I have been inspired recently by one Naomi MC of Vagina Dentata. Besides being an awesome writer in general, she chooses to tackle some topics that are somewhat hush hush, nay taboo, in the blogosphere and society at large. Namely, she has written one whomper of a post about periods, encouraging the discussion of them. Not the punctuation, but women’s monthly reminder of our fertility.
Right on, Naomi.
Now I’m going to tell you about a major problem* with the perception — specifically, the MALE perception — of periods as taboo: It makes things really bloody inconvenient for women when they have them.
Image 1: A man in a vagina with a tampon in it. This is symbolic of the way menstrual products are distributed in Brooklyn.
You see, in Brooklyn, we have to deal with the problem of tampon scarcity. How, you may be wondering, can a product be scarce when it is a necessity of approximately half the population in any given area? Why wouldn’t a commodity always be readily available when it is something that this large consumer base will never NOT need — barring a Village-of-the-Damned style mass impregnation of women??
I have no idea, and but it is one of the most ridiculous things I have encountered living here.
In Brooklyn, there are no Walmart Superstores. No Targets, no K-Marts, no Meijer. Even major pharmacies are rare in the more recently gentrified areas. Where I live, in Williamsburg, the nearest Duane Read (the equivalent of a Rite Aide or Walgreens) is about 15 blocks from my apartment and just opened last month.
So we Brooklyn-dwellers get our necessities via bodegas. For those unfamiliar with the concept, they’re small, abundant corner stores fully-stocked with your typical New York necessities: Beer, snacks, toothbrushes, batteries, toilet paper – you name it. They have everything. EXCEPT TAMPONS.
Ok that’s not completely true. Some of them do have tampons. However, it is a complete crap shoot as to which bodegas they will be stocked in at any given time. And they only have one kind: Generic Tampax with CARDBOARD APPLICATORS. I’m going to go ahead and be graphic here and say that shoving a piece of cardboard up your vag is the opposite of comfortable. I’m pretty sure this brand is the absolute cheapest kind of tampon that Tampax has ever made, yet they are RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. A pack of 20, which won’t even get me halfway through my cycle, is about $7. Furthermore, why someone ever thought a cardboard applicator was a good idea in the first place is FAR beyond me. It had to have been a man’s idea prompted by an attempt to cut costs. For the men out there who are reading this, baffled by the thought of what would be an appropriate vector of tampon insertion, I assure you that tampon technology has come a long way since the cardboard applicator: Plastic makes it possible — possible to not cringe every time you put a tampon in.
Aside from the lack of selection, perhaps the weirdest part of the Brooklyn tampon situation is that the tampons are always kept behind the counter. I DON’T GET IT. Is this some kind of highly shoplifted commodity?? Because of all the things a bodega sells, tampons are pretty low on the monetary value list. Yet they are kept securely behind the counter so that a customer must verbally request them from the clerks who are almost always Hispanic or Arabic males.
Is this because these men, the bodega clerks, want to discourage women from purchasing tampons by making us feel awkward asking them for them? Listen: If I’m on my rag, I am going to purchase tampons one way or another, and I guarantee you that of the two people involved in the transaction, *I* am not the one who is going to feel the most awkward. Furthermore, the fact that I had to ask to be handed one of the boxes of shitty generic tampons, and you didn’t understand that I said “Super” and gave me the regular ones, and I had to correct you, thereby revealing to you and everyone in line behind me that it is a heavy flow time, is just going to piss me off. It might even prompt me to start a conversation with you about tampons, which you probably won’t enjoy participating in. “Why is it, habeeb, that you keep these behind the counter if you can’t differentiate between the kinds?”
“La arif, habeebee,” I don’t know my dear. “That’s how we do it.”
It also sucks because I like my bodega guys. I like speaking Arabic with them and going in at night to buy beer and cigarettes from them and having pleasant conversations. I don’t want to make them feel awkward by forcing them to think about the current state of my menstrual cycle. But there is no other way. Even the local grocery store keeps their tampons — the same two crappy kinds — behind the counter of the express checkout lane, creating an even more awkward scenario. That is, if you’re at the grocery store to buy groceries (more than 12 of them), and you need tampons, the message must be relayed across however many lanes you are away from the express lane, where the box is then transported to you, clerk to clerk, like a hot potato.
Another weird thing about this set-up is that there are always pads on the shelves. Dozens of different kinds of pads. WHO WEARS PADS ALL THE TIME???????? Let me tell you: NO ONE DOES. Maybe Amish people do. It feels squishy, and you can’t do anything athletic or wear tight clothing. Sorry, but I think women are entitled to still work out and dress hot when they are on their periods. I just don’t understand why pads would be readily available for selection, but tampons are stowed away with the Stackers and blunt wraps.
Let me just state for the record – I have very little shame. Acquiring tampons is rarely awkward for me, personally. But I’m sure there are PLENTY of women who this situation is extremely awkward for. For example, there is a high concentration of Puerto Ricans in my neighborhood and it is a very tight-knit community. Just speculation here, but I think there are plenty of women who actually regularly pay $5 to commute back and forth to Manhattan so they can go to the Duane Read in Union Square and buy a nice multi-pack of plastic applicator tampons so they don’t have to inform everyone they know that they’re vaginally bleeding.
Actually, searching “Why do they only sell tampons behind the counter in Brooklyn” returned this forum post on the Brooklynian:
I went to no less than 6 bodegas and a grocery store (the Bravo on bedford) yesterday looking for tampons and NO ONE carried as much as a small travel box. there were always pads ALL OVER the damn place, but not a single crappy generic tampon was anywhere to be found.
WHY IS THIS?! Am I missing something? Was there a PSA about TSS running rampant in the newly gentrified neighborhoods of brooklyn?
I had to take the damn train to walgreens. Am i delirious?
And so I conclude by saying: WHAT THE FUCK BROOKLYN??? If someone can make some sense out of this practice to me, I would really appreciate the explanation. Maybe I’ll go and conduct a survey, both to contribute to the public knowledge back and out of spite, to make bodega-owners feel like chauvinist assholes. Until then, I will assume that, like medicalized childbirth and sex, this is just another example of men controlling female processes to control the females who have them.
Image1 from TamponFrank.com.
*FYI – this complaint has been internally festering since July 2008.