On My Menarche, Menstruation, and Menstrual Misogyny

by Joni Edelman

I started my period when I was 13. This is just slightly behind the American average of 12.8 — I guess my uterus didn’t get the overachiever gene. I was the last of my friends, which was sad for me then, because periods = grown up. At 12, while the rest of my friends were talking about pads, I was skinny, breastless, and without menstruation. I might as well have been 5.

The morning I started my period was the same day I was supposed to sing in church choir with my best friend — who had already had her period for like two years by then. It wasn’t bright blood red, as I expected. I thought I was getting something along the lines of Game of Thrones, instead I got what sort of looked like a poop smear. Since I knew I hadn’t actually pooped my pants, the period was only logical deduction.

It was the best day of my life.

Well, until the cramps. No one told me about the cramps. I went to my mom and showed her my poop/period stain, and she said, “YEP! You’ve got your period.” And she handed me a Stayfree maxi-pad. I don’t know what exactly I was supposed to be free from. The maxi-pad of 1987 was not the thin, super-absorbent pad of today, friends.

Period Week- Joni's 1st image

Look I was in color guard, and we wore tiny bloomers and everyone, I mean EVERYONE, knew when you were on your period. Everyone.

Why? The pads of yesteryear looked more like this:

Period Week- Joni's 2nd image

I know that doesn’t look thick, but trust me, that sucker could have doubled for a whiplash neck brace.

Period Week- Joni's 3rd image

This guy is making neck brace/maxi-pads look hot. They are not hot once placed in your underwear — I assure you.

My mom had never even considered using tampons because “Where does all the stuff go?” I don’t even know what that means, but for me, it meant no one could tell me how to insert a tampon. Also, there was no Google. Also, the tampons of yesteryear weren’t unlike pads of yesteryear. Let’s just say “feminine hygiene” (whatever the hell that is) has come a long way.

Without Google or an experienced adult, I tried to just read the package insert, which featured an anatomical cross-section of the vagina and uterus. No one told me that your vagina doesn’t empty out into your uterus so I was basically terrified to put anything in there, certainly not cardboard.

Here’s what happened: I put one foot on the toilet edge (per package instruction), gritted my teeth, and just shoved it in — half-way.

P.S. A half-inserted tampon A. does not work, and B. hurts. Really a lot.

So, without anyone to tell me what to do, or that I could fix that, or that you weren’t supposed to have something hanging out of your vagina, I walked around miserably for three cycles with a tampon half inserted in my apparent endless tunnel of a vagina. After the half-inserted tampon became too much to bear, I went back to the neck brace and wrapping a sweatshirt around my waist. Obviously.

It never even occurred to me that there might be any alternative choices, or that maybe the choices I had weren’t even really made with me in mind.

I don’t remember when I finally figured out that tampons were meant to go inside your body — like, all the way. But eventually I did and I wore them for most of my adult life; not even considering where they came from or what they meant to me or why they were $7 a box.

They are more than $7 a box now.

Also, they are taxed, like they are some sort of luxurious item. Oh what’s that you say? You don’t open a package of 24 tampons and throw them in your bathtub to create a cushion of pillowy softness upon which you might bathe?

Well you are just missing out. Pillowy bleached chemical-laden softness.

And here’s another thing I bet you haven’t considered, while we should congratulate Science on making a maxi-pad that doesn’t make you looked like you crapped your pants, can we also ask why we ever wore those diaper-pads anyway? I appreciate that this is all better than a rag shoved in your underpants, as was the custom, prior to the advent of the wood-pulp pad in 1888. It probably beats sheep’s wool too (though maybe not, there are so really soft sheep).

The Feminine Protection Industry in the US consists primarily of Tampax, Playtex, Stayfree, and Kotex. Playtex and Stayfree are both owned by Edgewell, which is run by one Ward Klein. Tampax is under the household GIANT Proctor & Gamble, CEO, David S. Taylor. Kotex is a Kimberly Clark product, overseen by Thomas J. Falk.

HOLD ON.

I’m seeing a pattern here. Are you seeing a pattern here (besides the apparent need for a middle initial)? Dudes. All dudes.

Now, while I realize that dudes are often preoccupied with vaginas, I think this has gone too far. And it would be convenient to call me a fem-nazi here, but this is real.

When I was 13, I walked around with $7 worth of cardboard taxed tampons hanging out of my vagina — because no one ever challenged it. No one ever considered that other ways to deal with your period do exist. No one ever considered that the “feminine hygiene” product industry might not actually be designed to benefit women. No one said, own your period, know your vagina, capitalism is bullcrap. We were all just happy with our beltless neck brace maxi-pads and our cardboard miserable to insert tampons.

And then there is the maintenance.

Oh vagina, how do we deodorize thee? Let me count the ways: Powder, spray, wash (who would want their vulva to smell like an Island Splash), wipes, douche, and even extra fancy soap made for ladies. Vaginas actually do not need any accessorizing. They smell like a vagina, because they are a vagina. They have their own little ecosystem that doesn’t need vinegar or backing soda mucking things up. They actually don’t need anything. At all.
A bunch of super rich middle-aged dudes are basically robbing us, by way of our vaginas.

Did you know you can use a sea sponge instead of a tampon?

Not the tampon type? There are pads you can wash. And they are made by WOMEN. I know. It’s weird. Ladies, with jobs and making stuff.

And the menstrual product to rule them all: The Diva Cup. Created, owned and operated by Francine Chambers.

A lady person.

Someone who, ostensibly, also now (or at one time) has had a period.

There’s still a tax on the Diva but Francine isn’t in charge of that.

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I’m Joni. I’m lucky enough to have 5 amazing kids (19, 16, 15, 4 and 2), one fantastic husband, an awesome sister and a yarn addiction. When I’m not raising up people I’m a freelance writer, RN, and the momma behind mommabare. Love is my religion. I like cake and crafty crap. And yoga. In that order.
You can follow Joni on Instagram here and on Twitter here.

 

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