Thursday, 5 February 2009

I don't believe you've met my vagina

I’m loving this Salon article about how women writers are leading women towards greater openness about what happens to our bodies during less than delicate processes. It mentions Moe Tkacik’s famous account of when she left a tampon in for 10 days, along with this experience about which Miranda Purves wrote in Elle magazine:
Upon reading in "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (the ultimate compendium of maternal paranoia) that women who had given birth vaginally might find that sex will change thanks to the stretching (and tearing) of their vaginas, Purves realized that "No one, not a single one of my friends who had already given birth, not my mother, not a doctor, not another book, no one had told me that there would be a permanent 'slight increase in roominess.'" And so, perhaps as a public service, or perhaps just to get it off her chest, Purves described in Elle how she made the final push through the so-called ring of fire. "I ripped like old sheets, and the (my) baby's head burst free," she wrote, going on to describe the unsatisfactory healing of her granulated vaginal skin, her lack of sensation when her husband attempted to stick a finger inside as foreplay, and how, when she finally braved a look at herself in the shower, "what had once been smooth and pale pink was a weird tortured purple. It conjured jellyfish, dead and torn."
I don’t yet sense this newfound openness among Caribbean women. The lengths to which we’re taught to go to avoid discovery of the feminine products in our purses rival the training of the cyanide-carrying spies in films and novels. And perhaps it’s part of our martyr status, but it seems real women don’t complain about childbirth. A woman once boasted to me that when she had had her son, “the doctor didn’t have to cut [me] or anything.” Congratulations? I’m thrilled you didn’t have to deal with the discomfort of an episiotomy, but I wouldn’t categorize it as an achievement. Still, this kind of dynamic encourages shame and silence among women who don’t simply bounce back from childbirth, or who deal with the everyday nasties of being a woman.

I have friends who will screw their noses up and squeal “Ewwww! TMI!” if you mention the word ‘clot’. You can relax, lady. I just said the word, I didn’t gift wrap one and leave it under your Christmas tree. If women can’t talk amongst ourselves about the things that happen with our bodies, how can we expect our partners to understand and support us when said things take painful and uncomfortable turns?

I’m not advocating going number two with the door open while we give the household ball-by-ball coverage. And I for one don’t have warm, fuzzy memories – or any memories at all – of my first period. But being a woman isn’t always all lavender and manicured labia. Sometimes gross stuff happens. And being able to talk about it keeps us healthy and sane.

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