Friday, 29 May 2009

i love gloria steinem!

that's it, i love her.
she's an amazing woman.

i am also at the moment enjoying ariel levy's female chauvinist pigs. that book explains so much in such a rational and wonderful way.

last night we had a Bristol Feminist Network meeting about body image. when i left, i felt like i was walking on air. there was such a wonderful energy in the room, as this group of women, most of whom didn't know each other, shared their throughts and feelings on this personal topic. we talked about why we felt the way we did about our bodies, what had influenced these feelings and what we could do to change our negative conceptions.

sitting at BFN, i realise how stories about how women can't be close, how we backstab and bitch and are catty to one another are just another way to keep women down and divided. yet, in this room together, we were so strong, i felt like we could do anything.

it was real sisterhood.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

me and my mooncup!

Me and My Mooncup

It all started with a vague feeling of unease and a lack of change in my purse. Ever since I got the first spots of blood when I was 14, I had had really heavy periods. The kind that made me feel like an embarrassed teenager, plagued by a week of the month where I would be in excruciating pain, constantly having to go to the bathroom, and getting through a packet of tampons a month. My periods made my teenage years a constant, unsettled, nightmare. I couldn't believe or understand why my body, which I had enough issues about anyway, had become this monster that insisted on interrupting my month. Indulging in the melodrama I was so fond of as a teenager, I mourned my years of comfort and youth, and decided that the rest of my life would be ruined by “the curse” that I had been taught to be embarrassed about.

By the time I hit 23, my periods were still heavy, however they weren't monstrous any more. Like most women I had grown up out of my teens to see my periods as something that are just part of life, rather than this unfair imposition that I didn't want to think about. I even began to learn about how my periods were important to me as a woman, how they weren't the curse or a punishment, they were a part of me and my existence that should be recognised and celebrated. I also calculated that since that day back when I was 14, I had spent around £300 on tampons.
£300 might not sound like a lot of money, but considering this was just after 9 years of having a period, and I potentially had another 25 years of having a period to go, the sums add up. It seemed ridiculous to me that I had to spend so much money on something that I needed to buy, to own, in order to live my life in a normal and easy way, to allow me to go out and about and to work and not be cloistered in my home, worried about blood.

I was also increasingly concerned about the waste that I was creating through my dependence on a pack of tampons a month, not to mention pantie liners and towels, and tissue paper. Living in this time where we sort our rubbish obsessively and concern ourselves with the waste in landfills and litter on the beaches, I was consistently unnerved by the thought of the amount I was wasting, and that no matter how furiously I recycled and no matter how much I read up on climate change, I was being forced to help build up the piles of waste that were harming our environment. By using tampons and the rest of the range of “sanitary protection” out there, I was being forced to contribute to the mountains of waste that I spent the rest of my life trying to avoid.

“Forced” may seem a strong word to use. But that was the primary emotion I had. No one told me that I didn't have to use tampons and disposable methods every month. There was no information available to me when I was at school saying that there are alternatives to tampons. In fact, women's dependence on the two major methods of “sanitary protection” is so ingrained in our culture that most school girls are visited at the ages of 12 and 15 by a sales woman from one of the leading tampon brands, offering a brief education on your period and a talk on how to use tampons. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing else out there. It was tampons or staying in doors.

The last straw came when I read about toxic shock syndrome, and the practice of using bleach in “sanitary protection” to make it look clean and white. I'd had enough.
The bombshell came at the age of 23, when I read about the mooncup. The mooncup – also known as a keeper or menstrual cup, is a small silicon cup that you insert inside you to catch your blood, empty and rinse as it fills, and then use again. And again the next month, and again the next. I felt like a door was opening to me. Here was a solution to all the concerns and niggles that I had been thinking about for the previous few years. The mooncup was a one off cost, removing the financial burden of constantly restocking on tampons. It was re-usable, solving the problem of excessive waste. And it was made of organic silcon – removing the unease I felt about having bleach put into my tampons.

The journey with my mooncup began. Nervously holding it in my handbag, my heart racing against my chest, I felt like something momentous was about to happen. I was saying goodbye to my dependence on a system that I felt uncomfortable with, and I was beginning by taking control of my body, of my menstrual cycle, of my life. For 9 years I had felt controlled by the box of tampons on my dresser, beholden to an industry I didn't understand and who I felt didn't understand me. Now, I had this cup, and I was ready to take control.

As soon as I started wearing it, I felt a consciousness of elation. Walking down the street, moving around at work, cooking at home, I felt free. I had not expected this strength of emotion. My reasoning for buying the mooncup had been primarily economical, with concerns over health and the environment coming second. But making this change to how I approached my periods seemed to open up within me a new sense of personal freedom. Once a month my life was no longer governed by having to rush to a shop, scrape change together, faff around looking for a bin in male friends' bathrooms or flush used tampons down the toilet, whisper to girlfriends to ask if they have a spare. Instead, I carried my mooncup around with me, ready for when I needed it. And, when the time came, I could rinse it and wear it, until it needs rinsing again. After each month I sterilise it in hot salt water, pop it back in my purse and forget about it.

The mooncup does take time to get used to. Due to my near pathological hatred of my periods as a teen, removing, cleaning and emptying my mooncup was initially a challenge to me. However, after the first time, the experience changed me. I realised that my body, and my period was nothing to be nervous about or ashamed of. Emptying and rinsing the blood in my mooncup became as powerful an act to me as buying the cup in the first place. I was taking control of the my body, and learning about my body's processes. It was a moment of acceptance, a moment where I learned that my periods weren't icky or gross or a curse, but just my body's natural way of preparing for pregnancy, and cleaning out. By forcing me into contact with my period and my body's processes, my mooncup began to undo the lies we learn that periods are messy, annoying, shaming, secret and smelly.

I started to read about other forms of non disposable pads and catchers. There's the mooncup or keeper, my preferred method and excellent if you suffer from heavy periods. Some women use pads made of fabric that they can wash, or rags. Other women use sea sponges, which you can use for a few months in a row and are totally natural.

It would have been wonderful if when I had been at school, instead of the tampon sales lady taking us in to a separate room from the boys, we had been visited by a health expert who had talked me through all the different methods available. Someone who could have explained to me that I could choose between tampons, organic tampons, towels, mooncups, sponges, reusable pads or rags. That I didn't have to see my periods as something not to be spoken about in front of the boys in our class, that they are a natural process rather than “a curse” or something to hide. Imagine if instead of seeing adverts praising tampons for being so discreet they can be mistaken for sweet wrappers, we had adverts extolling the virtues of a range of safe, environmentally and women friendly products that don't view periods as shameful! If all women were told about the alternatives, it doesn't mean that all women would choose the mooncup or reusable methods. They might not suit all women, just as tampons don't suit all women. But it is important to know that there is a choice out there.

I've been using my mooncup for nearly two years now and I haven't looked back. Because the mooncup has given me the experience of feeling more at one with my body and more comfortable with my periods, I find having a period less painful and less irritating than I did before. I feel more comfortable and more at one with my cycle. I feel very happy that I have cut down on waste and spending money on a company that I don't believe have women's interests at heart.