I didn’t make it obvious what this article is about, in case you were too squeamish to click.
But anyway, you’re here now. If you are a mouse, it is ok to run away squeaking. The rest of you, hold my hand: you are strong enough to stay with me all the way through. Even if I do use words like ‘period.’
My friend Becky appears on Facebook messenger.
– Prod. I have a question.
– Fire away.
– Menstrual cups. Use one? or totally freaked out?
– Hang on.
I minimise. When I come back, she is saying:
– Ha! You’re googling them!
Damn right I’m googling them. Apparently, menstrual cups are little silicone reservoirs that are inserted into the vagina. They collect the ‘blood’, rather than absorbing it. The user retreives the cup, empties it down the toilet and usually reuses it (disposable ones are available).
More information, including diagram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstrual_cup
– Wow! Interesting that they had them back in the thirties!
But that’s not true. That’s not what’s really interesting. I am a well-educated thrity-one-year-old woman with two kids and I hadn’t even heard of menstrual cups, let alone formed an opinion as to whether I was grossed out or not. Now that’s what’s really interesting.
* * *
Let’s go back to primary school and talk about periods.
I can actually remember the educational video; girl in swimming-pool looks very mature and puts her finger to her lips: ‘Shhhhh!’
Commentary: ‘It’ll be your secret. You don’t have to tell anyone.’
Nobody told the boys, for instance. The boys were led away at the start of the lesson, to learn about washing properly and deoderant. I can remember my friend asking me afterwards what the girls’ lesson was about. Of course I didn’t answer him; I already knew not to talk about it.
What were those teachers thinking? Exclude boys from being interested in women’s ‘private’ matters and the precident has been set. Teach girls that it’s something to hide and they will feel shame and embarrassment for evermore.
Periods are normal, for heavens sake! Fifty per cent of us have them! And talking of normalising things, why didn’t someone normalise the fact that women sweat and need deodrant, too? And perhaps we could normalise masturbation for both genders. It’s –
Ok. Enough ranting. Periods. Here is Chella Quint talking about the tampon industry. TEDxSheffield 2012 – Chella Quint – Adventures in Menstruating: Don’t Use Shame to Sell
Over the years, tampon packaging has changed to reflect changing attitudes to our cycles. And yet, the fundamental message that is marketed is: to hide them. Cover them up. What other sort of company, Chella points out, encourages you to remove their brand name from the packaging, so no-one knows what it is?
I distinctly remember being handed my first free sanitary towels in year 5 (actually, we scuttled up and picked them up from a bench). They were wrapped like sweets, in coloured, rustley paper. I treated them like a small bomb. I took them home to ‘hide away in your pants drawer until you need them’ and I felt a little bit uncomfortable every time I opened that particular drawer for the next five years or so.
When I finally did start my periods, we were on guide camp. I told Mum; she told an entire tent full of Guiders. I found this out when another guider’s daughter asked me if i was feeling OK about my period. Only, she didn’t want to use the word period: we were a long way into a very halting conversation before I was realised with a jolt that my period was what she was talking about. The conversation ended shortly afterwards. There was a fuzzy feeling of the secret being shared, but I still laid into my mother for telling everybody. I never realised how lucky I was in my choice of Mum. Some Mums never discussed their daughters’ periods with anyone – and that included their daughters.
It’s hardly fair, the embarassment of it all. For what generation of men was growing up – needing a razor, for instance – something they were ashamed of? Did men ever have to make sure they bought a giant box of cornflakes at the same time, to put the shaving kit under on the supermarket conveyor belt? When was ‘razors’ a word they were supposed to whisper? O.K. so maybe shaving isn’t the best parallel. Balls dropping, then. When were men supposed to be modest about the fact that they have balls?
Anyway, for light relief Becky suggested that we google-imaged ‘knitted tampons’. This sparked another big debate. While I am happy to accept that it might be relatively safe to insert a smooth, easily washable surface into that area of a woman, knitted tampons scare me a bit. Some of them even have vampire teeth.
– Hubby’d laugh at this
– O God. I can imagine it now: ‘Look what Becky showed me!…’
– I won’t tell him about your menstrual cups. That’d be weird.
– It’s OK. You can tell him about my menstrual cup.
Later, to hubby:
‘Guess what I learned from Becky this week?’
Hubby looks bored and knowing. ‘What, about Menstrual Cups?’
Then he shows me Facebook; by now Becky has already shared the wonderfulness of menstrual cups with everybody. Becky is a PSE teacher. Becky is liberated.
Two other things surprise me about the Facebook post, though.
One is: how many women do know about them. I’d always assumed that everyone, like me, used towels or tampons. But no! The message got lots of replies:
– I love my menstrual cup!
– I feel in control….
– …..poor souls…. (the people who don’t know about them)
Perhaps it helps that Becky has a lot of ‘natural mother’ facebook friends. Something she said backed my pigeonholing up:
‘I had you down as an old hippy who’d been wearing them for years’
But do only hippies know about them? And how come I didn’t? You’d have thought someone would have told the whole world, given that they’re apparently so comfortable and environementally friendly and inexpensive to boot……
…..Which brings us to the other suprise, and why Becky was asking people about menstrual cups in the first place: she is keen that their existence is taught in her school. In fact, her year sevens know all about them.
The other teachers? Not so keen.
OMG are we going to have to dance round naked waving mooncups in the air?
‘Because equipping kids to make an informed choice is really contraversial, right?’ says Becky.
The ladies who commented on the Facebook post were sometimes quite candied, but they ‘got’ the point immediately:
‘…..I’m not interested in ferreting about up my chuff when my periods on…. but all about what works for you though’
‘at least I know they are out there.’
You could argue the same about knitted tampons, home-made pads, different methods of treating period pain, charting cycles. Knowing about our periods could help women to maximise our exercise performance; understand how it reflects (or even, how it doesn’t necessarily reflect) our general systemic health; debate and understand menstrual synchrony; counter its effects on our moods; prepare ourselves for the next step in our reproductive lives, whatever stage we are at.
Basically, it might benefit us all to talk and know more about our periods.