Tampons as the Measure of Modern Societies — By Jennifer Shipp
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Tampons as the Measure of Modern Societies — By Jennifer Shipp

Is it a bomb? Drug paraphernalia? A dildo? No. It's just a tampon. That's all. Like a kleenex or toilet paper, the tampon makes undesirable bodily functions a little less gross.
Is it a bomb? Drug paraphernalia? A dildo? No. It’s just a tampon. That’s all. Like a kleenex or toilet paper, the tampon makes undesirable bodily functions a little less gross.

What are tampons? Feminine hygiene products, yes, but they’re more than that. They symbolize, very succinctly, the feminist movement and the equality that women in the United States have worked so hard to achieve. Most women, if they were educated about the various feminine hygiene products that have been invented through the years, would probably choose to have all the safe and healthy options that are available.

Men, however, don’t always see things the same way.

Some women have light periods and some women have heavy ones. The type of period that a woman has can change the course of her life, especially when the selection of feminine hygiene products are limited. Periods can create all kinds of havoc when not properly managed and although there are a wide variety of products available to help U.S. women deal effectively with their menstrual cycles, the options are surprisingly limited outside of the United States and Europe.

Why?

Take a moment to think about tampons and what they represent for women. Freedom. Strength. Independence. Women who use tampons can often go about their daily existence during periods without a blip in their normal routine or wardrobe. But to men, particularly those who are not especially well-educated on female anatomy, tampons represent a real threat to masculinity. Not only are tampons blatantly phallic in shape and presentation, but they also make women socially less fragile and more independent. In societies where men depend on the oppression of their women to make themselves feel strong and masculine, tampons, by their very presence in grocery stores and pharmacies, could create a revolution.

In Nepal, a female security guard pulled tampons out of my purse and disassembled them blankly, trying to make sense of their purpose. Menstruating women there are considered “dirty” and they have to withdraw from society for several days until they’re no longer bleeding. Tampons would upset the Nepali social structure and religion which worships virginal girls who have not yet menstruated.

Tampons, according to some men in less liberated countries like Nepal, destroy a woman’s virginity.

Tampon manufacturers try to make tampons look "fun" by packaging them in materials that are reminiscent of candy wrappers. That's because tampons aren't "fun" for women. We'd rather not think about tampons every time we go to the grocery store but thinking about candy isn't so bad.
Tampon manufacturers try to make tampons look “fun” by packaging them in materials that are reminiscent of candy wrappers. That’s because tampons aren’t “fun” for women. We’d rather not think about tampons every time we go to the grocery store but thinking about candy isn’t so bad.

Using this argument, men make the claim that tampons are evil and therefore should not be offered as a temptation to women, the weaker sex. Women in Nepal and other countries in the Middle East, for example, don’t even know that such technologies exist for managing menstruation. And men can maintain the upper hand because women must take several days each month and “disappear”.

Usually, it’s possible to find tampons in Latin American countries, though they’re packaged in extremely small quantities perhaps because they’re supposed to be used sparingly. It’s like a compromise. “Don’t get addicted to these!” The men perhaps think that the women enjoy using tampons during their periods in the same way that they enjoy sexual intercourse? What’s going on here? Women in these countries are still somewhat behind the U.S. and Europe in terms of women’s liberation, but they’re way ahead of places like Nepal, India, and countries in the Middle East.

Before we leave for long trips I always do research on the countries we plan to visit to find out if it’s possible to buy tampons in grocery stores. There are obvious pragmatic reasons to look for this information, but beyond just allotting space in our bags for a supply of feminine hygiene products, the presence or absence of tampons is an expression of other, more important views in a culture. It’s a litmus test of sorts that says something about how much of a voice women have in the countries we’re visiting and whether or not the women there are viewed as equals. If I know that a particular country doesn’t readily provide access to tampons, I can also assume that most the men there won’t listen when I speak. In fact, some of the men will be angry with me for just for being a female. And a lot of the other men will only see me as a piece of meat, especially if my ankles and elbows are exposed.

In the United States, women are free to make a lot of choices about many things that are off-limits abroad. And men in the United States are lucky to be able to regard their partners are full and equal beings. The men in the U.S. who have acknowledged women’s equality have a certain breed of strength that’s non-existent among men in the countries where tampons have been dubbed evil. It’s sexy when men let women do what they need to do to be the best they can be. Women who have male support tend to reciprocate in a variety of creative and surprising ways that the men in oppressive countries will never get to know.

In countries where tampons are non-existent, women are generally seen and not heard. Lydian and I sit in the back of the taxis in these countries where we'd make men uncomfortable by sitting up front.
In countries where tampons are non-existent, women are generally seen and not heard. Lydian and I sit in the back of the taxis in these countries where we’d make men uncomfortable by sitting up front.

We all know that men and women are different but two things that are dissimilar can still be equal in terms of value. The systematic destruction of women does not make men better. It just makes women less valuable (or at least this is how it seems in oppressive societies). But men and women go together. When you pair the right ones together, they’re even more valuable than if you took a man and a woman separately and added their value one to the other. This is not a political statement against homosexuality (what I’m saying would apply in homosexual relationships as well). I’m talking about the spiritual outcome of looking for the best in your life-partner versus looking for ways to diminish your partner’s value in order to make yours look proportionally better.

It’s no coincidence that men in Nepal and Pakistan tend to be more likely to have physically intimate, albeit superficial relationships with other men. In these countries, women aren’t given the same opportunities and they’re treated with less respect than men. Men thus find the women to be less desirable and women feel weak and ineffectual. The imbalance of the sexes looks silly from my perspective, as an American. Life could be so much better for both men and women, if only the women were allowed to use tampons and exist as equals.

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