Feminism | Posted by Kate S on 08/9/2010

Pads, Phallus, and Gloria: Advocating for Trash Bins and More

Oh, Gloria Steinem

Oh, Gloria Steinem

I recently came across Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” as I was perusing over required reading packet. In this article, Steinem creates an alternate universe where the power of the penis is amplified by not women but men’s ability to menstruate. She hypothesizes that it would be no surprise to find the government taking an active role in making “monthly discomforts” more convenient, boys competing for longest and largest amount of monthly blood loss, and boyfriends encouraging intercourse at “that time of the month.” As I lmfao-ed, I remembered a certain incident at a yacht party in the early summer.

My friend’s parents had organized a yacht party to celebrate his graduation. Families and friends showed up in their cocktail dresses and suave suits. Before boarding, the captain (who, in retrospect—though I may be biased, embodied visual qualities of Jesse James) made an announcement about safety and such things. His speech was as exciting as a disclaimer could be but I distinctly remember feeling vexed by his comment about “female hygiene products.” “Folks,” he stated, “Ladies, especially, if it is that time of the month for you, please do not leave your smelly trash behind; it stinks up the room” (re: girlies, do not leave your stinky shit behind). By “smelly trash,” I believe that he was referring to the residue of a well-known biological phenomenon that occurs in women called menstruation. I did not realize then why I felt so belittled and upset, but, after reading Steinem’s article, I can fully articulate the source of my frustration.

Yes, periods smell, but how we consider it to be “gross” has a lot to do with how we have been told to interpret our sexuality. I am pretty certain when I say that most women do not look forward to that week-long visit from Mother Nature; it is long, painful, cumbersome, and leads to weight gain, mood swings, and random cravings. At the same time, it is a biological necessity that prepares women for child birth. Menstruation, however, has been a victim of penis envy because the monthly blood loss comes from not having a penis—therefore, not being a man. Steinem argues that “if men could menstruate, the power justifications could probably go on forever,” and I cannot help but agree when various systematic exploitations of women happen every day under the same power justifications via pornography, rape, FGM, and domestic violence.

I hate having my period but that does not mean that my body is any less than a man’s. In a world where men could menstruate, according to Steinem, hygiene products would be easily accessible, and I believe that such convenience includes at least one trash bin in every existing bathroom of the Planet Earth. In the real world, however, where only women menstruate, our bodies are inferior: periods smell bad, vaginas look weird, and disposing female hygiene products on a yacht is apparently prohibited. And the world we live in will continue until there is no rape. No FGM. No battered women.

Until there is a trash bin for every pad and tampon.

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  • Heather Aurelia @ at 3:10 pm, August 9th, 2010

    I love your post! When I was in High School, before I knew about feminism. I was in Math class one day and someone who was a friend a long time ago twirled his chair to face me and said, “Do you know what the grossest thing is in the entire world?”
    I was like, “What?”

    “Period blood.”
    I was so angry when he said that. I said, “Oh thanks I feel so much better about myself now.”
    *sigh*

  • Let’s be stinky « Witchy Feminist @ at 3:44 pm, August 9th, 2010

    [...] 9, 2010 by heatheraurelia13 I read this blog post at The F Bomb, and it inspired me to write my experience with some guy telling me that periods are [...]

  • Studio16 @ at 4:25 pm, August 9th, 2010

    wtf?

    The party sounded like a formal event, so I don’t get why he ruined the formality by being so tasteless.

    Also, what girl just leaves her feminine products behind? Like, “Oh, just removed my tampon, guess I’ll leave it over on the bar?” Seriously, wtf is the only thing that comes to mind.

  • O'Phylia @ at 11:51 pm, August 9th, 2010

    Wait, men don’t menstruate?

    LIES I TELL YOU!

    I firmly believe they have their time of the month. Yup yup, no uterus required.

  • Jade @ at 4:28 am, August 10th, 2010

    I read “If Men Could Menstruate” a while ago. It’s very funny and also very clever.
    Also, about “weight gain, mood swings, and random cravings”, and particularly the two last ones, I think Betty Friedan as much as Simone de Beauvoir said that, strangely, it happens more and with more intensity to women and girls who overvalue their femininity, meaning that they can only exist through their being feminine — which, as regards my own experience of the people I’ve met, I found to be true.

    Concerning your post more generally, it made me think of two things. First one, this British author, I forgot who it was, who was horrified when he saw his wife’s woman parts for the first time on their wedding night… No one had told him what it looked like, and he swore never to touch a woman again.
    Second one, the story of Gisèle Halimi, French feminist lawyer, who grew up in Tunisia. She wrote that when she had her first periods, more than 50 years ago, her mother taught her how to wash the reusable pads by night and hang them to dry in a secret place that the men of the family didn’t know about. She also wrote that when her grandma was menstruating she used to sleep at the other end of the grandparents’ room, on a mat, while the grandfather had the bed all to himself. (The book is La Cause des femmes, and I have no idea if it’s ever been translated into English.)
    So yes, I think we’ve come a long way. It’s important that we talk about menstruation, and realize that though it’s not the most wonderful thing about being a woman, there’s nothing dirty about it. It’s definitely a feminist subject.

  • Gabrielle @ at 6:09 am, August 10th, 2010

    You could at least try to remember that some trans men do menstruate. It would be nice if we trans people weren’t erased in every single feminist article written.

  • The Raisin Girl @ at 8:54 am, August 10th, 2010

    @O’Phylia: Nope, men don’t have a time of the month. However, they do go through the same kind of cyclical process tied to reproduction and hormone balances. And they go through it…

    drum roll, please…

    Once A Day. Yup, that’s right. They may not bleed, but they most definitely go through the hormonal changes that cause mood swings, weird food cravings, etc, in women around that time of month. Some scientists theorize that most men experience what we would call PMS during the early morning hours, sometime between 1 and 3 a.m., and that this is a contributing factor in the amount of violent crimes that take place during those hours.

    So, if men COULD menstruate, they’d be doing it once a day! Who’d be in power then? Not the men. If any of them were like I am, they’d be curled up in a useless ball for 1/4 of every single day, full of twice the normal dose of ibuprofen and still waiting for the cramps to stop.

  • O'Phylia @ at 11:30 am, August 10th, 2010

    Hmm… maybe they should make Midol for Men. Can’t you just imagine how they would market that?

  • KS @ at 4:29 pm, August 10th, 2010

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Jade: I’m definitely going to check them out. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Gabrielle: The omission comes from my ignorance. I am not familiar at all when it comes to the subject of trans… Would love to learn more, though. Any suggestions as to where to start?

    KS

  • Niamh @ at 1:09 am, August 11th, 2010

    One of my guilty pleasures on YouTube is “What’s in my bag?” videos. Basically, a YouTuber (usually a female) films a video of what’s in their purse, school bag, beach bag, whatever! It sounds materialistic, but for some reason, it’s just addicting. On to my point… I’ve begun to notice that every single woman who does this videos always goes “oops” or “shouldn’t have show that on camera” when they pull out their pads/liners/tampons that they keep in their purse.

    Why? The majority of people watching these videos are women. Why are feminine products something to hide in a female-only environment? Why are they something to hide in any environment?

  • Steph @ at 2:12 am, August 11th, 2010

    @Gabrielle: nice catch! I’m so used to background-noise level…not transphobia, but trans-ignorance? That’s not a word, but do you get the concept?(another reason I disagree sometimes with the importance we place on words, but that’s for a completely different time)… that I experience daily that I miss calling it out when I come online to relax. Plus I tend to expect the best out of people’s intentions, which for some reason life hasn’t beaten out of me yet.

  • blakerivers @ at 6:12 am, August 14th, 2010

    RE: Niamh, Heather Aurelia, Jade

    Yes, for the examples that you listed, it is absolutely necessary that men be as educated about female health as women are, and vice versa. Ignorance (whether due to shame, stigma, religion, or whatever) can only lead to problems. It is completely ridiculous that men have these adverse reactions to normal female anatomical functions.

    We must alter society via co-education & acceptance so that a boy is just as comfortable taking care of his pet lizard as he is familiar with female biology. Only this way will it be possible for shame and stigma to become things of the past.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) I have been spared some of these embarrassing moments, and so I didn’t fully realize until I was older how much worse things can be for some women.

    Gabrielle – Unfortunately FTM transmen occur at such a low frequency that it does not significantly influence the attitudes of the male population as a whole. Thus, men could still learn quite a bit from being in a FTM menstruation situation. It would be good, perhaps, for more conversations of this nature to open up so that menstruation and masculinity no longer have to be seen as mutually exclusive. Education!!!

  • Anna @ at 5:03 am, August 16th, 2010

    Stop using tampons! And pads and liners, and douches and all those products that are marketed to make you feel dirty and wrong.

    Tampons and pads are whitened with bleaches containing dioxin. Dioxin is rated by the EPA as one of the most toxic chemicals on the consumer market. And we put them in the most absorbent part of our body!

    Upon learning this I started looking into other options, outside of bleeding down my leg every month, and discovered some stuff that has made my period nearly dreamy.

    The first thing I found was the good old cloth pad. Lots of people make them, mostly small businesses run by women. They are healthy comfortable, easy to wash, and they last around 5 years.

    The second thing I found and my personal favorite is the Diva Cup (there are other brands to I just don’t know the names). It is basically like a reusable tampon. A little rubber cup you put in your vagina and empty out like in the morning and evening or however often. Its amazing. I completely forget about my period when I’m using it. I never realized how annoying dealing with all those disposables was. And these cups last 10 years!

    Think about how much money you spend on tampons every month. And how much waist they produce.

    I was really surprised by how these other options really made me feel better and empowered about my period.

    Oh and you can give your plants the period blood. They love it

  • KS @ at 11:56 am, August 16th, 2010

    @Ana:

    That is FUCKING FASCINATING. I had no idea those things existed…I knew that most “hygiene products” were not as sanitary as they marketed it to be, but I did not know that other options were existent. Do you have any links I can look into?

    KS

  • Anna @ at 12:22 am, August 23rd, 2010

    I just found mine at my local co-op, but if you don’t have a place like that in your town, most corporate groceries won’t carry them. Here’s some links to get them on-line. I’ve always used the Diva Cup v.s. the Keeper cause its see through and easier to clean. And I have Lunapads which work great, but the New Moon Pad is a small mother owned business based out of Portland (I think).
    It’s all kind of pricey when you first get a look at it, but when you think about how expensive pads and tampons are and how often you buy them it pays for itself real quick.

    http://lunapads.com/

    http://www.divacup.com/

    http://www.keeper.com/

    http://www.newmoonpads.com/home.html

  • Anna @ at 12:25 am, August 23rd, 2010

    FYI:
    If I had to pick between cloth pad or diva cup I would definitely choose Diva Cup. You have to be pretty comfortable with your vagina, but its really not that different from using one of those O.B. tampons

  • Jennifer Drew @ at 4:13 pm, October 11th, 2010

    In a world where men could menstruate, according to Steinem, hygiene products would be easily accessible, and I believe that such convenience includes at least one trash bin in every existing bathroom of the Planet Earth. In the real world, however, where only women menstruate, our bodies are inferior: periods smell bad, vaginas look weird, and disposing female hygiene products on a yacht is apparently prohibited. And the world we live in will continue until there is no rape. No FGM. No battered women.

    Hygiene products ARE easily accessible aren’t they? They’re normally bought at chemists & supermarkets. Trash bins ARE in most bathrooms aren’t they?

    Vaginas look weird? No more “weird” ( whatever that means ) than penises. Female bodies are “inferior”? Says who & why?

    Periods smell bad? So does shit, urine, vomit & sweat.

    What does the availability of sanitary towels & bins have to do with rape & battery?

    What you are suggesting is that, if it were men who menstruated, then there would be sanitary towels & bins for them in EVERY bathroom EVERYWHERE. Have you ever been in a man’s bathroom? Compared to women’s bathrooms they are decidely under equipped & far less pleasant to use…So the argument that men cater for themselves fails I’m afraid.

    As it is women who menstruate then it naturally follows that women should be pro active in making sure there are adequate facilities.

    As for disallowing sanitary towels on yachts…is this a prejudicial step against women or simply a hygiene rule LIKE ANY OTHER?

    Yes, I’m afraid you’re simply playing the feminist “if men had” game. Men don’t have periods, therefore men DON’T CARE about periods, right? Therefore men don’t care about women in general…therefore they rape & beat women in general.

    If your argument was not so pitifully simple to destroy then your conclusions would be offensive…as it is they are simply risible.

  • Jennifer Drew @ at 4:22 pm, October 11th, 2010

    “Anna @ at 5:03 am, August 16th, 2010

    Stop using tampons! And pads and liners, and douches and all those products that are marketed to make you feel dirty and wrong.”

    No, they are marketed to make money, just as cheap toilet paper is. The sanitary product industry is interested in making money not in making menstruating women feel “dirty & wrong”. Disposable nappies are not marketed to “make babies feel bad”, they are sold to make a profit. Any idiot knows about using natural products…the fact that most people do not use them is because they are too lazy, too ignorant or just too disinterested to care about the environmental damage that cheap disposable hygiene products do…there’s no anti women conspiracy in the sanitary towel industry I’m afraid, but there’s plenty of ignorant women about who use their products.

  • Jennifer Drew @ at 4:58 pm, October 11th, 2010

    “…it is absolutely necessary that men be as educated about female health as women are, and vice versa. Ignorance (whether due to shame, stigma, religion, or whatever) can only lead to problems. It is completely ridiculous that men have these adverse reactions to normal female anatomical functions.

    We must alter society via co-education & acceptance so that a boy is just as comfortable taking care of his pet lizard as he is familiar with female biology. Only this way will it be possible for shame and stigma to become things of the past.”

    You’re neglecting to mention that men & boys are AS IGNORANT & UNCOMFORTABLE with their OWN bodily functions as they are with women menstruating.

    Men’s hygiene facilities in public toilets are often APPALLING. Men are far less likely than women to be concerned about their health & are given far less information, support & guidance. Do you not consider men’s OWN health to be of a more pressing concern to men in general than being taught about menstruation?

    Once society pays an equal amount of attention to men’s health issues, maybe Steinem’s arguments might carry some weight. Sanitary towels are easy enough to buy & dispose of…I doubt that the average woman is too preoccupied with “what men would do” were they the gender that menstruated, just as I doubt that puerile jokes & ignorant comments from men re menstruation is not water off a duck’s back to them.

    Women joke all the time about men’s genitals…their size, lack of performance, doing a “Bobbit”…genital mutilation is just a joke as far as many women are concerned. I wouldn’t sweat too much over what men think about menstruation because I’m here to tell you that men don’t give it much thought…they consider it “women’s business” & most women consider it “women’s business” too. You’ll find that it’s only feminist intellectuals who riff on the subject, not because they’re pissed that there aren’t enough waste bins, but because it gives them something to write about…would someone who was genuinely concerned about how menstruation effects women be thinking about “what would happen if men menstruated”?

    Genuine health concerns cease to become so if you reduce them to an intellectual conceit. If you want men “onside” re women’s health, it’s possibly best to not make them feel as if they don’t care about women’s health…believe or not, most men DO care about women’s health & don’t relish in the fact that they’re unable to menstruate.

  • Katie @ at 10:45 pm, December 2nd, 2010

    The world sucks. Dear Jennifer Drew, you are a perfect example of sociatal flaws. Why does anyone spend their time writing 3 large exerpts about the wrongs in an article? This article is simply an opinion. YOU do not have to agree. Being respectful of the opinions of others is the mature thing to do. Now go home and watch Bill O’Riley and Glenn Beck on FoxNews; they will most likely give you ideas on how to write your current novel you have going.

    To the author, this was interesting to read. I thank you for your motivation and activism; it is relieving to know that there are other women out there who believe themselves to be equal to men. There shouldn’t be double standards, but there are. The only way to rid our society of these double standards is by ignoring them and doing what we want to do. Reproductive parts are “weird” looking in general, but we all love them. Period blood stinks just as any other bodily fluid does. But i think we can all agree that semen is a lot more disgusting; it comes from the urethra; meaning it shares an exit with urine. DISGUSTING.

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