healthcare, law, politics, rants, YouTube

Women behind bars are having a bloody awful time handling their periods…

Last week, I wrote a post about how adorable YouTuber, Mama Doctor Jones, who is an OB-GYN and mom to four, did a video about a woman who had a baby while she was incarcerated. I was really moved by Mama Doctor Jones’ reaction video to Jessica Kent’s story. Next thing I knew, I was on Jessica Kent’s YouTube channel, which is full of interesting videos about her time in prison. Jessica Kent is tiny, well-spoken, and apparently sober, having spent much of her youth in trouble with the law.

I haven’t yet familiarized myself with all of Jessica’s story, but I have watched a bunch of her videos. As I listen to how this fiery young woman wound up on the wrong side of the law, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened to her if she’d never gotten arrested. She’s very bright and articulate, and I think she’s determined to go far. Jessica has obviously embraced the power of the Internet, and has a presence all over social media. She’s pursuing a college degree, but I wonder if she’s already making a lot of money creating videos for YouTube.

Last night, I watched a video by Jessica Kent that made me very angry. It was about how she and her fellow female inmates in Arkansas were forced to make tampons out of the maxi pads doled out to them. Jessica explains that female prisoners in Arkansas are not given tampons and, in fact, can only get really poor quality maxi pads– and just two per day at that. Jessica says the pads are state issued, and she’s never seen the type of pads the state issues for sale outside of the prison walls. Because the pads are so poorly made, they have to be turned into tampons, which last longer than the pads do. So Jessica made a video to demonstrate how to make the tampons.

This is absolutely infuriating!

More than once, Jessica implores her viewers not to try to make these “tampons” at home, since the pad she’s using is not really the type she would have used in prison. Apparently, the pads we can get at the store are too “cottony” and “powdery”. In any case, I can’t imagine why someone would want to make a tampon like this if they weren’t incarcerated and forced to do so.

Jessica says that not all states have this draconian limit on feminine hygiene supplies in their prisons. For instance, when she was incarcerated in her home state of New York, Jessica had no problem getting all she needed for that little feminine monthly chore. New York, of course, is a blue state, and human rights are apparently more valued up north.

For some reason, the powers that be running the prisons in Arkansas think that two maxi pads per day are all a female prison inmate needs when she’s menstruating. I think about my own menstrual habits and realize how disgusting and unhygienic that is. As a woman, and a person with a public health educational background, it amazes me that prison officials in Arkansas are allowed to get away with this practice. At the very least, it seems like it would be a serious health risk to everyone who is incarcerated. Many diseases, some of which cannot be cured, are spread via blood exposure. Plus, it’s just so nasty!

I read in another article that, in some prisons, women who can’t get proper feminine hygiene supplies will pass up visits with family or their attorneys when they have their periods. They have to wait until they can get their laundry done, before they’re not sitting in their own blood. Kimberly Haven, the author of that article, writes that before and after each visit, inmates are strip searched, and have to squat and cough. The whole process is so demoralizing and horrifying that a lot of female inmates would prefer to skip it, even though attorneys and family members are powerful advocates for the inmates.

In another article, I read about how, in Connecticut, two female cellmates would have to share five state issued maxi pads among themselves. Every woman is different, of course, so there’s no way to tell how long a period is going to be and how often feminine hygiene products need to be changed. But the inmates in Connecticut also had to learn how to stretch their products out, sometimes by reusing them. The inmates in Connecticut could purchase supplies from the commissary, but for those who don’t have money, that $2.63 cost might mean one less phone call home or not being able to pay for a visit to the prison doctor. Also, realize that prison jobs often pay very little– like 20 or 30 cents an hour. It takes a long time to make enough money to buy the proper supplies if there’s no one on the outside helping.

I have stated before in this blog that I’m not a big fan of incarceration, but I especially dislike inhumane treatment toward people who are incarcerated. Yes, it’s true that the best thing for anyone to do is to avoid going to prison in the first place, but people who are locked up are not going to improve their behavior if they’re treated cruelly. Forcing women to handle their body functions in this way is demeaning and cruel, and it doesn’t deter crime. Prison is supposed to be unpleasant– it shouldn’t be dangerous and unhealthy.

According to my reading:

In 2017, then-Sen. Kamala Harris and her colleagues Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Richard Durbin introduced a bill to provide free menstrual products to incarcerated people in federal women’s prisons. The Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a guidance memo, separate from Harris’ bill, mandating that menstrual products be available to all incarcerated people in federal correctional facilities at no cost shortly after. In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, a more general justice reform effort that included access to menstrual products. 

So… if you’re a woman who goes to a federal lockup, or a prison in a blue state, you’re more likely to be able to take care of these basic body function needs. But there’s no legislation in most states that require state prisons to accommodate menstrual periods. Frankly, I think that’s a sin, and I would love to see some high profile lawsuits happen that force states to do a better job in this area. In a wealthy country like the United States, this unsanitary practice should be outlawed. We’re supposed to be “better” than this… although I think many Americans are fooling themselves thinking that the United States is a civilized country. When we have female prisoners who are sitting in their own menstrual blood every month for want of adequate feminine hygiene supplies, we’ve lost the right to refer to ourselves as “civilized”.

It’s also unfair that prisons don’t automatically take care of this issue, since this is not a problem that male prisoners have to face. In fact, men don’t even need toilet paper as much as women do, but according to Jessica’s videos, women in Arkansas prisons only get two rolls a week. That’s really not much, especially when it’s that time of the month. But a lot of men involved with making laws don’t want to hear about this problem. It’s too “gross” for them. The first paragraph of an article in the Public Health Post opens with:

When Arizona’s all-male House of Representatives heard House Bill 2222 on feminine hygiene products, Representative Jay Lawrence said “I’m almost sorry I heard the bill…I didn’t expect to hear about pads and tampons and the problems of periods.” Introduced by Rep. Athena Salman, Arizona House Bill 2222 allocates funds to provide women in state prisons with unlimited and free access to feminine hygiene products. Access to sanitary menstrual products is considered a basic human right in European prisons. Not so in the US.

Wow, Jay… you’ve shown us just who you are with your lack of compassion or comprehension of how necessary it is for you, and your male colleagues, to hear a bill about providing necessary supplies for women who menstruate. I wonder if Jay Lawrence can even fathom how humiliating and shaming it is for a woman to have to deal with this problem when she can’t get the supplies she needs. Does he have any women in his life that he loves? What an asshole.

Aside from how gross, messy, and unsanitary this problem is, the practice of turning pads into tampons could potentially be unsafe or even deadly. Consider that the inmates probably don’t have the cleanest surfaces for improvising these products and they may not be able to keep themselves optimally clean. Then they’re sticking the tampons into their body orifices, where the improvised tampon might abrade the skin or otherwise introduce pathogens into the body. An inmate could potentially get very sick or even wind up with toxic shock syndrome doing this. Toxic shock syndrome can lead to sepsis, which can cause a person to lose limbs or even their lives.

A tampon did this to Lauren Wasser.

Model Lauren Wasser, who was not incarcerated when she left a tampon in too long and got toxic shock syndrome, lost BOTH of her legs to the sickness. She very nearly died.

I know a lot of people don’t care about the plight of prisoners. Personally, I still see them as human beings who are entitled to decent, respectful, and humane care when they are incarcerated. And part of being humane is making it possible for people in custody to be able to take care of private, personal body functions like menstrual periods. I know I would support legislation requiring that clean and hygienic feminine hygiene products be made available to women in prisons. I hope others can see how important this is.

And… once again… I am so glad menopause is around the corner.

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complaints, healthcare, rants

Hey guys… periods are none of your bloody business!

Obviously, this post is going to be TMI for some readers. Proceed with caution.

A couple of days ago, The Atlantic ran an article about how menstrual periods are now “optional”. The article was entitled “No One Has to Get Their Period Anymore”, with the tag line, “Why Menstruate if You Don’t Have To?” As I sit here wondering where my period is, and hoping it doesn’t strike this weekend as I celebrate my birthday, I think back on the many days I’ve spent “on the rag”. Starting New Year’s Eve 1985 and continuing to this day, I’ve mostly been very regular. It’s only been within the past few years– 2017 or so– that my body has occasionally taken a month off. I’m pretty lucky, though, because my periods have always been mostly bearable. Yes, they’re messy, stinky, and kind of gross, but I’ve never been bedridden because of that time of the month. The most I’ve had to deal with is cravings, crankiness, and the occasional ruined pair of underwear.

Some of my friends have not been so lucky. I know women who have had to deal with excessive pain and lengthy menstrual periods. I know other women who are busy and don’t have time to deal with the monthly bill. Some of those women have decided that they would rather not menstruate. They visited their doctors and got help. From the article:

Today, any doctor will tell you there is no medical necessity for periods unless you’re trying to conceive. The body preps for pregnancy by thickening the uterus’s lining, like a bird building a nest for her eggs; hormonal birth control prevents pregnancy, in part, by keeping the uterine lining from ever building up. Many of the roughly 19 million Americans who rely on the pill, the shot, IUDs, implants, patches, or rings see a change in their period—often it’s lighter, but it can also disappear altogether. In clinical trials, more than 40 percent of the Liletta IUD’s users no longer menstruated by the end of the product’s six-year life. More than half of people who get the Depo-Provera shot every three months will become amenorrhoeic within a year, and almost 70 percent in the second year. And anyone using the pill, patch, or ring can safely skip scheduled withdrawal bleeding.

Sounds awesome! I have never used birth control myself. In fact, Bill has never even used a condom. He has never needed to. Again, my period isn’t really that onerous. I’m not a career person. It’s not a big deal for me to menstruate, although it can be inconvenient and annoying. But like I said– I do know women who have suffered a lot due to menstruation. And so, if they don’t want to menstruate, why should they? More importantly, why is it that some men feel the need to opine about such a personal decision?

In the comment section on The Atlantic’s Facebook page, I was surprised to see a lot of comments from men about this topic. One guy, who wrote that he has daughters and worries about their health, queried “How is this healthy?”

And my response was, “Men seriously need to STFU about periods.” I could tell by the reactions to my comment that a lot of women agree with me.

Fellas, I appreciate that you worry about the women in your life. I like that you want to know how her body works. But, unless you are a physician and it’s your job to deal with women and their periods, I think this is a subject on which you shouldn’t offer too much input. I, for one, am very grateful that my husband’s wonderful mom, Parker, taught Bill so well. When Aunt Flow comes knocking at our house, Bill comes home with red wine, steaks, and chocolate. And that’s all that needs to be done… except for a little cramp relief.

It’s been my experience that most men don’t want to know the gory details of the monthly menstrual period. They aren’t there to comfort their wives or daughters when they accidentally leak through their pants. They may not be too appreciative in the middle of the night, when their wife or daughter wakes up with a gush of bleeding that has pooled and leaked on the sheets. They don’t know the sorrow of a destroyed pair of favorite underwear. They don’t understand the special fatigue and icky feeling that comes from having periods… not just the actual bleeding, but also the bloating, sensitive breasts, sleeplessness, irritability, and odors that come from that time of the month. Some men love to joke about such things, but they don’t experience it, and they can’t fully appreciate the unpleasantness of it.

Another example of a man getting involved in a conversation about something about which he clearly knows nothing.
And another… There were more, but in the interest of not boring people, I’m not going to post them. You get the idea.

Now, in fairness to the guy who asked, “How is that ‘healthy’?”, I did see a few women also posting about how they felt it was better not to mess with Mother Nature. And frankly, I kind of agree with those women. I don’t have a need to mess with the natural process of things, so I don’t. But– just as I probably would never choose to have an abortion but support legal abortions for other women, I fully support the rights of other women to make the choice not to menstruate. That monthly ordeal is truly a pain for a lot of people. Unless a woman wants to get pregnant, there’s no need to deal with the mess.

Another thing the article points out is that sanitary products are potentially very expensive, plus they don’t do great things for the environment. Of course, if money is an issue regarding sanitary napkins or tampons or the other products available, then it would probably also be an issue in paying for birth control, particularly for those who can’t pay for health insurance. And for some people, not having a period is a medical necessity– people who are missing an intact uterus or vagina, for instance. Not having a period can also be a psychological necessity. The article mentions a transgender man who suppressed his period because he didn’t want the monthly reminder that he was “born in the ‘wrong’ body”.

On the other hand, some people are comforted by the presence of their periods. For instance, some people use the presence of their periods to know that they aren’t pregnant. The period can also be a marker for recovery from an eating disorder or another health condition involving the pituitary or thyroid glands. When menstrual periods resume in someone who has had severe anorexia nervosa, that’s a sign that the body has healed from malnourishment and, perhaps, has regained fertility. Other people just like the rhythm of the period. It makes them feel “in touch” with their bodies.

Whatever… the point is, now that science has made a period free life possible for people who would ordinarily menstruate, it should be a choice that can be made without a bunch of chatter and mansplaining from those who don’t have to deal with having periods. I think the only time this should really come up with a man is if he’s raising a female child alone. I do have a male friend who is raising his daughter… and I don’t think he’s prepared for when she hits puberty. I hope he has some female friends who can help him out, because it’s just around the corner.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about periods… and how men really need to be quieter when it comes to discussing them. Back in 2017, George Takei shared an article about how menstruating women were being “price gouged” at an airport– $15 for a box of tampons. Lots of men were making stupid comments about that, too. Because that was an interesting post, here’s some of what I had to say about that situation reposted here:

An anonymous woman happened to be at Calgary International Airport when everybody’s least favorite aunt arrived.  She found herself unprepared for her period and the vending machine in the ladies room was empty.  When the woman went to a drug store to buy the necessary supplies, she was ripped off.  It was $15 for the tampons.  So the woman paid the money and left the box in the restroom for other women, along with a note of explanation.

A screenshot of the tampons Carlee Field found at the airport.

Carlee Field came across the box of tampons, snapped a photo of them and the note, and posted to Reddit.  Apparently, the outrage was enough to spark a response from airport officials, who promised to stock the vending machines.  The drug store, likewise, lowered the price of the tampons.

The story was interesting enough, although the comments were especially stimulating.  It always amazes me when men want to weigh in on subjects regarding menstrual periods.  To their credit, many men were surprisingly understanding and even empathetic.  On the other hand, there were quite a few comments from guys who felt the need to lecture us women about bringing the necessary supplies with us. 

Here are just a few comments from males who think they know what it’s like to bleed from the genitals every month…

Maybe she should be a responsible adult and bring her own…? Or should we treat women like helpless victims?

Airport price gouging is not unique to tampons. It’s a huge price gauging enterprise. It’s why I make sure I have what I need, along with “just in case” items, before I leave my house.

Oh please. This is the problem nowadays. People stop looking at reality in favor of talking points and PC bullshit. The topic was price gauging. My comment was that the gauging isn’t unique to this particiular item, and that planning ahead could prevent the expense. Am I really wrong about that? Really?  (someone should teach this man how to spell “gouging”– actually, this word is curiously misspelled several times by different people)

I’m confused. A lot of women are saying they have irregular periods, heavy periods, etc. as an excuse for being caught off guard. That just seems counter intuitive. I would think that if you had irregularities in your cycle and that you likely COULD have a surprise…. Isn’t that more of a reason to always be prepared and to carry fem Hy products? Because you know there’s a likelihood of having a surprise?

Of course the socialist thinks everything should just be given to her.

Fancy that.

I can see how youd assume most men take such a drug, your sex life must be dull.

Wait… Youre female and you said something logical…. My mind is about to explode! Welcome to the wonderful world of getting yelled at by the mob of women with pitch forks and torches!

Quit getting so butthurt because guys are calling women unprepared for not packing a few extra while traveling 🙄you know you’re away from home for days at a time and that it could happen at any point. Unpreparedness is just the truth here. Sensitive much?

I could probably sit here all morning and read the comments, but I’ll stop with the ones above.  

I have already written this story a few times, but I’ll repeat it for those who don’t want to read old posts. It was the end of November 2012. Bill and I were in Scotland on Hebridean Princess, a ship that generally caters to the elderly set. I had just gotten new luggage and, for whatever reason, forgot to stock my bags with feminine hygiene supplies. I usually have several tucked away just in case, but I guess I forgot to stock up in the excitement of packing.

On the last night of the cruise, we not only found out that our sweet bagel, MacGregor, was dying, but I had also started my period and was completely unprepared. Fortunately, the assistant purser, a very lovely lady named Valeria, was able to score me a few items from crew members to get me through the night. I doubt this is a problem they deal with too often, since most women on that ship are past menopause. Nevertheless, I will never forget that kindness.

Since that experience in 2012, I have been very careful to make sure I am ready in case Auntie Flow arrives when I’m on the go.  But even though I am now especially sure to pack the essentials, that doesn’t mean I won’t need to buy more, perhaps even in the airport.  The human body can be an unpredictable thing.  I’m sure it won’t be long before my hormones go haywire and I won’t know WTF I’ll be dealing with as I enter a “new season” of life, as Michelle Duggar puts it.  

Feminine hygiene products truly are a necessity.  In fact, some might argue (and a few did) that they should be freely available in public restrooms, as toilet paper generally is.  But, as a quick Google search shows, quite a lot of women lack the appropriate supplies for their time of the month.  If you’re poor and you have a choice of spending money on stemming the crimson tide or eating, you’d likely pick eating.  If you’re paying with a SNAP card, the choice to eat would be a no-brainer.  You can’t use SNAP cards on non food items.   

There are some communities taking notice of the need.  How progressive!  It seems like providing hygiene supplies to menstruating women would be a “win-win” proposition.  Women can spare themselves the embarrassment and humiliation of being caught unprepared and “price-gouged” at the airport, and everyone can avoid the sight of blood on furniture and clothing.  In all seriousness, though, this is a big deal.  There is evidence that not properly taking care of one’s period can lead to significant health issues.  Yeah… this is what is “unhealthy” about periods…

It’s also just really unpleasant.

As you can see, this is a world that biological men don’t have to worry about or deal with. But we used to have a president who made tacky comments about Megyn Kelly, saying “she’s got blood coming out of her ‘wherever’.”  I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised when I read stupid comments from men who think they know what it’s like to have periods and have the right to opine about what women should do to prevent being “surprised”.  The fact is, sometimes you get caught with your pants down, for whatever reason.  It happens to everybody.  It shouldn’t be a big deal to be able to access affordable sanitary products when that happens.  And men, who will never have to deal with the mess, expense, and inconvenience of monthly periods, should really be more sensitive.  Better yet, most of them should simply STFU on this particular topic.

And if a woman decides she’d rather not have periods at all, that too is entirely and solely her own business. I don’t concern myself with male-centric topics like the state of the scrotum or prostate gland. I think that men should keep quiet about periods unless they are offering support. They don’t have to deal with a monthly deluge of blood coming whenever and however long the body decides. I honestly think some of these guys who are opining are doing so because they like the idea of being able to get women pregnant. It’s a source of control for them, or something.

Anyway… I feel glad that pretty soon, this will no longer be an issue I need to care about as someone who is personally affected by it. But in support of my younger sisters, I want to go on record to say that women should have dominion over their own bodies without input from men. Periods are not fun. They’re messy, stinky, expensive, and inconvenient. So, if science can make things easier in that regard, I think that should be a choice available to all women. And men need to STFU about it.

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memories, music, nostalgia, YouTube

The Red Scare!

Yesterday’s post about public TV caused me to fall down a very interesting rabbit hole on YouTube. Anyone who follows this blog for any length of time is likely to come to the conclusion that I have way too much time on my hands, most days. And when I get bored, I go hunting for things to alleviate my boredom. I had wanted to add a certain video showing a Soviet children’s show on yesterday’s post. I couldn’t find it, but I did find this video, which I also shared in yesterday’s post…

Someone in 1981 was REALLY scared of the Soviets taking over our capitalistic society… That still photo is Toni Ann Gisondi, who played Molly in the 1982 movie, Annie.

I didn’t really write about what’s in this video when I posted it yesterday. That’s because I discovered it at the end of my post and had already written a lot… and the former Soviet Union wasn’t really the point of yesterday’s writings, anyway. In this video, an elderly teacher, obviously stricken and terrified, tells her class that all current teachers will be forced to give up their classes. A little boy named Johnny tells the teacher not to panic as she explains why she’s so scared.

At 9:00am, right on the dot, a tall, attractive woman with reddish brown hair, blue eyes, and a vague British accent appears at the door. She wears what looks like a Soviet inspired uniform, enters the room, and tells the children that she’s their new teacher as she firmly kicks out the old lady who had originally been teaching the kids. She knows all of the students’ names, shocking them. Then she shocks me by poorly trying to sing “Children of the World”, a positively cringeworthy song by the Bee Gees. Talk about a Red Scare!

The young teacher has a kind and friendly demeanor, but it’s clear that beneath that calm, gentle facade lurks a woman who could probably kill the children if provoked. Or, at least have them sent to a gulag or something. They are impressed by her, but also a bit scared. The teacher very carefully leads the children to her lessons, gradually and insidiously teaching them not to blindly honor American values. But little Johnny, the same one who told the old teacher not to panic, is going to be a troublemaker. The teacher takes down the American flag, then tells everyone they’re going to cut the flag, so everyone can have a piece of it. Johnny looks like he’s going to wet his pants.

A little girl named Leslie (who played Nadia Comaneci in the movie, Nadia), cuts the first piece of the flag because it’s her birthday. More pieces are cut so that everyone can have a piece, just like it was a birthday cake. The kids all disrespect the flag, all very innocently, as the sound effects get more ominous. When a child asks why their first teacher was crying, the new Soviet model says she was just “tired” and needs a long rest. And she says teachers should be young… like she is– only 23 years old. The old bat will be sent away where she will be nice and “safe”.

Then Johnny, the truth teller, demands to know where his dad is. The teacher says Johnny’s dad is “going to school”, becomes sometimes grown ups have to go to school, too. The teacher explains that Johnny’s dad had “wrong thoughts” and needs to be re-educated. And Johnny can visit him, once he has a vacation. Dads who are in school get vacation just like kids in school, do. Oh dear. The teacher tells Johnny that his dad had some thoughts that were “old fashioned” and needed to be corrected. I see where this is going. Leftists are BAD, and not to be trusted. Then the other kids start wondering if their parents should go back to school, too.

Sinister! The Red Scare was alive and well in 1981– for different reasons, as it turned out. That was also the year I learned about puberty.

Then the teacher tells the kids that they’ll all be staying together, from now on, in a nice state supported home where they will be taught the right things. They can stay up and have a good time, eat candy, and tell stories, like a slumber party that never ends as the state slowly reforms their thinking to the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way. Then someone brings up prayer, and the teacher implies that God isn’t real because He doesn’t answer their prayers for candy. So the teacher tells the kids to pray to “our leader”. While their eyes are squeezed shut, the teacher dumps out a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

But that pesky troublemaker, Johnny sees what the teacher did, as his duped classmates say they’re going to pray to “our leader” every time. Johnny busts the teacher for her trickery. So the teacher says that it doesn’t matter who the children pray to… only humans can give you what you want, but praying is a waste of time… By the end of the film, Johnny is starting to see things the “right” way… which again, of course, is the “left” way. Wow. I had forgotten how different things were in the early 80s. Then, at the end, a narrator explains how easy it is to fall into the trap of giving up freedom.

I was a bit fascinated by the video, so I went looking for more. And since I was somehow under the impression that April Lerman was in the above video, I searched for her on YouTube. I thought maybe I’d finally find that godawful After School Special, “Little Miss Perfect”. No such luck. But I did find this weird Disney film about a boy growing up in Leningrad. I suppose the Disney movie was intended to make us less afraid of a “red scare”.

The kid’s accent is annoying as all get out. Otherwise, it was an interesting little video about a regime that would collapse in just a few years.

And sure enough, this morning I found that video I had been looking for yesterday that made me fall down the rabbit hole in the first place. One thing I loved about living in the former Soviet Union was how many very musically and artistically talented people are there. I meant to include the below video yesterday, but never managed to find it.

The Trololo guy, Eduard Khil, is in this video. I taught school in Armenia and my pupils didn’t have uniforms like the kids in this video or the one above it. However, they did wear black and white on the first day of school, which I think was the custom during the Soviet years. They don’t seem too scary, even if they are “commies”!
The “Trololo” guy, Eduard Khil… apparently, he did this in 1976 because the lyrics to the song were about a cowboy who was riding his stallion to his farm, excited about going home. Another legend has it that Khil had an argument with the songwriter that music is more important than lyrics and decided to sing a vocalise to make his point. Khil died in 2012, so he’s not scary, either!

My search for April Lerman’s turn in “Little Miss Perfect” led to yet another weird find. As I mentioned yesterday, Toni Ann Gisondi, who was in the video about “brainwashing children”, was in the 1982 movie, Annie. April Lerman was also in that film. She played Kate. April Lerman was also in another special film… one about puberty. Annie is about an orphan who has red hair and wears a red dress… and so it’s only fitting that she should be teaching us about the true red scare of every girl’s adolescence– the dreaded first period, otherwise known as menarche!

April Lerman, who now uses the name April Haney. She led me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve written about this topic a few times, but because I enjoy shocking people and being gross, I’m going to write about it again. Back in 1981, I was in the fourth grade. That was the year we all learned about puberty. I went to Botetourt Elementary School in Gloucester, Virginia for third and fourth grades, so things were pretty redneck. Strangely enough, neither my mom nor my sisters ever talked to me about menstruation. I used to see my mom’s feminine hygiene supplies in her little special wooden chest kept next to the toilet. I would steal them to make blankets for my model horses or Barbie dolls. Back in those days, the pads were super thick, like miniature mattresses. I didn’t know what they were for, but they made for good Barbie doll pillows and such.

Then, that fateful day in the early 80s, all us girls were ushered into “The Pit” (which no longer exists) and we all watched a film from the 1970s about periods. And it was literally a film, as in it was shown on a projector, not a VCR or DVD player… or even a Laser Disc. I don’t remember much more about the film, other than a scene where they showed a woman in a bathing cap diving into a pool. That was about the time in the movie where they discussed whether or not a woman can go swimming when she’s ragging. After the movie, a teacher, who later became a principal, talked to us about what it was to be a woman… or maybe she didn’t do it that year (fourth grade), but I do remember her doing it another year. Maybe it was when I was in the seventh grade. I do clearly remember her talking to us about womanhood, with her deep southern accent.

After the movie, we were all given the Personal Products pitch– that was the company who made the film, the accompanying booklet, and, if you sent in for it, a box of assorted maxi pads and tampons. I didn’t need any of that stuff until New Year’s Eve 1985, when I was 13.5 years old, almost to the dot. And I didn’t have my second period until July of 1986, when I was 14. I skipped six whole months. After that, I was like clockwork until very recently. Now that I’m pushing 49, my periods are becoming weird and irregular. I suspect I’ll be done with the whole nasty business very soon, and thank God for that.

I suppose the next incarnation of “Growing Up and Liking It” came about in 1984. The musical, Annie, was still running on Broadway, probably thanks to the 1982 film. So, some bright person at Personal Products decided to get a bunch of actresses who had starred in different productions of Annie to do a video about puberty for girls of the 80s. I found that video yesterday, because April Lerman was in it. But now it occurs to me how odd it is to do a menstruation video starring kids from Annie— red hair, red dress, no mom to teach her (just like in that brainwashing video), and blood gushing from between one’s legs. Growing up is a delight!

My face was probably like the still video shot above.

The video begins with seventeen year old Shelley Bruce, who had played Annie on Broadway, introducing everyone to the motley cast of girls who had been in other Annie productions. The girls were of varying ages and statuses of development. Some were new menstruators, while others were still waiting… and they all sat around a chatted about their menses as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Interspersed within their chat sessions is the soothing voice of a matronly looking woman who looks like Anne Murray. She explains everything in calm, motherly tones, assuring us that all girls eventually turn into women and get to endure the monthly mess.

Someone in the comment section wrote the brilliant line… “The blood’ll come out… tomorrow…” which caused me to cackle uproariously. I sang it to Bill this morning, and he added, “bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be blood.” And then it occurred to me that my own period hasn’t yet shown up this month and was really light and late last month. My… how quickly 40 years goes by!

Well… I suppose these young ladies all got paid for this. And I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed watching them dance. One of the girls, Sarah Navin, apparently died in 2005. I’m not sure why, but her obituary mentions donating to Susan G. Komen, so maybe she had breast cancer at a very young age. How sad!

It’s funny listening to Shelley, who comes off as a real “pal”, except it’s obvious they aren’t friends and barely know each other. And now they’re going to sit around and talk about their monthlies– girls who starred in a musical about a girl with red hair who has no mom with whom to discuss these things– at least not until she gets adopted by Daddy Warbucks and his secretary, Grace Farrell. The girls all have New York accents, and some look a little more comfortable on camera than others. Poor Shelley, though. To go from being Annie on Broadway to teaching girls about their periods! A buck’s a buck, I guess.

Here are two Annies… Shelley Bruce played Annie after Andrea McArdle, who was probably the most famous Broadway Annie. She doesn’t look like she did in 1984!

And just because I’m still in the rabbit hole, here’s another gem about people who’ve played Annie. But most of them haven’t talked to young girls about menstruation… It now seems odd that a bunch of kids in a show about orphans, again, meaning they don’t have moms to talk to them about this stuff, would be tasked with making this video. But I guess they were at the right age. Besides, having a mom around doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to tell you about puberty. My mom was at home all the time when I was growing up and I don’t remember her ever talking to me about periods, except to tell me when I leaked and remind me to make sure I wrapped up my pads properly so my dad wouldn’t be offended.

My goodness… I never liked Annie’s stereotypical curly hair. It was a little Mrs. Roper, wasn’t it? The last Annie, who was in the menstruation video was not in this performance. Sarah Jessica Parker is in this! And we all know where she is, now!

Well… I suppose it’s time to come out of the YouTube rabbit hole and walk the dogs. May your day be without any visits from Aunt Flow or young Red Scare teachers who kick out your kindly instructors and want to get you to think the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way… As for me, perhaps the blood’ll come out, tomorrow.

Edited to add… you must listen to Andrea McArdle do an impression of Carol Channing! Hysterical!

I’m glad I watched it just for Andrea’s impression.
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musings, nostalgia

Growing up and liking it…

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how I learned what enemas, prostitutes, and hemorrhoids are. Now, I’m going to share the story about how I learned about periods. Why? Because it has nothing to do with current events, and it’s kind of inappropriate. That’s how I roll. This post is kind of a rerun. I wrote about this topic on my old blog, but the post was from 2012, so I doubt anyone would have been reading it now, anyway.

So here goes… the story of how I learned about what it means to be a woman.

I was in the 4th grade and did not know anything at all about periods.  I remember finding my mom’s maxi pads and tampons and playing with them.  I had no idea how they worked or what they were for; but I came up with plenty of creative uses for them when I played.  It was a big surprise when all the girls in my class were ushered into a room called “The Pit” at my elementary school.  The Pit has since been filled in and is now used as a regular classroom; but back in my day, it was like a miniature indoor amphitheater.  It was oval shaped with ugly brown carpeted steps that went all the way around that we could sit on.  A teacher could stand in the middle of the Pit and facilitate a chat.  We used it for music classes or watching films… or getting our class pictures taken. 

I remember being surprised in the late 80s when I found out our high school, which was built in the mid 1970s, also had a “Pit”, only it was more like an actual amphitheater and had ugly puke green carpeting instead of brown.  The first time I ever saw it was when I was a high school junior and had signed up for a weekly class/discussion on sex.  I’m pretty sure I only signed up for it so I could get out of chemistry class. 

This is the cover of the edition of the booklet I had…

Anyway, one day in 1981 (or ’82… can’t remember exactly when) all the girls were brought to The Pit to watch a film called “Growing Up and Liking It“.  I remember the film looked like it was made in the early 70s.  It was all about puberty and how menstruation works.  They made it sound like it was sooo special.  Checking out the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health Web site, I see that the accompanying booklet “Growing Up and Liking It” was revised many times.  My friends and I got the 1978 version.  We could also buy little goodie boxes with samples of feminine hygiene products made by Personal Products. I’m pretty sure one of my friends ordered one of those boxes. It had a lot of different maxi pads and pantyliners in it, but I don’t think they included tampons.

I recall being so excited after watching that film.  All my friends were excited, too.  I used to go to my best friend’s house and we’d talk about how we’d feel when we were all grown up and passed that rite of passage that every healthy woman deals with. It didn’t even occur to me how horrifying it is to bleed from the crotch every month. 

I was sure that my first period was just around the corner and, once I got it, I’d be magically all grown up.  My mom got her first period when she was only ten years old. By the time I was nine years old, I already had boobs growing, so I was sure I’d be one of the first to go on the rag.  As it turned out, I didn’t have my first period until I was almost exactly thirteen and a half years old.  It was New Year’s Eve 1985.  And I didn’t have another period until July 1986.  Unfortunately, I have only missed two periods since, and that’s only been in the past few years, as I finally approach menopause.

But I do remember how giddy we all were after learning about menstruation, even if now I think we were nuts and actually miss those innocent days.  I wasn’t even grossed out about the prospect of bleeding from my privates every month.  I was blissfully unaware of how periods can make women feel, how they mess up clothes, and what they smell like.  I’m actually very lucky, though, because my periods are pretty low maintenance.  They rarely last more than four days and aren’t painful.  I don’t even really get PMS.  The worst I get is cramps, mood swings, and that icky, unclean feeling.  I have friends that have had to get hysterectomies because of their periods.

Seems like we had a couple more school talks over the years.  I guess they did them just to be sure that there weren’t any Carrie moments at the school and we didn’t have 17 year old girls freaking out because they’d never heard of menstruation.

Awww… poor Carrie. My mom never told me about periods, either. I learned in school.
I didn’t know Disney was in the business of teaching young women about their periods. The narrator is so maternal sounding.

My mom never had a heart to heart talk with me about periods. I remember telling her when mine finally started. Her exact words were, “Don’t go out and get pregnant.” And I never have, not even after I married Bill. I have three older sisters, and none of them talked to me about periods either, although one has had a frank talk with me about menopause. I haven’t reached that stage of life yet, but I suspect it’s just around the corner. Frankly, I look forward to it, because I don’t enjoy periods at all. And as my hormones start fluctuating again, like they did when I was in puberty, my skin has become a mess. Wrinkles and zits… not the most appealing combination! And I’m sure my hands will soon get talon like and develop age spots and arthritis. I’m also starting to get looser skin on my neck and hairs growing in weird places. That’s what happened to my mom.

One time, when my niece was a little girl, my mom was pushing her on a swing. My niece introduced my mom, her “Grammy”, to her friends. One of the kids said my mom didn’t look old enough to be her grandmother, but then her big brother said, “Sure she does. Look at her hands!” I guess the hands are the one part of the body that defy anti-aging efforts. Not long ago, I saw a video starring Christie Brinkley, whose face looked as beautiful as ever. But she wore a high necked dress with sleeves that conveniently covered her hands.

Check out the dress Christie wears! Christie’s younger daughter, Sailor, looks just like her.

I am grateful that I grew up at a time when personal products were convenient and relatively comfortable. I have never been able to wear tampons. They’re too uncomfortable for me. But I do remember that when I first started having periods, pads were very thick and uncomfortable, and they didn’t have “wings”, so they’d shift and bunch and sometimes I’d experience bloody “blowouts” because they didn’t stay in the right place. Today’s pads are much thinner, more comfortable, and offer more coverage where it’s needed. And the wings are revolutionary, because they help stabilize the pads and prevent messes. There are also other methods of dealing with that monthly business, too… like menstrual cups, which I’ve never tried. Some women take birth control and skip having periods altogether. I have never had a need for birth control, so I haven’t used that myself.

I think my older sisters had to deal with less sophisticated products that required belts and pins. And when they learned about puberty, they probably watched a film like this one…

It reminds me of Leave it to Beaver… only the beaver is between the legs.

Today’s kids probably might enjoy a film more like this one…

“The Red Badge of Courage” indeed…
You look forward to periods until you actually get one… and then you wish you could regress to childhood.
This was not the film we saw, but this one probably would have been more informative. They even show a woman on the toilet, changing her pad.

Well, anyway, it’s amazing how fast 35 years can pass. I, for one, am glad my days of having periods are going to be over before too long. No more “not so fresh” feeling ever month or bloody underwear and sheets. And some of you who are cringing as you read this post are probably glad it’s now come to an end!

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complaints, nostalgia

I feel like I’m going through puberty again… and Gordon Ramsay grosses me out!

A couple of weeks ago, when we were in France, I was “enjoying” my most recent menstrual period. Just before Aunt Flow came knocking, I developed a cold sore on the left side of my mouth. I don’t get cold sores that often, although when I do, it’s usually around the time of my period. Given that we were on a Christmas journey to see my old friend, Audra, and her husband, Cyril, in France, there was probably a little more stress last month. Maybe that’s why I got a cold sore, although I seem to have a gift for having periods on weekends and during holidays.

During that trip, I also got a big zit on my right lower cheek. I haven’t had a big zit in some time. I had acne as a teenager, and the odd pimple as a younger woman, but this was a painful cyst. I was flummoxed as to what was happening. But then it healed, and I went on with my life… until a few days ago. I got another big zit on my chin. It was the same kind I’d had the week prior… big, painful, cystic, and ugly. And I have a smaller one on the left side of my face, too.

What the hell is going on? Well… according to Dr. Google, it’s probably due to the natural hormone fluctuations of perimenopause. I’m 47, and it’s only a matter of time before my reproductive system gives up the ghost for good. It’s pretty shocking to me that I’m this old. It seems like yesterday, I was a lot younger than I am now. But here I am, quite middle aged, and probably on the verge of a midlife crisis. Fortunately, although my skin is kind of blotchy and ruddy, in part, thanks to my strong Celtic genes, I don’t have a lot of wrinkles yet. My mom, who is now 81 years old, also doesn’t have a lot of wrinkles, but she also has the ruddy/blotchy complexion. Part of that may be because I like alcohol, but it’s also because of genetics. I am definitely my mother’s daughter.

We have the same smile, the same chin, the same cheeks… and the same rosacea, although you can’t tell so much in this picture.

A friend of mine sells Rodan+Fields skincare products and she says they’ve recently come out with a line of products specifically for old farts like me. If this keeps up, I may have to ask her about getting some stuff for my face, because this is really cramping my style. It’s not just because zits are gross and ugly, but because they also hurt. And I have enough pain to deal with without a big crater forming on my chin and cheeks.

Moving on… Gordon Ramsay visits Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant in Tappahannock, Virginia…

I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia, which is about forty-five miles south of the rural riverside town, Tappahannock. When I was in college, my last roommate, a kind-hearted black woman named Latissia, was from Tappahannock. Unfortunately, Latissia died some years ago, but like me, she had studied social work, though she did it as an undergrad… That’s a story for another post, I guess. Anyway, I think of Latissia when I think of Tappahannock, and yesterday, I was remembering her as I watched Gordon Ramsay’s gimmicky restaurant makeover show, 24 Hours to Hell and Back. I have never watched any of Ramsay’s shows before, although I was compelled to watch yesterday.

On the first episode of the latest season, Ramsay featured a Tappahannock institution, Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant, which has existed since 1938. I have eaten at Lowery’s myself, although it’s been decades. When I was a child, my parents would occasionally make the trip to Tappahannock from Gloucester for Sunday brunch. I remember loving that place, because they had a wishing well where kids were invited to use a plastic fishing rod to hook fishes and exchange them for cheap little toy prizes. It was quite a thrill for eight year old me.

I don’t remember the last time I visited Lowery’s. It might have been sometime in the 1990s, although even that seems blurry to me. I know I must have gone there at least once after childhood, but honestly, I don’t remember when that would have been. However, I have driven past it many times since 1980. It was kind of awesome to see glimpses of the town as Ramsay’s crew came in to “save” what was once a local gem and has now fallen into disrepute. Looking at their southern goodies/seafood filled menu post “makeover”, I won’t lie… I’m missing home a bit.

In any case, I’m not sure if I would be able to bring myself to go to Lowery’s today, even though it’s been through a Ramsay style overhaul. Why? Because I was seriously grossed out by the way the kitchen looked before Ramsay’s intervention. I’m sure that some of that was done for the cameras, to make the place look totally rotten… but to be honest, I’m not sure it was that far from reality.

I know these makeover shows are fun to watch, but it’s impossible to completely overhaul a business in just 24 hours, famous TV chefs be damned. I am actually shocked Lowery’s wasn’t shut down by the health department prior to filming– if it really was as gross as they made it look. I literally screamed at a couple of the scenes, which included rotting apples, black mold, and the discovery of some kind of thick, greasy, mystery sludge on the ceiling. I’m not sure I would want to watch another episode of that show, either, because I think it would make me paranoid about eating out in restaurants. Keep in mind, too, that many of Lowery’s customers are people in their golden years, who really can’t be expected to rebound from food borne illnesses the way younger people can.

Ah well… it was kind of fun to see that old landmark being overhauled. Before the main dining room was redone, it looked just like it did when I was a child. Sometimes, nostalgia is sort of comforting. Most of us who lived in Gloucester in the early 1980s are well familiarized with local landmarks like Lowery’s, Nick’s Seafood Pavilion in Yorktown (which is long since closed), and Taylor’s Restaurant in Deltaville, Virginia, another place we visited a lot back in the day. It looks like Taylor’s has gone downhill, too.

I got the sense that maybe the Lowery brothers who had inherited the restaurant from their parents, who had also inherited it from their parents, would rather do something else. I won’t be surprised if it closes. Maybe the Gordon Ramsay episode was simply to raise awareness for potential buyers. I remember it to be a family friendly place, particularly for the elderly. That was the clientele featured in Ramsay’s show, too.

The Lowery’s episode was available free of charge on iTunes, which is another reason I tuned in.

A clip from the show…

Anyway… if you’ve ever been interested in the type of place where I grew up, you’ll get a hefty dose of Middle Peninsula Virginia in that episode. It did make me want to book a flight for the briefest of moments. But then I remembered that the country is beyond fucked right now…

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