We Need to Talk. Period.

It’s safe to say that women are far better off today than 50 years ago, but there’s nothing that reminds me more of how much further there is to go than the stigma around the time of the month when Satan – I mean, ‘mother nature’ – comes to visit. It’s amazing how many people are ‘grossed out’ and pull a face whenever someone mentions anything to do with periods. A tampon falls out of your bag and suddenly everyone is looking at it in horror. I mean I could understand if it was a used one, but when has anyone ever had a used tampon in their bag? That’s not what happens.

I went to an all-girls secondary school, so luckily was in an environment during the dreaded teen years where everyone was pretty accepting about periods. The times girls used to bring it up to male teachers to see what would happen occurred fairly often, and nine times out of ten the male teacher would pale, panic, and send the girl to matron. The only negative experience I’ve had about periods in school was when one teacher literally yelled at the class about how girls just needed to ‘man up’ (great use of language there) and stop asking to leave the class because you felt ill from your period, which was then repeated in an assembly. This was only made up by the fact that another teacher completely disagreed, explaining that when she had her period as a teenager she would often have to call in sick. It seems to me that not many people understand that, like bodies, everyone’s period is different. Some girls have light periods, some girls get heavy periods, and some girls have different kinds every cycle. Some throw up, some get cramps, some get excruciating headaches, and some barely notice their period come and go.

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So why don’t people know these sort of things? Well, despite the fact that are society is improving, the ‘period’ is still a taboo topic – and when you really think about it, it’s difficult to understand why. Those who have periods, whether they identify as women or not, are made to feel ashamed for bleeding each month like it’s disgusting, as if we can just choose not to. Is it just not common knowledge that periods are 100% natural, aren’t unhygienic, and literally happen to everyone who has a vagina? Hell, it’s still front page news when someone posts a photo of themselves with blood spotting through their jeans. There are protests and campaigns with women free bleeding that make people lose their minds. I didn’t know that everyone experiences something different when they have periods until my late teens, simply because we just don’t talk about it. It’s like we have to act like having our period is some dirty little secret, despite the fact that everyone knows about it anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently due to the campaigning about the moon cup, known in some places as the diva cup depending on which brand you use. Typically there are two main ways to handle your period, which are using tampons or sanitary towels or both. Both of these aren’t good for the environment with a lot of packaging, but it’s all that was on offer. There are some other options like some birth control that stops your period all together, but who knows the long term effects that has on someone’s body – you’re literally using drugs to stop a natural cycle the body goes through.

Despite this, there have been some new products being introduced. The two that I’m aware of are the THINX underwear, which are underwear that you can wear on your period that you can just stick in the wash after wearing them for a few hours, holding as much as two tampon’s worth of blood. Reusable, completely hygienic, and far less hassle. The second is the moon cup, something that’s recently taken a real spike on social media and has won plenty of awards. Essentially it’s a cup that sits slightly lower down than a tampon does and it collects the blood. Again, it’s reusable as you can easily clean it out, and overall better for the environment. I decided to give one a try and, when I had some positive results, I talked to a few friends and family members about it. I was mildly surprised to find that some just didn’t want to know about it, the very mention of the word ‘period’ striking such horror in their hearts that they couldn’t bear to go on. The mere idea of blood leaving someone’s vagina just as bad and disgusting as discussing explosive diarrhoea. And it’s simply mad.

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Why is society still enforcing this stigma around periods? Why are we still teaching young kids that this is something you don’t discuss or talk about, that it should be kept ‘hush hush’ because people just don’t want to hear about it? Why must those who have periods have to suffer because of everyone else’s unwarranted distaste? Again, a period is 100% natural, and trust me – it is far worse for the person who actually has to have the period. When I was a young teen I became physically sick each month, and still get excruciating cramps that I have to pretend aren’t happening and just breathe through, feeling sick for a good couple of days. Why should I have to keep quiet about it? Why shouldn’t I be talking about it? Why can’t I discuss something natural about my body without worrying that someone else will be uncomfortable?

This is why we need campaigns like the moon cup and THINX. We need to normalise periods and stop tolerating those who punish us when it’s mentioned. I was going to talk about these campaigns in an application for a job answering a question about important campaigns, but was advised not to because it might put off any men looking over the application. This is not what we should have to be concerned about, and it is not a precaution I should have to take just to protect someone’s sensitive ears from talking about what so many of us have to experience. We should be making a move to stop this kind of behaviour. We need to march up to them, sit them down and say:

“We need to talk. Period”.

The One When I Used to Play Golf

I used to play golf. There were times I loved it and there were times I hated it – let’s just say it was a complicated relationship. Part of that just had to do with my ‘compatibility’ with the sport, I suppose. Four hours is a long time, especially to a 14 year old – which is around the age I started to play.

I mainly picked up the sport because my parents played, and still do, a lot. On a Saturday we would go, usually early, most of the time in cold temperatures, and always with my groaning about said things. I would play with the ladies, because playing with the juniors wasn’t so great (more on that in a bit). The thing with golf is that it’s very difficult to be consistent. One day you could be brilliant, and the next your swing just isn’t working and you get caught up in your head and the next minute you’re throwing your clubs at the ground.

Maybe if all I had to worry about was myself and just playing golf I’d still be playing today. There were times when I loved it, especially when I managed to somehow get a hole in one. The last golf coach I had told me that I had a great swing, and it was nice to find something that I could be good at. Unfortunately, there are many other factors that I had to deal with.

Like with several other sports, you don’t see a lot of female golf players. On the TV it’s the male competitions that get the most attention, just like with football and rugby. For me, it was very similar at the golf club I played at. There were no other girls my age, so in the juniors it was myself and boys of all ages up to eighteen. There was a ladies team, but most of them were over forty.

The first coach I met was called Mike, or Mark, but we’ll go with Mike for now. He was an all-around arse anyway, but he clearly believed that women didn’t really belong in the golfing world. His comments to me were far from encouraging, and I remember him telling me not to compare myself with the others as I’d never be able to hit as far as them because I’m a girl. The first time I went out on the course, Mike announced that I would go around with two 8/9 year olds instead of those my age because I had to go off the women’s tee, as if that made me less worthy. The two boys immediately complained about having to play off that tee with me and I remember quitting halfway through the round because of how awful it was. The embarrassment of not being able to putt well, especially it being my first time playing on the course, was only made worse by the two boys already having finished and telling me to hurry up.

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Luckily I didn’t have to deal with Mike for long, and a different coach came to the club, the exact opposite of Mike in every way. Despite this, it was now the other players I had to deal with. I remember a lot of staring and laughing. On a Monday night the coach offered a training session for juniors for £5 which I attended, only to be avoided by the boys who refused to instigate any conversation with me. When we were partnered up, they were wary of answering me or just trying to even speak to me. The coach once set up something to help us concentrate, where each of us would try to make a putt whilst everyone else jeered and shouted and tried to distract the player. Each boy stepped up, each boy received the same shouting. Yet when I went to putt, everyone was silent. In my embarrassment, I tried to quickly make the shot to get it over with and still missed it. It was very apparent that I didn’t quite belong there, or at least that’s how they saw it.

My experience of playing golf is usually the first thing I bring up when people try to downplay sexism. But my tales of woe and melodrama don’t end there.

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I talked in another post about the difference a good teacher can make and within that I briefly mention my PE teacher whose treatment of me was the final nail in the coffin of my golf-playing days. The lack of support in my chosen sport was astounding, and maybe it was just through lack of knowledge of golf on her part but it was like she didn’t even try to help me. There was definite favouritism in that AS PE class, and it seemed like those favourite pupils were the ones to always do the best. Maybe they simply blossomed under the light of favouritism and the constant remarks about how wonderful they are, whilst the rest of us were left to wilt. Every week that teacher would demand to know if my handicap had dropped yet, as if I could just simply drop by 10 in a few days. A completely demoralising experience, which just made me want to give up because how the hell was I supposed to compete? I even played a round of golf with her and won, but that didn’t help.

The whole class went to a local driving range where the professional there told myself, and the teacher, that I had great technique and a good swing. The two of them assessed me as I coached my classmates, and the professional told us that he’d give me full marks for everything. There were about five categories all marked out of five, and when I came to find out what my teacher gave me it wasn’t what the professional, let me emphasise the professional, had said at all. I was given one 4, two 3s and two 2s. She commented that she didn’t know if I’d had a ‘fluke’ that day, and she was trying to reflect that in her marking. And that was just for the coaching. For my playing, she scored me a low C – and by low I mean it was a C by a couple of marks. There was a man in my club that was a mediator for PE, so he assessed me on perhaps the worst day possible – freezing temperatures, and even some hail – so although I wasn’t playing my best, he still told me that I was a high B on that day and he would assume in better conditions I could be an A student. He called my PE teacher, and next thing I know she’s telling me that she’s decided to bump up my grade – to a middle B.

It should come as no surprise that quite PE after a year. There were other moments in that class of absolute dejection – such as being made to swim against my classmates, most of whom were talented swimmers whereas I was not. I lost, on every front, and was met with laughter, and then the classic scene of being picked last. Definitely my worst school experience by far, and I’m surprised that I managed to actually get through the year when I think back to it.

There’s not much else I feel like I can say. I decided to write about this a few weeks ago when talking with friends about bullying, and this popped up in my head. My experience with golf doesn’t even come close to the horrors some people have had to survive, but it’s still one that, looking back, I have more bad memories than good. I remember the sexist coach, the staring, the boys who refused to talk to me, feeling isolated, alone, different, unwelcome, that PE teacher, feeling worthless, and just wanting to give up. There are moments I consider trying to play again, when I think about when the nice coach told me that I had a great swing, or how that professional at the other club told me I had talent. I think about getting fantastic at golf, just so I could go back to that PE teacher and show her theream good at something.

But for today, I’m happy, and I’m not going to risk that.

Revelations at the bookshop

I’ve had a mix of jobs, three paid ones to be exact and several unpaid. I’ve already discussed my joyous time at the pub (if you haven’t read it and are interested, click here), have briefly commented on the horror that was working as a hostess, but for today I want to talk about working in a bookshop and about retail in general. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange world of weekend jobs.

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I’m pretty lucky in the sense that I actually enjoy my job. Despite the fact that I lose every weekend, it’s a great environment to work in with great colleagues and, every now and then, some nice customers. However, there are a few things that become very apparent about people in society today just from the interactions between a customer and employee. What some people fail to understand, is that just because someone is an employee does not make you, the customer, their boss. In fact it does not put you in a superior position whatsoever. Most people will nod and say ‘yes, yes, I know’, but those same people do not then act like they know it. For example, I had a man bark at me the other day whilst I was in the middle of speaking to another customer, “You, get on the till, I need to pay”. Yes, I know, frightfully rude, but you’d be surprised at how many times I have this interaction daily. Some people treat staff as if they are there to serve them personally, and so they can treat them how they wish. From insulting someone’s drink they’ve made you to muttering how incompetent you think they are, already you’re assuming and placing yourself in a supposed position of authority which you do not have.

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Now it’s not all doom and gloom – I did have a customer last week recite me one of him poems because I had run all over the shop with him to find a book and then gift wrap it for him. It’s customers like that which brighten your day, because who doesn’t like it when people are nice? If only everyone thought this way.

There are stereotypes all around us, as we well know, but one of them that is always present in my mind is that opinion that the older generation seem to have in thinking that the younger generation, particularly teenagers, are all rude and disrespectful. Working in a bookshop, I can of course only comment on the individuals that frequent my particular store, but it’s still interesting to see. You may well be surprised to hear that my favourite customers are those that are usually under 25, especially the teenagers. If you have a long line of customers, it won’t be the teenager huffing and puffing and pushing their way to the front to yell at you because of course it is your fault that there are a lot of people shopping on that day. It isn’t teenagers who get angry when you make a mistake – more often than not, they’re the ones who laugh it off and say ‘don’t worry, I make the same mistake at my work all the time’. Now don’t get me wrong, of course there are a few bad seeds, but in my experience the vast majority of the younger demographic is that they’re understanding and perfectly nice. The older generation? It varies much more. That lady in her seventies approaching the till could easily be about to tell you that she likes your shirt and just wants to chat for the next ten minutes about her grandchildren, but she could also be about to snap about how long she’s had to wait and how unacceptable it is that I’m the only one on my till as my colleague is on their break (how dare they). I’ve often found older people to be generally ruder when they talk to me, as if I am clearly beneath them due to the fact that I work in retail. My favourite interaction has to be with an older gentleman who used a word and then went, ‘oh, I’m sure you don’t know what that means’ and began to explain it. I stopped him, informed him that I knew perfectly well what that word meant. He then apologised insincerely and said something along the lines of ‘you must read a lot on your days off work then’. He was very surprised to hear that I’m at one of the leading universities in the country studying Classics with English. He tried to dig himself out of his neat hole that he’d made by saying he assumed that I worked at the shop full-time, as if that said something about my intellect.

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I feel the need to insert another funny customer story here to ease the tension, so I’m going to go with a personal favourite. It was a normal Saturday and a rather attractive guy strolled into the store with some friends and began looking around the notebooks. I, like the great employee that I am, went over to offer some help to see what he was looking for. ‘A present for my friend who likes writing’ was the answer and, boom, I’ve got this in the bag – was the first, naive thought that passed through my brain. I skip over to a display of fun books, one of them being a great book called ‘642 things to write about’ which has, literally, 642 different things to write about. They range from asking what you’ve inherited from your mum to describing your ideal partner – it’s a great book. Anyway, as I’m pitching this product, I say ‘let me show you an example’ and open the book to a random page. I point down to one of the ideas and we both look down as I start to read it out loud, only to discover that it said ‘Describe I time when you tried to orgasm, but couldn’t’. I was mortified, he was mortified, and I ran away with a ‘well, they’re not all like that, but I’ll leave you to browse’. Ah well, he still bought the book so it’s a success in my mind.

Back to the bad stories. The last ‘revelation’ if you will that I want to discuss is that I’ve found how far we are from equality. I’m bloody lucky that I am a white girl from a family that isn’t struggling and grew up in a really lovely area. I’m bloody lucky that I got into a good primary school that had great teachers which helped me get into a good secondary school which forced me to work my arse off to then get into a good university. I don’t encounter much discrimination directed towards me, especially as I went to an all girls school, but I do of course experience what most girls do: catcalling, wolf whistles, derogatory comments, disgusting individuals on public transport, misogyny – all that good stuff. Your typical issues of an everyday white girl, and the usual issues that some people call ‘white feminism’ typically deals with as we don’t also have to worry about whether the colour of our skin affects this as well.

I’m going to stop myself here from getting too into this discussion and get back to the bookshop interaction.

Sexism still exists, clearly, but it has never been so apparent as it has been since I’ve worked in retail. There have been several times when a customer, 9 times out of 10 a male customer, has approached the till and, despite me being the closest and saying hello, they’ll move further along to address my male colleague. There have been times when I’m dealing with a customer – again, the usual is a middle-aged or older man, typically middle or upper class – and when I answer one of their questions, they’ll usually ask me to check with someone else. For example:

“Do you stock Filofax?”

“Sorry sir, I’m afraid we don’t.”

Customer spots male colleague, “Well, can you check with him?”

Goes up to colleague, earns a frown because we’ve never and never will stock Filofax and I’ve known this from day one, return to customer and say, “No, we don’t.”

Every. Damn. Day.

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I really wish the world were a better place sometimes. I truly do. For now though, I’ll have to keep dealing with people that have authority issues and problems with women saying no. Till next time.