Archive for gender

Menstrual Cup Reviews: Introductory Concepts

Yes, this is definitely how blogging begins again. I’m sure of it.

So, from time to time and on no predictable schedule at all, I will be posting reviews of various menstrual cups here. It’s actually a pretty exciting time in the reusable menstrual cup world, with many types and variations of cups available, unlike 15 years ago. I suspect, but have no data to back this up, that this is due to a generational shift, with many younger menstruating folks have a greater awareness of their own anatomy and being perhaps much more comfortable with touching their own genitals than past generations, along with an increased desire to have a lower environmental impact. Regardless of why though, it’s awesome.

First Principles

In these reviews I’m going to be super real with you, readers. There will be descriptions of menstrual fluids, of anatomy, and of sensations. There will, inevitably, be occasional mention of urine and feces (proximity sometimes demands it, after all). There may be swearing, for emphasis, when I’m feeling particularly passionate about something.

When describing anatomy, I’ll be using the fairly universally understood words “vagina”, “labia”, “vulva”, etc., for clarity, but please note that I don’t intend this usage to imply any gender essentialism. For myself, I identify as genderqueer/non-binary, and have some small knowledge of how menstruation can be a complicated thing to fit into a non-cis-female gender identity (though I do not wish to presume that I necessarily know anyone else’s experience). If those anatomical words don’t resonate for you or don’t fit your understanding of your body I invite you to use any terms you’d prefer in comments.

Menstruating is a fine and ordinary thing for a person to do. It’s not a curse or a punishment or something that makes you unclean, incompetent, or monstrous in some way. It’s also, thanks to science, not an obligation. Menstruating is sometimes uncomfortable, physically or psychologically or socially or in relation to a menstruator’s practiced religion. There are menstruators who enjoy it, just as there are menstruators who despise it. I will always affirm anyone’s right to take advantage of the choices offered by science to avoid menstruating regularly, or to alter a menstrual cycle in whatever way makes sense for them, to use reusable products such as a cup, cloth pads, or natural sea sponge, or to use disposable pads or tampons or cups, or anything else. Being the possessor of a uterus that, left to its own devices, would likely menstruate in a culture that associates that uterus with femaleness and associates femaleness with inferiority is complicated enough without judgment.

Why Me?

First, let me establish myself as a bit of an expert on the subject: I’ve been using menstrual cups as my primary tool (backed up by cloth menstrual pads when necessary) for dealing with menstruation since 2002, when I started menstruating again after a four-year gap thanks to hormonal contraception. Except for during my pregnancy and for the 18 months following, when I experienced Lactational amenorrhea, I’ve been menstruating somewhat regularly ever since, and I’ve used a menstrual cup every single time. I estimate that I have menstruated 130 times since 2002 (my cycles run a little long, and I occasionally skip). I would also estimate that during the five to six days I menstruate each time, I insert and remove a menstrual cup approximately 10-14 times. That makes for a total of around 1300-1820 insertion/removal episodes in total.

I’ve also used a cup in a lot of varied circumstances. I have inserted and/or removed a menstrual cup in my own home, at work, in hotels, at the mall, at the homes of friends and relatives, in hostels, in dormitories, on moving greyhound buses, on moving trains, dozens of times on airplanes and in airports. I have done so in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, India, England, France, Japan, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. I have used a cup while glamping/car camping/middle-of-nowhere camping, at conferences and retreats, while motorcycle touring, in shared bathrooms and private ones, with no running water, with no running potable water, with no access to laundry, with either hand, and several times (out of desperation) with a nursing toddler on my lap. I have done it well and I have done it badly. I have dropped the cup in the toilet and on the ground. I have managed everything tidily many hundreds of times and I have also spilled menstrual blood on the floor or on my clothing, more than once.

I have an awful lot of experiencing using cups, and I’ve also used a bunch of different cups over varying periods of time. This means that my reviews won’t be based on a a single fumbling first try, nor on longer use of only one product. I can offer observations and comparisons based on long-term regular use in many situations.

Why Menstrual Cups?

What it comes down to is this: for me, even with occasional mishaps, a menstrual cup is far and away the best solution to the problem of dealing with menstrual fluid. No other options even comes close. Cups can be life-changing. For example, while I have reason to believe that my periods have always been in the longer and heavier end of the normal range, they’re not outrageous. But as a teenager, in addition to further complicating my already stressful relationship with gender, they were a significant practical inconvenience, and the products available to me to deal with them were inadequate in a number of important ways that made every period an unnecessary trial.

Disposable pads, even the most absorbent ones, could never keep up with the two heavy days in my period (in which I’d need to change my pad at least every hour, sometimes hard to manage at school) and they often shifted in my underwear unpredictably, allowing sometimes catastrophic leaks to happen. On light days, the extreme absorbency of some pads left my vulva uncomfortably dry, sore, and irritated. The adhesive on pads pulled the fibers out of my underwear, making them threadbare much more quickly than might otherwise be the case, and many times it also stuck to my public hair or my delicate inner thigh skin, causing completely unnecessary pain.

Tampons are superior to pads, not least because they make swimming an option. But for me, tampons either also couldn’t keep up with my heaviest menstrual flow days, requiring too frequent changes, or were far too absorbent for my lighter days (even the supposed “Light Day” versions), when they irritated my vagina and caused sometimes intense pain during removal.

Cloth pads, which I started using at the same time as my cup, and which I love as a backup for my cup, are better than disposable pads in many ways – more reliably absorbent of menstrual fluid, paradoxically somewhat better at staying in place, not damaging to underwear or self, not irritating or painful. Care is unbelievably simple, since I just wash and dry mine in my ordinary laundry with no special treatment, so they don’t add any extra work to my life. And of course, they’re much much cheaper than disposal products over the long term – I’m still using some of the original pads I bought in 2002 15 years later, which really puts the $12 I paid for them in perspective. But, just like disposable products, cloth pads can’t keep up with my heaviest flow days with any reasonable replacement schedule (running out to replace your menstrual product once per hour or once every two hours is not reasonable, in my opinion), they do shift sometimes and allow leaks, and swimming is, of course, not an option.

But using a menstrual cup completely changed my relationship with my menstruating body. Menstrual cups made menstruating “okay” for me in a way that disposable pads and tampons never could. Because absorbency isn’t even a part of the equation, cups don’t cause irritation and pain as a result of dryness. They’re equally comfortably on heavy and light days, and don’t irritate my anatomy. Even on my heaviest days, I can go four hours between emptying the cup without worrying about leaks, which means I can get through a full morning or afternoon at work. On lighter days, I can get through an entire work day without needing to worry about it. I never run out and need to run to the store, hoping they’ll have the brand I like at a decent price. By not relying on disposable products I’ve both saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the years, and I haven’t sent thousands of disposable products to landfills. All of that is well worth the occasional mishaps.

Cups work! But some work better than others. Which is why I’m posting these reviews.

How This is All Going to Work

I’m going to rate the menstrual cups I review in three main categories, with a few sub-categories:

  1. Material Quality – The material of which the cup is made, its qualities, and how well-suited those qualities make it for the purpose. Will include observations on things like durability, sterilizability, rigidity, discolouration probability, and so on.
  2. Design – All of the properties of the cup as a designed physical object with an incredibly practical intended use, such as shape, features, size, and how it interacts with its wearer’s body and function during insertion, internal use, removal, emptying, and cleaning. This categories will be split into three sub-categories:
    1. General Shape – The shape and size of the cup itself, its rim, and its stem.
    2. Surface Details – Any textural details, measurement markings, etc.
    3. Air Holes – Size, angle, other qualities.
  3. Ease of Use and Comfort – How likely I think it is that the cup will be easy and comfortable to use for all the various categories of menstruators.

Those ratings will be on a scale of 1-10, and are likely to be imperfectly objective at best. I’ll probably also maunder on for far too long about specific details, because I am a person for whom the details always matter. I’ll try to be thoughtful about when any specific criticism or approval is likely going to be a universal one, versus when it might be unique to me, or limited to people who share certain qualities with me.

I have no monetary or commercial relationship with anyone involved in the manufacture or sale of menstrual cups, nor am I seeking such a relationship. If I criticize or enthusiastically endorse a product in a review, it’s because I genuinely feel critical or enthusiastic about it.

I invite you to comment if you wish. Ask questions, offer feedback, contribute your own experiences with a product. Agree with me, disagree with me. Let’s try to remember that not all women menstruate and not all menstruators are women, and keep the language used gender-neutral as much as possible. Feel free to use whatever terminology makes sense for you for anatomy. Good-natured engagement with language and concepts is never off limits, and making mistakes is understandable, but pointless trolling will result in comment deletion regardless of the specific verbiage used.

Let’s do this.

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Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys. Also, Ballerinas, Monster Trucks, Barbies, Gendered Lego, etc.

As I have pontificated testily in the past, if there are inherent differences between boys and girls, we don’t really know what they are, and where differences between genders do exist they are small, and significantly dwarfed by the difference within a gender. In fact, as regards social behaviour, I would contend that it is impossible for us to measure this because children do not grow up in a vacuum. There are gendered messages for children to take in every single day of their lives, from the moment they are born, and unconsciously or consciously, parents, caregivers, older children, other family members all subtly reward behaviour that fits the gendered stereotype, and subtly discourage, ignore or redirect behaviour that doesn’t fit. I spend my time pontificating testily about these topics, and I’m certain that I still do this, because I grew up swimming in the patriarchy just like everybody else. It’s inescapable.

So here’s my theory for boys and girls and gender: boys and girls (and frequently even the kids who fall outside that binary) are very similar in their ability to be socially sensitive to these cues. They are very similar in their desire to please the people around them and to do what is expected of them socially, to fit into their community/pack, to please their elders/protectors, to get along with their friends. There is variability within the genders, and individuals who, for whatever reason, find this fitting in more painful than others. There are communities and families that more harshly reward gendered conformity and others that strives for more individuality in expression, but the children themselves universally try to respond to all of these subtle messages so that they can fit in with their communities and be what it is they are expected to be.

There’s a reason that social ostracism feels so life threatening after all, why our emotions come on so strongly in response to rejection, why we can feel desperate to fit in, and that’s because social rejection was life threatening when communities/family groups were literally the defense against death. It makes sense that kids would come in acutely sensitive to fitting in. They are told they have a role based on a physical characteristic, and they are told each and every day how to perform it. So they do.

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Gender, toddlers, me pontificating testily

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the time or energy to write a big long post about this and my thoughts thereon? I mean, it would if you like reading the posts I write when I write like that, I suppose. Supposing you don’t, I’d keep it to yourself – I hardly need more encouragement not to write.

Apparently J Crew sells clothing or something? In the states apparently? Whatever. Apparently they decided to put up an ad with a mother and her young son who likes pink nail polish on his toenails. People are all “Yeah, woohoo, buy stuff at J. Crew!” and “OMG, they’re pushing trans-ness on kids, for shame” and so on, because the internet is full of people, giving a shit.

I live with a toddler who loves nail polish and likes nothing more than demanding that the roommate apply it, in specific colours on specific fingers. I have no interest in this, but hey, what they do is what they do. Toddlers like to do stuff with colours. Playdough. Paint. Crayons. Socks. As adults we might code this as feminine but there’s nothing inherently vagina-uterus-clitoris-possessing* about it.

I have a friend or two and family members who seems to delight in pointing out to me when he conforms to gender stereotypes. I’m not sure why. They’re just so pleased by it, and it sometimes feels like they wants to rub my nose in it a little. See Kenzie? There really is something to gender stereotypes!

I never said that there were no differences between boys and girls. All I’ve ever said is that if there are, we don’t know what they are. Not really.**

And one kid conforming to one stereotype is not even data. It’s not even interesting in the bigger picture. Maybe he’s well-coordinated as regards large muscle stuff not because he’s a boy, but because he was carried so much when he was an infant – babywearing and carrying seem to contribute to better balance and physical development of kids at 6 months and a year in some studies. Or maybe because he was born so very very full-term and well-developed and 9 1/2 pounds and he got a head start. Or maybe because that’s the body he came with, part of the normal variation inherent in bodies. Who knows.

So pointing it out and thinking that we know the explanation for it because, you know, penis and testes and a Y chromosome is just so much buying into the concept of the patriarchy. And it’s not neutral. “Boys develop large muscle coordination earlier than girls” feeds right into “boys are more rough and tumble than girls” which feeds right into “boys are more aggressive than girls naturally” which feeds right into all of the horrible narratives about adolescent and adult sexual aggression by boys and men, about men’s natural dominating assertiveness in the workplace, and so on (including all of the complementary narratives regarding girls and women). It’s all of a piece.

And of course, these same people don’t sit around commenting that he’s empathetic like we tend of think of girls being. That he’s a peaceable kid who most of the time likes to get along, like we think of girls being. That his language development is not at all delayed the way we think of boys’ language development being. That he likes pink frilly dresses and his stuffed animals and every baby doll he encounters the way girls are supposed to and boys aren’t.

I frequently feel that people are being unscientific, picking and choosing their data to fit their preconceptions, but that in their opinion I’m the difficult and unreasonable one for not going along with it and just declaring this feminism thing a crock because the kid climbs well.

* I mention these body parts that not all women possess not because I believe that these parts are what make a person a woman (I do not), but because the sort of person who tends to consider maleness and femaleness to be these massive irrefutable inborn and opposite things also tends to believe that being born with these parts is what makes someone a woman and therefore inherently feminine.

** I’ve also said, and will continue to say, that as regards almost everything we think of as dude, so male, and woah, so female can almost always be plotted as two significantly overlapping bell curves. And that there is almost always more variability between two members of the same gender than there is between the genders in general. Height. Strength. Hip to waist ratio. Body hair quantity (before shaving and depilating and lasering). Levels of so-called sex hormones like Estrogen and Testosterone. Even boob size.***

*** Seriously, look around at the men you know. There are a lot of A and B cups around on men. And larger. They’re just not as noticeable as the equivalent ones on women because they’re not propped up on a shelf under a form-fitting shirt. And we’re not looking for them. Sure, most of the very flat-chested people you meet will be men. But not all of them! And sure, most of the D+-cupped people you meet will be women. But not all of them!****

**** Bodies are awesome in all their shapes and sizes and conformations and abilities. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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