Monday, April 25, 2016

"Feminine Products".

No, that title is not a typo. It comes from a real sign that I came across in a unisex bathroom at a winery this weekend in Amador County:

This sign was in addition to another one warning patrons not to flush said “feminine products” but instead to deposit them in the appropriately labeled receptacle. While the flush versus not-to-flush debate can be saved for another day, it takes a special level of condescension to see these signs posted over and over and over again. Women get it. I would hazard a guess that most women understand how plumbing works better than most men posting these signs understand women’s biology.

And that’s where the heart of the problem lies. As the incomparable Amy Schumer so perfectly pilloried last week on her show in the well-worth watching Dr. Congress skit, many men react to any mention of the “lady curse” with an automatic “ew.”

Much like Sonja discussed last week in her post on the medical profession’s relative inattention to heart attack risks for women, the level of national conversation on women’s health issues has a very different tone than other health issues – especially when it comes to menstruation.

This is slowly changing. Pop culture is beginning to embrace the fact that this is a natural occurrence on a roughly monthly basis for half of the population. Broad City has had not one, but two straight episodes dealing with menstruation (the genius use of “period pants” to avoid being searched for drugs at the airport, and then an epic search for a tampon on the subsequent international flight).

Kiran Ghandi, a drummer for MIA and a Harvard MBA student, ran last year’s London Marathon while on her period without a tampon. She proudly proclaimed her intent to highlight period-shaming and to raise awareness for the millions of women who do not have access to tampons and other basic necessities. The Internet being what it is, reaction was mixed – but there was a tremendous out-cry of support and solidarity that largely overwhelmed the negative reactions. Kiran put it perfectly when she defended her decision from the critics who labeled her “disgusting”: “You see, culture is happy to speak about and objectify the parts of the body that can be sexually consumed by others. But the moment we talk about something that is not for the enjoyment of others, like a period, everyone becomes deeply uncomfortable... Women's bodies don't exist for public consumption.”

I am optimistic that feminist heroes like Kiran Ghandi, Amy Schumer, and Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson will continue to push the national conversation on women’s health into a more body-positive direction. Here’s hoping that this will also result in fewer condescending signs telling women what to do with our “feminine products.”

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