Other (not always) wordless friends:
A new anthology, called GUSH: Menstrual Manifestos For Our Times, is making some people uncomfortable… why must these things be spoken of??
And making others relieved… thank god we can finally speak.
Because I have a short piece in the book (about the perils of attending a pool party in the 1970’s), and because I believe in saying the word menstruation out loud,
I recently sat outside Blue Heron Books with a little sign that said Menstrual Memories? — And waited to see what would happen.
Young children were rushed past.
Men looked uncomfortable. Women too. One woman actually sneered.
But after a while, I noticed people coming back, and some of them stopped. Then many more stopped. It was as if they’d been initially blindsided by the question… but… now that you mention it, yeah, I do have some memories I’d like to share.
And so they shared.
And why not?
A man asked if he could take a picture of the table. I asked if he had any menstrual memories. He said no. We laughed and I liked that the word was spoken between genders. It’s hard enough sometimes just between women.
And that of course IS the whole point of the book, i.e.Why are women made to feel awkward and embarrassed about a basic function of biology?
The first to stop was an 83 year old woman from Cape Breton who whispered about shame and flannel cloths worn like diapers, about the horror of washing them and hanging them to dry. After a few minutes she stopped whispering as one memory twigged another and her friends got into it, all of them swapping stories, and I could tell they’d never had this conversation or anything like it before. As she began to leave, she stopped, smiled and said thank you, this has been fun. She seemed slightly surprised that it turned out that way. And I have no doubt that part of the fun was the relief of speaking the words… at last.
When I got my cycle at age thirteen my mum told me I had to carry a purse for “my stuff”. The way she said it was like it was the worst thing on earth.
My dad worked in a factory that made menstrual products and got an employee discount but was too embarrassed to bring them home in the company box, which ‘advertised’ what was inside and so made a whole production out of wrapping the box in brown paper so that neighbours wouldn’t be any the wiser as he brought it into the house from the car. It was treated like contraband.
My mom left a booklet about “being a woman” on my dresser one day. In my closet, that same day, on the top shelf, was a box that had a lovely picture on it of a lovely woman in a long white gown. I was very excited about my new dress (which I assumed was inside!!).
My period started on the way home from school on the #28 Davisville bus. Me in my school uniform: white blouse, kilt, knee socks, blazer. I felt the ‘gush’ and when I stood up I was mortified. I tied the blazer around myself as I exited the bus.
Boys made jokes about girls who were on their periods. (On the rag & worse.)
When I got my period my mother took me aside and said I was to avoid boys now. She didn’t clarify why or which boys so I avoided them all, including my brothers, to the point that I was afraid if our elbows touched as we passed on the stairs. It completely changed our relationship.
Got my period at eleven. I was on a toboggan with two boys.
A menstrual memory for me is when I was in my twenties and playing softball. I was either pitching or shortstop, and I felt something. Uh oh…
My periods were heavy and I didn’t carry a purse. I worked as an auctioneer.
I used to keep extra pads down the sides of my cowboy boots.
My periods stopped the day my mother died. I could feel it starting as I sat with her in the hospital. She died that night, and my period proceeded normally for the rest of week. And that was it. I never had another. I was only in my forties.
We didn’t have products. We used flannel cloths, like diapers, and they had to be washed and dried and re-used. It was an embarrassment when it was your time because people would see the bulge of the pin through your skirt.
I lived near the ocean and it was a real concern, people would tell you not to swim, to be careful of sharks, and they weren’t kidding.
‘Second Chances’ is the name of the donation centre at a local women’s shelter where items are arranged ‘shop style’ so residents can help themselves to whatever they need… especially when moving on to new housing, and for a year afterwards. Someone I met there this morning, a former resident, told me how much the ‘free shopping’ meant to her (I got a kettle! a bath mat! shower curtains!), how much the whole shelter experience meant to her… how terrified she was when she arrived, how much the staff did to help her at a time when she felt like she was losing her mind, but even more, how they helped her move on, to find peace and beauty again, to give her kids a safe home, and how she loves to come back occasionally to say hello or sign up for a program.
I watch as she and a staff member hug with genuine affection, you look great! and I can’t help thinking what I know of her life, the utter awfulness of her past and the extraordinary changes she’s made in the years since.
I can’t help being in awe that she’s standing here so relaxed, wide open, all kind soul and grateful heart.
As we pass the stairs leading to the basement ‘store’ she stops, points to a wooden sign on a bare plaster wall and her face lights up like an epiphany.
See? she says. That’s what this place is…
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For further information and assistance, including a list of shelters in Ontario, and across Canada:
In the event you’re confused about how to treat the wimminfolk ‘these days’, and we suspect you are, maybe this will help…
a) ‘these days’, by the way, have been ongoing since Mary Wollstonecraft had the chutzpah to point out (publicly and in writing) the inequities between genders in 1792. She was, of course, the first feminist or, as some of you might describe her, the first pain in your ass. She certainly heard enough of that in her day. As have all women who dare to point out inequities. Because our more important role is to smile. And if you think the inequities are tiring to hear about, imagine it from our end.
b) It’s not about doors. Or seats on buses. I mention this only because it appears to be no small detail in terms of your frustration/confusion.What do these chicks want? Are you supposed to open the door or not, you wonder….
c) So, I repeat… it’s not about doors.
Please understand… we know you live to be helpful, to treat women with chivalry because, after all, that implies horses and knighthood, a nifty metal ensemble, a shiny sword but, honestly, unless our arms are full of groceries or rocks or children, we can handle a door. Same with anyone, really, you needn’t single us out. We’ll let you know if we need help with a jar or a high up shelf but in the meantime we’d like to think you’re using all those knightly instincts being chivalrous to people in general, opening an equal number of doors for men with arms full of children and offering seats to old fellas who look tired. In turn, we, too will gladly hold a door for you should we happen to get to it first. Basic politeness is different than a sense of duty, or favour.
That said, if you just can’t move past the idea of imposed chivalry, that men exist in order to ensure the welfare and good treatment of women, you’re in an excellent position to do something about it given your clout in most things corporate, political, tyrannical and world domination, generally.
Justice for sexual assault victims
Elimination of gender discrimination in the workplace, in the arts, in government, at my car dealership
The growing trend of women and poverty (aka feminization of poverty)
Gender based violence in… well, everywhere
Domestic violence and the need for shelters, community support, housing
The buy-in on your part to raise your boys to know it’s okay to show healthy emotion so that they don’t grow up like angry little grenades
The buy-in on your part to allow your boys to do more than excel at sports
The need to change the language that demeans girls: throw like a girl, etc.
And the language that demeans women… the male server at the restaurant who calls the woman who is neither young nor a lady, young lady, while addressing the male at the table as sir.
Equality of pay
Equality of employment opportunities
Elimination of the pink tax. Why do pink razors cost more than blue ones?
Missing and Murdered Women
Rape and Trafficking
Increased funding and research in the area of women’s health, i.e. maternal, menstrual, menopausal (part of human biology, not chick stuff )
Oh, and stop telling women to smile, okay? You like telling people to smile, tell each other.
Because these are the kinds of things that would actually HELP women.
Once you’ve taken these things as seriously as you do doors, and seats on buses, and opening jars, and similarly ‘helpful’ things, well, then, if you still want to open doors for us, go right ahead.
Thanking you in advance.
Once again, thanks.
I don’t care for the word ‘appropriate’ or its variations. Unless we’re talking how sandals aren’t appropriate for hiking in Antarctica or coal is not an appropriate gift for a miner, I’d prefer it not be used… or, more accurately, overused.
For example, in the context of language, inappropriate behaviour or messages, including those that, oh, I don’t know, threaten job security so an MPP in Ontario can get a date, let’s say, which is a very different thing than bringing coal to a miner. One is inappropriate, the other is pathetic.
See what I mean? Approprite/inappropirate are often words automatically used when other words would be more accurate.Words such as insensitive, racist, anti-semitic, sexist, unkind, or downright stupid and uninformed.
I’m not a fan of political correctness generally. I’m a fan of attempting to be a decent person, or as decent as one can be… and when one is not decent, to be the kind of person that owns up to that indecency by saying the indecency was wrong. Not inappropriate. Not politically incorrect. Just plain wrong.
The terms ‘political correctness’ and ‘appropriate behaviour’ suggest a sign of the times… the perception of a complicated era wherein complicated things need to be memorized. As if we should all make a list of Things To Say and Do in Various Situations and in the Presence of Certain People These Days, rather than acquiring the quality of giving a rat’s ass about people, generally.
It’s the difference between doing what’s decent versus doing what makes you appear to be decent.
I heard someone recently whinging about how things “used to be simpler’, that it “used to be okay” to say certain things, to raise a fist and make a joke about knocking a woman into next week… it’s a joke! Can’t you take a joke? It used to be okay to say these things. God. How is anybody supposed to know what’s appropriate anymore??
Here’s what’s getting lost in that argument… it was never appropriate.
Not in the good old days when Jackie Gleason did it, not when Ricky Ricardo put Lucy over his knee because she blew the housekeeping budget. Not any time before or since or in the future has it ever or will it ever be okay to disrespect anyone or put your rights above theirs.
Still, it seems there are a few confused souls among us, so here’s a couple of pointers that I hope will help.
♦ If it comes up that you sent emails to someone threatening their job security unless they _________ [fill in the blank], and nobody wants to hang out with you anymore, do not grumble how times have changed. Because that suggests the problem is the times, not you. Be accurate, say that you are an ass, that you have no consideration for others and especially do not value or respect the people to whom you’ve written the emails.
♦ Stop hiding behind variations on the word appropriate.
♦ And spare me the scripted apologies designed to get you out of sticky wickets rather than taking the three minutes necessary to actually consider your actions.
♦ Consider the fact that women are people (they have been since 1929).
♦ Consider that anyone, regardless of gender, might appreciate (instead of platitudes and political correctness) the sense that their feelings matter and to not have to constantly explain what those feelings are and why they matter, not to mention worry about your feelings in the process.
Here’s an example:
You step on someone’s toe . They say ouch.
a) be pissed off that they didn’t just keep quiet about it
b) say oh don’t be so stupid, I didn’t hurt you
c) sigh dramatically in the way of those who must occasionally throw the little people a crumb, and say fine, I’m soooorrreeee that I apparently stepped on your stupid toe, are you happy now?
d) send flowers, chocolates, jewellery, money, in lieu of recognizing their feelings and then refer to the injured party as a liar when said ‘gifts’ don’t work their intended magic
e) you can say (and actually mean it), oh, shit, did I step on your toe? What a moron I am, what a clutz. Sorry about that, are you okay?
Bottom line— intention, sincerity, genuine respect for another person is much more than appropriate behaviour.
Way more than optics.
p.s. This particular rant is about the treatment of women, but with a bit of re-jigging and imagination, it would easily apply to the treatment by anyone, of anyone, of any gender, class, culture, religion, hair colour or shoe size.
I’m not a joiner of things, not a clubbish person generally. This has always been the case, although when I was about ten I invented The Boogie Woogie Club and invited friends to join. Amazingly, on opening day, a few showed up in my parents’ basement where we sat around until someone… Kathleen Erickson possibly… said so what’s this club about… I mean what do we do?
Good question, Kathleen, I thought. But I didn’t have an answer. To this day I have no idea what the Boogie Woogie club was supposed to be or why I’d thought of starting it. I do remember seeing the words boogie woogie in a song title in one of my lesson books for accordion and, knowing me,
I probably just wanted to incorporate it… somewhere. A club with no purpose would have seemed as good as anything.
The club disbanded shortly after Kathleen’s unanswered question and we headed over to the school to do long jumps in the sand pits. Or similar.
Which more or less brings me to 2018.
Where I find myself part of another group, only this time I’m not the inventor (which bodes well for the group’s future).
Also, this group has that essential ingredient: a purpose.
The Wild Nellies is the result of two women having coffee one day and wondering what they could do to benefit the lives of other women, specifically women moving on from abusive relationships. What they landed on was the idea of women celebrating women through various disciplines — visual art, music, literature, sharing their own work or the work of someone that’s inspired or influenced them in some way. The event would be free, they decided, and held in one of the area’s most wonderful spaces, and all of it would be done to bring attention to the needs of a local women’s shelter.
That they take their name from Nellie McClung — writer, legislator, suffragist, activist, public speaker, one of Canada’s original feminists, and a member of The Famous Five, who met over tea to change the political shape of this country by having it declared (after extraordinary campaigning) that women were indeed ‘people’ — is most fitting and wonderful (not the least of which wonderfulness being the coffee/tea origins).
Women have always found ways around being invisible, of having no voice, of being ‘talked over’ and told to be quiet, that their passion and their interest in fairness is too ‘shrill’—
—Yet despite not having their voices listened to, and the sometimes even greater obstacles of being isolated, unable to speak the language, being penniless, afraid for their lives, or tied down with childcare, women continue to find ways to meet, to gather, to band together and bring about change for the betterment of not just themselves, but for all women, for community, the benefits of which ultimately reach beyond gender.
Which brings us to 2018 again.
And the announcement today of new legislation that requires employers in Ontario to pay all workers equal wages for equal work. While it has, for some time, been technically illegal to base wages on gender… until now it’s been okay to pay part-time workers less than full-time for the exact same job. And those part-time workers are often women.
It seems there’s no end of bits to take care of and so the tradition of women gathering continues.
Put the kettle on!
One of the the things I love best about Nellie McClung is that she used her fiction, her writing, as a springboard to discuss relevant issues of the day. This was unusual for a woman at the time. Women were meant to write about fluff and leave it at that.
And it’s what I love best about her namesakes, The Wild Nellies, who propose to do the same thing… use their art to bring attention to important issues.
I’m so happy to be a small part of their first ‘performance’ at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery on April 8th, along with eleven other women who will use their artistic voices to honour and celebrate the power of female creators in sculpture, film, theatre, illustration, literature, music and more, and in the process hopefully be part of that women’s domino effect that continues to try and make this pale blue dot a fairer, safer, and better place for us all.
Note: I have no problem at all making an exception to my otherwise anti-clubbishness ways for these chaps. Also, I think long-jumping might actually kill me at this point.
———those who doubt,
———those who insist,
———those who sit at the steering wheel and cry,
———those who write on blackboards,
———those who fall asleep in the sun,
———those who wait to be served in their own language,
———those who have a radical change of attitude,
———those who have seen your face somewhere before and
frantically search their memory for the sound of your name,
———those who worry about the state of your health,
———those who turn up the volume as loud as it can go to
prepare for the confusing and unpleasant noise that will
———those who can recognize in the grey sky the infallible
signs of an impending storm,
———those who place their head against your forehead to
try to track the movements of your thoughts or to transfer
information or, simply, to try to get close to your soul,
———those who stretch out their hands, imploring you to
help them up the steep slippery slopes they are preparing to
climb with or without you,
———those who go and get wine,
———those who do the shopping,
———those who make supper,
———those who move painfully, making their way slowly
and cautiously over icy sidewalks,
———those who turn around to make sure you haven’t
followed them with your eyes into their solitude,
———those who can’t get their keys to turn in the frozen
locks of their houses,
———those who touch up their lipstick,
———those who carry their shoes in plastic bags,
———those who never use a comb,
———those who cut their own hair,
———those who wipe the fog from their lenses,
———those who write their names in the sand,
———those who draw hearts and arrows or write risky
confessions in the dust and dirt that builds up on car bodies,
———those who use pointed objects to engrave graffiti into
the cold frost that thickens on the windows of their houses,
———those who insist on getting things out into the open,
———those who share a deep respect for each other,
———those who say yes with their eyes, offering the
troubling and genuine confession of their vulnerable bodies,
———those who leave flowers, love notes, flyers under the
windshield wipers of cars in the parking lots of shopping
———those who hold your face in their hands as if to drink
out of your mouth, as if from the source of an injury that
cannot be repaired by any other means but in this intimate
gesture, as distant as scripture and as moving as the sea,
———those who care deeply about making sure the world
is still and will always be a refuge of infinite warmth and
~ From, Beatitudes, by Hermengilde Chiasson
That my choice for Int’l Women’s Day is an excerpt from a book by a man isn’t completely ironic. His were the words that came to mind today when what I wanted to address was the universal each other of us, not just those who travel in our circles, who share our concerns, but those with or without families, with or without homes or meaningful work, respect, love… with or without someone who cares if we have a cold, who will bring us soup.
The forgotten women as well as the remembered.
The fact is we’re more same than different… and, despite our differences in gender, culture, race, privilege (and other contributing factors to how life plays out) (and the need to address those factors of inequality…) we recognize each other.
And that’s no small thing.
But how to use the power of it?
Because it strikes me that maybe it’s a key ingredient to achieving all kinds of equality, and rather than giving so much energy to divisiveness, teams and sides, all those rules to argue over, which makes for such a slow and bumpy road, maybe we could focus on the reality that we ‘recognize’ each other.
But, yeah, how to use that reality… remains the question.
In the meantime, that a man wrote these passages feels somehow hopeful, makes the idea of recognizing each other seem more possible somehow.
In the meantime…
Happy International Women’s Day, to ‘us’ all…