I’m *that* girl.

I am that girl.

Clea recently blogged about the moon cup here on her fantastic blog. She writes about the stigma around periods, and I love her for it.

So in the interest of breaking the silence and stigma, here’s some ideas on periods, some of which are informed by the great feminists, and some of them by my own personal experience.

This will be a less than charming blog, because we’re going into territory most people would rather die than discuss. I hope though that you will enjoy my personal, humorous take on it, and take away the negative hold fear has on this normal, occasionally annoying event. If talking about periods and the feminist thoughts that do attend it, please don’t read further. I won’t apologise, but I accept that not everyone wants to go down the rabbit holes I enthusiastically make.

Even before the periods arrive, we grow up in with this abstract fear that we might just die from it. Myths abound, about it being two cupfuls of blood, to crippling pain that keeps you in bed for a week. (Sadly, the latter is true for a minority that needs a lot more help to be functional during the menses.) It never occurs to us that millions of women are menstruating all around the world all the time, but there’re still a few questions that are answered quite abruptly and accompanied by a dismayed “Oh. Dammit.”

First question: where does it all come from? Obviously, honey, from that area that is currently trying to contract to the size of a grapeseed. In fact, the muscles behind and front of the womb are gleefully, maliciously trying to practice for childbirth. That’s right. We go through simulated labour every time our body decides to rid itself of an unused lining. Well, some of us do. I wish I was one of the ones that could chirpily say “oh, I just get a headache.” Some of us get hit by the headaches, period pain, fatigue and irritability all at once. Some months are worse than others, but it still isn’t the fun times.

Second question: where am I going to put that blood? I can’t wear red underwear for the rest of my life. I’m not a walking porno. We’ve all been caught off-guard by the Red Menace and had to keep healthy swearing to a quiet minimum upon discovery of yet another ruined pair of panties. So, we have been given an array of environmentally destructive weapons to contain the 15-30ml of blood we drip over five days.  There’s the revolting sanitary pad, which is about as useful as bread stuck to braces. Theoretically, it could work, but doesn’t. The simple act of walking scrunches them up. They’re also fragranced (quite ineffectively) and after a couple of hours, they begin to smell. A less than delightful combination of blood, cheap fragrance/toxic run-off, body odour and perhaps too much deodorant to mask those smells, begins to waft.  Worse on a summer’s day. Having been to a girls’ school, it is fairly distinct. And some of those pads are so thick that they create an outline, a little like a reverse camel toe. But not.

The next weapon is a tampon, with or without applicators. Applicators are for those amongst us who have issues with either touching their vadge or their menstrual blood. Poo to this, I say! Its like being afraid  to do a breast examination. Some things are necessary and perfectly natural and delightful.  For those of us who have graduated from this, there’s the plain tampon. Bleached and potentially toxic, these are available in anything from a small bullet to a door-stopper in size, this little wad of cotton costs approximately R2 each.  Organic tampons cost twice as much. So, a woman can spend up to R10-R20 a day bleeding. Sometimes more, if you’re a sufferer of the Red Tide more than the Red Splash. My sympathies.

And then, there’s the unfairly infamous moon cup. The moon cup is treated with an undue amount of revulsion. It is my hope that I can do a little to chip off some of the stigma that surrounds this veritable godsend.

Check out the figures from the moon cup website:

The MPower menstrual cup is an innovative menstruation product made in South Africa. The MPower menstrual cup is eco-friendly, economical, effective and empowering. By using an MPower cup you save money, you save yourself and you save the environment. You empower yourself and others. No tampons. No pads. No ‘period pains’.

The facts:

  • One MPower cup is 1 200 pads / tampons, over a five-year period.
  • 160 million tampons / pads get thrown away in South Africa every year.
  • Over the next 50 years 104 thousand million pads / tampons will be thrown away in South Africa alone.
  • The feminine hygiene market is an R800 million business, with only 40% of the South African market being able to afford traditional sanitary ware.

Retail Price: R265


Reading the FAQ is highly informative. Its a little more of a mission, but since we all have time for blogging, IMing, naps and movies, I think we could use a little of that time once a month to keep the cup and ourselves clean. I don’t have one yet, because I’ve never seen one in a shop and my stupid short-term thinking says “but I could buy a year’s supply of tampons for that.” Also, when they say for the active woman, I’m not sure they mean my kind of active. I would gladly say that 90% of women in South Africa don’t do martial arts.  I’m not sure it could withstand the impact and rolling involved in martial arts. I would have to switch to a tampon, because I know those work when it comes to being upside down and thrown against the floor. (Wow, that makes it sound much more violent than it is.) I really don’t want to worry about spillage all over my white gi. Even risking it is inviting a godawful disaster. No one wants to be known as the ‘chick who bled all over the mat and her pants’.

Would I try it? Of course I would. And I will get one once the funds become available. I’d give it a try, and support a good cause. I think it is an especially good idea for women with lower income. There’s still stigma around tampons causing the loss of virginity, so I’m not so sure that it will be entirely welcomed by all cultures/religious groups/narrow-minded idiots but I think it is a much more feasible answer to several growing and long-term problems.

And to back-track a bit, I’m a bit irritated that many women are stuck in the tyranny of using pads/wads of fabric because their religious and community leaders treat tampons like penises. Virginity is a state of mind, and an idea that desperately needs to be revaluated in this day and age. The obsession with virginity causes more problems for women than periods ever could. I don’t know if its a ‘staking the first claim’ thing, or the idea of purity, but the whole idea of dying for virgins, or raping virgins, or marrying one is utterly outdated and ridiculous. Even when I was a virgin I was a relatively filthy-minded creature, so purity is not bestowed by that little thing called a hymen. Mine was probably broken a long time ago from many years of climbing trees and roofs and riding horses.  A lot of women won’t be allowed to use a mooncup because it needs to be inserted, and they might not pass a ‘virginity ceremony’. Jesus, people still sell and trade women like cattle. Its like inspecting a bull for testicular size.

I know many men are still a bit freaked out by the whole idea of their women bleeding, and I just want to celebrate the men who can pick up tampons for their beloved without blushing or hiding it amongst a whole bunch of items they didn’t need before but now serve as camouflage. I know a few good men who want to know what its all about, so that they can handle the whole issue with sensitivity and respect. Viva to those brothers, they know who they are. They probably also agree with me and the statement that says “I don’t sleep with virgins for the same reason I don’t enjoy reading blank books.”

Also, while PMS does seem difficult to most, I’m trying to think of it as a creative time. With all those emotions and keen feelings, it seems a great time to write. I think that most are just overwhelmed by how vocal it can make a woman. Maybe the bad rep for PMS is undeserved. After all, to assume every woman becomes psychotic because of a surge of hormones is actually quite an offensive label.  It does not suit me to be labelled as unmanageable just because I’m being vocal. Most of the time, we are dreadfully sad or pissed or worried or depressed but we usually keep controlled about it. We don’t want to be unemployable. After all, its apparently unseemly for a woman to shout. Only army generals get to do that. And moms, because they’re all naggy. And stuff. (This is what television tells us.) I know many women that would rather die than cry in public. Its a stereotype that we’re all weepy and weak, especially with PMS. I admit that I get tearful over ads during PMS, but I’m also fine with crying in public. I’m not ashamed of having emotions. What does piss me off is that crying is equated with weakness, which is why men aren’t allowed to do it. Giving men the space to cry might actually do them a great deal of good.

We can’t really liberate ourselves from periods, at least not without some severe side-effects. The whole point is not really to reclaim a natural function. Its a bit silly to do that. The whole point of this, really, is to clear away the stigma in whatever tiny way I can. We shouldn’t be so ashamed of what our bodies need to do. It’s just a process. I don’t think it needs to be modelled as awesome by Lady Gaga, because that’s a bit ridiculous. What it does need is to be made less horrific and terrifying. Sometimes humour and honesty can do that.  I don’t think donning a hat with tampons swinging from it in a music video would.  Unless it was Weird Al Yankovic. I’d hit that, as the Anglo-Saxon phrase goes.

So, its just five days a month. It doesn’t rule our lives, nor should it. Like Germaine Greer says, it doesn’t cripple or incapacitate us, making us unable to think or run our lives. It just makes us irritable and uncomfortable. It’s not the end of the world, but it is something we would gladly do without.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tracy-Lee Nicol says:

    I love it when there is meaty, well informed discussion of taboo topics, and there’s none more so than the period. Allow me to add my two cents worth:

    I am an English teacher in Korea and the other day one of my girl students was complaining. I asked what was wrong and after a couple of failed interpretations of charades she recruited the help of her friend.

    “Oooh, teecha,” she said gravely, “is girl magic!” pointing to her belly.

    Girl magic. How lovely? I found myself smiling at her linguistic creativity and for a moment, just a moment, it almost won me over to the whole reprehensible process of menstruation. Yes, I am a hater of that abhorrent monthly cycle that bonds us in unique womanliness. I openly denounce the entire process, so much so that, since we’re sharing stories about the politics and economics of the period, I choose not to have them. It’s been nine months since my last period, and no, I’m not pregnant. As a woman in full control of my body and my choices I have banished the tide. I have also, for the record, never felt more at ease with my body and at home with my womanliness than since I won the War of Menses.

    This radical stance requires quite the back-story so I hope you will bear with me. My period hates me through no fault of mine except shitty physiology. I have the condition titled, wait for it, “Premature Ovarian Failure”! I add the exclamation mark because a name as linguistically and ideologically problematic as that one demands an exclamation, as well as a thesis. What this means is that at the age of mid-twenty (I’m far enough down the twenties scale now that I’m starting to get shifty about it) my ovaries have ceased their sporadic strikes and fits of productivity and decided its best to just shrivel (literally).

    In the end days of the one-sided war (I mean, who can compete with the endocrine system?), I was one of those women incapacitated by cramps that seemed to be autonomous (read evil), and hell-bent on birthing all my entrails. Not satisfied with just viscera, they would sap my arms and legs, along with my will to live. Add to this depression and anxiety and the fun of thinking you’re actually going insane, it was menopause delivered 30 years too early. It wasn’t always this way, my ovaries and uterus were once sweet and inoffensive, then again, so was Smeagol.

    My salvation came in the form of a little Pill that changed the course of women’s rights history and gave us the power to control our fertility and menstruation. Not only did this give me the oestrogen that I lacked in spades, but is made me a functional human being again. It truly changed my life.

    Now, Zoe and Clea have discussed with brilliance the politics, economics, and stigma associated with menstruation, as well as the various products and coping mechanisms we employ. One thing that has been left off the discussion board is the Pill. I know there is plenty to be said about synthetic hormones, oestrogen pollution (true story), cancer, and getting fat, but the really amazing and frankly revelatory thing about the Pill that no one ever tells you about is that you can just never have a period again! No harm done.

    Purists will scoff and say there is nothing more unnatural than never having a period, but here’s the deal breaker, if you’re on the Pill (and this is likely affirmative if you’re sexually active) you’re not actually having a period when you take those little placebos. What you are experiencing is not the product of the uterus shedding the comfy, nesty lining prepared in anticipation for a fertilized egg. No, it is a withdrawal bleed.

    What’s the difference? A quick (loose) biology lesson: The uterus is comprised of two layers, the basal and functional layer. The functional layer, instructed by hormones, thickens over the course of a woman’s monthly cycle in preparation for housing a tiny human. When there is no house warming for a tiny human the layer gets bummed out and leaves the building. This is a “real” or menstrual period. What remains after a period is the basal layer from which a new functional layer is made in a constant cycle of anticipation and disappointment.

    When you take the Pill the synthetic hormones take hold of the hormone production steering wheel. What this means for failures like me who can’t even get their own period right, is a cloud of hormonal stability and mental bliss. What this means for the reproductive system is that ovulation is suppressed and the functional layer of the uterus stays thin.

    So where’s the blood coming from? The placebos you take destabilise the lining of the uterus just enough to cause bleeding for a few days. There is no biological or medical necessity to have a monthly bleed when you’re on the Pill.

    Why include the placebos? When the Pill first came out, the idea of a woman being definitively in control of her reproduction was pretty radical. Add to that she could also command her menstrual cycle was just too much for the political, religious and social sensibilities of the 50s. The “fake menstruation” was thus included with each pack in order to ease the shock of the fact that women were now not only creatures that could bleed for several days and not died, but in future could choose to not bleed at all.

    The point of this long, long story of confession, history and revelation, is that if you’re using the contraceptive pill you do not need to use sanitary pads, tampons or moon cups because you can choose to never have a period again with no ill consequences to your body. While some women are on affectionate terms with their Aunt Flo and enjoy the creativity and sense of femininity that it offers, I couldn’t be happier that a little bit of research into the mechanism of the Pill has liberated me from mental and physical anguish. I am a proud woman, and I embrace my womanhood. I also take full advantage of the progress made for women’s rights. I have no period. I am woman.

  2. Clea says:

    I loved reading your stories and am glad you enjoyed mine. This is one of the reasons why internet has been such a revolutionary tool: we create communities of like-minded people.

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