Sunday, July 03, 2016

When Medusa met the menstrual cup

It was a match made in heaven! (Like other marriages are!!!)

If Medusa is now asked to rank five of her favourite inventions of the recent past, the menstrual cup will easily come out on top. A decade ago Medusa had similarly been amazed by the neatness of a tampon, but had then been deterred by the price and the frequency of replacement, but this, the menstrual cup, has left a love which started at first use, and will last for as long as Medusa will have the agility to fit it in, and the need for one.

Many have written paeans to the menstrual cup (read this and this), and Medusa is longing to join their ranks, by reminding herself that most women in South Asia do not have access to the amount of water it takes to clean a menstrual cup, and definitely not the money to buy. In fact, and this Medusa learnt only this year, apart from torn rags, women use SAND, ASH, PLASTIC and Paper, due to their absorbent properties and their availability -- and here Medusa has been cribbing about her super expensive sanitary pads, available in four kinds of sizes, three kinds of thicknesses, five smells, and a million brands. Medusa heard a lot about the damage to the environment that tonnes of used sanitary napkins and their packaging make- and also just recently heard about the various ways in which rural women are encouraged to use incinerators to burn the used napkins and then to eventually use the ash as fertilizers, but incinerators are in short supply, taboos around menstruation entrenched and multifarious, and napkins difficult to come by.

Most of the month Medusa is happily oblivious of her uterus, but once it starts acting, and it has been acting up off late, it brings all kinds of pains and aches, emotions run high or low, but more than the physical discomfort which Medusa has learnt to bear with copious amount of fluids and pills at the right intervals, the logistics of it all end up being mind boggling.

Would an XL suffice or should she scout the shops of an XXL or even a XXXL? Which shop is likely to have them? How can there be only three XXXL pads in one packet? How much do they cost ? A LOT.  Should she lie down straight or sit up straight? Should she move from a supine to a standing position now or later? Can she turn to her side? Does she need to change her clothes and wash her sheets right away? Will people notice?

Will she have to go to work? Will she go out afterwards? Will those spaces have bathrooms that work? Will there be gaps between classes to change the napkins? Where will she throw them? Can she talk about her discomfort to the people around her? Will they hush her up every time she opens her mouth because, well, just because.

All of these issues haven’t been resolved with a menstrual cup, but most have. It is a one time only investment for many years to come, it completely takes care of the mess and the attendant worries, it needs to be emptied much less frequently, perhaps thrice a day, and once inserted, can more or less be forgotten about. No disposal, mere cleaning with plenty of water, some amount of dexterity with one’s own body and a ten-hourly (on average) access to a clean bathroom.

One needs to have just ONE menstrual cup, it can be washed with water and put right back in, It costs approximately 600/- online, which is one third of what Medusa spent in the past two months, between XXXL and different brands. 

So no wonder, at this ripe old age Medusa is finally waking up to the possibility of that oxymoron, “A happy period”.

For most other people who menstruate, across the world, the menstrual cup remains a near-impossibility. It’s expensive, not easily available, requires a lot of water, a clean place for using it (although for people who do not have a clean toilet at their disposal, what extra hurdle can this pose) and a complete removal of the myriad menstrual taboos that Medusa doesn’t even know about. But even for them, surely, the menstrual cup will make things a wee bit better. So if there are people distributing menstrual cups and educating people about it, you have an eager volunteer here!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Rainy days and Mondays

Always get me down. So goes the song, of perhaps The Carpenters? And of course, when Medusa hears this sad song and thinks of The Carpenters she also remembers that Karen Carpenter died, from anorexia. So there, the sadness in the song makes sense.

And it makes sense in this glorious weather when for once, the people without ACs feel as good about themselves as people with ACs must.

As Medusa sits at her dining table, having discarded her desk since it cannot be cluttered as extensively as the larger table can- she looks out of the window and sees the rain. In the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening and at night. It rains, it pours, it drizzles and the wind blows and it is dark and damp all the time. The opposite houses look dull, the forever-playing-cricket children stay indoors, downstairs, or maybe upstairs, people cook food that smell tasty and sparrows come visit her, seeking shelter.

The streets are more o less perpetually waterlogged, she has nowhere to go, no one to meet and except writing, nothing to do. She loves it, loves it enough to worry about the time when this perfection will end. When she will have to go back to work, when the rains will stop, when the sun will come out and when others will lay claim to this ennui.

But till then, rainy days and Mondays. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Writing something is better than writing nothing

is the belief that prompts this post.
Medusa has sat in front of the computer for two consecutive days now, without having typed a single, and so, being the procrastinator extraordinaire that she is, she chose to pontificate about writing practices and such like.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

In which Medusa proved the body- image theorists wrong.

So all this while, when Medusa had been asked whether she is concerned about women’s body images for her research, she had noncommittally nodded her head, thinking body image to be some sort of a subjective category of how people think of their bodies.

But she was wrong, oh so wrong. Did she know that it is not subjective at all, it is good and true science, calculable and quantifiable at the same time? No she did not.

There are several other things that she found out, in trying to understand this nebulous ‘body image’:
1.   Body image, an important concern in experimental psychology, assumes that a person (and since all the experiments in this context are always carried out on women, here, a woman) should be able to perceive her body objectively and more or less accurately as she would some inanimate object.
(Because bodies are just that- inanimate objects)
2.    Accurate perception means perception in terms of metres, centimetres, inches etc. So basically, if one can look at a book and say that this is six inches long, one should be able to say that her calf is twenty inches wide.
(So, those people who can not objectively perceive lengths etc., can not have a body image?)
3.    ‘Body image’ is usually suffixed with disturbance or problem- it is diagnosable and therefore treatable by a change in individual attitude.
(Yes of course.)
4.    There are complex experiments carried out to diagnose body image disturbance and build generalisations around them. These experiments include: having a woman measure the approximate width of her thigh/ shin/ stomach along with the lengths of a slant of light gradually reducing. Looking at distorted mirrors, or feeling up oneself in front an observer, constitute this very scientific and highly complicated experiment.
(Not something one can easily understand.)
And there’s more, researchers have concluded that there are certain indices of body image dissatisfaction that can tell the experimented-on subject exactly how unhappy she is with her body.
They are:
∞Body image perception index:  perceived size (multiplied by) 100 / real size.
(So, if one thinks one’s waist is 36 inches while in reality it is only 34 inches, then one should be able to calculate exactly how dissatisfied she is.)
∞Body parts satisfaction scale,
∞Body image avoidance questionnaire, etc.

Hence, one could potentially have a negative or a positive body image perception rating, but in this case, both negative and positive would be negative, right? PLUS,  these highly sophisticated researchers have also concluded that almost all women suffer from body image disturbance- in terms of overestimation (i.e. they think they are bigger than they are). Some overestimate the size of certain sections of their bodies, some do so as a whole.

And this is where Medusa was confused. Because to her, the limits of her body are not necessarily limited, bounded by definite boundaries. It varies from day to day, week to week, mostly unnoticed by her. What she does know, however, is this:

If there is a stool or a chair with legs on the floor that she has to pass by, she WILL stub her toe in it.

If there is a door that she has to go through, she WILL graze her arm or her elbow on its side. And kindly note, not on both the sides, this is not about her thinking herself to be thinner than she is, instead, this is about not knowing where she ends and “inanimate” objects start. The liminal state of her hair is another case in point- its ends get caught in her bag, other bodies on her bed find themselves entangled with it, she herself pulls it on occasions, not knowing it to be her hair. She therefore walks about in the world, in an often painful haze of stubs, pricks, pulls, grazes and shoves- trying to navigate between bodies and beings.

If the body image scientists were right, then, Medusa would have thought herself to be bigger than she is, and would have always managed an area of space between the limits of her body and that of another- the spatial version of her body image perception rating: surely something the scientists could scientifically come up with?

The absence of which, coupled with the fact that Medusa DOES NOT THINK SHE IS ANY THINNER, ever (!!!!!), one must conclude, the scientists, despite their scientific experiments, must have been wrong after all.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

mother medusa

There were about a hundred answer scripts to correct, two articles to write, one that had been due for two years (bless the editors) and the for-ever-pending thesis. Therefore, as all rational and highly intellectual professionals must also be doing, instead of getting down to work, Medusa took up a hobby.

And like everything else that Medusa takes up (only when there are other much much more pressing things to be done), the first step is usually to buy stuff, i.e., go shopping. So at the end of a long walk from somewhere she should not have gone to (digression here: Medusa likes the whole ‘woman in big city’ sort of exploratory walks that Hollywood films, especially chick flicks often have; makes her feel chick-y, and thin) anyway, she stopped at a shop that seemed to stock paint supplies, and asked for a box of poster paint. And a set of paintbrushes.

The shop had two kinds, one expensive and the other inexpensive, and since Medusa has no illusions regarding her painting prowess, she insisted that the shopkeeper hands over the cheapest set. Instead of doing as he was told, like other nosy middle aged men, he asked, “How well does she paint?” (Well, he was speaking in Bengali and did not use a gendered pronoun, simply asking kyamon aanke, but how on earth does one translate that into English, without resorting to the somewhat incongruous “they”?)

Medusa went dumb for a couple of seconds, not knowing who he was referring to.  And then it registered.

This considerate/ alternately nosy man was asking medusa how well does her son or daughter, the one she must be buying paint and brushes for, draw/ paint. It did not occur to him that Medusa might be buying this stuff for herself. And it did not occur to Medusa that someone might mistake her to be someone’s mother.

And it was incredibly stupid of Medusa. Why didn’t she remember that incident at the shoe store a year ago, when in order to feed her insatiable desire for a pair of ballerinas (you know, the black shoes that Bengali girls wear to school), she walked into a store and asked for them.  The attendant asked her, “How old is she?” Medusa should have said that the shoes are for herself, but then she played along. She said, “Oh, her feet are the same size as mine, so just show me shoes that’ll fit me.”

So you see, Medusa should not be taken aback when people assume she has a child, it keeps on happening. It’s disconcerting at the beginning because the idea of having a child, of being someone’s mother, is NEVER present in Medusa’s mind, is hardly ever alluded to by her friends, at least to her; no longer expected by her mother and is now not a concern of her gynaecologist. The gynaecologist has now written on top of Medusa’s prescription, in bold letters, DOES NOT WANT CHILD. Thereby relieving herself as well as Medusa from the routine litany of “when do you want to get married, when do you plan to have a child.”

But how did Medusa assume that she can conveniently bypass the dominant figurations, as if forgetting about normative womanhood is as good as it ceasing to exist? The world is not inside your head, dear medusa, it’s out there: where women your age are usually married to men, have children, and barely have time to indulge into arty fancies. And just because Medusa does not engage with these facts every day, it does not mean that others do not.

A more interesting question is the following: why didn’t Medusa correct the misconceptions of these men? After all, there is no law against the purchase of seemingly children’s stuff by adults. Thin people often proudly talk about how they bought their t shirt from the kids’ section. Medusa knows a lot of adults, often with progeny of their own, whose entire grown up reading consists of what is designated as teen literature. When they go shopping and someone asks the age of the child, do they make up fictitious daughters like Medusa does?
An interesting conundrum, this.

Medusa explains her behaviour to self thus: attempting to explain would have required more effort and may have generated snide comments. Hence, taking the path of least resistance was not necessarily a bad idea.

There may be couple of other ways out, which won’t make people assume that Medusa may have a child. One: lose tonnes of weight like Medusa’s friend PP did, so that people usually assume that she’s in school and hence unlikely to have a child. Two: cut hair short like before and wear oversized shirts, so that people mistake her to be a fat young boy and hence no one’s mother.

Now, which one’s easier?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On the bus: bodies in the wasteland.

So, there was this one man whose under-belly ( can the word be used to describe the part of the human body, or is it only to be used in sentences like :the underbelly of the society"?) was rubbing on Medusa's bicep. Medusa was trying to cringe further into her seat, but the none-too-thin man on her left sat solidly and stolidly like a rock, so cringing was difficult.

And then there was the other pelvic bone which was poking her shoulder blade. Do remember that the pelvic bone is merely a conjecture, it could have been a phone, a belt buckle, or some other hard thing.

Basically yet another day in the commute to the wasteland. And Medusa was actually thinking about the radically post-modern potentials of such a journey- where the boundaries of the bodies are dissolved, spaces breached, limits compromised.

However, she also felt a knee feeling her leg up, rhythmically. As is her wont, she thought it must be a mistake. And then it happened, again, and again, and again, at regular intervals, till there could be no doubt that this regularity was a matter of design. So she looked to her left, and saw a youngish man holding onto the rails above his head, with both hands, and humping the air in front of him.

Strange though it appeared, the actions had sound logic behind them. By humping the air he ensured that the humping motion continued down his limbs, and his knee in extension humped Medusa's leg. And of course Medusa was disgusted and was trying to figure out the most painful way to hurt, and if possible wound him, but then she saw light.

What if this man was simply carrying out the tenets of Beatriz Preciado's Contra-Sexual Manifesto? Preciado challenges naturalized notions of the body and sexuality that privilege genitals and marginalize the dildo by fetishizing it. She claims that the practitioners of dildotectonics (not an easy science), ought to consider the entire body as a dildoscape, "a living surface where dildos are inscribed and displaced."

So basically, by unleashing the potential of the entire body in as fetishized a manner as dildos are regarded, pleasure ceases to be simply genitally oriented. Isn't that what this man was doing on the bus? His knee became the medium of his pleasure, he radically altered the definition of pleasure, divorced it from reproduction and in general, treated himself to a good time.

Of course, there was the tiny detail that he did not care for Medusa's consent. So Medusa crushed his revolutionary moment, brutally, by bringing her shoes down on his toes, and watched in satisfaction his grimacing retreat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bodies of women.

There's a girl who studies in one of the other departments, at work. She's familiar to Medusa, mostly through the praises of her teachers, but also because she is always around whenever Medusa visits that department. She seems sorted, pleasant, is clearly intelligent and studious. All irrelevant. And she has also been threatened with an acid bulb.

For the past couple of years, one of the leaders of the erstwhile ruling students' union (again irrelevant) has been interested in her: an interest that she has politely yet firmly declined, repeatedly. This year, therefore, the young man has renewed his attentions, with the accompanying threat of disfigurement. Her classmates now walk her to the bus stop, she has sought help from her teachers, has spoken to the boy's friends, and is contemplating staying at home, for a long time to come.

Medusa can not even begin to imagine what prompts this young man to act the way he is promising to act, but she can try to comprehend the sense of despair that this girl must be experiencing- a despair shared. Because whether or not one has been at the receiving end of such sensational, headline-grabbing violence, one has gotten used to having one's body brought to the forefront of one's existence. Grabbed and mauled on the roads, in buses, trains; brushed against in the metro and in homes, parties, colleges, workplaces. If she gets ahead in life, she's probably also sleeping with her boss, and if she doesn't, then her cleavage-display has sadly been in vain. Her demands in meetings are expressed too loudly, shrilly, She provokes and is not careful enough- the way to teach her a lesson is to teach her body a lesson.

So, while the girl at work will probably go to the police and complain, and maybe, just maybe, be rid of this young man for good- her experience of her body is unlikely to be any diiferent.

Stopping here seemed too depressing, and so Medusa tried to imagine a situation when she and her friends could talk about the bodies of "masculine" men in a similar manner. They could say, "ooooh, look at his arse, no wonder it got slapped yesterday when he was getting on the bus". Or maybe, "its only natural that all his students would hang on to his words, have you noticed the size of his adam's apple?" And again, "If he did not want me to stare at his belly, why did he wear such a tight shirt?".

Pretty taxing, this imagining.