I might have mentioned this before, but when I was a little girl, my mother was a chemical engineer who worked for a major manufacturing company, and she worked on a line of very popular menstrual products. So, I mean, menstrual products were a very casual thing when I was a kid. I think I already told the story about me thinking pads were just particularly soft stickers and putting them all over things when I was a toddler, but also I mean we just always had boxes of them around, and my mom would do things like cut pads open and show me how the polymer foam inside worked.
(Side note, this is also how I know that a lot of those jars of “instant snow” you can get this time of year are the same kind of stuff that’s inside pads/diapers/etc. You’re welcome.)
So I have to admit, it was kind of weird for me when I got older and realized that you basically are not allowed to talk about menstrual products in polite company. (Look at that! “Menstrual products” is such a stiff way to put it.) Like forget discussing your period in frank terms, you can’t even talk about the random products you use to deal with it. Can you imagine if it was considered so inappropriate to talk about toilet paper or baby diapers? Bodies are gross, messes happen, but periods are treated differently.
I mean, just watch a pad commercial? They’re not even allowed to use the color red in case it grosses people out. They pour some blue water on a pad, like that’s helpful at all in knowing whether a pad will actually work. And that’s if they even show a pad at all! Usually it’s just like flowers and horseback riding or working out and doing martial arts if it’s a more feminist ad. They’re not allowed to actually talk about the product or how it works, they just use vague-ass language to remind us that their product exists. Like we can forget with our uteruses throwing a giant fit once a month.
So I have to have like this secret network of menstrual product reviews amongst my uterus-having friends, like “oh this pad works a dream but the wings are weird” or “I could probably empty my aorta into this pad and it would be fine” or “I don’t like pads, I only use tampons and this brand has an applicator that should be outlawed by the Hague”. Because once in high school I pulled a pad out of my purse to clean up a soda spill (BECAUSE THEY’RE FUCKING ABSORBENT, THAT’S THEIR JOB) and all the boys looked at me like frightened rabbits.
And I mean, it’s kind of funny to watch the blood drain out of their faces just like it is draining out of my vagina, but it’s also pretty upsetting. Because people who have periods are being taught that their particular brand of excretion (and one that, lbr, is strongly associated with women and misogyny) is grosser than any other kind that comes out of the human body. Their monthly cycle makes them “unclean” in a way that vomiting or urinating doesn’t. It’s so horrible that no one even talks about it. And because no one talks about it, we have problems like people being heavily taxed for tampons, and legislators not knowing how periods work (but still being happy to make decisions about what medications are okay to use to regulate them), and homeless shelters rarely getting menstrual products in donations of other toiletries. People don’t talk about periods or menstrual products, so people don’t know about them.
Even going beyond the widespread political ramifications of this willful ignorance, it makes a normal part of life pretty scary for preteens (or teens) getting their first period. It makes it so they don’t know what isn’t normal. It makes it so people don’t know to go to the doctor for symptoms that are warning signs of severe illnesses, and some doctors don’t even know how to deal with them. It makes it so people suffer needlessly. Even if they aren’t in horrible pain, like a lot of people are, it makes it so they may not know what kind of product is right for them, whether it be a cup, pad, tampon, menstrual underwear, whatever. They may not even know there ARE options. They may not know what kind of painkiller works best for them, or what to try next.
And the fact that there’s this huge blank spot in the way we talk about sexual/reproductive health that even rampant capitalism can’t seem to fully overcome is mind-blowing to me?? Like is a bit of blood really that scary? Really? In a world where action and horror and art house movies with fountains of gore are a dime a dozen? Periods aren’t pleasant, I’m the first person to admit that, but they’re a lot less pleasant when you can’t even ask for help to make them better – at least not in a loud voice. It’s like this bizarre open secret we can only talk about in whispers among women (side note, this makes it even rougher for trans folks to get help) like it’s some kind of arcane secret or curse hanging out inside our uteruses, and if it’s openly acknowledged, it’ll devour humanity.
Anyway, I still keep pads in my purse, and I still use them to clean up the messes that a paper towel won’t touch, no matter who’s watching. I still keep a large stack of them in my bathroom next to the extra roll of toilet paper and the hand towels. I will happily teach little boys and little girls about them, because everyone should know how a basic human function works and is taken care of. Even if you don’t have a uterus, I will be shocked if you never find someone else who has one that you love, whether it’s a partner, family member, or friend. And you should be able to help them, and to give them a place where they can talk about their own body without worrying about being “gross” or “unclean”.
LIKE SERIOUSLY, just talk about periods! You never know when the person next to you might have a great tip for getting blood out of – well, everything.