Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

The Little Boy and the BFG

November 26th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

Photo by Andrea Mason. Used with permission

His mother told me she was in the shower and when she came out, there he was. “He kept pushing them through the applicator and saying, ‘A flower!’ and then trying to sniff them,” she explained  (and the t-shirt, by the way, is just a wonderful coincidence).

So why is this such a charming yet cringe-worthy moment captured in time?

A sweet little boy innocently explores some curious objects, ‘flowers’ to him. They are not charged with a snicker and an ‘ohmigod.’ They are not products just for women’s deep dark ‘down there’. They are neither yucky nor gross. In fact, they are FASCINATING and FUN! And that’s because our menstrual shaming culture has not worked its insidious magic on him yet.  Today, these tampons are just flowers. [And a fun fact here: in the Middle Ages, the word “flower” was commonly used to signal menstruation, according to scholars Etienne Van De Walle and Elisha P. Renne]

As I studied this photo, dissecting the typical reactions it surely elicits, my mind wandered to my favorite passage from the Roald Dahl classic, The Big Friendly Giant. In it, Sophie, the little girl who befriends the massive and gentle protagonist with his own unique vocabulary, attempts to explain the impropriety of open, let’s just say it, fart talk.

Everyone is whizzpopping, if that’s what you call it, Sophie said. Kings and Queens are whizzpopping. Presidents are whizpopping, then why not talk about it? Glamorous film stars are whizzpopping. Little babies are whizzpopping. But where I come from it is not polite to talk about it.

Redunculous! Said the BFG. If everyone is making whizzpoppers, then why not talk about it?

Exactly. Everyone farts, so why the hush hush? About one-half the world’s human population menstruates (most for multiple decades) but we are expected to pretend we do not.

Redunculous, but oh-so-common. So when a little boy brings evidence of menstruation into the light of day, we think, if only he knew what THOSE THINGS WERE REALLY FOR! The horror!
But what if he knew AND he didn’t care? What if he knew and he STILL thought they were still fun to play with, still reminded him of flowers?

What then?
 What would menstruation feel like, for menstruators and everyone else, without the yuck factor? How would resistance to shame reshape our menstrual culture? Our menstrual practices?  Our attitudes toward our very own bodies, whatever they do or do not leak? These are not new questions—we ask them again and again on this blog and that’s just here. And yet, while we are clear that menstrual shame is counterproductive, even damaging to quality of life, most of us are still pretty stuck there. What do we actually DO differently to normalize menstruation? Isn’t this how we remake the world, one simple act at a time?

Can we begin with this sweet little guy? Let’s try. What do we say to him when we find him on the bed, about to peel open another super tampon?

Uh..no, honey…those are just for Mommy. Those are not for little boys. Let me have those (as we hurriedly scoop them up and hide them, better this time).

OR

Do we say something else, something that refuses to inject these wads of cotton and rayon with a mysterious negative charge, and just, matter of factly, states their purpose—the same way we would respond as if he had broken into a box of Band-aids or Q-tips. If he has a follow up question (sometimes they do at this age; sometimes not), we answer.

What would YOU say to our little tampon enthusiast?

  

12 Responses to “The Little Boy and the BFG”

  1. Lisa Leger says:

    Reminds me of the time my little brother put the cardboard applicators on each finger and ran around the house pretending he had claws.

  2. Chris Bobel says:

    good one!

  3. Jay says:

    I remember using the tips of the plastic wrapping from my mothers tampons were used as little disposable plastic cups for my Barbie dolls :-)

  4. ST says:

    I would say, “yeah!” let’s play with them! and tear them up into fun little shreds…cats are good at this too. Then, you can just leave them for him to play with while you go finally make that Diva Cup (or Keeper or Moon Cup) purchase you’ve always wanted to but were unsure of the right moment. :)

    They are fun to play like they are mice too, and you can use empty toilet paper roles or paper towel roles to play with them. Using q-tips and band-aids, you can make quite a city!

  5. Chris Bobel says:

    Yes! Tampon crafting while reaching for the alt products! Good plan.

  6. [...] we want to see a new way of menstruating – open, without shame, like Chris wrote about earlier this week, with honest talk Heather has called for, without the the moral panic Breanne’s students reported [...]

    • Chris Bobel says:

      great synthesis…..and what I love about promoting a new menstrual consciousness is how the shame-denying, open, honest NON panicked talk is good practice in endless ways—I am talking about new norms of embodiment, of doing gender, of living our sexual lives, of practicing health care…..

  7. …”the same way we would respond as if he had broken into a box of Band-aids or Q-tips.” Yes! Frank and open, all the way.

    Though I like the crafting idea. At Sexual Health Access Alberta, we hosted a few events that included menstrual arts and crafts, many of which utilized tampons. But my all time favorite was Bleedy, the Period Puppet. You can see a picture of Bleedy here:
    http://menstruationresearch.org/2010/06/14/seeing-red-a-cultural-history-of-menstruation/

    Menstrual arts and crafts was a great way to get girls and women talking freely about menstruation.

  8. I clearly remember asking my mum if I could use her tampon box to make a house (cut windows and a door in it, that sort of thing) and her telling me I better not, or something along those lines. I also remember seeing the blue string and asking her what that was about and being fobbed off.

  9. Andi says:

    I remembered this picture of my son today when the topic popped up in conversation, and came back to this post to show a friend. Figured I’d give an update now that he IS old enough to ask questions.

    At three years old, he does so constantly. He’s fascinated by body parts and functions, and I’m working on teaching him to use the proper names instead of colloquial terms, which can be challenging. At home, he has a penis and his Gaga (my partner) and I have vaginas. He understands this and doesn’t question it, but at his daycare he hears other kids using terms like “peepee” and “pooter” that make me hold back laughter when I hear them.

    A few weeks ago while in a public restroom, he noticed an open and unfolded, but unused, pad on the floor. He asked what it was and I explained that grownup women sometimes bleed from their vagina and it’s part of how babies grow, and that the pad is kind of like a bandaid for that. He was silent for a minute while processing what I said, and we walked out of the bathroom. He turned to the security guard stationed at the entrance of the hospital and told him, “I don’t need a bandaid for my bagina because my penis doesn’t have a baby inside with a boo-boo!”

  10. Chris Bobel says:

    Andi—LOVE that story! Thanks for checking back in and sharing it. Love the open dialogue you have with him and the NON self consciousness and curiousity you are so ably fostering in our *cover boy*!

  11. Andi says:

    Chris, I came across this article yesterday and thought of you.

    http://thestir.cafemom.com/big_kid/162778/photo_of_boy_peeking_down?next=11#comments

    (The photo in question is linked in the article, but it’s shown at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/elinor-carucci-mother_n_4098752.html )

    While it’s not directly related to menstruation, the photo essay and the article discussing it address the controversy surrounding openness between mothers and their children, and whether a line should be drawn at some point and if so, when. I actually have mixed feelings about this myself. Initially, I thought that of course the boy should be able to see and ask questions about his mother’s body. It’s healthy and while it may be frowned upon, it isn’t damaging. However, after reading some of the comments, I’m not sure I entirely agree. Someone pointed out that the photo was likely staged, which means that instead of the photographer catching a curious moment, the child likely spent more than minute or two looking. Also, the Mom’s name is public, which means that when the boy gets older there will be a photo of him on the internet of him looking into his mother’s underwear, with her pubic hair visible. I think THAT’S what rubs me the wrong way; that could be damaging. The looking and asking aren’t a problem to me, but the publication of the act and the name of the mother make me concerned for the little boy.

    Anyway, food for thought. Have a good day!

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