Readers—I need your help!
Next month, I will participate in a friendly debate at the Museum of Modern Art about Sputniko!’s provocative piece “Menstrutation Machine.” We’ve written about Menstruation Machine on re:Cycling before. In short, the metal device is equipped with a blood-dispensing system and electrodes that stimulate the lower abdomen, thus replicating the pain and bleeding of a five-day menstrual period.
Here’s the video that the artist created to simulate what it was like for one fictional boy (Takashi) when he wore the device while socializing with a friend in the streets of Tokyo.
The debate is part of a series Design and Violence-an “ongoing online curatorial experiment that explores the manifestations of violence in contemporary society by pairing critical thinkers with examples of challenging design work.”
The exact debate resolution is still being worked out, but it will revolve around this question of EMPATHY.
That is, what is the potential of “Menstruation Machine,” specifically, or any other object, to engender empathy in another?
Need more examples? Think Empathy Belly (thanks to sister blogger Chris Hitchcock who conjured that connection).
But we can extend the concept to ANY experience designed to expressly help an individual see inside someone else’s reality. Think “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”, the International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence, “a playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to men’s sexualized violence against women”; The Blind Café; or the TV show 30 Days, “An unscripted, documentary-style program where an individual is inserted into a lifestyle that is completely different from his or her upbringing, beliefs, religion or profession for 30 days.”
So, dear readers, I am hungry for you to share your thoughts as I prepare for the debate.
What do YOU think?
Can design help us be more empathic?
Can a non-menstruator ever really know what it is like to menstruate?
Can a temporary simulated experience, like this or any other, build a bridge?
Are there limits to what we can know of another’s lived experience, even if we can, for a short while, FEEL the pain?
Guest Post by Amy Sedgwick, HRHP, Red Tent Sisters
While there are no shortage of apps designed to help women track their periods, finding an app that meets the needs of women who are practicing fertility awareness methods (FAM) for birth control or conception can be quite a challenge. As a teacher of the Justisse Method of Fertility Management (there is currently no app available but there is one in development) I am often asked by my clients about web-based solutions to tracking their cycles when they are travelling or find themselves in other situations where their physical charts are impractical. Fertility Awareness users will be pleased to know that there is a new app on the market, Selene, which has been developed with FAM in mind. In addition to being able to chart the standard fertility markers (cervical mucus, cervical position, and basal body temperature), Selene boasts loads of unique features like the ability to make note of the things that affect reliability the most – like sickness, travel, and disturbed sleep. Selene also allows the user to define their own markers to track patterns in health, mood, libido, and more. The chart tab of the app shows you your cycle in a graph format, while the calendar tab displays it from a monthly perspective. Some of the other highlights of the app include a description of the daily moon phase, an automatic luteal phase calculator, the ability to ask questions about your chart in the “Ask an Expert” section, and a detailed instructions and help section. Selene excels at utilizing the principles of the widely-used fertility awareness method taught in Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Using principles from the book, the app will shade out days of predicted fertility based on the information you enter. It will also calculate an ovulation prediction based on the average length of your cycles. The app highly encourages users to seek additional support and education for their fertility awareness practice, particularly if they are using it for birth control. While Selene offers the most nuanced approach to menstrual cycle charting that I have thus seen (although I can’t claim to have evaluated all the apps on the market), one feature I would like to see added in future versions is the ability to manually choose whether a day is considered fertile (i.e., as indicated by bold stripes on the calendar view) so that those schooled in other approaches to fertility awareness, like the Justisse Method, could have the option of applying our own rules and calculations overtop of the calendar view. The only other critique I have of Selene is that the developer has chosen a dark navy background, which I personally find difficult to view. I’d prefer to see them use a colour scheme that is brighter and easier to read. I am grateful to Selene’s creators for being so thoughtful, thorough and conscientious in the creation of their app. I look forward to seeing what enhancements and updates they integrate into future versions.
The BODY POLICE just wrote us another ticket.
Sweating through our workout clothes, is a big NO NO, that is, if the sweat shows up (whisper…blush…giggle…) down there. The “solution” to the non-problem du jour is U By Kotex’s Sports Liners. Thank you, Kotex, for reminding me that I am, in fact, a functioning, healthy human. Here’s the commercial. (Prepare your rage).
In response, Australian Humorist Sammy J sent the BODY POLICE back to the station with: “The Crotch Song” He performed the jaunty tune on the new Australian weekly comedy series Wednesday Night Fever, which he hosts. Then, like good satire often does, it went viral.
Apparently underestimating our hunger for a good solid FemCare smackdown, Sammy J humbly posted to his Facebook page on July 25th: “I awoke to discover my song about crotch sweat has gone viral overnight, clocking up over 30,000 views. Power to the sisterhood!” Well, Sammy J, your fandom is growing. Video views on YouTube alone are at nearly 48K and climbing.
I love the sassy critique of the product, of course, but I especially appreciate the way Sammy J redirects our attention away from the intractable ‘to use or not to use’ debate that quickly devolves into missing the point much bigger than any particular individual’s consumer choice. Instead, he exhorts every woman to steer clear of men (let’s expand that to ANYONE) “ who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.”
Here’s the full lyrics here. Every delicious word.
The Crotch Song by Sammy J
I saw a new ad for a new product aimed at women New panty liners to eliminate crotch sweat. And though I don’t have degree in feminism I feel their message is a little hard to get
Cause the assumption seems to be that sweating when you exercise is a major turn off so it’s best to keep sweating in disguise
But that does not address the fact that any guy who judges you for sweating when you exercise is probably a cock-head.
So if we apply the logic they’re using to sell it. And your crotch is sweaty so you buy a 30-pack
Well then there’s a stronger chance you’ll end up with a douche-bag, and that’s a few years of your life you won’t get back.
In-fact when you think it through Any guy who talks to you despite your sweaty crotch has already past a very basic test It means he’s not brain dead. It means he understands the cause or link between exercise and perspiration.
So take him to the formal
The website says and this is word for word I’m quoting “It’s time we all stop being shy about vaginas”
And then you click the product tab they’re promoting guilt, shame and embarrassment to sell their panty-liners.
So young girls if you’re listening and your crotch is feeling sweaty. You can chose to use a liner. Do whatever sets you free
But as you make your way through life avoid dating the assholes who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.
Guest post by Kati Bicknell, Kindara
Now I know in the title of this post I say “Five things you probably don’t know about your vagina,” but really it’s about more than your vagina. The V Book, by Elizabeth Gunther Stewart and Paula Spencer, is basically the owner’s manual for all people who have any of the following V’s — vagina, vulva, and vestibule. Don’t know what a vestibule is? Read on, my good friend!
I am a bonafide vagina nerd myself, and when I read this book I learned a BUNCH of things that I did not know. Here are my top five:
- So we all know (now) about cervical fluid, but did you know that it’s not the only substance produced by your lady bits to keep things running smoothly? Your vulva actually produces a thin waxy substance, called sebum that lubricates the folds of your labia! It’s a blend of oils, fats, waxes, and cholesterol. If it didn’t, your labia and everything else would be all friction-y and chafe when you walked, had sex, moved, did anything really. That blew my mind. Thanks, body!
- Have you ever wondered how the vagina is simultaneously quite small, (i.e., sometimes even putting in a tampon might be uncomfortable and “stretchy”) and also somehow stretches to accommodate a baby passing through it? I definitely have. Well, it’s all thanks to your rugae! Rugae are small pleats that allow the vagina to be both very small and compact, and then to expand to many times its original size when necessary. Rugae is kind of like ruching! You know, the process of using tons of fabric and then scrunching it so it becomes a smaller form. I’m wearing a ruched jacket at this very moment, actually. It makes you think, if you wore this dress to the prom, are you subliminally broadcasting “HEY! THIS IS WHAT THE INSIDE OF MY VAGINA LOOKS LIKE”?
- Vestibule! (I told you we’d get here.) Okay! So the vestibule is important enough to be included in the three V’s of the V book, and yet I was like, “where the heck is my vestibule?” Well, it’s the place in between your inner labia. Here it is on Wikipedia, with an image that is ***not safe for work,*** unless you work in the field of sexual health, in which case, click away!
- Labia (as in the labia majora and labia minora). This word is actually plural. If you are referring to only one lip it’s called a labium.
Only in rare instances is a human female born with the hymen completely covering the vaginal opening. Most hymens are a little circle of very thin skin that partially covers the vaginal opening, but still leaves space for menstrual blood and cervical fluid to come out. Here is a hilarious and educational video explaining more about this. [Editor's note: Many sex educators today call it the vaginal corona, not the hymen.]
And there is a LOT more info in that book. Tons. Go pick it up today and learn more than you ever thought possible about vaginas, vulvas, and vestibules!
Ever since I saw this uterus pillow, I have been thinking about what to tell the girl in my life about menstruation. She’s ten years old. This pillow is exactly something I would give her! It’s handmade, using strong colors of the kind I like, and about a subject most people don’t want to talk about. [I like to annoy her!] Also, it’s pretty.
I’ve had it since the summer, and I still haven’t given it to her — because I want to say something with it.
But – what?
I have no idea what she knows or thinks or feels about her body in general, or about menstruation in particular.
Where do I start?
[translate that to several months of procrastination]
Telling myself that it was research and preparation for a good talk, I started asking people what they think I should say to a ten-year old girl in my life. Most asked me if it wasn’t too early to start this topic? I mean if she isn’t menstruating yet…
why bring it up?
Her school will know when to start the conversation. Or maybe leave it up to her, to whenever she asks you…
She’ll ask her mother then probably. Or maybe her mother has already started this conversation….
Wait! None of that matters —
I am totally ducking. I am afraid to get it wrong.
How will she know that conversations are not tests, or competitions, if I keep acting like there’s a right way to do this— like I need training, expertise or approval to talk to the girl in my life about something that I have experienced myself for several of her lifetimes?
I want her to know that it’s ok to not-know EVERYTHING about your body and what comes next, and that it’s ok to ask questions from a place of not-knowing.
Right. Decision made. I will not become an expert before talking with her.
I’ll make this about her and about me.
Here’s what I’ll do:
I’ll ask her what she’s heard so far:
- What do you know about menstruation?
- What did your mother tell you?
- Female relatives?
- Your father?
I’ll check in with her:
- What does it feel like? – What people told you —
- Is it: scary, embarrassing, no big deal, exciting…
I’ll tell her why I brought this up:
The menstrual cycle is not just about bleeding and whether you can get pregnant today — though, those two situations are reason enough to learn as much as you can about your cycle. You want to be prepared for, and satisfied with, both experiences.
The menstrual cycle is one of your body’s vital signs.
Its hormones and processes affect and interact with how you feel, how your bones grow, how your skin looks, your body temperature… From the inside out, of your body-your home, your cycle determines your quality of life in many ways.
Most of us know little about how our bodies work. And, unless we feel pain, have difficulty doing something we want to do, or are incapacitated, we don’t necessarily need to know any more than the little we know.
But — and this is why I bring it up — the more you do know about how it works, the more power you have over the quality of your body-life, which in turn feeds your mental-spiritual-emotional life. And back around again.
I bring up the menstrual cycle because its integral to the workings of a woman’s body and while there are ranges of normal — day to day, it’s a unique experience for each of us.
I want her to be aware of that, and to begin paying attention to her body because it’s her body. Not just when it raised an issue that needs a response, like what to do about the blood.
I’ll end with:
Many of us were raised not to think about, or talk about, or bodies, to keep it clean down there and move on. It was as if your body was this separate thing you control. That is not what I want for you.
I want you to actively take care of yourself, to pursue information, the help and know-how of others whenever you need it, and to evaluate for yourself how “true” or relevant what they have to say is for you. And, I think that if I start this conversation with you now, rather than once it happens, the seed will be planted in terms of your body-life, not just within the scope of bleeding and pregnancy, neither of which mean much to you before you’re crossing that threshold.
If a product manufacturer or its advertising company, or both, cannot figure out which part of the female body their new line of feminine hygiene products can be used for, then both are in big trouble.
There has been much hoopla over the recently launched Summer’s Eve campaign. Links to stories about and response to the campaign can be found in my fellow blogger Elizabeth Kissling’s July 27th post. The most serious backlash to the campaign resulted in three videos perceived as “racially insensitive” being pulled from the campaign website late last week.
What rankles me about the campaign – beyond its patronizing, unsophisticated and euphemistically silly approach to the female genital area - is that it appears to target the vagina when it is clear that none of these products are actually intended for use in the vagina.
Regardless of what one might think about the value of or necessity for these femcare products, an advertising campaign for such products must convey accurate information. Like where to use them.
The product line includes: cleansing wash, cleansing cloths, deodorant spray, body powder, and bath and shower gel. Click on the OUR PRODUCTS box on the website home page and you’ll see this: Meet the products that love your vagina. Oh, really?
These products are not intended, I repeat, not intended for use in the vagina. One would think that the product manufacturer knows this. Why then did they choose a talking vagina, and across-the-board references to the vagina, to convey their product message on the website?
Interestingly, the print and TV ads hold no direct reference to the vagina. The website coyly advises viewers that they can call it “V” for short. It is this moniker and the tagline ” Hail to the V” that crosses over to print and television.
Maybe this was intended as a subtle reference to the other “V” word – vulva . It’s pretty clear this is the body part for which the Summer’s Eve products are intended.
I wanted to know why the creative team at The Richards Group, the ad company responsible for the campaign, chose to use the word vagina instead of vulva. My request for an interview to ask this question was turned down, so instead I asked two colleagues what they thought the reason might be.
Valerie Barr, veteran sexual health educator and training centre manager at Calgary Sexual Health Centre, suspects it’s because vagina is assumed to mean what is actually the vulva. She says, “I believe this assumption, or taken-for-granted use of the term, serves to avoid discussion of the clitoris and therefore, female sexual response.” Barr says she thinks it demonstrates that in our culture we continue to be unconsciously uncomfortable with women being sexual beings.
Rebecca Chalker, female anatomy expert and author of The Clitoral Truth, also believes that fear of the word clitoris has much to do with it. ”Clitoris is the most toxic word in the English language, and to this day is considered obscene and too offensive to be used in the media. Just try it on people,” she says.
“Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) made the vagina safe for the general public – even she did not use the C–word. Vagina has now become the default reference for everything ‘down there.’ Those ad guys are no different. Perhaps they’re just using the default because that’s what they think people can relate to most readily,” Chalker says.
Although vulva is the accurate word to describe the female body part intended to benefit from the Summer’s Eve product line, Chalker says, “It would be a tragedy if vulva becomes the new default. In anatomical parlance vulva just means covering.”
All of this proves that Summer’s Eve Vaginaland is a minefield, and incredibly more complex than the silly campaign would have us believe. Marketing femcare products has always been a challenge for advertisers, but that’s another story.
In deciding to pull the aforementioned videos from the campaign, Stacie Barnett, Richards Group PR Executive, told Adweek that the backlash “had begun to overshadow the message and goal of the larger campaign – to educate women about their anatomy and break down taboos in talking about it….”
Well, the educational value of the ”Hail to the V” campaign is in question, and we’re still not talking about the right body part.
Have you ever wanted to make a uterus piñata? Say, for a baby shower or a menarche party? Liz Henry explains how.
Ms. Henry notes that the symbolism is not as violent as it might first appear:
Now you might think of this as perturbingly violent or promoting the idea of bashing someone’s body part with a baseball bat. However, try to adjust your mind to a different symbolism where cornucopia-like, abundant wealth flows freely out of a fertile, open uterus and you, as whackers with baseball bats, are encouraging it to open up to the world and deliver its fabulous contents!
[via Geek Feminism]
In Therese Shechter’s guest-post about the German teen magazine feature article, “Every Vulva Is Different”, she noted that we’re unlikely to see such an explicit, body-positive article in a U.S. teen magazine. Therese, as usual, knows what she’s talking about. In this just-released video clip from her forthcoming documentary How to Lose Your Virginity, Susan Schulz, the Editor-in-Chief of CosmoGirl! magazine, tells viewers about the time CosmoGirl! ran an article titled “Vulva Love”, which included a cartoon drawing of vulvar anatomy and some basic, age-appropriate physiological and health information about vulvas. It was the most complained about article ever published by the magazine. The complaints were not from the magazine readers, however: the grievances were filed by the mothers of subscribers. Parents thought it was inappropriate material for their teen daughters.
After you watch the clip, consider throwing a few bucks Trixie’s way so she can complete the film – the project needs another $3585 pledged by July 1 to receive the $10,000 they’re trying to raise.