The Curse

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31 Responses

  1. zic says:

    The juxtaposition of this above the candy post is discomforting.

    And oh, for the want of a copy editor.

    Thank you, Tod.

  2. Chris says:

    Well said, and thank you for saying it here.

  3. zic says:

    Menstrual hygiene is also a problem for women in prison here in the US, or so says Piper Kerman, who wrote Orange is the New Black.

    • johanna says:

      It is also a problem for the homeless. There are quite a few homeless kids in our school system and I try to collect items for them annually. One year we were given money to purchase items for a personal hygiene collection drive and my partner and I cleared off the shelves of a store purchasing menstrual projects as they are not the first thing that comes to mind as a necessity.

      • zic says:

        Thanks for pointing this out.

        I’ve begun volunteering with the local food pantry, one of my efforts is to identify and help supply non-food stuffs needed; tooth paste and tooth brushes was the first. I think I’ll seek feminine-hygiene supplies next, and I’m grateful to you for pointing out the need, @johanna

  4. Damon says:

    Well put Zic

  5. Here is the correct link for my story in the Atlantic – thanks for getting out the word!
    – Betsy Teutsch

    • zic says:

      @tod-kelly can you update please?

      Thanks, @betsy-teutsch I’m happy you wrote the Atlantic piece, it was an eye-opening work for me.

  6. Zane says:

    @zic , great OP! I’d read the original piece by @betsy-teutsch at the Atlantic as well.

    One thing that bugs me about your piece is that you call your experience riding your bike to the 4-H meeting, and the response of the girls there, as a “first world problem”. I agree, it’s not on the same scale as the situation faced by so many women in India, but surely this is yet another example of the taboo and shaming girls and women encounter about menstruation? I worry that some use “first world problem” as a way to say “unimportant and not worth discussing”. Yes, it’s important to contextualize problem severity and scale. But that doesn’t mean that what you experienced isn’t worth discussing and thinking about.

    As a man, and as a gay man in particular, I don’t often have cause to think about menstruation. My age and family norms meant that this was something never discussed with me by my parents. But my blindness to the issues around it can really distort my sense of women’s experiences. Your description of that experience helped broaden my vision in important ways and added to what I learned from the Atlantic article about India.

    • zic says:

      Thank you, @zane

      I didn’t mean to limit my humility in any way; it was pretty awful. Perhaps the worst part was after the meeting ended, and the adult woman, instead of offering me help, chided me for having done wrong. Women are often as guilty here as men, all too often, they are the people reinforcing the taboos.

      Having grown up with many brothers and one sister (seven years older), I was pretty aware of the blinders for boys when it comes to menarche. Then I married my sweetie, one of four boys, and had two of our own. So I took it upon myself to educate my boys through my actions; simply by talking about what I was experiencing each month.

      And I measure this a success, when while in high school, my boys would bring home girls they went to school with, and say, “Mom, she’s got her period, and doesn’t feel well. Can you help her out?” They dared go there; even to the point of offering comfort and understanding and assistance. And this is a very good thing.

      But the real point of all of this is an example of how we limit women based on taboo and tradition without even considering it because it’s just the way things are. As I said, taboo topics of women’s bodies harm.

      • Maribou says:

        I agree, @zic, that is an excellent outcome indicator.

        I remember when our friends first starting having boys (they are almost ALL boys, the kids we know… something like a 14:4 ratio and the 4 most don’t live in this city)… anyway, when that happened and the kids got to the toddler stage, there was a time when one of them came wandering out of the bathroom saying “WHAT IS THIS FOR???” I briefly caught myself reconsidering my “fish the taboos I grew up with, these things live where they are nearest to hand when I need ’em, ie plumped down within easy non-bendy reach of the toilet,” stance… but then his mom cheerfully explained in a toddler-appropriate way, and I quit reconsidering.
        When I was still a bio major, I always thought the only way I could stand labwork is if I was working on stuff relating to this… I eventually decided I just really couldn’t stand labwork, but I’ve always had an interest.

        I have also started going out of my way to say “I have really bad cramps” and explain further if people think it is gastric (“Nah, I’ll be fine, it’s the monthly thing.” usually does the trick.) on the 3 or 4 times a year that is what is going on, rather than just “I don’t feel well.”

        Thanks for this post, it is a good one.

      • zic says:

        @maribou thank you. Praise from you is the very best kind.

      • Road Scholar says:

        Your bicycle story reminded me of an incident from my high school years. Our school colors were red and white. Consequently, the uniform for concert band was a red jacket over white shirt/blouse and white pants.

        One of the girls had her period start (no idea if it was her first) during a concert with the entire town in attendance. Naturally she played the flute so she sat on the front row, where everyone got a good view of the deep red stain spreading over her crotch.

      • zic says:

        That poor girl. I bet she never lived it down, either.

      • Boegiboe says:

        @zic I’ve been wondering when to start talking to our daughter about menstruation. She has one very special woman in her life, my mother, but she doesn’t menstruate. It’s not at all taboo for me, as my mother treated me an my brothers similarly to your approach. I certainly feel comfortable talking about the process, symptoms, etc, but I don’t want to make her anxious too early. She’s four and a half and mightily troubled by the thought of bleeding. Any advice? From anyone else is welcome, too. Absent advice, I was going to explain things to her around age 7 or so, but I have the feeling from reading your piece that maybe I need to inoculate against taboo earlier than that.

      • zic says:

        @boegiboe four is early; particularly if there’s no woman in her life that she sees having to deal with it. That’s something you might want to consider; women need mentors; and a friendly adult who can help normalize women’s biology would be a boon to her.

        By the time she’s in second or third grade, she’ll know simply because of how kids are; and that knowledge may not be imparted in a way that’s healthy. So sometime between now and then, some simple explanation of her biology seems in order.

        I’d suggest a review of books to help; something like this:

        Reading it now would help you determine when to share it with her; my guess is at the point you not quite sure she’ll get it; once you are sure, you may have waited too long.

        One of my favorite teenage girls — she’s now a beautiful woman — was raised by her two fathers. We discussed this one day, and she said they just talked about it as a normal thing that would happen, and listened to her easily when it did. Not talking makes it secret, and that reinforces shame. I don’t know what age that introduced the topic, however. I can ask, if you’d like.

      • zic says:

        @boegiboe I hadn’t really looked at that specific book; I referenced it knowing a lot of women support the author.

        Please consider it a reference to the genre, and what’s comfortable for you and your daughter; that one seems a bit to new age for my taste, I’d prefer something that felt more scientific. this is better but I the introduction has a bit on my mom and me and forgets my dad and me. I can look around a bit if you like. Good excuse to go to the The Children’s Bookshop in my old neighborhood.

    • Kim says:

      Well, I remember hearing from one of my friends (not at my school) that when she first got her period, she was bleeding so badly that the teacher made her stand up the entire period, so she wouldn’t get her chair dirty. (apparently she was soaking through multiple layers).

  7. ScarletNumbers says:

    You left out Aunt Flo.

  8. notme says:


    Will the crusade be to require that the gov’t and/or insurance companies provide feminine hygiene products for free or change or at reduced cost?

  9. ScarletNumbers says:

    Never trust anyone who bleeds for a week but doesn’t die.

  10. caleb says:

    The Solution

    It constantly surprises me how many people have not heard of the cup, given its close-to-unmitigated advantage over conventional methods in nearly every category.

    • Darlene says:

      I have often said that you would need to pry my cup from my cold, dead hands. Normalizing its use in the developing world could be a real boon to women of child-bearing age.

      • Re: menstrual cups for the developing world. They must be washed carefully – how do you do that without reliable, clean water? Also, they are problematic for women who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation. ANd for young women, there are vaginal insertion taboos. They would, of course, be appropriate for more modernized women in the developing world who have access to upgraded sanitation. There are also a lot of contraceptives in use now which allow women to skip their periods all together. @betsyteutsch