Sarah.of.a.lesser.god and I want to give a special shout-out to Rachel Kauder Nalebuff and her recently published anthology My Little Red Book, a collection of personal testimonials by writerly ladies–including Gloria Steinem, Erica Jong, Megan McCafferty and Jill Bialosky–about that splendid rite of womanly passage: getting your period. All profits from the book are donated to charities promoting women’s health and education.
By turns funny, poignant, thought-provoking and enlightening–especially about different cultural attitudes towards menstruation–we give My Little Red Book two enthusiastic harpy thumbs (well, wings) up. It’s even more impressive since Rachel is a young ‘un, taking a gap year before enrolling in Yale.
Rachel says: “Ultimately, My Little Red Book is more than a collection of stories. It is a call for a change in attitude, for a new way of seeing periods. In a time when the taboo around menstruation seems to be one of the few left standing, it makes a difficult subject easier to talk about, and helps girls feel proud instead of embarrassed or ashamed. By revealing what it feels like to undergo this experience first hand, and giving women the chance to explain their feelings in their own words, it aims to provide support, entertainment, and a starting point for discussion for mothers and daughters everywhere.”
That got me and Sarah to thinking–and talking–about our mothers, ourselves and our periods:
BeckySharper: Did you feel embarrassed or “taboo” when you got your period? I don’t remember that at all. I was just pleased that I had caught up with my sister, who is two years older than me and used to lord her maturity over me by ending every argument with “well, at least I’m a WOMAN!
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: I think there is still a taboo in mainstream American culture, although it does not approach what it can be in other cultures like Hasidic Judaism. But stores still use that wonderful euphemism “feminine hygiene” to direct women to the (*gasp*) tampons and pads, and then there is that mysterious and slightly menacing blue liquid in pad commercials — because God forbid we actually mention what goes into or comes out of a woman’s vagina. So while it may not be explicitly dubbed unclean, menstruation is perhaps the last frontier of bodily functions to be discussed in so-called polite company. Think of how many jokes about excrement are made in puerile movies like “Austin Powers”. Can you imagine the audience reaction if Mike Myers’ character had accidentally imbibed menstrual blood instead of fecal matter? My guess is most of the audience would run screaming for the exits.
BeckySharper: Eww! K thx for putting that image in my mind! Although I’m surprised they haven’t done that in the American Pie movies, because they’ve consumed nearly every other type of excreta in those films.
I guess that brings us to the burning question: tampons or pads?
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: Until about four years ago. I was incredibly skittish about putting anything in myself, which is a whole separate issue. I never thought of pads as messy until, after using tampons, they seemed bulky and cumbersome in retrospect. It’s like how AOL dial-up seemed so high-tech in 1995 but after using WiFi you remember how much dial-up truly sucked. That’s how I feel now about pads after using tampons.
BeckySharper: I started using tampons when I was 12–we were a totally body-casual feminist household and my mom gave me a box of OBs, the kind you have to stick up there with your fingers. It…ahem…took a couple tries to get it right, but I was completely cool with it. But I was surprised to discover that most of my friends didn’t use tampons. I had a lot of Latino and Vietnamese friends whose parents absolutely forbade tampons and told them they wouldn’t be virgins anymore if they used them (because, y’know, nothing’s worse than that). So I kinda kept quiet about the OBs because using them was seen as weird and possibly slutty among some of my peers. I didn’t stop, though, since I don’t really like pads–too messy and uncomfortable.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: See, My mother is famously prudish and also VERY intrusive. She meant well, but every month on the kitchen calendar there would be three red circles with initials next to them: S for me, J for my mother, R for my sister. Each red circle = the dates of our periods. It was awkward to say the least.
BeckySharper: Yikes! To say the least! Do you remember getting your first period?
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: December 23, 1993.
BeckySharper: Oh, you got your period for Christmas!
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: I got my period on Eddie Vedder’s 30th birthday, and I thought it was a sign that my womb would bear his fruit. Seriously.
BeckySharper: Ah, the early 90s. I would have been up for some Vedder womb-fruit myself. I can’t remember the exact date I started–maybe February 1988? I was in gym class and I saw the telltale schmear on my panties and went to my gym teacher and asked to go to the nurse. When he asked why, I looked him dead in the eye and said “I got my period.” (I told you I was raised in a shameless body-casual household!) He immediately sent me up to the nurse, who, I swear to Dog, gave me this big bulky pad with loops on the end meant for one of those old-school belts. It was like our school district had bought them in bulk in 1965. Even my mom was surprised, since the adhesive kind had been around for at least 10 years. The belt loops were straight outta Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. which is the still the best book about girls and their periods ever.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: I never read that book. I learned about menstruation when Darlene (Sara Gilbert) got her period on Roseanne. I asked my mom and she was shocked it had been featured on a primetime TV show. My mother just does not like discussing that stuff. Things like masturbation and sexual acts other than intercourse were never introduced into discussion. Most of my revelations came from the internet.
BeckySharper: Maybe now moms will just give their daughters copies of My Little Red Book if they don’t want to have “the talk.” I’m a big fan of the internets, but I shudder to think of what kind of weird fuckery might show up for teenage girl doing a Google search on “periods.”
What about you, gentle readers? Feel free to share your insights, your experiences and your weird period-related experiences in the comments.
Also, please enjoy the best poem about periods ever in the history of the world: “Down There,” by the amazing Sandra Cisneros.