Nothing says I love you like a menstrual cup – or at the very least nothing says I know you have a period and appreciate your concerns for the environmental impact of disposable period products like a menstrual cup – and isn’t that basically the same thing?
This might seem like a strange thought but it’s a timely one – as the high holiday of romantic consumerism approaches (or as some people call it, Valentine’s Day), my boyfriend and I were left wondering if it was ever a good idea to give someone a cup to celebrate the big day.
Such a conversation arose when I mentioned that I wanted to buy a menstrual cup and my boyfriend offered to gift me one as a grand, romantic Valentine’s gesture (he doesn’t really buy into the whole day!). Now, I am a girl who talks quite a bit about periods, dating a boy who has to listen to quite a lot of talk about periods so perhaps I should have seen this coming but it was still a bit of a surprise.
I feel uncomfortable admitting this but I think my surprise was partly rooted in an unconscious feeling that periods are a women’s issue.
This is not an intuitive belief but something that I feel I have been taught. From those first primary school lessons on puberty, when the boys were ushered out of the room right before we covered periods, to the relative absence of periods in the pop culture I consumed as a teen – the overwhelming suggestion has been that periods are something which should be top secret and that it was of the utmost importance not to mention them in front of the males. And so, whilst I have reached a place where I am comfortable discussing periods in the abstract with my boyfriend, the idea that he would be so involved as to buy me a cup threw me off guard.
Obviously, it shouldn’t be like this. A cultural context in which periods are categorised as a ‘women’s issue’ ultimately holds period progress back- and it can particularly affect those who are already disadvantaged. It is only in recent years that the issue of period poverty has been given the attention it deserves and this is down to the work of some amazing female activists. The relative absence of periods from male consciousness has lead to some horrendous oversights – from female prisoners receiving inadequate supplies of period products to the NHS supplying patients with shaving foam and razors but not pads and tampons. (I have to say that it is difficult to imagine this happening if women were more involved in running the show.)
Moreover, the problems that arise when only one half of the population receives an education on periods reaches beyond the logistical. I’ve heard lots of myths about periods, some are funny, some are weird and some a little scary. But, the idea that women who menstruate are somehow mentally incapacitated the moment a drop of blood falls from their vagina is undoubtedly the most damaging. It plays into wider stereotypes about female emotional fragility and it can be used to undermine a woman’s legitimate grievances. It is often framed with the question “Is is that time of the month, love?” (*shudders*)
So, how do we deal with the period cultural deficit? Of course, formal education has a role to play but personally, I rate the approach of Danielle Rowley, who announced she was on her period in the House of Commons. We don’t all have access to such a mighty platform but surely we should all feel comfortable opening up to our nearest and dearest. Maybe we should be more like my friend who insists on informing her brother at the dinner table every time her period comes on? Or, at the very least, when our partner suggests buying us a menstrual cup we should throw off any sense of hesitancy and embrace the offer. This is not a call for every member of the population to develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of menstruation but rather for some basic understanding accompanied by the odd bit of sympathy.
Oh and I know you’re all desperate to hear more about how the menstrual cup-gift dilemma played out. We agreed that a menstrual cup might not be the sexiest of gifts but that at the very least it would be more practical than a bunch of flowers. My boyfriend said that perhaps it could even be romantic (I think he’s a keeper!). Whether I will wake up to a new menstrual cup on February 14th is yet to be seen but I am glad that we had the conversation and that it has encouraged me to be even more open about periods with everyone in my life.
Katrina Gaffney is a Cup Effect Volunteer Writer and a Media, Campaigning and Social Change Masters Student at the University of Westminster. She is an intersectional feminist who cares about human rights and peace campaigning. She also loves baking and can often be found cooking up a storm in the kitchen!