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Blood Speaks
March 18, 2014 1:41 AM   Subscribe

What is life like when having your period puts your health at risk and means you are shunned by society? Rose George reports from Nepal and Bangladesh on menstrual taboos.: Blood speak

Infini posted some related links in a recent comment previously.
posted by Joe in Australia (42 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Food for thought, thanks for posting.

And what if all those women could not only live free from menstrual taboos, and have free access to pads and tampons... but also to cups? Wouldn't that be even better, if they had that (cheaper, less polluting, more discreet, healthier) option as well?
That is why I love projects like this one, this one or this one.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:28 AM on March 18


Access to clean water is pretty important to safe use of menstrual cups.
posted by gingerest at 3:36 AM on March 18 [35 favorites]


How interesting, thank you. I like the pragmatism of persuading factory owners that if their woman workers have menstrual supplies then they are more productive, and it's a good investment.
posted by alasdair at 3:45 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Access to clean water is pretty important to safe use of menstrual cups.

Of course. But that's pretty important to people's health anyway.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:50 AM on March 18


I don't think you can go straight from "your menstrual blood is so polluting and dirty and disgusting that you must spend those days in a hut far away from the clean people" to "revel in your inner moon goddess".

Other than that, I'm still not sure why they haven't marketed biodegradable sanitary napkins yet.
posted by sukeban at 4:30 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]


And what if all those women could not only live free from menstrual taboos, and have free access to pads and tampons... but also to cups? Wouldn't that be even better, if they had that (cheaper, less polluting, more discreet, healthier) option as well?

And what if cars ran on water and gave out gently-floral-scented mist as exhaust? Or were made of chocolate and peanut butter so you could just eat them when they broke down? That would also be less polluting.

...The Diva Cup is not a panacea. There are times when it simply isn't feasible, and introducing them into a thread where we're talking about people still struggling with menstrual taboos is really kind of a blinkered, Western-privilege approach to this topic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:44 AM on March 18 [66 favorites]


Of course menstrual cups don't solve everything and no one says they do. But at the same time, there are projects going on in Nepal and Bangladesh to provide women and girls with them. So some people apparently think this is more feasible, and more useful, than chocolate cars.

Clearly, discreet and cheap ways to handle periods can be a big help in overcoming menstrual taboos. As such, cups are germane to the discussion. And I don't see why I'm being mocked for bringing them up.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:57 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]


Wow, derailed from the first comment.

I almost posted this yesterday, but I decided to sit with it for awhile instead.

I'm still bitter that my mother was so unapproachable when I started my period in the sixth grade. Truly cannot fathom living under a system such as this.

Sometimes "tradition" completely obscures and negates our humanity, and people just say "well that's how things are" and get on with their lives. But I'm pretty sure that I would have PTSD if I had to sleep in a shed under threat of rape every month.
posted by polly_dactyl at 5:24 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


In cultures where a woman's virginity is a big deal any sort of inserted menstrual device is going to face a double whammy in terms of mestrual taboos and sexual taboos on top of that. I regularly meet people here in Australia who wonder if women don't get off sexually on using a tampon, let alone a cup. Pads tend to be the easiest start point for these for women in the developing world.
posted by Jilder at 5:38 AM on March 18 [10 favorites]


The Diva Cup is not a panacea. There are times when it simply isn't feasible, and introducing them into a thread where we're talking about people still struggling with menstrual taboos is really kind of a blinkered, Western-privilege approach to this topic.

And they very predictably come up in these discussions, maybe because focusing on a technological "solution" is easier than talking about the structural issues at play? From the "Bangladesh" link itself, for example:

Results suggest that there are indeed barriers for girls related to menstruation. However, merely providing modern sanitary products to girls may not be the solution to substantially reducing these barriers

I wish we wouldn't keep having this derail, because the actual subject is important, and the article in this FPP is fascinating. Two things really stood out to me: first, the link the author made between sanitation and menstrual issues (which seems obvious, but is a very rarely made connection), and second that she seems to be describing a custom just at a moment of inflection, as pressure builds to change. The people she interviews give sophisticated answers about where the traditions came from and how to create consensus for change -- they are not passive or uninformed victims.

(By the way, the author is Rose George, most recently discussed here but also linked many other times here.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:41 AM on March 18 [23 favorites]


In cultures where a woman's virginity is a big deal any sort of inserted menstrual device is going to face a double whammy in terms of mestrual taboos and sexual taboos on top of that.

Definitely. Before I started my periods my Mum told me I was not allowed to use a tampon because I wouldn't be a virgin anymore, and that was in a developed country in the late 1980s.

Thanks for posting this. I couldn't wait to get mine, and remember celebrating the momentous occasion with my best friend (who bought me sweets - because how else to celebrate the transition from girlhood to womanhood?) so the thought of dreading it because it signified the beginning of a life of being unclean and sleeping in a shed or on ground outside the family home... It's just heartbreaking.
posted by billiebee at 5:47 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]


Just a few short decades after we put a man on the freaking moon, I sat in a health education class that stated that girls who were virgins shouldn't use tampons, because you could die and not be a virgin anymore.

In America. In the 1980s.

Lucky for me, my mother was very pro-tampon and calmly explained toxic shock syndrome and how the hymen works to me and my friends and promptly bought us all tampons. Only two of us ended up using them.

If a developed country like the US has a such a difficult time getting true and unbiased information to young women about how to handle their menstrul cycles, I can't fathom how complex and confusing it would be to be in one of these cultures that shames and seperates women on their periods.
posted by teleri025 at 5:49 AM on March 18 [10 favorites]


And they very predictably come up in these discussions

Oh. Thanks. I missed that memo, it seems.

maybe because focusing on a technological "solution" is easier than talking about the structural issues at play?

Probably. I don't know anything about the structural issues so I wouldn't know what to say about them. The article makes me sad and mad, and it's easy to slip into problem solving mode.

I don't have anything else to offer beyond 'That's horrible'. Which doesn't seem very useful to me.

/me out
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:08 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I don't know anything about the structural issues so I wouldn't know what to say about them.

That's precisely my point - that sometimes people are so focused on "Divacup Yay" that they don't check to see whether the structural/social/technical issues at play would make it a practical solution.

I don't have anything else to offer beyond 'That's horrible'. Which doesn't seem very useful to me.

It is, though. The more people realize that this is the state of things in other places in the world, and the more people acknowledge "wow, that sucks," the more the collective conscience shifts towards doing something about it. I mean, you can't teach a kid about Chaucer when they haven't even learned how to read yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on March 18 [9 favorites]


Interesting article - I read this a few days ago. While in theory, being made to sleep/live separately during my period sounds like a great idea for the whole family, the reality of how this happens is clearly so much harsher and horrible for the people who experience it.
posted by routergirl at 6:31 AM on March 18


Australia, 1991: My mother buys me pads, because that's what young girls "who aren't married" (i.e. are virgins) use. Stuff that for bollocks, I thought, especially seeing as my mother was buying the cheapest, thickest, bulkiest ones possible, and went to the school counsellor for free tampons.

What converted my mother to allowing me to use tampons? The free booklet from Libra which had a Q&A (I'd hidden it amongst my knickers, but my mum found them anyway), and one question was 'can I use them if I am a virgin, and will it I stop being a virgin if I do?' and the answer was 'yes, you can, and no'.

Suddenly it was OK for me to use them, whereas before it was taboo, and would render me impure. And this was with someone who wouldn't have the menstrual talk with me before I actually had them, and when I did, and she fumbled around the talk, I was all, it's ok, other people have told me and I've read about it already.

I back up the others here saying that in a place with huge taboos around menstruation that putting a divacup up there (hah! divacups... bloody hell, Westerners and their divacup options) would not be ok. Maybe next generation they could start using tampons; who knows. But certainly now it very likely would not, very much not.

And I say this as a cup user myself for over ten years.
posted by owlrigh at 6:32 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Wow, derailed from the first comment.

Your "derail" is my education about why technological solutions are inadequate.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:41 AM on March 18 [11 favorites]


That was a really interesting article; good overview of various things you already sorta know about from media osmosis presented as a whole. I meant to skim it but ended up reading end to end.
posted by postcommunism at 6:42 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


While in theory, being made to sleep/live separately during my period sounds like a great idea for the whole family

Why? Why would you think it's a great idea for the whole family? What's positive about that?

(This is a serious question, btw. I'm seriously bewildered by the notion.)
posted by snakeling at 7:16 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Because sometimes when you are bloated and crampy and feel gross, you would just like everyone to leave you alone so you can fucking sleep. STOP TOUCHING ME.

I hypothesize.
posted by maryr at 7:21 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


maryr: STOP TOUCHING ME.

Not until I see a buffalo climb a tree like the article says.

Whats up with all these damn snakes?
posted by dr_dank at 7:23 AM on March 18


Why? Why would you think it's a great idea for the whole family? What's positive about that?

Like Maryr says - you would just like everyone to leave you alone so you can fucking sleep. STOP TOUCHING ME.

I was the single mother of three boys for many years and only in the last two years, as I saw my oldest move out, did I suddenly regain some alone time. The idea of being left alone is one of my greatest dreams, joys, and desires sometimes. Especially during those first days of my period when I am as likely to snarl as cry.
posted by routergirl at 7:50 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Pointing out, though, that there is a difference between "I am much more comfortable being left alone during my period" and "I am being forced to be alone because the rest of my community thinks I am polluted during my period".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 AM on March 18 [14 favorites]


hmm... sounds like they need to hear from Dave Foley... a man with a good attitude towards menstruation!!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:41 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Yeah, wanting to be left alone (and, indeed, feeling like you even have any right to be left alone, for anything, at any point in your life) and being literally shunned by your family and community on a monthly basis are entirely different things. The latter is indicative of a level of patriarchal oppression and social misogyny that I daresay very, very few women in developed nations experience on a regular basis.
posted by scody at 9:05 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]


Absolutely, Empress.

(Aside: I can't even go to the bathroom without my cat following me in there - I can't imagine having a two year old constantly in need of my company. My mom likes to say that being a mother means you're never alone. She does not say this in a warm-hearted, Hallmark card sort of way. She's says this in the manner of someone who would simply like to pee in solitude.)
posted by maryr at 10:50 AM on March 18


I'm still not sure why they haven't marketed biodegradable sanitary napkins yet.

This times a thousand.
posted by limeonaire at 11:37 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I absolutely agree, Scody.
posted by routergirl at 11:43 AM on March 18


I'm still not sure why they haven't marketed biodegradable sanitary napkins yet.

I sort of assume it's because it's hard to do well. There don't seem to be all that many biodegradable diaper options either - and diapers are for a more transient liquid collection. By which I mean they are meant to be changed very soon after they get filled, whereas sanitary napkins are for long term collection.
posted by maryr at 11:56 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I just. .. can't imagine the mindset that's all, yeah good luck in the shed with the rapists and snakes, wouldn't want your filthy womanhood polluting up the house. The misogyny is breathtaking and heartbreaking and I applaud any steps to end this madness.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:16 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


introducing them into a thread where we're talking about people still struggling with menstrual taboos is really kind of a blinkered, Western-privilege approach to this topic.

What a hilarious overreaction.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:37 PM on March 18


What a hilarious overreaction.

Okay, then, by all means do venture into the menstrual huts discussed in the article and give them Diva Cups, and do nothing to make sure they have clean water to wash them with and ignore the fact that they also have to sleep in the dirt. I'm sure they'll be grateful!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


No, I agree it was a bad idea. But that's all it is, a bad idea. Not a derail, not unexamined privilege, not some kind of affront.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:47 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


It's a bad idea that gets recommended at times and in ways which imply that the person doing the recommending hasn't put any effort into thinking whether it's a workable option, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:56 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


It's a perfect example of unexamined privilege. That doesn't make anyone a bad person, but it's not just a neutral bad idea, it comes from a position of privilege and disconnection from the people described.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:20 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


It can be hard for many people to understand what life is like in the Third World. I mean, there's no running water in most of those villages; if there is running water it's like, a cold water tap in a cooking area; and as the article points out, menstruating women wouldn't be allowed there anyway: they're lucky if they're allowed to sleep in a shed somewhere on the property. So they couldn't safely store or clean menstrual cups even if they were available.

I thought the quotation from Anjana was interesting:
Goddesses are women, aren’t they? They bleed but they’re allowed to stay in the temple. Why can’t we?
In the context of her religion that seems a very good point, and I wish I knew how the religious establishment respond to it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:52 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I was so immediately side-tracked by the cup issue (which does indeed come up, with zealots' fervor, nearly every time we talk menstruation on the Blue) that I didn't engage with the material (which I promise, I had read - the reason I mentioned clean water is that according to TFA half the population doesn't have access to toilets, and it's a big accomplishment to declare a village open-defecation-free, so clean water is an imminently pertinent issue when it comes to addressing menstrual hygiene.)

One of the things that makes me slightly uneasy is that while I can of course see that life would be a better place for women if they weren't forced into isolation one week in four, for forty years, it's so culturally central that I'm kind of uncomfortable saying "You're wrong! Knock that off!" Poor sanitation creates and maintains health problems, but, as George notes, there's no evidence base around the effects of absent menstrual hygiene, although using unclean absorbent materials is clearly unsafe.

I regularly meet people here in Australia who wonder if women don't get off sexually on using a tampon, let alone a cup.

Not to be creepy, but I was relieved to see from your profile that you are in a profession where the topic would naturally come up, because I was really at the lengths of my imagination trying to sort how this was a regular matter for discussion down your local.

posted by gingerest at 5:37 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Each person who brings it up without knowing it's some taboo "unexamined privilege" problem is not some threat to be crushed with a bunch of condescending crap about derails and Chaucer. That was the derail. The comment was pretty innocent and just asking for some informed opinions to chime in.

Just a link, a kind comment or two, and move on. This is like the customer service rep who blows up on the 1000th person to ask them the same question -- if you feel like it's your job to inform people, maybe try not to frame them as ignorant buffoons for simply bringing up something.
posted by lordaych at 6:36 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Sorry, I can see how my comment might read wrong - I meant, "Dude! I got distracted by water, and totally forgot to say the main thing I meant to say!" not "It was the worst thing ever."
posted by gingerest at 8:00 PM on March 18


Something about this article makes me deeply uncomfortable in a way I'm having trouble putting my finger on. I knew without looking at the byline that the author of this article is highly-educated and white--it's an outsider's view, eager to save these poor women from their own superstitions. It's as if it never occurs to the author to ask most of these women what they would like to change.

I guess I would like 10x as many quotes from activists on the ground who grew up in that culture, and fewer "she thinks snakes will come look at how superstitious she is" stuff. Really, I want to read that article written by someone who actually grew up in this culture.
posted by catalytics at 6:04 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I knew without looking at the byline that the author of this article is highly-educated and white--it's an outsider's view, eager to save these poor women from their own superstitions. It's as if it never occurs to the author to ask most of these women what they would like to change.

....Did you miss the interviews with the women and girls about what they don't think is fair about these superstitions? I noticed quite a few comments from women saying what they want to change.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on March 25


What EmpressCallipygos said, but also:

I thought for a while before posting this story, and I wouldn't have done so if I thought it had any prurient or condescending subtext. Rose George's story was commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, a very well-established and substantial charitable endeavour, and I presume WaterAid Nepal (whose Country Representative is actually Nepali) was quite happy to have Rose George produce a story on their work. I don't imagine a local voice would have got nearly as much coverage.

I think indigenous voices are fundamental to cultural change (the article actually presents a number of them) but there's also a role for people who can collect, arrange, and present those voices. Without Rose George I would never have heard what Radha and Anjana had to say, and I certainly wouldn't have heard them in context with each other and with Nazneen Huq. The fact that Ms George interviewed them and wrote about them in an international publication means that other people in their own countries will read and understand the issues as a broad cultural phenomenon, not a local or even just a national one. Someone has to do this, and I think she did a really good job.

You can read a couple of her blog entries on the same subject here and here. That last one also links to a report she prepared for the UN's Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. She's not just some outsider writing about the shocking practices of a non-Western culture; she's someone deeply engaged with the problems of hygiene and body-shame in different cultural contexts.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:39 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


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