Finding My Feminism in a Menstrual Cup

Gender

Finding My Feminism in a Menstrual Cup

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

T

he first time I wondered if I really was the feisty feminist I usually claim to be, was when my newly inundated diva cup did a Kill Bill on me! I was a fresh recruit into the sisterhood of the cup and had not yet mastered the fold-push-turn module the devis swear by. Naturally, the resultant splatter, that was now dripping down the sides of my naked legs and otherwise pristine bathroom floor, looked nowhere as racy or cool as would have rendered Quentin Tarantino’s approval. In my defense though, my menstrual blood – dark, thick, uterine juice, lumpy here and there, with the remnants of now dead endometrium – was pretty gross.  

This revulsion I felt toward my own blood was primarily aesthetic – a sensory distaste that I realised, was bred into me long before I started bleeding. Decades of not-so-subliminal messaging of feminine hygiene products reiterated the need to “clean up”. Growing up in small- town India, ominous myths that prophesied demonic consequences of the “impure blood” – that with its slightest contact caused pickles to curdle, plants to die and your hair and sanity to fall out with equal abandon – were a dime and dozen. With age and more modern, urban circles, not much changed. The gentle foreboding of women colleagues, the distanced concern of male friends was marked by a strain of awkwardness specially reserved for “that time of the month”.

Unfortunately for my feminist self, the last of her hanging by the (still intact) hair, this disgust was conditioned beyond the rationale or the principles of germ theory.

As a young child that did not fully comprehend what was happening to her body, I vividly remember the alarm it raised in my family when I started bleeding young. While I waited in the bathroom, undressed and confused, my mother repeatedly disinfected the bed sheet that was the sordid witness to my puberty. I remember one winter morning when my mother as a punishment, refused to help me change and I, far too repulsed by my own blood, left for school wincing in an already soggy pad. Acute humiliation followed when my blood eventually outdid my pride, leaving me not only stained but also scarred. I was eleven, and to patriarchy’s pleasure, I had internalised my first lesson in shame. And the discomfort and embarrassment continued for the next 15 years, even as I went from using sanitary napkins to tampons.

I realised that there was something very intimate and powerful about witnessing your own blood in all its uterine gore and glory.

It was only last year when I started using the cup, did I learn that there is something very powerful and intimate about witnessing your own blood in all its uterine gore and glory. The cup was the first time I experienced my own visceral bloody discharge in its natural form – without the association of a wet, soggy, bloody wad of cotton that had promised to “protect” me against it. The cup takes away  the luxury of distance and squeamishness, that period products like pads and tampons promote (by promising to channel the liquids deep into their unicorn like pores, and away from humanity) and makes you confront the shame that has always been yours. You’ve gotta get in there, and get blood on your hands. Come to think of it, the cup was the first time I engaged with my menses.

The tangibility of the blood and the awareness of how much you actually bleed each day of the cycle, brings forth a prodigious shift in attitude toward a process that we otherwise learn to alienate. The cup was the first time the blood, my blood, was “powerful” instead of desecrated.

Period stigma plays a pivotal role in permeating the idea that women’s bodies are gross. The bastion of winged, scented pads and tampons with their tall promises of acche din were both invented by men – naturally they could only assume the requirements of a woman’s body, and hinged both their product and its messaging on saving us the shame and disgust, that we learn (quite early in life) womanhood carries anyway. The cup, however, in quite a shift in paradigm, was invented by a woman. It therefore, breaks all the rules. In a market-led neo-feminist model,  one that is constantly either trying to abuse or save women from the repercussions of their own bodies, the cup allows you to understand it.

Instead of absorbing the blood, that then sits there with its annoying wetness for three to five straight hours and sucks the vagina dry of its ph, the cup lodges itself seamlessly inside your vagina, collects and holds the blood, for up to 12 hours. Yet, despite having been invented as long back as 1930, it took four waves of feminism for us to even familiarise ourselves with it.

For a body that is used to the discomfort of a dry wad of cotton stuck either inside or on your vagina, adapting to a malleable cup-like structure that settles inside your body without much ado, does take a considerable shift of bodily paradigm.

To be fair, the cup takes a little getting used to. For a body that is used to the discomfort of a dry wad of cotton stuck either inside or on your vagina, adapting to a malleable cup-like structure that settles inside your body without much ado, does take a considerable shift of bodily paradigm. Thankfully, the sisterhood of the cup is a living breathing, organism – its members sprawling across the internet, oftentimes hidden among your own Facebook friends and Instagram stories. All you have to do is ask – tips, tricks, personal experiences and non-judgy cup advice from real-life divas will pour in from all parts of the world. Feminism could not get more personal than this.

The cup was the first time in years, that I did not loathe my periods – if anything, I looked forward to it. Learning to work with your own body is a curiously fascinating discovery. With every cycle I understood my body a little better, embraced it a little more, became a bit kinder to it.

As for that day, I sat there, half naked on the pot, amused and self-assured in my own blood. I collected the leftover blood in a vial and used it to make a painting of my bloody vagina that now sits in my living room and serves as a person filter. Bloody revolutions, anyone?

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