When I was eight or nine I discovered a big box in my mother’s closet. It was pink or blue pastel with flowers or swirlees, I am not certain. It was wrapped so it had to be a gift of some sort. And then one day, as I snooped for hats or shoes to try on, the box was open. Inside were white cotton mattresses for my Ginny doll. They were six inches long with unstuffed extensions at each end. I cannot say why, exactly, but it was crystal clear that asking about these was out of the question, so to speak.
With what I know and believe today, 55 years later and the women’s movement in my veins, it seems impossible that a little girl of nine would have zero idea of what they were or where they came from. That illustrates how unspoken things were in 1956. When I was about eleven, I found one of these mystery mattresses wrapped in toilet paper, lying on the sink in the bathroom I shared with my mother. I opened it and discovered it was some sort of bandage as it had blood on it.
Packing for summer camp when I was twelve, mother came into my bedroom carrying one of these gigantic, feather-light boxes. She also had an elastic belt with pronged metal fasteners. She made me put on the elastic belt over my shorts and showed me how the pad clipped in. It was awful. She went on to explain that everyone did this. Every girl and woman did this. I was totally dismayed. I looked at magazines, at students, at women everywhere to see how they hid this thick cotton mattress held in place by sharp metal clips.
It was disgusting. It was silent. It was in plain wrap. Buying it was to be stealth, looking to see who was in the store and was a woman at the cash register. It was a task to change and worse to dispose of. Most of all it was an Olympian challenge to wear without detection. No one had to tell me that you could not let boys or men know of this event. That was simply understood. I could not figure out how girls sat on their father’s laps with this impediment strapped in place.
For many reasons, the onus has reduced A BIT. There are TV commercials. There are aisles of products in grocery stores. There are words on the wrapping. You can swim and walk a hi-beam without worry. They are scented, winged, flat, disposable. Hey, got a spare pon? No problem.
But never be fooled, as easy as it might be for menstruating America; it is dirty, it is taboo, it is not dinner table talk. Men are repulsed at the very idea that this shamed private item be the object of resistance in the Austin State House. Maybe they were actually informed that this action would happen when House Bill 2 passed (19-11) but be it rumor or fact – they would not have it happen.
With puny minds, little did they consider the idiotic laughing stock they would become. Someone at morning police briefing had to tell them to confiscate condoms, tampons and pads. Someone had to provide big bins for all the contraband. Someone had to make this a RULE.
Of course no one had time to tell Rambo, the pad police, what is the proper protocol. The memo about not shaming the women, not mocking the pads, not inserting their own aversions into this police action would not be tolerated. Maybe the younger women who immediately knew this was an outrage and made it trend on twitter #tampongate, were handing them over with equal dollops of contempt but some were not able to be cavalier.
Idiot men waving around a pad, humiliating women for whom it was an entrenched cultural taboo was a whole lot more than embarrassing. These men revealed the contempt they have all day, every day. They just had a way to demonstrate it on this occasion. Hardly more mature than a second grader who thinks a that a loud fart is the best joke ever, these tough men in their armed uniform projected their discomfort as confiscation continued. With no concern for the reality of this action, the police took food from hypoglycemics and diabetics, took incontinence pads, took pons and napkins. With no second thought about all those who practice abstinence and are not pregnant, they binned their sanitary protection.These mindless, bible-headed bullies were so mortified with the idea of citizens throwing clean pads and wrapped tampons at them as if it was an unbearable shame when I would ask about the government inserting an ultrasound wand, a forced sterilization for inmates, the insistence of carrying an unwanted pregnancy. It may have become a media circus, a trending tag but, to me, it is so much more. It is the laws of the old testament, of bleeding being unclean and requiring sacrifice. It is the Red Tent.