When Jiggered (this great publication of all things unusual put together by some very talented Rhodes English Department friends of mine) started asking around for articles and artistic pieces, I decided I was going to write a piece about the benefits of this great new invention that not enough women know about: the moon cup.
The reason I didn't (in the end) was because a moon cup is a half moon-shaped silicone cup that a woman can insert inside her vagina during her period instead of a tampon or sanitary pad (yes, I'm that girl. That's where I'm going in this blog). I thought it would appeal to the target market of Jiggered because many of the readers are women and almost all of them are concerned about environmental issues.
I'm going to remedy that by writing about it here. The moon cup can be kept and used for up to two years as long as it is sanitised in boiling water before and after each cycle. Unlike tampons, they don't clog up septic tanks or fill the oceans and rivers, nor do they fill rubbish dumps with non-biodegradable plastics like sanitary pads or disposable nappies (which - for the uninitiated - is what sanitary pads feel like). I always felt sad that - as an environmentally conscious woman - I had no other option but to contribute substantially to the pollution of the environment every month. The moon cup was like an answer to my prayers.
But that would mean writing about the menstrual cycle in an article that would go out to a whole lot of people, and then I would be that girl, the one who writes about a process as distasteful as descriptions of defecating. More than that, women who use a moon cup have to empty and wash it out during the cycle before re-inserting it. That means writing about actually touching and handling one's menstrual blood. Most period products are manufactured so that women hardly even have to touch the offending product that must touch the blood (applicator tampons with their additional cardboard and plastic pollutants were made for that purpose). Even as I write this blog, I realise I will alienate many of my male readers and a few female ones by mentioning periods at all.
Despite (or perhaps because of) these reservations, I did Jiggered readers and the general public a disservice by not submitting anything, the Jiggered readers because they are probably less squeamish than I give them credit for, and the rest of the general public because they need to think about it. Women shouldn't feel ashamed of their periods because it isn't shameful: it's just blood. Surely losing blood every month is no more exciting than losing hair or skin cells: something that everybody does every day.
I suppose because the blood flows from a vagina, people don't like to talk about it. I understand that some people like to talk about "private parts" in private because they are sacred and special, not to be exploited for shock factor or the objectification rather than the celebration of the body. Private parts are also symbolic of the exchange of the innermost parts of people - body and soul - in (ideally) beautiful, sharing (and often private) experiences.
If that was why people didn't talk about periods, then I'm sure I wouldn't be writing this blog. My own gut-wrench reaction at the thought of writing an article about moon cups had nothing to do with sacred private acts and everything to do with fear of being ridiculed is evidence enough for me that most people (including myself at times) have a dysfunctional attitude towards this perfectly natural and exclusively female process.
Whilst I am all for celebrating the body (and the much used and abused female body in particular) I would be lying if I said I celebrate my period every month. They are really annoying. Bleeding non-stop for five days straight is not exactly convenient when one wants to play sport, go out, travel or live an environmentally aware lifestyle. Many bathrooms don't have bins where parcels can be easily and discreetly deposited, which puts women in awkward situations and buses don't stop for loo breaks an ideally hygienic every four hours. Other women are hindered by crippling pain and uncontrollable mood swings or crushing weariness that accompany periods each month. Even moon cups are tricky to insert and remove, and are therefore not completely hassle-free.
So periods aren't the best thing women have been saddled with. I don't believe though, that men (and many women) should throw up their arms in horror at the very mention of a period. The fact that they do means that there is a nebulous (and with other people perfectly clear-cut) feeling of disgust when it comes to the issue (literally and figuratively) of a vagina.
This can be particularly harmful when it comes to women's relationships with their bodies. Feeling revolted about such a basic process is symptomatic of an over-arching revulsion at being female. It is only a short step from there to "douching": a process whereby a woman squirts a bag of liquid perfume inside her vagina to make it smell "nice": like "lavender" or "whispers of summer" rather than the clean, natural smell of the human body. I'm not the kind of person who doesn't believe in washing or deodorant because of the "natural smells" of the human body, but inserting chemicals inside such a delicate part of one's body can only be harmful.
I believe women - and men - should appreciate and respect their - in many ways - miraculous bodies, and hating periods because people have been taught and socialised into the idea that periods are dirty will only undermine that appreciation and respect. A period is not the shameful issue of a substance that soils the body and anyone who comes into contact with her. It's just blood.