600 people were sterilized in North Carolina.  Of those who were sterilized, 85 percent of the victims were female and 40 percent were non-white." YEP. BET YA DIDN'T LEARN THAT IN HIGH SCHOOL U.S. HISTORY CLASS!


In the episode, we talked about the shame and stigma surrounding STIs. Melanie recommended this TedxTalk called "STIs Aren't a Consequence,They're Inevitable." 

"An STI is not a reflection of your character or a consequence of a bad decision. It is an inevitably of being a human being on this planet who comes into skin contact with other humans. Period. End of discussion. "

In the talk, Ella Dawson explains why stigma around sexually transmitted infections (and herpes in particular) exists, and also how incredibly common STIs are. According to the World Health Organization, 2 in 3 people worldwide have Herpes Simplex Virus 1, a particular strand of the herpes virus that causes cold sores, and can in some cases cause genital herpes. Herpes Simplex Virus 2, a strand of herpes that exclusively causes genital symptoms, affects 1 in 6 people and 1 in 5 women.


On teaching children consent:

Melanie discussed how teaching children about consent outside the context of sexuality cartoon about consent, written by a mother.

"Once my daughter became old enough to understand and respond to questions, I began asking for permission to touch her. Why do I do this? As a sexual assault survivor, teaching my kid about consent is a form of activism. If I had the words to describe what was happening to me as a young girl, I may have stepped up and said something sooner. Or maybe it would have alleviated the confusion and shame I felt for years

Affirmative consent:

I realized that I'd referenced "affirmative consent" in several episodes, but I have never defined in during an episode for people who aren't familiar with the term. The principles of affirmative consent are defined here, but the short version is: 

“Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.  Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent.”

On affirmative consent and education:

This article discusses California's enactment of "Yes Means Yes" legislation. All colleges receiving state funding for student financial aid are required to adopt an affirmative consent, or "Yes Means Yes," standard to be used when investigating and disciplining campus sexual assaults.

Melanie and I spoke about the importance of teaching kids about sexual consent during their sex education. In the same article above about affirmative consent legislation at the college-level, we learn that:

"To better educate California’s youth on affirmative consent, Gov. Jerry Brown...signed into law a new piece of legislation...which requires public high schools to develop


A sex ed curriculum focused on Transgender Identities:

Melanie mentioned a curriculum for sex educators called "Teaching Transgender," published by Out for Health and Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes (PPSFL). (In the podcast, we accidentally credited the Center for Sexual Education with the curriculum!)

"With particular attention paid to intersectional approaches and marginalized identities," the curriculum addresses "transgender people’s identities and experiences" and the "nuances of teaching about transgender-related topics." The end goal is that "participants will be well prepared to acknowledge, support, and engage with transgender people in an affirming manner."

An organization for sexual health workers who are Women of Color:

Melanie spoke about the Women of Color Sexual Health Network - a group of sexuality professionals which focuses "on the sexual and reproductive health needs of women of color." WOCSHN is place for women of color sexuality professionals to share their experiences; a place to gain support when they are shut out, pushed aside, silenced, erased and otherwise considered nonexistent....We wanted to look

"WOCSHN creates opportunities for the inclusion of women of color in the field of sexuality, sexology, and sexual health; challenges the White supremacy these fields were built upon."

Bonus Content from Episode 2: Public Defender Julia Burke
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

In Episode 2, I interview Julia Burke - a public defender in Queens, NY.  We talked a ton about the criminal justice system as it relates to domestic violence. Check out the links below to learn more about the topics discussed in the episode. Haven't heard the episode yet? Check it out here or on iTunes.

Coercive Control as a Better Way to Understand and Describe Abuse

This article explains why “coercive control” is a more accurate phrase than “domestic violence,” as being victimized does not always involve physical violence, and it certainly is rarely contained purely to the “domestic” space. Coercive control “is a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self.” Understanding domestic abuse as coercive control means better understanding the experiences, reactions, and decisions of victims.

“Violence is used (or not) alongside a range of other tactics – isolation, degradation, mind-games, and the micro-regulation of everyday life (monitoring phone calls, dress, food consumption, social activity etc). The perpetrator creates a world in which the victim is constantly monitored and criticised; every move is checked against an unpredictable, ever-changing, unknowable ‘rule-book’....the victim becomes brainwashed, internalising the rules, adapting her behaviour to survive. Coercive control is the white noise against which she plays out her life; ever present, ever threatening. The strength to live with this and to function daily in a range of settings – to survive – is enormous and courageous."

Battered Women's Syndrome 

Julia mentioned that sometimes Battered Women's Syndrome (BWS) can be used as a legal defense when defending victims of domestic violence who have been arrested after retaliating against their abusers. A necessary thing, as a 1996 government study found that 93% of women convicted of killing current or former intimate partners had been physically or sexually abused by a partner.

This article defines BWS as "a mental disorder that develops in victims of domestic violence as a result of serious, long-term abuse. BWS is dangerous primarily because it leads to “learned helplessness” – or psychological paralysis – where the victim becomes so depressed, defeated, and passive that she believes she is incapable of leaving the abusive situation. Though it may seem like an irrational fear, it feels absolutely real to the victim. Feeling fearful and weak, and sometimes even still holding onto the hope that her abuser will stop hurting her, the victim remains with her abuser, continuing the cycle of domestic violence and strengthening her existing BWS."

How Victims Become Trapped in the Criminal Justice System

Women's prisons are overwhelmingly filled with women who have a history of suffering physical or sexual abuse. Whether that abuse directly caused their incarceration (i.e. they killed their abusers) or indirectly caused it (a majority of women incarcerated in the NYC jail system reported engaging in illegal activity (such as the use of illegal drugs) in response to experiences of abuse, the threat of violence, or coercion by their male partners), relationship and sexual abuse is an issue that needs to be understood in order to understand the criminal activity and incarceration of women. This fact sheet does an incredible job of explaining the stats. Lowlights include:

"82% of women incarcerated at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility had a childhood history of severe physical and/or sexual abuse and more than 90% had endured physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. 75% of the women had experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during adulthood."

"Nationwide, more than 57% of women in state prisons and 55% of women in local jails report having been physically and/or sexually abused in the past."

"The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that more than 37% of women in state prisons have been raped before their incarceration."

"Women in prison are at least twice as likely as women in the general public to report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse."

Domestic Violence and Retaliatory Litigation

Here's an article about how domestic abusers use retaliatory litigation to further abuse their victims. By suing their victims once victims use the legal system to try to get away from the abuse (such as suing the victim for defamation after they report the abuse, reporting the survivor to immigration authorities to have the survivor deported, or trying to take the victim's children away by filing for sole custody), "the very legal system that a victim once believed would protect her from that abuser essentially becomes another weapon that can cause emotional and financial devastation." 

Holistic Criminal Defense

Julia talked about how she strives to provide holistic criminal defense. This site, by The Bronx Defenders, defines holistic defense as "an innovative model of public defense...that combines aggressive legal advocacy with a broader recognition that for most poor people arrested and charged with a crime, the criminal case is not the only issue with which they struggle." Learn more about the principles and importance of holistic criminal defense here. TL;DR: Sociocultural factors. CONSIDER 'EM.

The Plea Bargain and Why People Plead Guilty to Crimes They Didn't Commit

This article, according to Julia, "is the best thing out there on why innocent people plead guilty, and talks about plea bargaining as the predominate form of 'justice' over trials."

A "fun" fact: In 2013, more than 97 percent of federal criminal charges were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. 

TL;DR: The prosecutor has all the power. When he/she meets with the "information-deprived defense lawyer," the prosecutor makes it clear that, "unless the case can be promptly resolved by a plea bargain, he intends to charge the defendant with the most severe offenses he can prove.... If, however, the defendant wants to plead guilty, the prosecutor will offer him a considerably reduced charge—but only if the plea is agreed to promptly.... Otherwise, he will charge the maximum, will be to a higher-level offense than the one offered at the outset of the case." Womp.

The Difficulty of Criminal Defense, Plus Why We Must Establish Affirmative Consent as the Standard

This article is about the difficulty of being both a feminist and a criminal defense attorney. Written after the Brock Turner case, author Jill Filipovic makes the case for why affirmative consent MUST be the standard we use in determining whether a sex act was criminal.

1) I asked Julia a question that she gets asked all the time - isn't it difficult to defend someone who you know did something terrible? The author of this article sums it up in much the same way Julia did: yes, but criminal defense is a vital part of keeping our justice system...well, just.

"Vigorously defending a client is a defense attorney's job, and that vigorous defense is a vital component of our criminal justice system.... This is how it should work. It should be a high bar to convict someone of a crime, to put them in jail, take away their liberty."

2) This is why affirmative consent must be the standard:

"If we understand that sex as something parties enter into for mutual pleasure as opposed to one party getting something from the other, and if we believe that the burden should not be on women to fight men off but on men to not penetrate people without consent — and while of course men are sexually assaulted, women are assaulted much more often, and it is almost always men committing sexual assaults — then affirmative consent should be the standard we use in determining whether a sex act was criminal. Our criminal code should change to reflect that standard."

Wanna Learn More About Topics in Episode I?
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

In the first episode of Femtastic, I had a fascinating conversation with Jillian Coffey, the Field Organizing Specialist for Planned Parenthood of Colorado. (Check it out here if you haven't yet!)

Want to learn more about some of the topics we touched on? Here's some bonus content on...


This report by the AAUW breaks down the pay gap by not only gender, but also by race. Highlights (well, they're really lowlights but...ya know): 

In 2014, women working full time in the United States typically were paid on average just 79 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 21 percent.  And as we know, women of color have it far worse. African American women get paid 63 cents to the dollar compared to men, while Hispanic women receive 54 cents to the dollar. The report has a brief breakdown of suggestions for ways that corporations, individuals, and policy makers can help close the wage gap. Check it out.


According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (you may know them as OB/GYNs),  "long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods include the intrauterine device (IUD) and the birth control implant. Both methods are highly effective in preventing pregnancy, last for several years, and are easy to use. Both are reversible—if you want to become pregnant or if you want to stop using them, you can have them removed at any time." WOW, WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!

[If you're a healthcare provider, check out the ACOG's LARC Program - it provides a broad range of resources on Long-Acting Reversible Contraception including clinical guidance, educational materials adapted for various patient languages/cultures, and more.]

Anywho, on the podcast Jillian and Katie discussed Colorado's LARC program. Thanks to free IUDs and hormonal implants provided to teen, young adult, and low-income Colorado women, the state experienced what is by all accounts a startling decline in unintended pregnancies and abortions. A decline so startling that other states took notice and quickly implemented similar programs. 

The state saw a 40 percent decline in births among teen moms and a 42 percent decline in teen abortions from 2009 to 2013.  Births among low-income women dropped 39% among women ages 15-19 and 22% among women ages 20-24. The birth rate for Medicaid-eligible women ages 15 to 24 dropped sharply, resulting in an estimated $49 million to $111 million avoided expenses in Medicaid birth-related costs alone. THESE ARE HUGE PERCENTAGES, FAM. 

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said the savings in Medicaid and government assistance far outweigh the up-front costs.

"What greater gift can you give to a teenaged potential mother than the opportunity to plan her family so when she has children, it's when they're wanted, when she can afford to care for them ... and to do it in such a cost-effective way in terms of government spending? It dramatically reduces government spending," he said.

Reducing unintended pregnancy? Reducing abortion? REDUCING WELFARE SPENDING?! Now THAT sounds like something Republicans can get behind! Right? Right?! 

Ugh. Wrong.

In May 2015, Colorado’s Republican-controlled senate killed a bill that would sustain and expand the program.

Lawmakers like Rep. Kathleen Conti complained that the long-acting birth control is too expensive and sends the wrong message to teenagers who should instead be taught to refrain from sex. Others raised the disputed concern that IUDs themselves can cause abortions.

For now, Colorado is relying on a patchwork of private grants to continue its family planning initiative. 


Check out Planned Parenthood Action Fund to search for your state and find local advocacy information and even more ways to get involved. Like Jill said - while your donations are ALWAYS appreciated and incredibly impactful, your time spent as a volunteer is truly priceless.

Know how politicians are voting in your state! Check out the 2016 Congressional Scorecard compiled by PPAF to educate and inform citizens about members of Congress' record of support for women's health. The scores are based on votes on key legislation related to women's healthcare and rights. Select your state to learn more about how your state representatives voted. Remember - if our reps are doing a sucky job of advocating for women, it's up to us to either LOBBY (<-- seriously, that link will tell you how) legislators so that they know where their constituents stand on important issues...or VOTE those suckers outta power.  DEMOCRACY, PEOPLE.

Peace, Love, and IUDs,


Femtastic is Coming!
Katie Breen
November 2, 2017

What's the Femtastic Podcast? It's where Katie Breen interviews feminist activists, researchers, and advocates working to make women's issues...well, non-issues. Katie explores issues of reproductive rights, pay equity, abortion, birth control, sex ed, paid family leave, breastfeeding, periods, reproductive healthcare, domestic violence, sexual assault, and LGBTQ issues - examining topics through the lens of intersectional feminism and reproductive justice. We also laugh.

Episodes are coming soon, but in the meantime, if you could be a doll and like us on Facebook and throw us a pity-follow on Twitter and Instagram - that would be swell. Really want to be an A+ Overachiever? Share us on those channels. Tell yo friends. Tell strangers. Tell your OB/GYN. You feel me? 

Also subscribe to receive an email every time something exciting happens - like a new episode!

Peace, Love, and Uteruses (that sounds pretty weird pluralized),