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Cupping To The Chase: Menstrual Cup Musings

By: Lisa Lai

*This post is not sponsored.

Uncomfortable with a lumpy pad? Anxious about the whereabouts of your tampon up there? Tired of changing your menstrual product every couple of hours? Yeah, me too. That’s why I looked into some alternatives like period underwear, cloth pads, and– oh, this one caught my immediate attention– menstrual cups.

Menstrual cups have been circulating around since the 1930s but were not officially publicized until 1987, when The Keeper, made out of latex rubber, was introduced. Nowadays, though cups like The Keeper are still made from rubber, most cups are made of medical grade silicone for their flexibility, hypoallergenic, and hardwearing purposes. As such, they are reusable and have a life of about ten years before necessary replacement. Cups today are still relatively unknown, as they only tend to circulate around social media rather than on mainstream television. Pads and tampons, on the other hand, though they both have circulated around the same time as menstrual cups, have received more attention, as they are apparently easier to sell because of their disposability. Fun fact: In 1985, Courtney Cox made history as she uttered the word “period” for the first time on national television, making her partnership with Tampax the first recognized period commercial. How cool is that? Crossing my fingers that history can be changed again with a widely publicized menstrual cup commercial! Just saying. 

I’ve always been hesitant to try out a menstrual cup myself, just because “What if I can’t get it out?” and “What if I get an infection?” dominate my “But it is less trash” and “It saves me money” thoughts. Ultimately, I did some research and jotted down a quick pros-and-cons table for myself. If the pros outweigh my cons, I would get a menstrual cup.

My pros outweigh my cons 7-4. Okay, it looks like I’m getting a menstrual cup. But the cons…

It turns out I did not need to worry at all; there are many different solutions, as outlined in a Menstrual Cup FAQ:

The Menstrual Cup Quiz By Put A Cup In It: https://putacupinit.com/quiz/ | Me Luna: https://meluna-usa.com/ | Lunette’s Cupwipes: https://store.lunette.com/products/lunette-cupwipes

And for those who are allergic to latex or silicone, there are cups that are made of natural rubber like The Keeper, as well as some made of Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE), which do not contain silicone, rubber, latex, Bisphenols (BPA/BPS), or heavy metals, like The Hello Cup, that you will still be able to use safely and comfortably.

Another concern regarding the insertion of menstrual cups is how it affects virginity. Cups in fact do not affect virginity, as virginity can only be lost during sex. That said however, menstrual cups can “break” or stretch the hymen, which is still sometimes thought to be a physical, valid indication of virginity. In truth, the hymen does not prove sexual activity or the “innocence” and “purity” of someone with a vagina– Healthline sets this myth about hymens straight in their article here. Menstrual cups are just one of the many ways that hymens might stretch, just like dancing, riding a bike, or using a tampon. And just like using a tampon as another tool to care for your reproductive health, menstrual cups, in short, will not “pop your cherry.” Feel free to refer to Rubycup’s article about virginity and menstrual cups for more information.

Now, the next question in my cup quest is… which cup do I choose? 

I took The Menstrual Cup Quiz and I was offered the Lunette Period Cup. I haven’t ever heard of this brand before; in fact, up until I decided to try a menstrual cup, I had only heard of The DivaCup on social media. This led me to ask: Why aren’t menstrual cups, or even other period products for that matter, advertised openly in the mainstream?

A representative of Lunette had this to say: “With a taboo product […] it pays to hold [advertising] back a bit because otherwise you could be shot down.” This does not sit well with me– why would periods– something completely natural, something we have no control over– and period collection methods be silenced? We have no control over our bodily fluids, yet we are taught to hide it, as if by hiding it, what naturally flows out of us would disappear or go away. Maia Schwartz sums it up nicely: “Menstrual blood is the only blood which isn’t born out of violence, yet it is the only one that disgusts you the most.”

There is significant harm in this culture of stigma around periods. Firstly and most obviously, many young menstruators, especially those experiencing periods for the first time, will not only be unsure of how to manage their menstruation, but they also will not know what or who to turn to for help– not everybody is comfortable with using the typical tampon or pad methods. My high school self definitely would have opted for other collection methods had I had then known about them. Along that same note, not everybody who menstruates is a woman. Because there is an assumption that folks who menstruate are (young) women– and it does not help that existing period advertisements frequently only show athletic women using pads or tampons– the talk about periods leave out some communities. There are, for instance, non-binary and transitioning people, as well as some men who menstruate and some women who do not. And then there are some communities that are neglected in their need for period products in the mainstream as well, like those incarcerated or in shelters. No matter which communities people belong to, silence around periods benefits no one. 

However, nowadays, there is more awareness about inclusivity for all menstruators; brands like UltuCup promote their gender neutrality, while advertisements (see Bodyform’s Blood Normal) have recently taken a turn for the realistic, using red liquid to not only educate and advertise, but to also redefine and revolutionize period culture. (What a vast difference from Cox’s 1985 commercial!) Shelters, clinics, and other non-profit organizations strive to uplift and advocate for marginalized communities needing period products. In fact, organizations like Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters have been instrumental in promoting menstrual equity and passing legislation that would allow menstruators in shelters access to menstrual products free of charge. Additionally, as more and more news circulate online, communities and websites have videos or interactive activities to help with things like locating and measuring your cervix, tracking your period and other discharge, or, like in my case, finding the ideal menstrual cup.

I remember I used to feel anxious hearing my pad ripping echo in a public bathroom. (“Are you eating chips in there?”) While I now am more comfortable with myself and talking about reproductive health in general, it is time for a new change for me and a Lunette seems to be the way to go. There’s something almost liberating in both talking unashamedly about periods and deciding to try out different period products. Thumbs up for menstrual cups! Or should I say–

Thumbs cup! 👍 👍 👍

👍

Additional Resources:

Choosing Your Menstrual Cup: https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/menstrual-cup-comparison#1

Menstrual Cup Size Comparison Chart: https://putacupinit.com/chart/

Learn to Insert A Menstrual Cup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9fPUfm-uYE 

The Life Cycle of Your Menstrual Cup: Menstrual Cup FAQ (& Some Not So Frequently Asked Questions)

Using Inclusive Language: https://periodpositive.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/queeriods-lgbt-stem-poster-feb-2016.pdf

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Are the Olympics Really Welcoming Women?

By: Lisa Lai

The Olympics have included women since 1900. Does it still represent them, one century and two decades later?

At the turn of the twentieth century, there were approximately one thousand Olympic contestants. Twenty-two were women, the very first ones ever– a mere 2%!– to compete at the Olympics. Now, the presence of women athletes nearly equate that of men. In fact, more sports for women were introduced last year, some of which include: skateboarding, baseball/softball, karate, sports climbing, and surfing. Indeed these statistics show that society has gone a long way in terms of representation, equality, and welcoming women, but it has more alarmingly shed light on the fact that right from its beginnings in 1896, the Olympics has been stacked against women. It is, however, not just inclusive of the competition during the Games– it’s the whole process, from training in preparation to modeling for magazines.

It’s no secret that athletes have to endure rigorous training to even qualify for the international event. Male and female athletes alike have to watch their food consumption and track their weight. But there is a thin line that separates what a healthy athlete should look like and what a healthy person should look like. This line, which should not be crossed, most often is. Take the case of Mary Cain, an exceptional seventeen-year-old female runner training with male Nike coaches four years ago. Cain was instructed to lose an unproportional amount of body weight so that she could run even faster. Though she lost weight, Cain gained the problems that came with Red-S Syndrome, which, due to fasting, jeopardized her bone health– she broke five bones while training– and compromised her body’s estrogen levels she needed to survive. Additionally, she had no psychologists, much less any who were women, so as a result, Cain internalized her emotions. She started cutting herself, and once supported by her parents, recognized that, to stay alive, she had to quit training at Nike. Cain’s story shows the ignorance not only for the female body, but also for the mentality and experiences, even in a renowned conglomerate company. If women and their bodies are dismissed before the Games even start, are the Olympics really welcoming women? 

They say they are, but they favor only a certain type of woman. In 1936, Olympic female contestants had to endure mandatory sex testing to verify that there were no men who may be passing as women. Although the Games framed it as a necessary measure to ensure that there were no unfair advantages, the blatant fact is that people were suspicious of women’s incredible performances. And this belief still stands: Caster Semenya, a South African runner, improved her run time by four seconds and was immediately scrutinized. Through a sex verification test, it was discovered that her testerotone levels were higher than the average or “normal” woman. The public was quick to comment. Is Semenya a woman? Is she allowed to participate as a woman in the Olympics? But the larger question is: What is a woman? Reduced to biological factors, and more crudely, measured numbers, Semenya’s case illuminates and challenges the segregation between the sports for men and women, and to some extent, even questions why other genders are not represented. If the Games centralize women’s biology more than their athletic ability, are the Olympics really welcoming women?

Even after the international spotlight, the public continues to see women’s bodies first before her athleticism and skill. In fact, a study found that the media is found is more likely to comment on female athletes as “girls” rather than “women,” than “boys” for “men,” implying that women– or “girls,” rather– should not be taken as seriously as men because they are less aggressive and competitive. Sports journalists, 90% of whom are male, typically describe these “girls” using factors like age, marital status, and physical features much more than they do men, skewing the public’s perspectives on female athletes and the validity of what they do toward inferiority. But the media does not stop there in misrepresentation; the perceptions of female Olympians are sexualized, drawing attention to their bodies. Vogue magazine’s June 2012 issue spotlights the Olympics and features soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and tennis player Serena Williams happily linking arms with swimmer Ryan Lochte. While Lochte is pictured in his swimming trunks, Solo and Williams are wearing body-hugging bathing suits that say more for their figures than their athleticism, which, by the way, has nothing to do with the bathing suits they are wearing. As simple as a photo, the media forces the wedge between women and athleticism deeper by emphasizing their sex appeal over their athletic capability. If athletically gifted women are not taken seriously, are the Olympics really welcoming women?

As a patriarchal power, the Olympics, from start to finish, is stacked against women. As shown through the experiences of Cain and Semenya as well as the mis-portrayals through media, women and their bodies are dismissed, questioned, and sexualized. So are the Olympics really welcoming women? Not truly, no.

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Cinderella: The After Story

By: Lisa Lai

At her wedding, Cinderella was the happiest of all. After all, she got married to her Prince Charming. But now, a year later, she feels the kingdom holding its breath, hoping for the next invitation to the castle. She knows what she must do, and that is to bear an heir. There’s just one problem. 

She doesn’t want to.

And nobody asks what she wants. 

But it is her duty… right?

She doesn’t know who to talk to; her only real friends are still mice. And besides, Jaq and Gus wouldn’t understand. So Cinderella represses her inner turmoil.

Suck it up. It’s expected of you. You have to carry a child. And a son, at that. 

But with every day, Cinderella becomes more and more agitated, unable to concentrate on her tasks of cleaning up after her husband. (Her husband signed the No Maids Bill, sympathetic to Cinderella and her past. But Cinderella finds herself doing the same things– sweeping, mopping, washing– anyway… like a maid. She does not enjoy being the angel of the house. Why can’t she be the one to rule the kingdom?) Cinderella wants to talk to someone about how she feels about carrying a child, but she does not want to cause complications, or worse, have the whole patriarchal kingdom criticize and publicly shame her. 

So she sucks it up.

One night in bed, her husband decides it is time to conceive. And what can Cinderella do? Say no? She does not sleep that night. In fact, she has trouble sleeping for months. 

Nine months later, she gives birth to a baby girl. The whole castle and kingdom rejoiced, but Cinderella can feel her husband’s disappointment in not having a son. She feels bad for not fulfilling his wishes; he had done so much for her, from a new home to the No Maids Bill. And she couldn’t return the favor, couldn’t return what was expected of her. 

She hates her baby, but most of all, Cinderella hates herself. She keeps away from people and does not talk to anyone for months. Her husband, too busy with interviews and celebrations with their daughter– his daughter, does not seem to notice. However, her mood is apparent when she visits her father, who still lives in the same dilapidated house she grew up in. (Her father, who believes in feng shui, refuses to relocate because the house and its rooms are “facing the right direction.”)

Finally, she breaks down, admitting that she has not felt like herself in a long time.

“It’s just sadness,” her father replies, “which will soon pass. Focus on being a princess and a role model.”

But Cinderella has been feeling “just sadness” for so long, both before and after the birth of her husband’s daughter. In fact, if she could recall, she had been feeling this misery ever since her mother died and her father got remarried to another woman who made her do chores everyday until her back bent.

Cinderella cannot stand bottling up her feelings anymore. She decides she needs help, to talk through her problems instead of feeling helpless and useless and that the whole kingdom hates her and that she’s not good enough to be a princess, not good enough to be a mother, a wife, a daughter, a person… 

Fairy Godmother says it’s called depression. 

“Depression?” Cinderella turns over the foreign word in her mouth. “What is depression?”

It’s what she is feeling– sadness, loss of interest, guilt. Why hasn’t she heard of this?

“There’s no Chinese word for “depression,” Fairy Godmother explains. “Asians tend to suppress and not talk about their feelings, which is why your father dismissed yours.”

“Why am I depressed?”

“It can be a multitude of things– gender roles projected onto you, unrealistic expectations and standards you were required to meet, your low-income background, the stigma of talking about mental health… a lot of things, really.”

“Am I the only one who feels this way?”

“No, child. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, among elder women of all other racial or ethnic groups, Asians have the highest suicide rate.”

Cinderella cannot believe her ears. “Why aren’t they getting help?”

“Many people learn from their parents early on to suppress depressed feelings and thoughts, so they internalize and never talk about them. In fact, some cultures, like Chinese, do not have words like “depression.” Also, for those who do seek help, they are not getting the best care; the current healthcare system fundamentally lacks cultural competence and understanding.”

“That’s shocking. I didn’t know that.”

“A lot of people don’t.” Fairy Godmother says matter-of-factly. She continues, “Child, thank you for confiding in me. It helps to talk to someone. I’m glad you are getting help, especially because statistically, Asians are three times less likely to seek mental help than Caucasians.”

“That is really disheartening to hear. But I don’t know what to do about it. Or frankly, what I can do. The kingdom is celebrating my daughter’s birth tonight at the parade. I’ll be busy until then.”

Fairy Godmother does not look as dejected as Cinderella. Whipping out her wand, she stands up and declares, “You can do something, child. I have an idea!” She turns and waves her wand at a potted plant nearby– “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!”– and an elephant donning parade caparison materializes. 

Cinderella gapes as it walks out the door. 

“Now, you know the drill, child.” Fairy Godmother’s smile is as bright as the tip of her wand. “At the stroke of twelve, the spell will be broken, and everything will be as it was before.”

“What am I supposed to do with an elephant?!”

“Everything will be clear soon. You go get ready now.”

“Wait! I need some courage. Wave your wand at me.”

Fairy Godmother looks perplexed. “Why, child, you don’t need any of my magic to be courageous. Besides, I’m afraid my spells won’t last forever. You’ll need bravery to fulfill the rest of your dreams.” And with that, she whisks Cinderella out the door.

Several hours and two diaper changes later, Cinderella sits patiently on her bed, her sleeping daughter in her arms. She had finally gotten the newborn to stop crying– apparently, even after giving birth, it is still her job to care for the child– and is waiting for her escorts to her parade carriage. 

Suddenly, a scream pierces the air, followed by successively louder shrieks. Alarmed and annoyed, as the baby is now crying again, Cinderella goes out into the hallway into the kitchen from where the pandemonium seems to be coming. She can’t believe her eyes. 

In the kitchen is Fairy Godmother’s elephant.

Cinderella sees her husband running into the kitchen on the other side of the hall, looking as bewildered as everyone else. 

“What is going on?” he demands, gesturing wildly at the elephant. “Get it out of here now!”

“We tried, Your Majesty. It swung its trunk aggressively at us.”

“Try harder! We have to move in three minutes!” Eyeing the elephant in distaste, he stomps out, heels clacking against the floor. 

The elephant stomps out after him. 

Her husband turns around frightfully. “Get it away from me!”

That’s when it hits Cinderella. 

She strides purposefully toward her husband.

“What are you doing?” he hisses at her. “Don’t come any closer. It’s dangerous!”

She ignores him. “I can get rid of it for you.”

Her husband releases a breath of relief. “Oh, thank you, my d–”

“But in return, I want to rule the kingdom alongside you.”

For a while, he stares at Cinderella, who can sense a divorce coming. Has she made her situation worse?

Then he says, “Of course. Yes! I thought you hadn’t wanted to. But can we talk about this more later? We’re on a time crunch for our daughter.” He winks at the crying child.

Cinderella barely remembers calling Jaq and Gus to scare Fairy Godmother’s elephant away; she is too busy imagining everything she will do once she is queen. For starters, she will advocate against the stigmatization of mental health. Fairy Godmother’s statistics must change. Then she plans on providing access to mental healthcare for everyone, especially women of Asian descent like herself. Nobody has to go through what emotional turmoil she endured. At the thought of her potential impact, Cinderella feels more hopeful; her future doesn’t seem as bleak anymore. 

I did it!

Fairy Godmother was right. Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo couldn’t give her the courage she already had to self-advocate. Her godmother made her see that it had been in her all along. 

The parade went on without a hitch, the entire kingdom in joyous celebration, and within the next week, Cinderella is coronated. Immediately, she goes to work, poring over paperwork in the throne room, which, much to her husband’s bewilderment, she had accessorized with potted plants. Well, buried under work, she can’t explain them anyway, even if she wanted to. And she doesn’t want to. 

Much to her bewilderment, Cinderella gets distracted occasionally by her newborn, of whom her husband still does not attend. It seems she’s going to have to draw from her courage again to confront Prince Charming about her unfair assumed gender roles around the castle. But if her self-advocacy (and of course, talking to her Fairy Godmother), lifts some of her depression she still carries, Cinderella knows that she could have her happily ever after, physically and mentally. And for real this time.