A lady who once wrote that “it has taken me 32 years to understand how to take care of myself” penned an essay calling for a national conversation on 3rd-wave-feminism-compliance of feminine hygiene products. She proposed the thesis that the use of tampons alienates women from the natural power bestowed on them by menstruation. (Question: why do menses stand for female power but childbearing is scoffed at?) The revelation was all inspired by a rap video, titled “Tampons and Tylenol” (what else?) because to really understand where we are as a society, look no further than popular culture, especially black popular culture as it’s more authentic. (Actually I kind of agree about pop culture being a mirror of society, but, gosh, it’s such a feminist cliche!)
The onset of menses is a huge event for girls, who talk about it quite a bit among themselves –so I’m not surprised that in our let-it-all-hang-out culture the topic finds its way into a song here or there or a sitcom features a joke about it. More interesting is that the contemporary Western grown ups are so uninhibited about the whole monthly trouble thing.
In my early teens in the Soviet Union, which happened to be in the 1980’s, I had to deal with pretty heavy logistics. Our only option was a special rubber “belt”, panties really, and inside of the “belt” we laid a runner of cotton which had to be removed and replaced once soaked. On a heavy day, we’d carry around a spool of cotton. Once the “monthly” was over, we cleaned and stored the device. The “belt” was purchased at pharmacies, where, once there was no men around, we whispered the name into the ear of a woman behind the counter who then discreetly slid it into the shopper’s purse.
My “belt’s” edge rubbed against my hip, and by the time I left USSR at the age of 16, I developed a scar that did not heal until a few years later. I suppose as far as the scars of socialism go, that one was rather superficial.
Once we crossed the border, I could choose from a variety of products, all more convenient and humane than the ones I had before. But what if some peeping Tom was watching me shop? To my astonishment, Western women dragged colorful plastic bags of tampons to the check out counters of supermarkets where they were often rang up by men, and the men seemed to pay little or no attention to what went down the conveyer belt. Heck, no-one at the supermarket expressed any interest in what was rolled in the shopping cards in the plain view of the customers. What, no sex maniacs of capitalism?
And Western women, have they no shame? Or maybe that’s what civilization is like because, to quote Chekhov: “A good upbringing means not that you won’t spill sauce on the tablecloth, but that you won’t notice it when someone else does.”
Somewhere on the way to motherhood periods ceased providing endless fodder for girl talk. Then childbirth and nursing became preferred subjects of powder room conversations. Mostly I’m happy that consumer society makes it easy for a woman to go on with her life, even when bleeding and in pain. I don’t believe a feminist needs to take any position on feminine hygiene products other than to promote economic system that eases inconvenience and perhaps celebrate the society that does not make a big deal out of it. Then again, I don’t believe that personal is political.