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The XX files - 6.7.06

Bloodless coup


Bloodless coup

Now, I'm a good girl. I'm no menstrual activist. You won't catch me at a rally swinging nunchucks made of tampons or at a roundtable discussion of store-bought panty liners vs. reusable organic cotton pads. I'm not one to make waves.

But the new extended-cycle oral contraceptive pill that suppresses the period indefinitely has me thinking. Using low doses of hormones like the Pill and Seasonale --- the new-ish pill that limits periods to four a year --- this new pill, called Anya, raises concerns.

As with marketing efforts for Seasonale, ads for Anya will probably promise all kinds of freedom. Though Anya sounds a little like "hello" in Korean, it's more like goodbye. Goodbye to tampons and pads. Goodbye to cramps and bloating. But is it goodbye to other things, too?

The young women being targeted by marketing campaigns for these pills already live in a society where the acceptable amount of body hair for women is zero. So they wax the bejesus out of themselves. Now, thanks to a skewed big pharma ad campaign repeating the fallacy that 68 percent of women don't like getting their period, girls learn that menstruation must be discarded. Sure, some women have so much pain and blood loss that this option will be a blessing. But in fact, only one-third of the survey respondents were unhappy with their periods, according to the National Women's Health Network.

Perhaps some of my concerns are due to sour grapes. When I first got my period, despite my low-key approach --- "Ma, don't tell Dad. Just give me a tampon" --- I was the subject of an impromptu initiation rite. Shrieking with joy, she trumpeted the news to my father and little brother and led them on a fertility dance through the house.

No girl should be deprived of this kind of family celebration, which ideally continues as the whole family stands outside the bathroom door offering unsolicited advice on how to insert the damn thing and your brother hisses "looozah" through the keyhole. This marks a critical phase in a girl's life, kicking off the era of realizing how stupid parents are.

The era typically ends years later when you're at college making sculptures out of panty liners painted red as a feminist statement and you realize, suddenly, that your parents weren't so bad after all. Later, when you find a life partner, you'll start plotting how to embarrass any future daughters you may have. It's a cycle, get it? Just like the menstrual cycle.

Judging from recent press reports, everyone's pretty psyched about a period-free future. Glowing articles trumpet the end of the "curse" and quote ecstatic gynecologists who use loaded terms like choice and power, slyly invoking feminism. Of course, few actually analyze the underlying assumption that all periods are bad.

In the blogosphere, however, it's a different story. Many women say it's cool to have choices but they'll keep their period, thank you very much. It gives some a feeling of healthiness and reassures others that they're not pregnant. They report having bouts of creativity and feelings of supersexiness during their periods.

Watch out, because big pharma isn't the only one with its grubby hand down our pants. Some conservative Christians are, too, especially the ones who want to do away with contraceptives. That's right: not just abortions but condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, pills, you name it. Contraceptives, the argument goes, encourage extramarital sex and homosexuality.

There even seems to be prudishness about sex within a marriage. Like the Catholics of my childhood, the Christian Right may be turning the clock back to a time sex was acceptable only as a grim, babymaking venture. Not that anyone is ready to admit it. But the signs are there: when pressed about whether President Bush supports contraceptives recently, spokesman Scott McClellan refused to answer.

For now, sex-obsessed meddlers and other conservative activists are working to undermine the public trust in contraceptives, like Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn's specious claims that condoms don't stop some STDs.

So what's a good girl to do? Well, just that: be a girl, not a woman. Both the Anya approach and the Christian Right approach promote childlike qualities in women.

There's the meddle-with-nature, period-suppression approach that leads to an adulthood lived in the hairless, menstruation-free state of childhood. And there's the no-contraceptives, get-and-stay-knocked-up Christian tack which requires women to lose control of their bodies and submit to male-dominated theology.

What's a good girl to do? If I eschew contraceptives, that means when I'm not pregnant or nursing (which suppresses menstruation) I'll get my period. But that's all wrong, and I can prove it. While the pope was in Poland recently, the advertising chief for the state-run TV network pulled all "frivolous" ads from the airwaves, including ads for alcohol and, wait for it: tampons.

I get it. The church says my period is bad. That means I need to be pregnant or nursing all the time. Right? But I can't nurse in public, where I'll be the target of dumbfuck mall managers and leering creeps. And that's another confusing message for girls: massive knockers are associated with beauty, but nursing itself --- which causes massive knockers, if temporarily --- is taboo.

Does the pope secretly want me to suppress my period so I won't seem so, well, icky to him? Does pubic hair gross him out, too? If I can't get pregnant, then I won't be able to nurse. I can't imagine he'd want me to get breast implants, but then, who knew the pope ever gave a thought to tampon ads? This is confusing. It's so hard to be a good girl.