No one ever taught me how to use a tampon. For a long time, I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself to even ask how to use one. No way was I putting anything up there! After becoming sexually active I was still for the most part vagina-phobic (another story, for another day), but decided it might be time to give it a try. The directions seemed fairly clear, but I have always been one to only half read directions. I spent the the next few hours in various degrees of discomfort wondering how the HELL anyone wore these things. Even if pads are bulky, leaky, and crinkly they didn’t pinch! A second look at the directions revealed the problem. Both portions of the applicator needed removed. Oh, well that makes sense. . .
Janet Lee suggests that the beginning of menstruation represents the beginning of sexuality for girls. During this time, girls become more aware of how others see them. For me, it was a painful awareness. For years after menarche, I ran from sexuality as fast as my baggy clothing would allow. This is in not to suggest that the women in my life would have harshly (or fairly) judged me for using a tampon. But I was not even willing to talk to them. My mother is a nurse practitioner. Babies smile when she walks into a room. She would have welcomed questions with open arms and diagrams. Around this time, she was writing a master’s thesis on the sexual habits of juvenile incarcerated girls. After each session at the detention center she would offer me twenty dollars to record the girls’ survey responses onto a spreadsheet separated into categories; family income, father/mother present, molestation, age of first sexual experience, smoker, drinker, etc.. Some of them were younger than I was at menarche when they started having sex. If other reasons, such as my large breasts, had not made it obvious it is unlikely that while writing this thesis my mother did not consider my femaleness or sexuality. Looking back, I had no reason to keep my bleeding questions from her. She knew about sexuality, she knew me, and she likely knew where the two collided. I can’t recall an exact reason for not asking. I am not sure I ever worked one out.
In my case, I was well educated on the inner workings of the menstruation. The reason for my silence was tied to feelings about my body. As Iris Marion Young notes, some theorists believe that less knowledge about mechanics can lead to less bodily alienation. This seems fitting. I was not ambivalent about my developed, bleeding body. In fact, I was quite averse to it. Lee also describes the menstruation as something the girls she interviewed at times suggested was alien to them. She observes that the women quoted “suggest a fragmentation between self and body” (349). That seems part of it. Whatever happened with (to?) my body was of no interest to me. I wanted my vagina and all of its womanly associations to remain separate from the girl. I didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone else that I had collided with and my femaleness and sexuality. It is hard for me to imagine what would have inspired ambivalence about my body. I do not feel that less education would have been the answer. The education system did not fail me (at least in the this respect), and neither did my mother. Had I been educated on the use of tampons, or even read the directions fully, I could have avoided a first-time mishap. However, my aversion and silence were not as simple as responses to education or a grounded fear of my mother seeing me as a sexual being. So, what were they? I think there could be many answers such as societal notions of the dirty, hormonal, feminine bleeder, or even a misguided wish to hold onto an absent father with a little girl image. All different stories, for different days.
I feel that my experiences in this bleeding body, my education, and my mishaps have all allowed me to eventually reach past ambivalence into appreciation. Maybe all that I needed was time to get comfortable.