Any person who has ever bought a menstrual product knows they are sold in black plastic bags as if they are things that need to be hidden. Women are taught to apply shame and discretion to bodily functions and parts, and that is not free of impact. Here is why it would be better to be able to talk about tampons openly at the dinner table.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.
How many times has this happened to you— You’re in a class, or a bar, or just hanging out with some friends when a woman you hardly know (or may know quite well) slides up to you and whispers to ask if you have a tampon? Or because we’ve changed into a new generation and have as a result changed our method of discreet communication, this girl texts you instead of sliding up. We always have this look on our faces; a combination of embarrassment and need and we always ask discreetly.
For instance when I was in school, one day a friend of mine started her period unexpectedly and she asked me for a sanitary pad. I reached into my bag to give her one and she said that i should put it inside a notebook and pass it to her. It was weird to me that she had this request but over the years I realized that this was norm.
Feminine hygiene products are meant to be hidden even when exchanged between women; much like the societal approach like they put them inside a black/opaque paper bag when you buy these products at the pharmacy. We’re supposed to hide our period and never mention it in company for fear of it being considered improper. I have personally had several people tell me to shut up or mind the room if I broach the subject of the menstrual cycle (which if I believe pop culture makes me leak blue stuff and cry over Bambi) but’s not just the period that is not to be mentioned, it’s various aspects of the female reproductive system.
A few days ago I was with my mother and we were going shopping when we (read: I) happened to start discussing fertility problems.
In this discussion I said the words, “My uterus is driving me insane and i don’t want to release eggs anymore, feel like a goddamn chicken.”
Obviously I was being playfully flippant but it was not that my mother took issue with. She promptly hushed me and pointed to the driver of the car. She whispered that i shouldn’t use such words so publicly (we were alone in the cab with the one person who was driving us). I tried to explain to her why it shouldn’t be considered inappropriate and in my explanation I used the word uterus again which made her decide not to speak again until I stopped using “dirty words”. It seemed like my mother’s approach to the female reproductive system was only viewed through a sexual-shame lens; she would not have reacted this was if I was discussing an infected toenail. It’s not her fault, this is just how we are taught to talk about our bodies, as if their parts are dirty things.
It just seems like we spend our half lives being taught about what is okay to talk about in the presence of men and/or in public and female reproductive health and systems is an inappropriate subject. That is part of why abortion is such a “no-no” subject at parties and family dinners. A man once literally called me insane for trying to explain to him what a female body goes through during a 28-day cycle. He seemed like he didn’t have any understanding of it at all but he was so uncomfortable with talking to me (a set of two holes that can make words) about this issue that he dubbed me insane.
Now I’m not saying everyone has to know women intimately, but no one should have to be shamed and silenced just because they talked about their fallopian tubes or their menstrual cycle with friends. There shouldn’t be a gender barrier on this information. Like in school, the talk about periods and puberty was limited to girls (in fact, we were explicitly told not to inform boys about what we would be discussing). Male puberty was never even discussed, which is a problem of itself. My point is that this information is vital and if you communicate with women on a daily basis and if you have girlfriends/wives/children having the right information at the right time would benefit men as well but more importantly, freedom of discussion in all spheres will make sure girls and women are better informed. The conspiracy of polite silence for social propriety takes many victims.
I’ve had a fourteen year old sister (despite a Sex Ed class) wonder if men have both penises and vaginas. I’ve had a 20-year old boy ask me how come tampons don’t get lost inside people. I’ve met thirty (and older) year-old women who have never had a pelvic exam because “gynaecologist” is one of those words that is inappropriate to say in a social setting. My own mother had never had a breast exam until two years ago since, she had children. My friend couldn’t understand why I said birth control, and why I couldn’t just say condoms. Digest this please, this 27-year old had somehow missed the fact that contraception does not end at condoms.
However, it’s not just the lack of information, it’s also the misinformation. All the jokes around women being crazy on their period and all the mystery that shrouds that exchange of a tampon alienates women into a species that men and society as a whole cannot understand. It creates the environment that allows the distance between genders to joke about how little they know about the actual existence of one another. Lack of communication is a horrible thing but a system of silencing discourse on one particular subject either in a way that you shut it down or with the subtlety that encourages the discussers to whisper instead of talk creates an environment of misinformation, internalised shame and distrust. No girl should wonder why she has to whisper even though she does it because all the women around her do it. No woman should have to think of uterus as a dirty word.
So maybe, just maybe, next to you want to borrow a tampon you can just ask across the coffee table, just like you would ask for a spoon. Because maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop pretending that women leak blue stuff from their vaginas every month for an unknown mythical reason. That’s stupid. Let’s not live in a stupid world.