Jumping On The Period Bandwagon

So, this morning I have been following links. And this continued until I reached a post entitled: “blaah owwww aughh fuck meee uurgh an overshare“. How could anybody not want to know what the hell that’s about?!

And I read it, and it is about periods. Specifically, really nasty periods. The kind of periods described are the ones that make me rather unhelpfully think “thank fuck that’s not me!”. The whole post is definitely worth a read, including the comments, which are hillarious. And true:

“The most popular narratives are about how periods are really no big deal (and have become even less of one since the writer started using menstrual cups/got in touch with her inner moon goddess/stopped eating hormone-laden meat)” – Colleen

So this is me, jumping on the bandwagon:

I don’t give a flying fuck about my inner moon goddess. And, given that I take the pill and am therefore not at all following my “moon cycle”, I don’t think she really cares about me, either. I also don’t give a flying fuck about using disposable pads and tampons. You know, I’m pretty big on recycling – to the intense irritation of my housemates, I might add. So yes, I’ll wash out my milk cartons and recycle my cardboard boxes and tins and so on and so forth… but I absolutely will not feel bad about not using cloth pads.

Why? Well, because tampons and disposable pads are just that – disposable. I can get rid of them quickly and easily. Also, I don’t think it’s a problem to flush a wad of blood-soaked cotton down the toilet. I have not blocked a toilet yet, and I reckon any toilet that can cope with excrement can cope with tampons. Pads of course go in the bin, because they are clearly not biodegradeable.

If I were to use cloth pads, I’d have two choices: either I’d have to wash them out, by hand, every day, or I’d have to leave them for up to two weeks until I did my regular wash in the laundrette. And you know, regardless of how clean menstrual fluid is when it leaves my body (and it is, in fact, pretty clean), after two weeks, that would smell. And I do not want my room to smell of old blood. Also, when I am on my period, the last thing I want to do is unnecessary washing. I don’t even want to do the washing up, for goodness sake! I’m lucky enough to have pretty light periods now that I’m on the pill, which means I no longer have that horrible pooling sensation when I wake up on the first day of my period. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most people reading this will know what I mean, but for those that don’t – it’s that feeling when you wake up that you’ve already bled over your pyjamas/ duvet/ sheet, that your thighs are covered in blood, and that, furthermore, the moment you stand up, it will gush. Because the only thing that’s stopped you bleeding more is gravity. And when you stand up, gravity will not be working in your favour.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t get that anymore. I don’t have to shuffle to the bathroom with my legs together and my bloodstained pyjamas sticking to me, hoping that I won’t encounter my father en route, I don’t have to wash my sheets three times in my period week, and I don’t have to try to rinse the blood out of said bloodstained pyjamas when I’m half-asleep and hurting. I don’t want to have to revisit those days, not even a little bit. So no, I don’t want to have to wash out cloth pads.


It occurs to me now that if ever I had a problem with feminism, this would be it: that we police each others’ moral standards. Well, I mean, apart from the rather unsavoury history of bigotry that has plagued feminism and causes some women to identify as womanists/ humanists instead. But seriously, what are we thinking?

What have we achieved if we get society to back the fuck off from the idea that all periods are icky, but at the cost of pretending that none of them are? What have we achieved if we get society to acknowledge that a woman’s choices are none of their damned business, only to create our own hierarchy of who is the “most feminist” based on what kind of period controls one uses?

Isn’t the point of feminism to understand that women are human, and complex, and different, and that one woman’s choice will not work for another, and that one woman’s inner moon goddess is another woman’s fairy tale? Don’t we know yet that we’re not, and shouldn’t aim to be, a hive mind?

And, while I’m on a roll, what’s up with treating women like they all have periods? What about the women that don’t? What kind of a message are they getting? Do they get to embrace their inner moon goddess too, or is that a privilege reserved for the women that bleed? Aren’t we just creating another hierarchy, one which places women who bleed above women who don’t? And why? Is it coincidence that these discussions are prioritising women who show signs of being able to concieve? This, to me, is a pretty fucking uncomfortable thing to think.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be talking about periods. I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t be challenging the notion that periods are icky because they’re a woman thing. I am saying that we need to think about who our period discussions are including, and who they’re leaving behind, whether that’s women who have periods that don’t conform to the comforting “oh, periods aren’t that bad really” narrative, or whether that’s women who don’t have them at all.

Something I’ve learned is that we can all be blinkered, and insular, and yes, privileged, no matter what privileges we don’t have, no matter how much we’ve learned. And if we want to gain allies, and if we want to avoid alienating people, we need to be asking ourselves uncomfortable questions. And then we need to be doing something about it.

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Period Time

On a list of Things Which Are Not A Good Idea To Say:


Me: It’s strange, because it’s Monday now and I don’t have any signs of an impending period. And I normally get it on Tuesdays.

*pause*

Me: I shouldn’t have said that. That just means I’ll get the pain, the excess emotions and the blood, all at once.

*pause*

Me: Tomorrow is not going to be a good day.


Tuesday, of course, was yesterday. True to my prediction, I had everything, all at once, including ravenous hunger. Today is better, but this week is going to be pretty damned tiring.

In related news, I’ve been reading The Woman In The Body. It has some incredibly interesting things to say on the subject of periods, like the way that medical “wisdom” treats them as a form of “failed production”.

To paraphrase Emily Martin’s work, her point is that metaphors have been developed that treat the human body as a kind of factory system – the brain “sends signals” to other parts of the body, like a manager, and those other parts respond, as workers. In terms of the uterus, the “product” is seen to be a sucessful pregnancy, and periods are therefore seen as a failure to produce. She quotes from medical textbooks to underline this idea:

“Given this teleological interpretation of the increased amount of endometrial tissue, it should be no surprise that when a fertilized egg does not implant, these texts describe the next event in very negative terms. The fall in blood progesteron and estrogen “deprives” the “highly developed endometrial lining of its hormonal support,” “constriction” of blood vessels leads to a “diminished” supply of oxygen and nutrients, and finally, “disintegration starts, the entire lining begins to slough, and the menstrual flow begins”. Blood vessels in the endometrium “hemorrhage” and the menstrual flow “consists of this blood mixed with endometrial debris.””


Looking back over the descriptions – “deprive”, “constriction”, “diminish”, “disintegration”, “slough”, “hemorrhage”,”debris” – actually makes me angry.

Now, speaking personally, my period, frustrating though it is, is nevertheless a good thing, signifying as it does that I am not pregnant.

Actually, I’d go further, and say that even if every woman, at some point in her life, actively tried to get pregnant, she would be unlikely to do so for over half of her reproductive years, and therefore, it is likely that, for the most part, women in general will see the arrival of their period as a good thing.

So where is that, in medical descriptions?

Where is the idea that, far from being a “failure”, the occurence of a period is actually more likely, generally speaking, to be seen as a “sucess”?


I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to have my ideas about periods challenged in that way when I read the book.And I’m finding it quite hard now to wrap my head around the idea that what I have been led to believe to be objectively true, is in fact extremely negative and unhelpful.

But having been challenged, there’s only one description of a period that I think I now want to embrace, which is something that one of the women in the study said; asked to explain why women bleed, she replied, “to clean out your insides”.


Vagina Monologues: So Much More Exciting Than Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day: raises money for Clinton Cards and jewellery companies.

Vagina Monologues: raises money for women’s organisations. Spawned the V-Day movement.


Which is why I’ve persuaded Lee that we needed to get tickets to see Jenny Eclair et al shouting “cunt”, having orgasms and generally pissing about. Yay for friends that you can go to the theatre with! Especially now that the Fems isn’t a weekly thing for him anymore.

I shall of course report in later, probably with a somewhat garbled account involving frequent mentions of the name “Bob”. This will be the second time I’ve seen it. And Sam, who was with me the first time, bought me the script for my birthday. One day, maybe I shall perform it, astounding my old drama teacher, who told me – harshly but fairly – that although I could possibly be a director in a group of my choosing, I was not a good actor. Of course, that was back in the days when a group of sixth-formers performed The Vagina Monologues, which students in our all-girls school were banned from going to if they were under sixteen. Now I’ve seen it, I understand that some of the monologues could be pretty unnerving for a sheltered middle-class thirteen year-old. But at the time, I remember being very indignant, on the grounds that I had a vagina, so why the hell couldn’t I see a play about it?!

Perhaps it is this kind of thing that makes me so enthusiastic about a) decent sex education and b) The Vagina Monologues!


Why Don’t You Care…?

Since I’ve moved up to Sheffield, I’ve been doing the meet-and-greet thing a hell of a lot. So I’ve started to get questions that either I’ve never had to deal with before, or that I just haven’t heard in years.
And what I’ve noticed is that they all follow the same pattern – “why don’t you care….. ?”
So, there’s been:

…. that your legs are hairy, and don’t you know that’s disgusting?
…. about God?
…. about makeup?
…. that you’re not going out all the time?
….that not every parent is letting their daughter have the HPV vaccine?

Doesn’t it say a lot, though, that the one that generated the most acrimony was the first one?
Seriously, the looks of horror were almost frightening. But, you know what? I don’t care because it doesn’t matter!

– It doesn’t matter that my legs are hairy, precisely because I don’t mind. I don’t feel any less for having hair where it’s perfectly normal to have hair. Actually, I’ve got quite competitive, and was disappointed to realise that my leg hair is never going to be as long as J’s.
One of my answers to the question was “I decided that I wouldn’t shave my legs for as long as J didn’t shave his. He can’t be bothered, so I haven’t.”
Predictably enough, this generated a huge chasm of double-think, that I was simply unable to bridge. “But… but… he’s a man – it doesn’t matter for him!”. Exactly. It doesn’t matter for him. His leg hair doesn’t repulse anybody. Why should mine?

– Let’s just not get started on God. I don’t care, because the presence or absence of God doesn’t get me up in the mornings. I’ve got a life to live.

– The makeup’s a difficult one. In a way, I suppose it comes back to the leg hair double-think. It doesn’t matter for him; why should it matter for me?
More practically, I don’t care about makeup because I’d rather spend the money on food, or soap, or books. I don’t care about makeup because I’d rather have an extra cup of tea in the morning than try to cover my face in chemicals. And I don’t care about makeup because I was lucky enough to never really start using it. If I had started, maybe I’d’ve carried on. But it seems a bit silly to start now, after the spotty-teenager phase.

-The HPV vaccine thing?
(Be warned, I’m going to get cross. And I’m going to talk. A lot.)

Ok, first off, it doesn’t prevent all cervical cancer. I’ll say it again.
The HPV vaccine does not prevent all cervical cancer.
Moreover, not all people who have HPV have it develop into cancer.
There is a risk that HPV will lead to cervical cancer. A risk is not a certainty.

Any vaccine carries some health risks with it. Therefore, the decision to have a vaccine requires a weighing-up of those risks. It may be that there are very few risks, or that they will only be minor risks. But jamming a needle into your flesh and injecting yourself with a vaccination will always carry some risk, even if it’s just that you might get a localised infection. Or a numb arm.

My Statistics lecturer would love me for this – I’ve just been to the Office of National Statistics website to see what I could drum up.
Let me say now that I’m not any kind of decent statistician, yet. I couldn’t conduct a proper research survey alone, and I didn’t understand all of the terms used in the statistics I found. But I have had some training, which is better than none.

And what I’ve found actually isn’t very hard to understand.
The most recent statistics for mortality rates of cancer in the UK are from the period 2002 – 2004, with averages taken over these three years.

For women, cervical cancer is 13th on the list of common cancers. This actually isn’t very common.

A quick look at lung cancer (the most common cancer for both men and women) shows that:
In the time period 2002 – 2004, an average of 15,355 women were diagnosed with lung cancer each year, and 13,505 died.

Compare this with cervical cancer:
In the time period 2002 – 2004, an average of 2,784 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 1,106 died.

Which means that I, as a woman, am over ten times more likely to die from lung cancer than I am to die from cervical cancer.

Or, put another way, in a population of 1,000,000, 28 women will die from cervical cancer each year.

Frankly, I like those odds. They are not large. They’re not zero, and clearly some women do die from cervical cancer, but, you know, if I don’t want to die from cancer, I’d be better off (according to the statistics at least) by making sure that I don’t smoke and check my breasts regularly. Oh, and by not being genetically predisposed to developing cancer. That would help.

So if some parents don’t want their daughters to have this vaccine, I’m actually not too worried.
At least, I’m not worried about this as a stand-alone statement.

I am worried if the reasoning behind it is “… because then my daughter will be a promiscuous slut and God will hate her”. This is quite clearly nonsense, and I’m not one for having choices taken away from women in general. Especially not because of the great Bearded One in the sky.

But if the reasoning behind it is, “I’ve explained to my daughter what the risks are, and asked her whether she wants the vaccine, and she’s said no” then no, I don’t mind.
I especially don’t mind if they also point out that if she wants to change her mind about it, it would be best to do so before she becomes sexually active.

I wish people actually looked at statistics once in a while. They might be shocked at what cheap tricks the media pulls when they use statistics as soundbites.

Oh – and have links:
Statistics all taken from here.
If you really want to get specific, try this.
Useful information on the HPV vaccine is here.
A discussion of when parents are God-bothering to the extent of not giving their daughters any kind of choice, here.


News From Sheffield

1) I mainly like my new doctors’ surgery.
For one thing, they’ve moved with the times and you can book an appointment at any time of day or night online or on their automated phone system, unlike my old surgery, who would only give appointments to people who rang on the day, at 8:40 AM, and kept ringing until they got an answer.
The new people have lots of nice leaflets, a pharmacy right next door and are generally shiny and wonderful. Even the doctor I saw was a very nice woman. And she gave me my pills with no fuss at all.
On the other hand, she also looked me up and down before saying “and it looks like you’re taking good care of yourself”. I slightly let her off because she was checking my blood pressure at the time so she might possibly have been referring to that. But then again she might have been referring to the fact that, due to my genes, I’ve escaped the Obesity Crisis TM. So I’m a little cross about that, because as we all know, there is no known way to make slim people fat.
(Thanks to Shapely Prose, by the way.)

2) I’ve found the Sheffield Fems!!!
This is a good thing and means I might get to meet Laura Woodhouse, who to me (being a baby blogger and all) seems almost like a celebrity. Except cooler.
Also, they meet in an old-man pub. I’m not sure why I like this, other than the fact that I might actually be able to hear them.

3) I’m feeling generally rather more aware of being feminist.
Partly because of (2) and partly because I keep getting flyers for things like “Sk00l Disco!!!“.


This is not a good thing as it means I then stomp around the flat, muttering darkly about flashing my breasts for free drinks.
Oh, and the boys on the ground floor have put up a “hot or not” wall. I was not impressed.
And people keep refering to female students as “girls”. We’re all over 18, dammit! Call us ladies if you have to refer to us like that, or otherwise STFU.

4) During Fresher’s Fair, I got a few bazillion leaflets about Teh Sex. I even got a couple of condoms. But despite talking to the lovely people at the LGBT stall, I have found no dental dams.
In fact, the only place I’ve even found them for sale (in real life) is Amora in London.
Maybe it’s because they’re seen as a thing that only lesbians need use, or maybe they’re just not seen at all. But really, even if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, you might feel the need for them. Perhaps we all need to be better educated?
On a somewhat related note, in one of the many packets of freebies, I was presented with a condom and a packet of ketchup. I am now hoping like crazy that nobody gets drunk and mistakes the ketchup for lube. Because that could be painful.

Anyway, but in general I’m settling in and am fairly cheerful. And I’m actually quite enjoying the challenge of cooking with one small saucepan and a wok. My flatmates are getting used to me chatting about feminist things, and have taken my crazy metal side in their stride (there’s an indie/ metal night on every Thursday, and they were initially a bit surprised to see me demonstrate the finer points of Gothic Dancing. My personal favourite is the move called Kick The Evil Hobbit, which involves holding both arms out at about waist-level, the better to hold on to the Hobbit’s ears, and kicking!)

Oh, and I’ve found a new saying. Sheffield being so hilly, I’ve heard many, many variations of
“I walked 5 miles to school and back, uphill both ways“!


A Chef In Men’s Clothing

Actually, this post is only going to be a little bit about chefs.

It is, however, going to have a fair amount to say on the subject of clothing, male or otherwise.

When the Little Chef joined our merry band back in January, I was asked to order her chef’s whites – the jackets, trousers, aprons and hats that we give to every new starter. So I dutifully called the laundry company and requested said items.
There might be a bit of a delay, I was told, because “we don’t do any jackets that small – we’ll have to get them made up specially.”
There was indeed a delay; two months’ worth. When the whites eventually arrived…. let’s just say, the pattern that the suppliers were following wasn’t brilliant.
I had explained patiently that the new starter was, in fact, a woman! but sadly this fact appeared to have gone unnoticed. The jackets were cut straight, all the way down. And they were long.
The Little Chef stands approximately 5′ tall. Which the laundry company should have inferred from the fact that I had to get her trouser legs shortened by a good 7″.
The jackets were long enough to completely cover her arse, which she was grateful for – but not wide enough around her female hips to be able to button all the way down. I don’t think she was particularly grateful for that.

There has been a fair amount of speculation in some areas as to why the lacy, feminine, floral, floaty things are back in fashion. My personal take on the matter is that fashion designers are evil, vindictive jokers, cackling to themselves as they design the next vision of hideousness that they will be forcing upon the foolishly unsuspecting masses. According to most other sources I’ve glimpsed, feminine is back because feminism [has won/ is dead], depending on where you go.

Yeah. So you tell me, how can feminism have won, how can women claim to be equal, if the Little Chef can’t even get a jacket that fits – because they don’t make mens’ jackets that small. Because of course a woman can’t be present in a restaurant kitchen – her place is in the home!

Continuing the work theme, I will once again be courting disapproving looks from my manager*, as I have now filched two mens’ shirts for my own use. There weren’t any more “size 14s” (which, by the way, are ridiculously mislabeled – these shirts strain over my breasts, and I am usually a comfortable, slightly loose size 12).
This manager really does seem to have a thing about womens’ clothing. Not because he’s a perv; as far as I know, he’s gay, and not interested in our bodies, per se. But he always, always buys tight clothes for us.
He’s bought one suit (a skirt and jacket combo) for the cleaning manager, and is reluctant to buy any more, despite the facts that a) you need more than one set of work clothes and b) she has to bend over and doesn’t like the bloody skirt.
He’s bought shirts in a “size 6” for the girl who requested a size 8 only because she was aware the event required shirts to be tight; both he and she are aware she usually takes a size 10. And bear in mind that these “size 6” shirts came from the company that seems to mislabel all of its clothes to make them appear tighter…
He’s now bought shirts for us all that are cut very short – the hem sits at the top of the hips, which means that if you have breasts, reach upwards, or both, the hem rides up, exposing one’s stomach. Which is not what I come to work to do, funnily enough.

So, once again, I’ve taken matters into my own hands, and have liberated two mens’ shirts for myself. I’m sure it’s just coincidence that the male shirts are much, much longer than the female shirts – I mean, we all know that men are shaped in a way that means their shirts will ride up….

And, on a final note, I would like to reiterate that wearing a low-cut, strappy top because it’s hot and sunny and I want to stay cool and comfortable is not asking for trouble.
No, really, I know it’s difficult to grasp, but – I didn’t wear this top because I wanted to get harrassed.
I didn’t wear the hoodie because I wanted to get harrassed, either.
Or the T-shirt.
Or the jacket.
Or the bright pink shirt.
Or….
You take my point.

I wore those things because they’re my fucking clothes, dammit! I wore them because they were comfortable. That’s why. And I don’t look for trouble.
So there!

*completely off-topic, I am also a little annoyed because my manager plainly didn’t give a shit about my request that, as we celebrate every other damned theme day, perhaps we could celebrate a woman-themed day, and show The Vagina Monologues.
Dammit, where does he think he came from?! Can’t he celebrate that?
(Even if Kirsten doesn’t!)


Just Quickly…

…. The Apprentice.
Bloody awful, curiously addictive TV series in which a group of eight men and eight women compete for a 6-figure salary working for Sir Alan Sugar, entrepeneur extraordinaire.

Split, for competition’s sake, into two teams.

The ‘Girl’s Team’, and
The ‘Boy’s Team’.

It’s a small thing, I know, but really? Does it have to be this way?

These people are all of ‘management’ stock, meaning that realistically, they’re power-hungry egomaniacs without a clue of what happens in the real world. However.
This doesn’t mean that they should be infantalised, for goodness’ sake.

Can’t we call them ‘men’ and ‘women’?

….. Our “fruit of the week” report that we receive from our fruit and veg suppliers at work was yesterday extolling the virtues of a particular type of orange.

Apparently, men need it because there is a vitamin in it which, and I quote, “helps to flex muscles”.
Oh, and pregnant women need it because it’s good for your folic acid intake. Or something.

So I got the chef to edit that bit before we used it. Because, you know, women have muscles too. At least, I hope like hell we do, otherwise how do those babies get out??

….. I have shocked Evil Porter to the core. But he started it; he came to sit with me at breakfast and asked me if I was Christian…..!