Friday, 27 March 2009


I met a woman in the toilet.

I know what you're thinking.

But you're wrong.

What happened was...

...ok I know what you're now thinking....

and you're still wrong. (Thank you, Laura, other woman I just met in the pub.)


Seriously, I'm out at the pub with some friends and we're all having a laugh over my ineptitude at keeping quiet about menstruation.

I just can't help myself. It's like a disorder.

What happened was, I met a girl who asked to share my table, but the seat was taken. Then I happened to go to the toilet at the same time as she did, three times. It went: awkward looks in mirror as we were both surprised to see each other again, embarrassed apology on our second meeting for denying her a table, and finally, friendship. She saw me again and said, 'Wow! We've synchronized!'

Readers of Adventures in Menstruating #3 may remember my concerns about what to say about menstrual synchronization. It's a whole other ballpark when it's toilet synchronization. We're now friends, I think. She works for an organization that gives kids free bikes. One day soon, I'll explain to her about the zine, and why I nearly exploded with laughter in her face at 'Wow! We've synchronized!'

Last weekend I was in the public toilet at the newly refurbished theatre in town, and got into a very long and loud conversation with some cool old ladies about the width of the cubicles finally meeting their approval.

"I wrote in," said one. "The old toilets were too narrow for my mature backside! I'm glad they finally listened," she beamed.

Mature backside one, Historically cramped public inconveniences - zero.

I'm going to have to find a swift and sensible way to explain why I tend to loiter in public toilets and strike up conversations though.


Wednesday, 25 March 2009


So, in our quest for ever stupider content, Sarah and I have been doing some fart-joke style menstrual riffing. Proper lowest common denominator stuff. That's your disclaimer.

I mentioned to Sarah that I wanted to come up with some new menstrual euphemisms - just for fun - no stigma attatched but more for vocabularic variety. There are fabulous metaphors for masturbation, defecation and all the other -ations that come out of your body, but menstrual metaphors all seem very negative and 1950s to us.

Her suggestion: When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along - I laughed and laughed. Then we looked up the song and realised it was sung by Doris Day (we love Doris Day), mentioned throbbing, and was about feeling positive. Why not specifically period positive, we say.

Sarah: Hey, Chella, my Red Red Robin just came Bob Bob Bobbin' along. Have you got a tampon?

Chella: What a coincidence. My 99 Red Balloons have just gone by and and I've still got a pad in my bag.
(Only the English version of that song works, by the way, and could have some straw-grasping interpretations about male panic about menstruation rather than an impending invasion.)

In more sensible news, Sarah's poem was posted on Feminist Review today. For her efforts, she's won a quite cool looking book. Another winner, Erika Mikkalo, wrote a poem that reminded me of the Radio 4 programme I mentioned the other week about feminists being funny: Call Yourself A Feminist.

Do send us newphemisms.


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

My Aunt Flo would be proud.

I'm starting a new category of posts: things that sound like menstrual euphemisms, could be menstrual euphemisms, but aren't menstrual euphemisms...yet.

Yep - things that are not menstrual but could be - nay should be.

First up: Flora The Red Menace.

This was a 60s musical starring Liza Minelli. It's about communism, predictably, and, more surprisingly, fashion design.

But to misquote HBO's favorite 80s rerun, Clue, communism's just a red herring these days. I doubt this play will have revivals as successful as its sibling creations, Cabaret and Chicago. That's why I suggest that we give it its own special revival.

Now, I'm obviously not condoning euphemism for period-shame-related cover ups, but I have no problem with nicknaming my period. (Party Weirdo's Cara gave her period a stage name, after all.)

I nickname all my friends. Most of them don't mind.
Imagine this exchange:

Nicknamed Friend of Chella (who doesn't mind): Hey Chella, what's up?

Chella: I'm totally chilling with Flora the Red Menace today, man!

Yeah...that works for me.

Send in your not-menstrual-but-should-be suggestions.


Friday, 20 March 2009

Actually, I AM having a happy period, thank you very much...

Well, I am. The Always campaign has been lambasted in a McSweeney's open letter blog post and the subsequent round of email fwds on the mom and third degree of separation friend circuit, but I actually am having a happy period.

By this I mean that my period is flowing nicely, no hiccups (I mean that figuratively, but now I'm beginning to wonder how a literal menstrual hiccup would manifest itself...), no leaks, the cramps provided a reliable rhythm throughout the day like a small and temperamental Volkswagon Beetle, and I was in a good mood.

I was teaching a drama class today, and a girl got 'that' panicked look on her face and asked to speak to me away from the other kids. She said, 'Miss, can I go to the toilet? I think I've just come on.' Without batting an eye, and particularly cheerfully (because I was actually having a happy period), I replied, 'Oh, yeah, no problem. I just came on today as well. Do you need a pad? And don't worry about saying it in private - we don't need to talk about periods like they're a dirty secret - because they're not.' She was really cool about it and when she walked back into the room she didn't do the 'slinking back from running to the toilet' walk - she held her head high.

So, yeah, despite major difficulties with the ebb and flow that many women often have, there are some people who generally don't suffer too much, and could be persuaded that periods are kinda fun, and even funny. So...the Always campaign agrees with me - on the surface. This didn't sit too well with me, so I looked at their website and tried to work out what they were getting at.

The e-cards (did they read Adventures in Menstruating #3?) give the game away - apparently, having a happy period means excusing away sexist, stereotypical behaviours (eating chocolate, shopping, and acting bitchy) in a spectacular body image/capitalist/alpha female triple whammy.

This is a campaign that initially appears to be pro-menstrual normalisation and celebration but could do a lot of harm either way you look at it:
  • Some women think it's cute and positive, and use the website and the e-cards and it's a barrel of monkeys. Many of these women then go on to buy the product they've developed an affinity for and get sucked further into the disposable pad market.
  • Other women become uproariously irritated, rail against the notion that periods are in any way a ray of sunshine, and back this up with a litany of all the things that are shit about periods. They boycott the pads but propogate the notion that women are victims who suffer from periods and unwittingly support other women to seek out the allegedly panacea-like pads.
So it seems the tagline itself is the only redeemable notion.


The problem with saying 'Have a Happy Period' is that when Always says it, it's about as sincere as when any other multi-national corporation says anything. Their next question may as well be, 'Do you want wings with that?'

We have plenty of nice days, but we, as a people, don't like to be told to have a nice day. Always could be promoting the notion that for some people, periods don't need to be a negative experience EVERY month, but instead they are taking ownership of the good times we have with our periods.

It's my birthday tomorrow, so I'm anticipating that the happy period times will continue.

The video ads are mesmerising though, and I quite like the graphic design version of the improv game of props going on with the pads as shoes and boats and things, but Red Dwarf did it first and best.

Still curious about the hiccups.


Thursday, 19 March 2009

Wrapped in plain brown paper?

Readers of my zine will know I always judge a feminine hygiene product by its cover - packaging is an instant indicator of the taboo-breaky-ness (that's the technical term) of the pad or tampon company in question.

So I like the way Jeff Krichmar designed these:I like that the name is a riff on both 'time of the month' and 'rhythm'.

I like that the waxing of the moon and graded darkening of the boxes correspond to both the passage of time and (from what I can infer) the heaviness of your flow each day.

I like the colour not being pastel pink, the imagery not being abstract.

I like menstruation being linked to scientific fact, not misogynistic fantasy.

I really like the chart motif.

And what I like even more is that the writer of What Made Me Look said this about it when she posted a link to it on her blog:

"I wish there would be a tasteful packaging like this that you are not embarrassed to carry around in your handbag."

Awesome that the embarrassment factor comes from bad design.

Further thanks to Tina at swissmiss for indirectly making me look at what made me look.


Tuesday, 17 March 2009

A small oversight.

I'm a total stooge - I saved a draft of this post as long ago as the 24th of September but forgot to hit the publish button. No wonder I couldn't link to it in response to a comment I received. For the uninitiated, it also goes a long way to explaining yesterday's post. Thanks for the nudge, Riot Kitty.


Monday, 16 March 2009

This update brought to you by The SDU and YOU.

York SDU #1: My friend John (who is awesome and designed the Honeymoon Period logo based on little other than a wobbly drawing I had emailed him) took us to a shopping centre outside York and then on to York proper last weekend and we spotted a good, a bad, and ...instead of an ugly, I actually think this one almost qualifies as cute. But this is mainly because of my disorder where I see cute faces in everything. But come on - don't those chrome hinges cry out to be eyes staring lovingly up at you, the overflow valve and bowl presenting an alien as adorable as Doctor Who's Adipose babies?

While ridiculous and unnecessary, this SDU is less offensive than normal. It has room to chill on the diagonal, a long trap door, curvy edges and a chunky foot pedal. Without incurring the wrath of certain corporations, I'm suggesting it could be called an iSDU. Just don't hit shuffle.

York SDU #2:

This is a classic problem - the short trap door plus a lax cleaning rota. Last year's York centre SDU nirvana may have been a one-off. This was taken in the other public toilet built and maintained for shoppers and tourists in York city centre, and it let me down.

My accidental SDU tourism has taught me two things though -

  1. York has the most stylish units in the UK, evidenced by twice-seen rakishly angled design choices - the debonair dandies of the public convenience world.
  2. It would be wise for none of us to accept old-lady free toilet hook ups in the future. Visitors and Citizens of York: Pay the 20 pence charge from now on to avoid crimes against SDU-manity.
Oh yeah - there were replica Viking ships in the mall.


Thursday, 12 March 2009

Licentious? Nah...

No joke - in the UK you have to have a tv license to pay for public television. When I first moved here, I was amazed to learn that if you had a television, you had to get a license for it, for about £130 a year. If you don't have a license for your television, you can be fined. Well geez, I used to panic about this. Up until a few months ago, I actually thought people would demand to see the license if they knocked on your door, and I'd have to prove I had one by having it at the ready, like they were my identification papers during the war. So I used to keep this very official bit of paper under the tv in safe place so I'd have it to hand when that knock came. There was a VERY convincing television ad that gave me this impression several years ago, I swear. But it turns out they have the info on a database and you don't actually need to show anyone a bit of paper. If they see that you're not paid up, and you've got a satellite dish or cable wire going into the brick, or an antenna on the roof, someone from the tv license people may knock on your door and demand you pay for a tv license, but that's it. No terrifying knock, no frantic scrabbling around for passports...

But despite this odd practice, the BBC are good people. A couple of weeks ago, a programme called QI jumped into the top mainstream comedy slot at 9 pm on BBC 1 (the one occupied by Friends in the 90s, if that gives you an idea). QI is a 'Quite Interesting' comedy panel game where if you guess the most obvious-seeming yet wrong answer, you lose loads of points and quite a lot of self-respect. Scores are regularly in the negative numbers at the end of each episode, and its facts are so esoteric and forgettable that my friends and I can even watch this in reruns and feel clever and stupid by turns. It's hosted by one of my favourite gay, Jewish panel game hosts, Stephen Fry (the other one is Simon Amstell).

QI used to be on BBC2, which covers the 'clever and quirky' demographic quite nicely. When it was moved to BBC1 for its most recent season, I was worried it'd dumb down and go mainstream. How delighted I was last week in the Flora and Fauna episode when the very first question name-checked menstruation in a big way. The episode is still available on iplayer in the UK, and I seriously hope it arrives on BBC America and elsewhere soon enough. The question was about the significance of the camellia flower in a book called La Dame au Camellia (and in the film and opera based on it). All the guests, including this week's token woman, Jo Brand (who has never shied away from huge amounts of sexually themed and menstrual comedy in her stand up act) joined in with the discussion of wearing a white camellia flower 25 days a month and wearing a red camellia for the other 5. (Now THAT's regular!) Women were not the butt of the jokes! Menstruation wasn't considered disgusting! Best bit: Stephen Fry in role saying 'Sorry, I can't, I've got a period on,' and Jo Brand guffawing as she gently corrected him: 'Stephen, it's EITHER/OR! Either 'I've got my period' or 'I'm on!'' A good third of the show was devoted to menstrual comedy. It's quite sad that I'm so shocked and pleased by this, but wanted to log the praise where it's due. It also taught this menstrual maven a thing or two about the history behind Germany's arm of Kotex branding its pads Camellia. (Actually I wish the US arm (wing?)
would depart from their 50s medicinal moniker and head the same way - it'd mean the To Bleed Or Not To Bleed sketch I do in our live show (it's about menstrual suppression) would be able to end with 'the fair Camellia' in both countries. "The fair Camellia! Pad, in thy soft layers/Be all my blood collect'd!")

I sat down to write about this all last night but got engrossed in a BBC Radio 4 programme called Am I Normal doing an entire episode deconstructing stereotypes around menopause (recommended reading from one of the interviewees was Mrs. Dalloway - so now that's two books, an opera and a film to add to my reading list), directly followed by Call Yourself a Feminist, which turned out to be the first of three documentaries tracking different waves of feminism. (Which one are we on now? Third, right? Do we all graduate to fourth at some point? I've been in third so long I'm starting to feel like I got left back.) I was fascinated by comments from an oldskool feminist called Sonia adamantly insisting that feminists weren't humourless, and that it was irresponsible of the media to only show the drier side of feminism. Right on, sister!

So yeah, the BBC is on message. They are ready to acknowledge that feminists can be funny, and comedians can talk menstruation. Perhaps I should send in a sitcom idea about women who work in a tampon factory. Actually, I think I will. You heard it here first, folks - it'll be called Up Yours (with its own comedy tampon packaging to get my design!brain going). Look for it at 9 pm on BBC1 in a couple of years...


Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Adventures in Menstruating: Bigger and Redder

The stirrings of spring mean our hiatus is over and a new issue of Adventures in Menstruating is on the way at last – a ‘true confessions’ style bumper edition. Thank you to everyone who's waited patiently this year while we got gaymarried, worked on the Obama campaign and supported an ill friend.

The year hasn’t been totally devoid of things menstrual or zine, though –

We had an excellent review from Brittany Shoot at Feminist Review and she felt moved to write a piece for our next issue. Brittany's writing is fantastic and we're really pleased to have made friends with this radical woman. Chella will be contributing to Brittany’s upcoming zine about expats - stay tuned for an article called 'Adventures in Emigrating’ and more details about that zine later this month.

We did a mini tour called 'Honeymoon Period' which included a comedy sketch performance, menstrual craft workshop and poetry reading at Ladyfest Berlin and concluded with Malav's gallant hospitality once again at Bluestockings in NYC.

Sarah won a poetry competition at this year’s Off the Shelf Festival one of the poems she read, ‘A Celebration of Menstruation’ (which you may have read in the zine or seen on tour) united the crowd and the judges, and a trophy cup has joined her mooncup on the bathroom shelf.

An extract from AiM #3 was included in Zine Yearbook 9 put out by Microcosm. Details available here.

Chella is getting involved with Red Chidgey and Elke Zobl's fantastic book - working title: DIY Activism! Dispatches from the Transnational Feminist Zine Movement - and is keen to promote their website.

And finally, Chella's recently (like literally just today, actually) been asked to contribute work to a book coming out next year by Christine Bobel tentatively called New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation from Rutgers University Press. More details on that as they come in.

So that’s been the zine highlights of the year for us – we’re excited to be back, uh… bigger and redder?

All the best from
Chella and Sarah

PS Chella will be in New York from the 6th – 12th April – if you’ve got a hankering for putting something zine or menstrual together, get in touch.