Pads, Phallus, and Gloria: Advocating for Trash Bins and More

I recently came across Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” as I was perusing over required reading packet. In this article, Steinem creates an alternate universe where the power of the penis is amplified by not women but men’s ability to menstruate. She hypothesizes that it would be no surprise to find the government taking an active role in making “monthly discomforts” more convenient, boys competing for longest and largest amount of monthly blood loss, and boyfriends encouraging intercourse at “that time of the month.” As I lmfao-ed, I remembered a certain incident at a yacht party in the early summer.

My friend’s parents had organized a yacht party to celebrate his graduation. Families and friends showed up in their cocktail dresses and suave suits. Before boarding, the captain (who, in retrospect—though I may be biased, embodied visual qualities of Jesse James) made an announcement about safety and such things. His speech was as exciting as a disclaimer could be but I distinctly remember feeling vexed by his comment about “female hygiene products.” “Folks,” he stated, “Ladies, especially, if it is that time of the month for you, please do not leave your smelly trash behind; it stinks up the room” (re: girlies, do not leave your stinky shit behind). By “smelly trash,” I believe that he was referring to the residue of a well-known biological phenomenon that occurs in women called menstruation. I did not realize then why I felt so belittled and upset, but, after reading Steinem’s article, I can fully articulate the source of my frustration.

Yes, periods smell, but how we consider it to be “gross” has a lot to do with how we have been told to interpret our sexuality. I am pretty certain when I say that most women do not look forward to that week-long visit from Mother Nature; it is long, painful, cumbersome, and leads to weight gain, mood swings, and random cravings. At the same time, it is a biological necessity that prepares women for child birth. Menstruation, however, has been a victim of penis envy because the monthly blood loss comes from not having a penis—therefore, not being a man. Steinem argues that “if men could menstruate, the power justifications could probably go on forever,” and I cannot help but agree when various systematic exploitations of women happen every day under the same power justifications via pornography, rape, FGM, and domestic violence.

I hate having my period but that does not mean that my body is any less than a man’s. In a world where men could menstruate, according to Steinem, hygiene products would be easily accessible, and I believe that such convenience includes at least one trash bin in every existing bathroom of the Planet Earth. In the real world, however, where only women menstruate, our bodies are inferior: periods smell bad, vaginas look weird, and disposing female hygiene products on a yacht is apparently prohibited. And the world we live in will continue until there is no rape. No FGM. No battered women.

Until there is a trash bin for every pad and tampon.

More articles by Category: Feminism, Gloria Steinem, Media, Violence against women
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Kate S
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