Shamebagging

24Feb09

There’s a dedicated pharmacy in my town, but it’s a little out of my way. Usually, if I need something like shampoo, I get it from the supermarket or the homeware store next door, since I go there almost every day.

The homeware store has the advantage of stocking a larger range of tampons, too. So I usually stop in there when I’m running low. I picked up a box the other day. And, just like every other time I’ve bought tampons there, the woman at the checkout took out a special dark green, opaque, unmarked bag, and put my box of super-pluses in it.

I like to call these bags the “shamebags”. I’ve never seen any other purchases go into them, so I’m forced to assume that they are specifically for tampons. The checkout woman (and it’s always a woman – in eighteen months, I’ve never seen a man at the checkout, but that’s a story for another time) even secures the shamebag with sellotape, lest one’s purchases accidentally fall out and become visible.

I tried to refuse the shamebag once. It was a while ago, so it may have been my fragile Japanese that caused the problem, but the woman looked so confused (“You’re *not* ashamed to be menstruating?”) that I let it go.

It’s not unique to my local shops, either. I once bought a packet of tampons at a convenience store – the only item I bought, and as I was paying, asked if there was a toilet in the shop. My tampons were still dutifully wrapped up for me.

I hate the idea that I should be ashamed to be seen buying tampons. Come to think of it, I hate the idea that I should be ashamed to be menstruating. I am, quite clearly, a twenty-something woman, and it’s reasonably common for women my age to have periods. Yes, it’s messy, yes, it can be inconvenient, yes, I could do without the hormonal upsets and the abdominal pain that leave me with very low reserves of patience for two or three days a month.

But menstruation isn’t a disease. It’s not catching, it’s not dangerous, it’s not any kind of disability. And even if it was, none of these things are anything to be ashamed of.

Why should I be ashamed of not wanting to spend ages scrubbing bloodstains out of my clothes? Or of not wanting to waddle around with a pad stuffed into my knickers? Or, god forbid, of daring to buy female-specific products. I think that’s the problem here.

A friend of mine likes to tell the story of when her boyfriend was looking after her after she had an operation. He did everything; cooked, cleaned, ran errands, answered the phone, brought her books and dvds and generally acted as a good partner should. He even changed her catheter bag. But he wouldn’t go to the shops to buy tampons for her. Not only are tampons shameful, it seems they’re toxic to men.

A combination of tampons and ibuprofen turn my monthly period from incapacitating into inconvenient. Why should I be ashamed of one and not the other?

And the thing that really annoys me? The shop that insists on wrapping my tampons in an extra plastic bag? Is currently encouraging everyone to use reusable bags when they go shopping, because excess packaging is wasteful.

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