Monday, May 11, 2015

Being a Diva: Menstrual Taboo

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Yesterday was Mother's Day in the US, so what better time for a reflection about women's bodies and the weird and wonderful things they do. Once you've been sucked down the world of toilets it's a short leap to the subject of menstruation.

Two years ago as a fly on the wall at the predominantly male British Toilet Association's annual meeting the topic was covered only briefly, as a slightly redfaced gentleman explained the problems it creates for restroom cleaning: "You women tend to...  erm... sync up in offices... so we can't just have the bins emptied on a regular schedule."

Tampons can be an awkward thing to deal with for a lot of other reasons too. Imagine that moment on a dinner date (or worse, a job interview) when you need to use the loo and go through the mental process of "Oh shit! This dress has no pockets... will it look bad if I carry my backpack to the bathroom with me? Will they think I'm running away? Will they know? Maybe I can maneuver it into my sleeve?"

Gentlemen... if a woman ever dives under the table digging frantically through her purse, casually re-emerges 30 seconds later, shrugs it off and then excuses herself you now know why. Somewhere on her person- up a sleeve, in a shoe, or in extreme cases, in a bra, is concealed a small piece of cotton that will afford her another three hours -give or take- of dignity.

My days of dealing with this are mostly over. I've become a convert to the Diva Cup.

I'd say that I can't believe it took me 25 years of my life (or, more accurately, 12 years of menstruating) to discover this, only that is partly my own fault. My freshman year of college one of the seniors actually did, as her senior project, an educational theatre piece with stories about periods, and well dressed women dancing in large plastic cups. My younger more easily embarrassed self didn't quite know what to make of it, so I watched awkwardly and then forgot about it.

Fast forward six years and a lot of toilet tours later when there's nothing much I won't talk about, and I came across an article about eco feminine hygiene products. Vague memories of the diva-cup were re-awakened and I thought 'maybe this is worth a go after all!'

The advantages are numerous. They are re-usable, so not only are you saving money in the long-run not buying tampons and pads every month (Tampon tax has been getting some interesting press lately), but you spare those poor long-suffering gentlemen of the BTA the need to constantly re-calculate the bin emptying schedule.

It's a weird concept to get your head around. Essentially sticking a little squishable cup up your neither regions. I thought for sure it would leak, or fall out, or get stuck, or just plain wouldn't fit in the first place. It doesn't do any of those things. It's actually so comfortably you can pretty much forget it's there.

Chances are the intricacies of female plumbing aren't your forte. They aren't for most people- including most women (any more than most of us know how the pipes and wires are set up in our homes.) So here's a lesson in female anatomy 101: The blood comes from the uterus shedding its lining, so it's all coming from the cervix which is at the top of the vagina. So the cup catches it pretty much right at the source, getting rid of a lot of the mess of tampons.) The urinary tract is a separate hole entirely slightly in front, so it doesn't interfere with that.

Are you blushing yet? This topic is still definitely a step beyond my normal toilet and pee and poo talk in terms of taboo. Where most people warm pretty quickly to toilet humor in the right environment you can see them get visibly uncomfortable when it becomes too personal. Maybe because it's moving from what comes out of the body to what goes on inside the body? Maybe because as a gender-specific topic we don't have it as universally in common.

I'm still exploring how to talk about it without making people shy away and shut down (like I did when I saw that play as an 18-year-old freshman.) It needs to be talked about, because it's so fundamental to women's equality. One of the primary reasons for girls dropping out of school in developing countries is a lack of toilets and safe places to go when they start their periods.

On the home front, if you want more women in the workplace you can't take the body out of the picture. A lot of workplace routines are designed for male bodies that don't spend 5 days out of every month bleeding and dealing with cramps, back pain, headaches and haywire hormone levels. Usually, as women, we try not to let that show, and carry on with business as usual, lest it be seen as a sign of weakness. A friend of mine used to like to say "never trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die." Maybe there's something in that... we're tough creatures! Beware our power!

Anyway, all this is to get back to the fact that when you don't talk about something, progress and innovation is difficult. Hence the slow rise of an amazing product like the divacup. You won't see people queuing up for the latest model, like an iphone 6.

If you can get over the initial awkwardness, it's probably the best gift you can give to any of the women in your life. I recommend who not only carry a lot of lovely products, but donate a significant portion of their proceeds to supporting girls in developing countries.


Just for some comic relief, here's Sarah Silverman talking about lady parts.

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