Why should women be punished? But what the hell can we do?
August 11, 2015 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Kiran Gandhi has attracted a certain amount of attention for running the London Marathon while menstruating without using a tampon, pad or otherwise "cleaning up" her period. Meanwhile, in Nepal, menstruation is dirty, and a menstruating girl is a powerful, polluting thing. A thing to be feared and shunned.

Also: "I will never let my daughter suffer the way I do when I have my period. My family treats me like an untouchable."

Menstrupedia, "a friendly guide to periods which helps girls and women to stay healthy and active during their periods" run by four Indians.

Previous excellent posts on menstruation, its taboo status, and efforts to change things.
posted by Athanassiel (122 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
On the surface, this elicits a kinda "eww" response in me, but whether that's engineered by society or something more "natural" is an interesting question, one I hadn't considered before.

The framing of this demuenstration (sorry) occuring in a marathon makes it even more impactful to me, as vomiting, defecating, and other bodily releases are a known (and sometimes praised) byproduct of pushing one's body to the limit.

Sure it's gross, but why? I like where she's going with this, and the challenge presented to conventional thinking.
posted by Debaser626 at 9:09 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


But what about the stains/what about the laundry?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:15 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ha, made the mistake of reading the comments, first one was this, emph mine: It's disgusting...urinating and defacating are normal bodily functions too, but runners are not publicly urinating or defacating during their run."

Umm, someone sure hasn't run a lot of longer distances races. Runners totally are doing all those things! Good on her, who gives a shit, really.
posted by smoke at 9:27 PM on August 11, 2015 [71 favorites]


I definitely think a great deal of it is socially engineered. When I was a much younger person, I'll admit I was kinda terrified and very grossed out by menstruation, but much of it was due to the rampant misinformation young men tend to give each other about this.

I'm older now, and I like to think that I've grown as a person quite a bit. Having lived with predominantly women roommates (much less chance for me to fall for them), and having learned a bit since, it's not really that gross or that terrifying anymore. I won't pretend to understand the experience, but much of the mystique and misinformation is gone. It's natural, it's normal, and it's kinda awesome that women have figured out how to control it better in recent years--and that women were dealing with it for generations before as a matter of course.

Really, the only thing related to the menstrual cycle that terrifies me now is learning what endometriosis was. And from what I gather, everyone thinks that's horrific.

As far as the marathon runner goes, the only thing I am puzzled about is how uncomfortable that must have been. I honestly can't imagine which is worse--the cramps/blood, or running 26 goddamn miles.
posted by qcubed at 9:30 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Horrific but amazing!!!!
posted by bq at 9:32 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's awesome. Like any woman, I've occasionally seen those stains on my own clothes. I really feel happy when I see them paraded in public and artfully photographed on instagram. I can understand why others might feel differently, but I think it's awesome that she did this.
posted by salvia at 9:35 PM on August 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


This woman is the shit.

But what about the stains/what about the laundry?

Story of my our lives.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:53 PM on August 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


This is great. As noted above, serious runners are always expelling some kind of fluid from various and sundry parts of their bodies - including blood from their nipples - so really w/e x infinity
posted by AAALASTAIR at 9:54 PM on August 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


My only concern, as a runner myself, is what about the chafing?
posted by gaspode at 10:06 PM on August 11, 2015 [27 favorites]


This is great. As noted above, serious runners are always expelling some kind of fluid from various and sundry parts of their bodies - including blood from their nipples - so really w/e x infinity

The funniest (for me) part of the husband training for his first marathon was the yelping about chafed nipples. I told him to either get a super snug shirt or wear band aids, but he pooh-poohed the notion.

You can bet he listens now!

As for Ms. Gandhi, good for her. Everyone applauded the guy a while back who had explosive diarrhea and finished anyway. Some shit about perseverance in the face of adversity?

The only reason anyone is whining about Ms. Gandhi is that she's a woman who decided not to be held hostage by societal expectations about how to deal with her own body.
posted by MissySedai at 10:09 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Those pictures are so so awesome. Great for her.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:12 PM on August 11, 2015


But what about the stains/what about the laundry?

OxyClean.
posted by MissySedai at 10:15 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure it's gross, but why?

Not to be pat, but: Because of patriarchy.

Don't get me wrong, few things in life bring me more dark-hearted joy than men who feel the need to point out how grossed out they are by the existence of periods specifically -- as opposed to any other 100% automatic or cyclical biological process -- but these expressions of revulsion are nothing more than a (no pun intended) sanitized, socially acceptable version of the same beliefs that perpetuate menstrual exile.
"The fact that women go through something that is completely natural but don't have a set of vocabulary to speak about that doesn't make people so deeply uncomfortable is oppressive."
PREACH.

Dudes have spent centuries trying to shame and shush women into being disgusted with our corporeal selves for a regular, mammalian occurrence that the overwhelming majority of us cannot control or mitigate in any way without a considerable degree of wealth and/or privilege. So we don't even dare to speak of it because we feel like we shouldn't/can't, which means we don't know about it, which means we don't talk about it, which means we don't know about it...

Like Rupi Kaur said, this is a process that's no less natural than breathing, but since I'm one of those sisters who can barely even make it to the grocery store when I'm on my cycle, let alone run a goddamn marathon, I gotta say it loud: FUCK YES KIRAN GANDHI.
posted by divined by radio at 10:20 PM on August 11, 2015 [67 favorites]


Good on her, who gives a shit, really.

As you point out, many distance runners (including the fastest female marathon runner in the world), far from giving a shit, take one when biologically necessary, as a result of a phenomenon so common that it has come to be known by the charming but sinister euphemism "a visit from the gingerbread man".
posted by howfar at 10:36 PM on August 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think I buried the lede somewhat. The point of Gandhi doing this was to draw attention to the shame and stigma still associated with menstruation. While many of the "ewww, gross" comments are discouraging, it's nothing compared to Nepalese women who are forced to remain apart from society when they are menstruating, in a special hut with no water, power or other facilities - where, if they are on their own, they might be raped despite their unclean status. Factories in India and Bangladesh where women use floor sweepings because they cannot afford sanitary products (disposable or otherwise).

Or, from the second article I linked, "Rishi Panchami, a festival that commemorates a woman who was reborn as a prostitute because she didn't follow menstrual restrictions. It is a women's holiday, and so Nepal's government gives all women a day off work. This is not to recognise the work done by women, but to give them the time to perform rituals that will atone for any sins they may have committed while menstruating in the previous year." It involves ritual washing 365 times, smearing their hair with buffalo dung and then washing it out with a mixture of cow urine and milk.

Even in the US, where poverty is a reality for many women, if they haven't got enough money to eat, what are the chances that they have money to spend on a box of kotex or tampons?

So yeah, go Kiran Gandhi for trying to get people talking about menstruation - it's a shame that more people are worried about how you're going to get the stains out of your clothes.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:38 PM on August 11, 2015 [63 favorites]


Man, I love her and this is the best. Like, I guess compared to tea with the Queen or whatever, running around outside with bloody pants on is on the grosser side, but globally, this issue couldn't be more important. It needed to be done.

Also, this really reminds me of those beautiful period-themed fashion photos from a few years ago. One of them featured a runner with blood dripping down her thigh.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:48 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think in the US, if you don't have money for a box of tampons, it's another case of poverty bringing its own higher expenses - you pay a premium to buy a single tampon from a gas station machine, because you can find a quarter or fifty cents where you couldn't find $7. Pads and tampons are not covered by SNAP (food stamps). More details here - some people make do with rags or construct makeshift pads from toilet paper (terrible unabsorbent one-ply is available from public bathrooms, as nearly every woman who's had a surprise period has occasion to find out), others stay home because they don't have access to any alternatives.
posted by gingerest at 10:52 PM on August 11, 2015 [21 favorites]


Even in the US, where poverty is a reality for many women, if they haven't got enough money to eat, what are the chances that they have money to spend on a box of kotex or tampons?

For people who donate food to food banks, please consider adding maxipads to your donations. Not tampons--not as many women use them, as I understand it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:10 PM on August 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


That's pretty cool. I think spent a quarter of my time as a teenager walking around in terror that something had leaked and I was walking around with a stain. There's no subtle way to check in public, and people wouldn't necessarily tell you about it. Plus, what can you really do if you're out in public without a change of clothes?

It doesn't help that menstrual product commercials hammer home the need to be discreet, and encourage fear of leaks. I hope a dozen more people are brave enough to add similar images to our collective consciousness, until a blood stain is no more embarrassing than a sweat stain (unsightly and uncomfortable, and certainly needing cleanup sooner rather than later, but totally natural and not worth living in fear of).
posted by mantecol at 11:18 PM on August 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Good for her and nobody should be shamed for menstruating nor lack the supplies they need to menstruate comfortably. However, to say that patriarchy is the cause of the basic underlying taboo here kind of misses the fact that we're evolved to be disgusted by things that even look like body excretions of any sort.

I did a psych experiment once where they showed you pictures of all kinds of things presented as food (i.e. on plates/in bowls) and asked how disgusting each thing was. They varied in their texture (mushy, solid, liquid, lumpy etc.) and in their colour. In the debriefing at the end it said that they were looking at how disgust correlated with things looking like bodily secretions and previous findings (e.g. nothing bright blue is disgusting).

Sure there have been all sorts of extra layers cultural layers added on to that, but the basic underlying taboo isn't patriarchy, it's just something that helped us get this far in our evolution. Being disgusted by things that look like bodily secretions keep us away from them. In general, staying away from them is safer than touching them. I'm generally not a fan of arguments from evolution, but this seems like a prety clear-cut case to me.

Anyway, my other big thought, as others have noted, is that I found it surprising that she talked about using a tampon as prioritizing others' comfort over her own. I can't imagine that being damp and chafing is more comfortable than wearing a tampon. I mean if it was just a point about women who don't have supplies I get that, but I'm surprised that there would be a comfort issue here. When I've had leaks I've never found it particularly comfortable. Maybe wearing a tampon while running a marathon is different. I wouldn't know.

Speaking of the discomforts of running a marathon, I had no idea about runners leaking all sorts of stuff from all over the place. Do runners really run around (ha!) with comparable levels of bodily secretions staining their clothes? I guess sweat is one example and that's probably buckets more than this. But are people really just wetting or pooping their pants while they run or bleeding this much from an injury? (I would think if one were bleeding that much from an injury, one would clean it up if only to avoid infection). How do they get home afterwards? (I mean no offense, good for you running a marathon, but if you crapped your pants I don't want you in my car or sitting next to me on the subway until you've cleaned up). Maybe once this post dies down someone who knows about this stuff can make an FPP about the bodily aspects of running a marathon.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:20 PM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Please read the links to understand why this isn't the same as sneezing/snot, and don't turn this into a ridiculous conversation.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:22 PM on August 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


However, to say that patriarchy is the cause of the basic underlying taboo here kind of misses the fact that we're evolved to be disgusted by things that even look like body excretions of any sort.

Nobody wants bodily fluids everywhere but there are particular taboos above and beyond concerning menstruation in many cultures. I mean there's an example right there in the post.
posted by atoxyl at 11:41 PM on August 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


Anyway, my other big thought, as others have noted, is that I found it surprising that she talked about using a tampon as prioritizing others' comfort over her own. I can't imagine that being damp and chafing is more comfortable than wearing a tampon. I mean if it was just a point about women who don't have supplies I get that, but I'm surprised that there would be a comfort issue here. When I've had leaks I've never found it particularly comfortable. Maybe wearing a tampon while running a marathon is different. I wouldn't know.


Many women find them uncomfortable/unreliable in general and don't use them, and I can imagine with a bunch of extended body jiggling and muscle straining there might be extra risk of one leaking or falling out or chaffing internally.
posted by Peregrine Pickle at 11:47 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I also remember as a really young girl (10 or 11), buying teen magazines, looking to get my first tastes of what it felt like to be "grown up."

The magazines' "confessional" sections often featured stories about getting one's period in public, and the ensuing mortification. On the one hand it must have been cathartic for girls to get those stories out in the open, but on the other hand, it conditioned wave after wave of young girls to live in fear of The Period.

Good to see a role model demonstrating a different way to react to the situation.
posted by mantecol at 11:50 PM on August 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


For people who donate food to food banks, please consider adding maxipads to your donations. Not tampons--not as many women use them, as I understand it.

Among the women I know, FAR FAR FAR more of them use tampons. I am bad at being a grownass woman and remembering to bring tampons, so I often find myself borrowing them from gals I know. In my 20 years of menstruating, I have been offered a pad instead of a tampon exactly one time.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:53 PM on August 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


But are people really just wetting or pooping their pants while they run or bleeding this much from an injury?

You generally try to pull over and find a bush or whatever, but peeps can't/don't always make it. Also, bleeding can happen whether you like or no. Yes, marathons are a brutal business.
posted by smoke at 11:57 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Good for her. Before I read about this properly I was expecting to hear about someone wearing shorts and bleeding all over the course or something. But her? Big deal. Shouldn't be any different from bleeding nipples. I hope she changes a few people's minds.

But are people really just wetting or pooping their pants while they run or bleeding this much from an injury?

What smoke said. Also the two marathons I've run both had plenty of porta-toilets. Guys will often find a bush if they need to urinate - you'll find that a reasonable percentage of people need to urinate soon after the start, so at a big marathon you might see them lined up on the side of the course.

I got caught with runner's diarrhea at my last race. Found a toilet, but if I hadn't I guess I would have improvised and kept running. After training for four months in wind and rain, I wouldn't have let feeling dirty stop me. As for the blood, yeah bleeding nipples are pretty much a rite of passage. You don't usually feel it at the time, though. I tend to run with plasters over mine.
posted by Pink Frost at 12:24 AM on August 12, 2015


Surprised that people have not pointed out that the idea of "free bleeding" as news reporters are calling this was last seen as an anti-feminist hoax by 4chan for laughs last year. The fact that last years crazy anti-feminist troll is this years sincere feminist activism seems like it should provoke some head scratching all around.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:58 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am in two minds about this. Part of me says good on her, raising awareness, etc etc, not hurting anyone, do what you want. But the other half things "oh god publicity stunt" because
a) some of her running photos show her with clean tights... given that at the London marathon you will have quite a long wait between your last toilet opportunity and the start of the race I wonder if she was actually caught unawares and decided to turn an embarrassing incident into a deliberate gesture
b) she is in a band and has a blog that she is trying to promote
c) the charity she is running for (breast cancer) is nothing to do with women who don't have access to sanitary protection - it would have been a much better gesture if she was actually raising money for the same cause

I also think that running without a tampon is more uncomfortable than running with one (I have never tried, but the chafing from wet tights after getting caught in the rain or from being sweaty is bad enough).

Also - reading some of the comments - Body Glide is great for nipples and other chafing and a dog-poo bag with a tissue in it may be of some use during a long run.
posted by intensitymultiply at 1:59 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The fact that last years crazy anti-feminist troll is this years sincere feminist activism seems like it should provoke some head scratching all around.

This response seems pretty far off the mark to me, for three main reasons:

(1) People do things for activism that they would not do in everyday life. That guy who nailed his scrotum to Red Square didn't do so as a protest against the cruel suppression of his scrotum stapling rights.

(2) This piece of activism was about Nepal, specifically.

(3) 4chan had dressed the 'free bleeder' hoax up in a load of transparently ridiculous shit about women 'raping themselves'.

With the above in mind, I don't get why anyone would see this as comparable. Can you explain the connections you see?
posted by howfar at 2:14 AM on August 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


The fact that some small part of this issue may involve taking on the dregs of 4chan/reddit, and basically blowing them away, just makes it better.
posted by colie at 2:19 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I didn't know about the peeing and pooping. That changes my reaction a lot, so good for her! There's really no reason why menstrual bleeding should be such a taboo in comparison and people who get upset about seeing a little blood should get over it.

(But ew, marathons. I understand why people run them and I understand why peeing makes sense but it's definitely not my scene. More power to the women who run them, though!)
posted by Omnomnom at 3:38 AM on August 12, 2015


But the other half things "oh god publicity stunt" because...

Does it matter? People worldwide are now talking about the shame related to menstruation. Blaming her for not doing this perfectly seems counterproductive.
posted by zarq at 3:45 AM on August 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's linked in the first article, but I wanted to point out that Kiran Gandhi wrote about her run on Medium. Here's an excerpt:
I ran the marathon with 2 women who are very close to me, Ana and Mere. Both of them had done marathons before. I thought we would split up for sure, but by mile 6, they were still with me, right at my side. It was inspiring.

As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don’t exist. By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50% of us in the human population share monthly. By making it difficult to speak about, we don’t have language to express pain in the workplace, and we don’t acknowledge differences between women and men that must be recognized and established as acceptable norms. Because it is all kept quiet, women are socialized not to complain or talk about their own bodily functions, since no one can see it happening. And if you can’t see it, it’s probably “not a big deal.” Why is this an important issue? Because THIS is happening, right now.

And so I started bleeding freely.
posted by Kattullus at 4:47 AM on August 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


However, to say that patriarchy is the cause of the basic underlying taboo here kind of misses the fact that we're evolved to be disgusted by things that even look like body excretions of any sort.

This argument always frustrates me, because it attempts to justify the taboo by denying something that is obvious: Menstruation is far more taboo than equivalent bodily functions.

Athletes injure themselves all the time, often to the point of bleeding - and yet people do not react to them with revulsion. Hell, sometimes photos of someone who has injured themselves becomes iconic because it's adds gravitas; think of the guitar player who is lauded for playing until his fingers bleed. A teenaged girl who gets a papercut in class or skins her knee is not going to feel mortified that her bodily fluids are visible, but if she has a leak, she has been taught to feel shame. If I have a cold and I have a runny nose, I might feel a little gross and people might not want to be close to me because I'm contagious, but I don't have to hide the fact that I have a cold, or ensure that no one sees the slightest indication that there might be snot.

I do research in an area of the world where talking about shitting is much less taboo than in the US, and yet I have never, ever heard a woman willingly refer to her menstruation. In many villages menstruating women must stay in a special menstrual hut, somewhat like the Nepalese tradition.

Menstruating women are singled out as spiritually unclean and in need of atonement in one of the major religious texts of my culture:
And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.
No one is trying to say that menstrual fluid is not a bodily fluid and is perfectly safe, so trying to justify menstruation taboos by saying they're just normal reactions to fear of contamination the is totally missing the point and I wish people wouldn't do it.

The basic underlying taboo is not against bodily excretions of any sort. The basic underlying taboo is against women. It's misogyny. And we do not need to prop it up by saying "but... but ... blood really is gross."
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:10 AM on August 12, 2015 [68 favorites]


I am in two minds about this. Part of me says good on her, raising awareness, etc etc, not hurting anyone, do what you want. But the other half things "oh god publicity stunt" because

I have really really come to hate this internet armchair "well maybe they were really...." hypothetical posturing. It's like internet commenters have a deep seated need to prove that everyone everywhere is acting out of dubious motives if any dubious motive can be imagined. It's like a reflexive cynicism that arises not out of reasonable doubt but out of a pathological fear that you might be "taken in" by someone.

In this case, the "worst case scenario" is woman who may have something else to market HAS PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING THAT COULD USE MORE HONEST DISCUSSION rather than WOMAN WHO MAY HAVE SOMETHING ELSE TO MARKET has people talking about something that could use more honest discussion, so why even start beating that drum? If you have a real suspicion, and you think it matters, do the research, gather the evidence, and present that rather than a bunch of thought-experiments.

Sorry about singling you out howfar, but that is a really tired internet behavior, and I wish people would just knock it off for a decade or so.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:13 AM on August 12, 2015 [23 favorites]


We've actually come a long way, gradually. My mother, reluctantly, was 'churched' after giving birth, a kind of ritual purification. Even the Venerable Bede is on record as saying that was unnecessary and maybe a little retrograde in the ninth century. Until what, the eighties? tampons and sanitary towels could not be advertised on UK TV. We are getting nicer and more rational than we used to be.
posted by Segundus at 5:35 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sorry about singling you out howfar ...

I think you were referring to a comment by intensitymultiply.
posted by virago at 5:38 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think you were referring to a comment by intensitymultiply.

Ooops, yes. Double sorry, howfar.

Sorry, intensitymultiply, I got slightly lost in the page formatting.

Also, sorry to everyone for my own formatting. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was a pain to type, and it's even more annoying to read.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


1. Good for her.

2. Getting a Mirena, as a marathoner, has helped my running immensely. The worst part of long runs with a period are actually the cramps, and not having a period or cramps makes running so much easier.

3. Good for her. Seriously.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:43 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well. This made me think, made me proud of her. What charity helps women fight blood-shaming?

Thanks for posting this.
posted by theora55 at 6:15 AM on August 12, 2015


Pads and tampons are not covered by SNAP (food stamps)

This is the dumbest shit ever and one of the ways you get tell that men are the ones making these decisions.

As for the maxi pad vs. tampon: more women I know use tampons than pads. However, more of the tampon users I know would use a pad in a pinch than pad users would use a tampon.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:17 AM on August 12, 2015 [28 favorites]


Dudes have spent centuries trying to shame and shush women into being disgusted with our corporeal selves for a regular, mammalian occurrence

A side note: menstruation is pretty uncommon in mammal species, especially non-primates. But it is certainly a regular, human occurrence, and that is more than sufficient.

more of the tampon users I know would use a pad in a pinch than pad users would use a tampon.

And going beyond menstruation a bit, tampons typically aren't an option at all in cases of post-operative bleeding (e.g. after a hysterectomy).
posted by jedicus at 6:23 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well. This made me think, made me proud of her. What charity helps women fight blood-shaming?

I don't know, and I hope this exists, but in the meantime there are a bunch of organizations that help get girls in impoverished areas get access to cheap cloth pads that can be washed and reused. Girls living in poverty who can't afford to buy pads usually have to miss school altogether when they're bleeding. This is also a contributing reason why a lot of parents don't send their daughters to school at all, they think it's a waste if they'll just have to miss 20% of their education (as a 2009 UNICEF study found.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:23 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Menstruating women are singled out as spiritually unclean and in need of atonement in one of the major religious texts of my culture:

The basic underlying taboo is not against bodily excretions of any sort.


No. You're wrong. At least where you apply this to the Torah.

Men and women who have any sort of discharge from their flesh are singled out as being "unclean" by the Torah. Leviticus, Chapter 15. The entire first half applies to men. This includes anyone who is bleeding, a woman who is menstruating and a man who has semen discharge. Both are required to atone, not just women. The reason given is on line 31: And you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, so that they will not die on account of their uncleanness, if they defile My Sanctuary which is in their midst."

Are women being singled out? I'd argue yes, if only because menstruation is not voluntary or a disease. But there is some consistency as to the reason why, and women are not the only ones affected by the rule.
posted by zarq at 6:23 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pads and tampons are not covered by SNAP (food stamps)

This is the dumbest shit ever and one of the ways you get tell that men are the ones making these decisions.


Unless I'm missing something pads and tampons aren't edible. Things like that would would be paid for with TANF money.
posted by MikeMc at 6:26 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


MikeMc, probably 90% of SNAP recipients are not on TANF, which is frankly a joke of a program considering its stringent requirements for meager benefits.

SNAP doesn't really cover anything BUT food. It won't get you a toothbrush or toilet paper. I don't think it's sexism as much as (arguably) a general flaw in the program.
posted by mellow seas at 6:30 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Speaking as a currently menstruating woman, good for her. It's all I can do to not curse doctors who won't remove bits I am never going to use so hence this fucking torture every six weeks. She ran a marathon? Fuck yeah!
posted by Kitteh at 6:31 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


SNAP doesn't really cover anything BUT food. It won't get you a toothbrush or toilet paper. I don't think it's sexism as much as (arguably) a general flaw in the program.

The difference is that a week's worth of pads or tampons are a hell of a lot more expensive than a week's worth of toilet paper or toothbrushes (or soap)*, and I can guarantee you that it would be considered more of a priority if it was something dudes knew the even basics about.

*Yes, you're only using it a week out of the month, but day-to-day budgeting becomes more important the less money you have, and also they would still be more expensive is spread over the month.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:42 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


menstrual products, like birth control, should be a covered expense. it's a tax on being a woman (i know not all women menstruate and some men do, but generally, the taboo is about womanhood).
posted by nadawi at 6:46 AM on August 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


Added bonus: stress can make periods do wacky things, like come early/late or spread out over a longer period, or arrive heavier than expected.

Times when I've been freaked out about money: times when it's been difficult to predict my period.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:48 AM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mine is so unpredictable I literally have tampons stashed in every single purse or backpack I own just in case.
posted by Kitteh at 6:53 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, SNAP is an entitlement program, available for as long as someone needs it. But TANF is deliberately short term, and only available to families. Benefits last no more than 60 months per lifetime although some states have instituted shorter periods.
posted by zarq at 6:56 AM on August 12, 2015


As for the maxi pad vs. tampon: more women I know use tampons than pads. However, more of the tampon users I know would use a pad in a pinch than pad users would use a tampon.

Agreed. But I'd also recommend donating pads over tampons because there's a much lower risk of contamination if your hands aren't clean when you change it out and no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome if you wear a pad for too long; in a pinch, a woman with a light flow can wear a disposable or reusable pad for days at a time. And in cases of religious households -- I didn't wear tampons until I was well into my 20s because I'd been taught that using one would be equivalent to losing my virginity. I had to have a girlfriend tell me in great detail what to even do with it (why is there a string? what about this cardboard tube, where does that go? you just shove the whole thing in there and wait? are you fucking crazy?) because I grew up being made to feel deeply ashamed of my femaleness and had absolutely no idea what was really going on down there. So I'll always think of pads as a better option regardless of health or safety issues because they can be readily used by adolescent girls without any additional instruction or shaming from their families, cultures, and communities. Just drop them off at your local food bank or shelter.

Unless I'm missing something pads and tampons aren't edible. Things like that would would be paid for with TANF money.

There are very strict requirements for TANF eligibility, and even if you do jump through all the hoops in the right order to get it, the only exceptions to the sixty-month limit on the receipt of cash benefits are for pregnant or parenting minors and Native people living in communities where the unemployment rate exceeds 50%. And menstrual products are extremely expensive for what they are. So yeah, but no.

In terms of related charities, you can't really go wrong with Days for Girls. You can throw some money at them or volunteer to sew and assemble kits of reusable pads, storage bags, and soap, so girls and women who live in areas without indoor plumbing or access to potable water can still manage their cycles safely and discreetly. Menstrual hygiene management is an incredibly important issue that steals decades of life, education, possibility, and community involvement from girls and women all over the world, and it doesn't get a fraction of the attention it deserves. I wonder why that is?
posted by divined by radio at 6:57 AM on August 12, 2015 [25 favorites]


It is bullshit that I have never heard of Kiran Gandhi until now -- South Asian-American, MIA drummer, data analyst, public speaker, New Yorker. I'm so glad this post brought her to my attention. On sexism in Indian culture and on reasons she wants to create sex-positive media:
On my most recent trip to New Delhi in December/January, the whole city was shut down due to the Gang Rape Protests. On a personal level, it allowed me to engage with my family on some of the toughest issues about the status of women in India...
I appreciate Martini's "Menstruation Matters: A Guide to Menstrual Hygiene Day". I've been browsing the Net since the mid-90s, and Martini's link roundup wows me, because there is so much more information available about menstruation than there used to be! I think the first informational webpage I ever put up, before I had a blog, was a guide to tampons vs. pads vs. the menstrual cup, because I felt the info needed to be out there. Now there's so much more; I'm so glad.

When I was twelve and I had menstrual mishaps and bled through, I felt that sick humiliated need to hide, to make sure no one, especially boys and men, saw what had happened, because I had learned, without anyone explicitly telling me, that this was not like any other stain that might happen by accident, this was beyond regular unclean to ritually unclean. I'm remembering what Orwell wrote in "Such, Such Were the Joys" about being beaten for wetting the bed at age eight:
I knew the bed-wetting was (a) wicked and (b) outside my control. The second fact I was personally aware of, and the first I did not question. It was possible, therefore, to commit a sin without knowing that you committed it, without wanting to commit it, and without being able to avoid it. Sin was not necessarily something that you did: it might be something that happened to you. I do not want to claim that this idea flashed into my mind as a complete novelty at this very moment, under the blows of [the headmaster]'s cane: I must have had glimpses of it even before I left home, for my early childhood had not been altogether happy. But at any rate this was the great, abiding lesson of my boyhood: that I was in a world where it was not possible for me to be good.
posted by brainwane at 7:04 AM on August 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Has anybody here seen Bay to Breakers? Saggy hippies do marathons naked there all the time. A woman without a maxi pad is mild compared to the sights you might see at Bay to Breakers.
posted by jonp72 at 7:05 AM on August 12, 2015




This made me realize that I've never had a conversation with my friends about how they deal with their periods. I couldn't say if more use pads or use tampons. I do know that if someone gave either my wife or I a tampon we would both have to bleed through our clothes though. I have tried and tried and tried and I just am not able to use them.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:19 AM on August 12, 2015


There is no reason one could not donate both pads and tampons, ya'll. Throw in some pantiliners and Midol, too. Maybe heating pads. Some new dark-colored underwear in various sizes.

This made me realize that I've never had a conversation with my friends about how they deal with their periods.

Maybe something has changed in the last few decades, because complaining about your period was always an insta-bonding thing for me with random women. Usually because one of us needed to borrow supplies or was having cramps and looking for Midol/Tylenol. It was always taken as an invitation to talk about the other person's periods too and compare notes on frequency/heavyness/affected by pregnancies/other pain it caused, etc.
posted by emjaybee at 7:29 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine being as brave as Ghandi, but what she did is awesome.

I went on blood thinners and my period became both predictable and at times terrifyingly heavy. I'd had multiple early miscarriages so I was used to just walking around terrified of breakthrough bleeding as that had happened over and over - going to a work meeting outside and then realising I'd bled so heavily I couldn't get up from the chair without dripping blood over the floor. I had to call my ex to bring a jacket and help me clean up.

But one thing that happened earlier this year when I stopped fertility treatment and left my husband was thinking okay, I'm going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers/women. And what happened is that they did. I bled through clothes and women tapped me on the shoulder and told me quietly, and offered help. And I stopped being ashamed as much because it's not loaded with the infertility grief, which cleared that the rest of it was a sort of social shame over being female and physically alive which was just fucking ridiculous.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:30 AM on August 12, 2015 [9 favorites]



Me: However, to say that patriarchy is the cause of the basic underlying taboo here kind of misses the fact that we're evolved to be disgusted by things that even look like body excretions of any sort.

Kutsuwamushi: This argument always frustrates me, because it attempts to justify the taboo by denying something that is obvious: Menstruation is far more taboo than equivalent bodily functions....The basic underlying taboo is not against bodily excretions of any sort.... The basic underlying taboo is against women.

Sure, if by "attempts to justify by denying" you mean "state explicitly." Note that I said pretty clearly "Sure there have been all sorts of extra layers cultural layers added on to that," by which I was referring to all that extra shit, including the biblical stuff, which yes, I am aware of. In referring to evolution I was talking about the underlying taboo (the taboo that lies under all the extra cultural stuff), not all the cultural crap that gets thrown on top of it and is absolutely based on misogyny. And I'm pretty sure I didn't do any justifying of the shaming etc. and actually said it was bad. So even if you've seen others making that argument doing so, it seems like saying that I am justifying the stigma or "denying" the additional stigma of menstruation requires misreading or selective reading of what I wrote.

This seems related to the sex/gender distinction. Yeah, there's all sort of misogynistic crap wrapped up with our ideas about gender, but to say "sex exists because of misogyny" would just be false. The meanings we attach to sex, sure? The idea that there are only two sexes? Maybe related, I suppose. But the underlying fact of sex (which underlies all the gender crap) seems to have an evolutionary origin.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:35 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Menstruation is far more taboo than equivalent bodily functions

And is it, in our society/this context? That's a question, not an attempt at provocation. The only bodily equivalent function I can think of in men is ejaculation (fluid from one's reproductive system being ejected from one's genitals). I would think a guy with cum all over his marathon shorts would inspire a fair bit of disgust, too, and not have many seatmates on the subway.

I think it's less stigmatized in all the old-school cultural taboos (i.e. men who have had sex or masturbated do not need to ritually cleanse in as many cultures and certainly don't need to live apart afterwards), but in contemporary Western Culture, I'm not sure having cum all over your clothes or otherwise visible would inspire less disgust than blood. Possibly more since the bleeding is seen as something that just happens whereas ejaculation on your clothes in public would suggest the possibility that you actively chose to do an inappropriate thing in an inappropriate place.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:41 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Always, always the need to hide my period. Always a feeling of deep embarrassment about it, especially when my dad refused to buy tampons for me at the store for the same reason he wouldn't hold my purse. He--a grown man, with a girl obviously his awkward 7th-grade daughter--was more concerned with whatever baffling fear of emasculation/public embarrassment than with making that bit of life a little easier on me.

However! I was also blessed with a cynical and shrewd mother who taught me that I could get out of most male-run activities (notably, touch football/gym class) if I mentioned "female troubles"--magic words that allowed me to sit out or go to the library, no questions asked. Therein was a valuable lesson that menstruation = power. We had something that the men in our milieu largely didn't understand and wanted to avoid at all costs. The whole taboo is really silly, but there is a tiny bit of advantage in it.
posted by witchen at 7:42 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


If only I had a penguin, when girls don't get to go to school or have to stay in huts without water because they cum involuntarily and visibly over themselves, then this would matter. I don't know why you're bringing up hypotheticals when everybody else is a) discussing their personal experiences and b) possible solutions to help women who face this stigma.
posted by mmmbacon at 7:43 AM on August 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


MMMBacon: Did you see the part where I said it's surely more stigmatized in the kinds of cultures that require ritual cleansing or separation but that I was asking about contemporary western culture?

And to answer your question. A) I actually have brought up personal experience and B) Because it was said that disgust is based on misogyny and I thought implied that it was based only on misogyny, and because it was said that "male equivalent" functions would be treated differently. I was addressing those points. In other words, because people are also discussing C) The source and nature of the stigma.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2015


And is it, in our society/this context? That's a question, not an attempt at provocation.

Yes. Yes it is. Please see above about other bleeding parts.

The reason why people would be freaked out about ejaculate over someones clothes is that the main assumption would be that they were masturbating in public, which would make me wary for a whole other set of reasons. The attempt to equate menstrual blood to cum instead of, you know, blood, just comes off as... weird and an attempt to explain the stigma as far more logical than it is.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:55 AM on August 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


The only bodily equivalent function I can think of in men is ejaculation

Consider perspiration instead, which you brought up yourself: it's a common involuntary emission of bodily fluid that occurs in the course of everyday life. And we don't freak out about it, because, hey, why would we? It just happens, it's sometimes an inconvenience but (a) folks work around it as best they can and (b) people generally understand that it's not always practical to keep the fact that it's happening concealed. That's especially true during moments of exertion or duress.

Focusing primarily on where it's coming from rather than its common and involuntary nature as a basic day-to-day bodily process makes for a terrible analogy, basically. Blood is different from sweat, sure, but bleeding involuntarily but safely/predictably is a whole hell of a lot more like sweating involuntarily than it is like surprise ejaculation.
posted by cortex at 8:01 AM on August 12, 2015 [25 favorites]


Yes, what dinty_moore and cortex said. There really isn't a male equivalent of menstruation, and this isn't a thought problem. This is an issue that impacts women's quality of life. Thanks to this thread, I've discovered some great resources and I've rethought my own initial reaction to Gandhi's activism. Really, this has been the best discussion on this subject I've encountered (no surprise, but go metafilter).
posted by mmmbacon at 8:04 AM on August 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


And is it, in our society/this context?

Yes. Of course it is. It's a HUGE taboo.

For one thing, we don't ever really talk about the topic without resorting to euphemisms. Even today, TV shows rarely talk about menstruation without covering up what they're talking about. For decades it was That Which Shall Not Be Named. And when a tv show like Blossom or the Cosby Show did A Very Special Episode on the topic, it was unusual, and a Big Deal.

And now, in the 2010's, you actually can’t say the word “vagina” in an ad for a product that goes in a vagina. Network censors.

Commercials for "feminine hygiene products" (another euphemism) used blue liquid/goo (not red / euphemism again) to show absorbancy. Kotex and other companies literally used to produce ads showing women all dressed in white as a sign of cleanliness, using (wait, could it be? more) euphemisms like "light days" or "that time." That only changed for Kotex five years ago. That same year, Always ran the very first ad for sanitary pads to show blood. Of course, the phrase "sanitary pads" is in fact.... a euphemism.

We can't even talk about menstruation honestly. It's taboo.
posted by zarq at 8:06 AM on August 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


I find it sad that in a world where images of women being brutally raped is a pretty common pop culture trope, visual evidence of a woman menstruating is what horrifies onlookers.
posted by batbat at 8:08 AM on August 12, 2015 [30 favorites]


in porn you aren't allowed to show menstrual blood if you want to use pretty much all of the payment processors. i've noticed no objection to ejaculate being shown.
posted by nadawi at 8:09 AM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


I've been more and more angry about this as I get older. I don't know if it's a hormonal thing or related to my Paraguard or both, but my periods have been getting weirder and rougher, and there's at least one day a month where I just physically feel like SHIT. And every time I'm sitting at work thinking, "If men went through this, we would all be able to take at least 3 days off every month, no problem."

Not taboo? Compared to ejaculate? Are you kidding? Have you ever had a girlfriend refuse to have sex with you while you're ejaculating, or, more crucially, freak out on you if you accidentally (ACCIDENTALLY, because you literally have no control over the timing) get some on the sheets? These are real things that happen. This is not even close to the level of the shaming she's even talking about, but part of everyday life right here right now with people you're close to.

Right on, Kiran.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 8:14 AM on August 12, 2015 [28 favorites]


I have stained sheets and, once, at the age of twelve, excrutiating embarrassingly, ruined a mattress at a hotel. My cramps were soooo bad - so bad. I was wondering whether my memories were exaggerated so I asked my mom if it was psychological - she said no, I was clearly in a lot of pain. I'd get pale and sweat. I spent a day in bed (or in a very hot tub) every month. But all that time my parents refused to take me to the doctor. My mom said she had the same problem when she was a teenager and the doctor told her to 'take a brisk walk'. I still really don't understand why she didn't take me to the doctor. Turns out I was developing endometriosis - maybe if I'd gone on birth control pills earlier, instead of at 18 when I went to college, my fertility problems wouldn't have been as bad. BCP made my cramps vanish. Amazing relief. When I went off them to conceive, the cramps came back. Still debilitating.

I continue to occasionally stain sheets on the first or second night of my period. My Dear Silly Husband asked me why I didn't use a belt AND suspenders. I was like, duh, I am already wearing both in superman sizes, but thanks for the suggestion.

I wasn't allowed to wear tampons either in high school - I think my mom had a thing about vaginas!
posted by bq at 8:18 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I remember starting my period in a class in college and bleeding through my pants. It wasn't entirely visible to others but my underwear and the crotch of my pants was completely soaked and I was really uncomfortable. My boyfriend at the time was really grossed out and kept asking me why I wasn't prepared--why I didn't pack tampons or have money to buy them or something like that. I suppose those are legitimate questions, but it was his attitude that really bothered me. It was like he thought it was some sort of moral failing that I had started my period unexpectedly and bled through my pants. He also thought it was really gross and a major hygiene issue that I would free bleed at night when my period was light instead of wearing a tampon or panty liner to bed. I suppose if I totally bled onto my sheets and mattress it would have been unsanitary, but I wasn't and besides it was my body and my bed and my decision anyways.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 8:18 AM on August 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


All fair points on a) The appropriateness of ejaculate as a comparison and b) how there are definitely contexts in contemporary western culture where menstrual blood is more tabboo. On further thinking, I think my classifying based on where-it-came-from is going to conflate the misogyny stigma with the sex stigma, also, which makes it even more problematic to separate things out and compare stigma levels and sources. Sweat does seem like a better comparison for the reasons cortex listed.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:19 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


So your argument is that sweat inspires as much revulsion than blood?
posted by zarq at 8:22 AM on August 12, 2015


this is another great time to share my favorite big brother clip! here is penny from big brother australia talking about how her ovaries are on fire.
posted by nadawi at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good for her.

I too went through years of fearing the leak and it showing. Not sure when or why but at some point I stopped caring. Before that I'd even shame myself for getting blood on my underwear. Like I had done something wrong!

I will talk to someone, even strangers in public if I do see something. I do it with anything that I know people would find mortifying or upsetting if they had gone around not knowing. I will tell you random stranger that you have a booger hanging from your nose. People get embarassed about boogers but it doesn't compare to the response I've gotten from women regarding period staining. One younger women started to cry as she was thanking me. Shameful crying. I did my best to comfort her and help her cover enough up so she felt comfortable going home.

It shouldn't be this way.
posted by Jalliah at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I also think that most of us are fully aware of the fact that there are genuine reasons why someone might not want to come into close contact with someone else's blood. It's not like we are completely ignorant of that fact. The point is that there's a disproportionate and additional layer of cultural taboo. That taboo serves as a vehicle for misogyny, it keeps women and girls out of places that they need to be, and it hurts our fucking feelings. And that sucks and is wrong regardless of whether there's some believable justification for the origin of that taboo.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


No, my argument (well, it's not really mine anymore, since I'm agreeing with what other people have said, not making my own) is that sweat is a better comparison than ejaculate and thus it is true that menstrual blood is more stigmatized, even in contemporary western culture, than equivalent bodily secretions.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


The junior high/high school I attended had security guards at the entrance of the lunch room and the library to check ID's to make sure you weren't skipping class. They were also checking bags for a while, and I have this memory of them rifling through and pulling girls' tampons out of the box to make sure they weren't hiding pot in there. Which, I mean, it's horrifying that they treated 12-14 year-olds with this level of suspicion, but the terror I had of going to the bathroom during lunch and having it revealed that I was on my period to everyone standing behind me in line was real.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:34 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wonder if she was actually caught unawares and decided to turn an embarrassing incident into a deliberate gesture

Yes? That's very specifically what she did:

"When Kiran Gandhi realized she had just started her period on the day of the London Marathon in April, she paused: It was her first marathon, and she had been training for a year to complete it. She could deal with it quietly — or not.

She chose the latter."

I know it blows the whole conspiracy theory, but it might be that she's got the sort of outgoing/thick-skinned personality that it requires to be a woman who calls attention to herself in any way, like being in a band or writing about sexism, and so she was suddenly like "fuck this bullshit, let's make a point" so she did. Periods don't usually shoot out of you like a firehose when they first start, so it took a while for it to be obvious she was bleeding.

It's really hard to conspire with your period. You can be regular as a clock and have all these big plans about how you're going to deliberately bleed at the marathon, and guaran-damn-teed you'll get your period a week early or late.

The fact is, if a man falls on the course and gets up and finishes the race bleeding from the shoulder or knee (to be fair, the medics will often try to persuade runners off if they're bleeding from the face, because that means they hit their head), nobody pearl-clutches over how disgusting it is.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:35 AM on August 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


My high school had bag checks too! I forgot about those daily moments of mortification. At least I got out of junior high before they made everybody switch to clear, see-through backpacks.
posted by mmmbacon at 8:36 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I applaud this woman. Also (not to be gross or smug) but this is a conversation most women bike racers have early on with their mentors (how to deal with periods) with the answer being, pretty much 100% of the time "you're wearing a giant maxipad. Just bleed into your shorts, then wash them."

Yet another reason that the bicycle is an evolved means to freedom / women's equality. :)
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:37 AM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


1) arguing whether or not SNAP is the right government program to give out free tampons is fucking irrelevant. People are saying it's necessary, you can figure out what box to fit it in once we agree on that.

2) menstrual blood is absolutely considered more shameful than other blood. When I suddenly skinned my knees as a girl, I was never embarrassed that my knees might be bleeding throughout clothing. When I suddenly had my period, I was flat out terrified that even the tiniest drop of blood might show.
posted by corb at 8:44 AM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


To address a point above, I think more women use tampons than pads but I use pads and I have been ashamed at times to admit it, because other women will often diss using pads or say who the hell wears those. So I rarely own up to it. SOME of us use them, cause they are still for sale everywhere.
posted by agregoli at 9:01 AM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


An appropriate comparison might be to a nosebleed. I used to get them all the time when I was a kid; I was always sort of vaguely aware that I might need tissues at any time, the same way post-pubescent me was always aware that I might need tampons/pads at any time.

Nobody ever tried to isolate me for bleeding profusely out my nasal passages, even when it was clotty or mucousy. No one shamed me for it, or told me I should go somewhere private to take care of it. If I woke up with a nosebleed and stained my sheets, well, sometimes that happens when you spontaneously bleed out of an orifice.

These days, they're much rarer, but if I suddenly get one while out doing something else, I can just say "dammit, nosebleed, argh, anyone have a tissue or something?" and tip my head back and basically deal with it. Some people are probably grossed out or queasy because blood, but mostly I get sympathy and similar stories as everyone (including total strangers) bonds over the annoyance of bleeding in public.

Try doing that with a vaginableed in mixed company and see what happens.
posted by current resident at 9:28 AM on August 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


They were also checking bags for a while, and I have this memory of them rifling through and pulling girls' tampons out of the box to make sure they weren't hiding pot in there.

I am mildly surprised that the young women who went through this did not become spree killers.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Speaking of commercials, this fan-made one starring Furiosa still cracks me up.

The only people I find who are really vocal about their choice of product are the ones using diva cups. It's like being vegan or not having a tv. Sadly, it also means you can't just loan one to someone in the bathroom who just got a surprise visit. I sometimes keep pads in my desk for days when I discover spotting and my cup is at home, so at least I can help out my office-mates that way. (I'm pretty open about having allergy pills, pain killers, bandaids, etc. on hand, and let the women in my office know about the pads in case they need one. ) I guess I'm lucky that my mother raised me with a fairly blase attitude. I had a friend in high school who was horrified when I explained to her boyfriend what "wings" were. He asked! I didn't see why it needed to be a big secret.

When I noticed that a rant on my tumblr got a fair amount of response, I wound up making a sideblog called "My Uterus Needs a Hobby" for period complaints and jokes, because that's about where my sense of humor is at.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:39 AM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


No. You're wrong. At least where you apply this to the Torah.

That's from the Bible that sat on my shelf when I was a (menstruating) teenager, that the Christians in my family were expected to read. It was just another vicious condemnation of my sex in that book, but it still sticks with me. The level of approbriation aimed at women and their bodies is disproportionate.

I'll let Jewish women discuss how they feel about how it's applied to the Torah, because that's not my place. Regardless of interpretation, though, the text is there.

Are women being singled out? I'd argue yes, if only because menstruation is not voluntary or a disease.

Treating menstruation as equivalent to ejaculation or disease is misogynist. A rule that places such a burden of spiritual uncleanness on women when there is no equivalent for men is misogynist. And no one can deny that the context in which that

And is it, in our society/this context? That's a question, not an attempt at provocation.

Comparing menstruation to ejaculation is ridiculous on more than one front. The first and most obvious reason it’s ridiculous is that ejaculation is sexual function, and the taboo surrounding ejaculation is a sexual taboo. In private, it’s not taboo; women don’t avoid their male partners’ ejaculate because it’s gross, ejaculation is lovingly captured in pornography, and so on.

Menstruation is not sexual. The two are not equivalent.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:54 AM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Damn, hit "post" too soon and there are cut-offs in my comment where I meant to add some things. When you said this:

Are women being singled out? I'd argue yes, if only because menstruation is not voluntary or a disease.

You are right, for these reasons and more. Women suffer uncleanness just for being women; the equivalent doesn't exist for men, who are unclean if they've engaged in sexual behaviors or have a skin disease, but are not unclean for over a quarter of the month.

And within the larger context of the text, it is clear that this is not just a neutral, natural consequence of the general treatment of bodily secretions as taboo. There are many misogynist things in that book, and the level of uncleanness women suffer is severe.

The disparity remains to this day, even though (in my family's religious tradition) these rules are historical only. There are still Christians who use these passages from the Bible as evidence that women are spiritually inferior to men.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:24 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


And within the larger context of the text, it is clear that this is not just a neutral, natural consequence of the general treatment of bodily secretions as taboo.

Just to clarify, I quoted and was specifically addressing your comment that the basic underlying taboo was not about other kinds of body secretions. That is still inaccurate with regard to the words of the chapter you were quoting from, which was originally sourced from the Torah. You didn't quote the entire chapter, and I linked to it specifically to point out its relevance. The chapter's entire context does matter.

I was not trying to start a larger commentary on whether the Torah is misogynist. I completely agree with you that it is. And I agree with you that the text is one of many examples of ways the Torah creates a continued misogynist narrative, which has been and is still used to oppress women. Nor was I trying to defend Judaism regarding its treatment of women: Jewish religious practice has been oppressive and awful to women for centuries, although there's been some improvement since the rise of Reform and Conservative Judaism.

I can't speak for Christian practices, interpretations or history. I'm not Christian. But whether they or anyone else ignores the rest of the text or not, it says specific things.
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay, the bleeding from bitches in heat isn't actually the same thing as menstruation, biologically--they're totally different parts of the cycle and the blood consists of different things. Also, and I know you meant the comparison in the best possible light, comparing menstruating women to bitches in heat is pretty unfortunate and makes me really... really... uncomfortable, especially in the context of deciding whether or not to breed her. Please rethink
posted by sciatrix at 11:08 AM on August 12


Please rethink what? I'm sorry you are uncomfortable with the language that I used, maybe I spend too much time on the Giant Schnauzer boards where the terms "bitch" and "heat" are entirely appropriate, but I am confused as to why I must now use euphemisms because these terms have been misappropriated. Maybe you mean I should not bring up my dog at all in a post about menstruating. I only mentioned the bleeding because while the menstrual cycle is different than the estrous cycle, the bloody discharge is the same, therefor the practicalities of dealing with this is the same-- right down to forcing my dog to wear panties and changing her pad every few hours.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:46 AM on August 12, 2015


I quoted and was specifically addressing your comment that the basic underlying taboo was not about other kinds of body secretions.

I think we've been talking at cross-purposes here, because I know that menstrual fluid isn't the only bodily secretion that's listed as unclean. I know that there is a more general taboo against (some) bodily secretions. However, menstrual fluid doesn't have to be classed with semen and the discharge of skin diseases, and even if it is, the taboo against it doesn't have to be so severe.

We can quibble about what it means to be the "basic, underlying taboo." I think that there is a basic, underlying taboo specifically against women, misogyny. I think that there is also a taboo against bodily secretions. I think that the two in concert give us that passage. I think that the two in concert give us the modern attitudes that Gandhi is challenging.

I said that the basic, underlying taboo is misogyny because that is the one that is relevant and needed in explaining the double standards that we're talking about, not the taboo against any bodily fluid.

I think we agree more than disagree.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:50 AM on August 12, 2015


I'm a dog person too. I'm familiar with the dog-person culture you're talking about, and I think it's out of place here in this conversation about humans. I'm really, really uncomfortable with equating dogs with human women in this context, even if heat panties involve similar kinds of blood management. Women have a long history of being dehumanized and reduced to their reproductive ability, especially in the context of menstruation. Also, the shame taboos we're talking about with respect to menstruation marking women as unclean intersect with dogs, who are marked as unclean by a lot of the same cultures that tag women that way, in a problematic way. I think that comparison invokes a lot of associations that you didn't mean to invoke.

Basically, I am saying that dogs are an uncomfortable place to take this conversation and I wanted to draw attention to it. I do not think you meant anything bad by it, but I wanted to register my discomfort.
posted by sciatrix at 11:56 AM on August 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


Sciatrix, you and I are just going to have to disagree on this. I see no reason for embarrassment just because assholes are assholes. Women are not dogs, dogs are not women.

There is so much about menstruating that is a hassle that I am not surprised many women today are opting out of having periods entirely. Given the choice as a young girl, I certainly would have. The agony of being at school, starting your period unexpectedly and not having change for the tampon machine. The horror of realizing that you have bleed through your clothes. The shame of dropping your purse and having your monthly supplies fall all over the floor. The tension of not having enough money for another box of tampons but only having 2 left when you are on day 4. Blah!

Bonus embarrassment story: When I was 15 I was getting my period every 2 weeks. My mother told me to tell my G.P. this so she would put me on the pill. During my medical check-up with reddened cheeks and pounding heart I managed to mumble something about my problem. My doctor sneered and told me to stop lying, if I wanted to be on birth control pills I should just tell her the truth and stop wasting her time. Ugh. One of those moments of burning shame that I have carried for over 40 years.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:05 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ugh, the dog thing was annoying and more than discomforting to me as well, too many bad associations and adds nothing to the discussion at hand. I would have appreciated too if you'd have rethought about it instead of doubling down.
posted by agregoli at 12:38 PM on August 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


[Heya, I think this is a situation where we should just recognize that as much as there can be zero ill intent in using legitimate domain-specific jargon, tossing it into a non-domain-specific general discussion can end up being pretty problematic anyway and leaning in on it when people express discomfort is probably not the best way to go with it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:01 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


kutsuwamishu: I think we agree more than disagree.

We do!

And honestly, I don't want to be stupidly obstinate over defending something that is kinda indefensible and ultimately matters far, far less than the good points you're making, either.
posted by zarq at 1:34 PM on August 12, 2015


Don't have much to add, since guy perspective on this is probably not super helpful.

But what I really don't understand is stories of guys not wanting to buy tampons/pads for their gf/wife/daughter, or that guy we recently had a post about who had to buy pads after his operation but was mortified to be at the counter to pay with them.

What's with that? I don't get it, like not at all?
posted by coust at 2:40 PM on August 12, 2015


It's not difficult to cultivate a good attitude towards menstruation.
posted by Appropriate Username at 3:30 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


My boyfriend-at-the-time was hanging out with some of his male friends and one of them mentioned how awful it was that he'd had to buy tampons for his gf. "I mean, I know it's natural and all that, but yuck, I don't want to think about it in the context of the person I have sex with, you know?"

My boyfriend said "Dude, if menstruation icks you out that much, consider dating post-menopausal women. Or men, I guess. Either way, you won't have to think about it any more!"
posted by KathrynT at 3:55 PM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


Ha!

I've always been kinda baffled by men who were seriously uncomfortable with it, and especially with the stereotypical unwillingness to pick up supplies at the drugstore for their partners.

What the hell is that about? Even if we're talking about generally stereotypical Bro types, you'd think they'd clock to a simple fact: What other thing -- with the possible exception of condoms -- could a man buy at Walgreen's that says I GET LAID ON THE REGULAR more than a partner's pads or tampons?

Baffling.
posted by uberchet at 5:02 PM on August 12, 2015


Well, uberchat.

If you're buying pads or tampons for a woman, then you're clearly doing an errand for her. What are you, pussy-whipped? If you're buying condoms, though, everyone knows you're about to do the manliest thing you can do, i.e. putting your dick in the dick hole.

And buying something feminine is like -10 manhood anyway. Yogurt is probably -15, and feminine hygiene products like -200 and you might as well be a woman. And everyone knows that you're dating a woman who is shamefully menstruating, so you can't even recover the +20 manhood you get for having a girlfriend slash dick hole; she's defective.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:41 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is this a good place to rant about people prohibiting tampons in the toilet? Because in the last ten years I started hearing it vociferously online. I asked a couple of plumbers about it and they said the only time they've seen it as a problem is when there are tree roots invading, in which case both tampons and dental floss ADD to the problem of tree roots. They see the tree roots as the actual problem. (I'm not referring to septic tanks or 150 year old Victorians.) And yet, I hear over and over how terrible it is to flush tampons (no mention of anything else). It's always men yelling about it, and it always has a tinge of hysteria about it because CAN YOU IMAGINE ANYTHING GROSSER?! SO GROSS!

When it's an apartment building owner, he will tell everyone how he makes every woman promise to never flush a tampon in her lease. How is that even legal to have two lease documents? I don't know. (I suppose, in the majestic equality of legalese he could prohibit both men and women from flushing tampons.)

Anyway, I am really tired of it.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:31 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm no expert, but my family has been in plumbing for the last few generations, and I've always had it drilled into my head that nothing goes in the toilet except waste and modest amounts of toilet paper. Wipes especially are supposed to be a menace. They just don't break down well in water.
posted by thetortoise at 7:45 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Not to say that people don't get weird and shaming about menstrual products. I just read your comment, small_ruminant, and heard my mom's voice in my head yelling "never flush a tampon!")
posted by thetortoise at 7:47 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I volunteer at a food bank and we always have a table with tampons, pads and liners and we let everyone choose what they would like. They are limited to one by the rules but if the household uses tampons and pads we always let them have both. I have seen women get excited over the fact that we have pads and other women equally as pleased that we have tampons. Donate what you like, it won't be unappreciated or not get used.

Also, if you are poor or hungry or in a tough place in life it seems like everyone is making your decisions for you. You exhaust yourself jumping through hoops and at the end of the day you look in the bag to see what someone else decided you would have for dinner. I think giving mostly women the autonomy over how to deal with something so personal is a very good thing.
posted by colt45 at 7:57 PM on August 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


My family moved into a new-construction house in 1988, and in 1989 I clogged one of the toilets because I had been flushing tampons. In my current home, which is on a septic system, my landlord has euphemistically phrased several requests that I flush nothing but waste and toilet paper (and non-euphemistically stated that I shouldn't even flush very much toilet paper), but even that was only after the septic tank backed up and there were major issues (and I don't flush tampons, and I would presume his family doesn't, either, so the plumbing is sensitive even without them). I don't think that a concern about tampons and plumbing is automatically due to stereotypes or misogyny rather than actual issues with the plumbing.
posted by jaguar at 8:23 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was always told not to flush the tampons down the toilet, as it may cause backups over time. They caused an issue in my office bathroom, and I remember having to deal with it in the dorms.. I have also lived in places with run of the mill shitty plumbing, though. Randomly stopping up once a month with no provocation, that sort of thing.

I have actually gotten dudes asking me why I didn't flush it down the toilet and saved them from having to spy it in the garbage, so people are able to be misogynistic about it no matter what the answer is.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:28 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The buying condoms vs buying tampons reminds me of my favorite convenience store game: going in the toiletries aisle at a gas station or convenience mart and seeing if there were more variety in the types of menstrual products or condoms. This is even more fun in an office park or similar place, where really - what are you doing with the condoms during your workday anyway?
posted by dinty_moore at 8:37 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It is ridiculous that we're so often specifically told not to flush tampons and pads but not instructed not to flush paper towels, wet wipes, or condoms, all of which share responsibility for horrifying plumbing mishaps.

Basically, if it doesn't break down in water quickly (and it would be deeply disturbing if tampons disintegrated quickly when wet) don't flush it, ever. It gets more obvious on a household level if you've got a septic system, but your friendly neighborhood wastewater engineers will thank you for not adding more "white mice" to the municipal sewers.

Other things that aren't water-soluble and shouldn't be put down your drains: fat, oil, and grease (FOG).

Anyway. There's nothing wrong with instructions not to flush tampons and pads, but there is something very wrong with those being the only things called out--as though menstruating people are the only offenders. Sewers are more fragile than we tend to assume, and are pretty much what civilization is all about. Gotta take care of that shit.

So, make sure you've got a waste basket in your bathroom, and put a liner in that thing (it's hard to make the right decision about waste disposal when you're facing a wicker basket without even a plastic grocery bag in it.)
posted by asperity at 10:43 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


"It is ridiculous that we're so often specifically told not to flush tampons and pads but not instructed not to flush paper towels, wet wipes, or condoms, all of which share responsibility for horrifying plumbing mishaps."

I've been told my whole life not to flush paper towels, I've been told since I was a teenager not to flush condoms, and when "flushable" wipes became a thing I learned you shouldn't flush those. Basically, I was instructed that toilet paper is made to break down quickly in sewer/septic systems and NOTHING ELSE IS, so don't flush anything but toilet paper. I didn't learn "don't flush tampons" until a few years ago.

Perhaps 99% of women aren't taught these things, but *I* was, so "we" is a bit of a misnomer.

To be fair, I spent summers at my grandparents' house and they had a finicky septic system, so what and how often you flush was A Thing every year. But to also be fair, I don't think "don't flush anything that's not toilet paper" is misogynistic, FFFS.
posted by Hamadryad at 4:52 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think "don't flush anything that's not toilet paper" is misogynistic, FFFS.

I do think the lack of alternatives is often due to misogyny, though. In many arenas of life, there is a lack of consideration of women's needs, because men's needs are taken to be the default and women's needs are considered extra.

But then there's also the taboo. Where I'm doing my research, hotel bathrooms never have wastebaskets. No one ever provides women a way to dispose of feminine hygiene products. And I suspect that part of the reason is that no one wants to acknowledge that menstruation is occurring.

And like someone else mentioned up thread, some people react with unnecessarily extreme revulsion; they do not want to know you're producing yucky lady fluids, they do not want your lucky lady fluids near them, etc. If you can't flush it, I suppose you're just supposed to ... hold it in? Or not be around them, I guess.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:19 AM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Someone here on metafilter made the excellent point that women are dealing with what is essentially, a biohazard, but we are given EXTREMELY limited accommodation for dealing with it, with many bathrooms having no decent place to dispose of them besides flushing (but flushing also being seen as inappropriate or inconsiderate by a lot of people).

It's funny when you look at the taboo as being biological/evolutionary in origin: the current setup makes it clear it's totally okay for women and cleaning staff to have to deal with random used "dangerous" menstrual products, but GOD FORBID a man buy a completely clean and sanitary tampon. Really drives home how illogically it's applied.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:23 AM on August 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


I keep a mental map of places that have the "family bathroom" single-seater sink-in-suite toilets, because I would really rather not deal with either cup-refreshing or tampon-insertion trying to keep one hand clean both before and after the procedure in a stall.

Bless you, Starbucks. Thank deities your lemonade-tea is drinkable when you don't fuck it up, because I will pay that price of entry for your usable, accessible bathrooms.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:24 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Perhaps 99% of women aren't taught these things, but *I* was, so "we" is a bit of a misnomer.

I'm mostly going from seeing signs in women's restrooms warning people not to flush "sanitary products," often right next to a toilet clogged with an enormous wad of paper towels. I definitely can't speak to what anyone's been told personally, but in my experience the signage is very much aimed at menstrual products.
posted by asperity at 8:54 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Kutsuwamushi, I guess I'm thinking that "evidence of committed sexual partner" would trump any other weird threat to masculinity assumed to be inherent in buying said products, but clearly my brain isn't wired like those Bro-types anyway.

Also, condom purchase can be (and probably often is) an aspirational act of bravado, right?



posted by uberchet at 10:13 AM on August 13, 2015


Kutsuwamushi, I guess I'm thinking that "evidence of committed sexual partner" would trump any other weird threat to masculinity assumed to be inherent in buying said products, but clearly my brain isn't wired like those Bro-types anyway.

It's the "committed" part that hurts them. Buying condoms means you're going to score; buying tampons means you stuck around after you scored.
posted by Etrigan at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I get the stereotype you're talking about, but I've encountered the "won't buy supplies" position among men who value relationships over playing the field, so to speak, so it's not just that.

Anyway, this is a little bit of a derail.
posted by uberchet at 11:32 AM on August 13, 2015


Thanks for posting this - it's really awesome to see her smiling post-marathon and not caring about the blood. I admit that I have some (culturally-imbued) discomfort with images that show menstrual blood, but that just makes it even more important for me to look at the images and start to get more comfortable with them.

I wish I had seen images like this as a kid. I got my first period early - at 11 - and I was the first of my friends. I don't remember my parents ever saying or implying that there was anything shameful or bad about menstruation, but I certainly picked up on the cultural messaging. I was SO embarrassed by my period for years and years - it took me months or years to admit to my friends that I'd started, and I was always worried that someone at school would find out somehow and tease me. I remember stuffing toilet paper into my underwear at my grandparents' house because I was too embarrassed to tell my grandmother (or grandfather!) that I needed to go to the store to buy supplies. Even now, when I'm walking to the bathroom at work with a tampon, I'll put it in my pocket or conceal it in my hand rather than just carry it normally. Fuck that - my new goal is to stop making any effort at all to hide the fact that I menstruate.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:37 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just discovered this rather lovely poem and it seems appropriate (my trans, original below):

Lorenzo Pestelli: 'Invocation to call up the menstrual flow"
May the woman I love be watered with the wine of the moon!
In her blood, I will bathe
As if it were spring rain
Because I await the equinox of my beloved
...Flux which cowards have compared to excrement, deign to descend into this young woman who awaits,
Hopes each night for the red ink
With which she will write in the book of life

“Invocation pour appeler le flux menstruel’:
Que la femme que j’aime soit toute arrosée du vin de la lune!
Dans son sang je me baignerai
Comme s’il était la pluie du printemps
Car j’attends l’équinoxe de la bien aimée
...Flux qu’on a lâchement comparé à l’excrément, daigne descendre dans la jeune fille qui attend,
Espère chaque nuit l’encre rouge
Dont elle écrira dans le livre de la vie!
posted by melisande at 5:16 AM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


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