I have spent the last few days posing with a tampon as part of an international campaign to demystify the important issue of menstruation. I do not usually menstruate myself, although out of a wish to show solidarity with those who do I set aside five or six days each month to behave in a grotesquely irrational and bad-tempered manner, snapping at people for no reason and moaning a lot. As a man this seems to be the very least that I can do, an attempt at empathy which still recognises my privileged position as a male.
The campaign which I mentioned — and I would urge you all to take part in it — is called JustATampon. You take a photograph of yourself holding the tampon — either still in its little torpedo chute or liberated and held by the tail like a dead albino mouse — and post the selfie online. You can also make a donation of £3 to the cause which, I’ve been told, will empower women around the world. I’m not sure quite what it will empower them to do — go out and buy some more shoes? Sit at home with a box set of Wolf Hall? — but either way, it can only be a good thing.
I ought to add that this is a campaign led by women and about women and men shouldn’t muscle in and take it over — but a little bit of support would not go amiss. The eminent broadcaster Jon Snow has already posted his tampon selfie — looking very serious and holding the thing with its tail drooping down. It would not surprise me if other famous men, such as Stephen Fry and Baldrick and that actor who is married to Emma Thompson, are soon posting their tampon selfies on line. For my part, I put a liberated tampon up each of my nostrils with the strings hanging down over my top lip: a touch of whimsy which I think will appeal to the feminists who run this campaign. Feminists are notoriously good-humoured and ‘game for a laugh’, perhaps especially in those few days leading up to their monthly cycles.
As I say, the point of all this is to demystify menstruation and to ‘break the stigma and taboo’, as one of the feminists put it, which surrounds this entirely natural function. For too long now menstruation and female sanitary wear has been the subject of male sniggering, disgust and — frankly — cruelty. I have not been immune to this in the past, I have to admit. Until relatively recently I locked my wife in the garden shed during her monthly cycle and if a third party ventured near the shed, I would scream ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ and drag them away. I regret this behaviour in retrospect. These days Mrs Liddle is allowed in the main body of the house at all times (although obviously not in the kitchen) and permitted to see visitors, provided she is not in the same room as them. And I have constructed a special sink for her to go about her ablutions during the monthly cycle without polluting the rest of the bathroom with her filth.
With any luck, this campaign will help to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding the subject. It is not true, for example, that all lesbians menstruate at exactly the same time each month, guided by the waxing and waning of the moon. That’s myth number one. As it happens, lesbians do not menstruate at all and become touchy if you raise the issue with them. Nor is it true that a child conceived during menstruation will be born extremely hirsute, dwarfish and with sharply pointed little teeth. That is just a myth, too. And it is certainly not true that women who are menstruating suddenly become illogical and incoherent, unable to distinguish left from right and lacking in all spatial awareness. Indeed, the reverse is true: they are like that the rest of the time — during the menses they suddenly become possessed of great clarity of thought and wisdom. And that’s a scientific fact.
With any luck, once the taboos and stigmas are broken, we can all move on. Some feminists wish the campaign to be broadened still further and hope that one day women will be free to change their sanitary wear in a public place — at a table in Starbucks, say, or by the bread counter in Waitrose, or during a performance of La Traviata at the Royal Opera House — without some antediluvian male becoming irrationally offended. In this sense, the JustATampon campaign mirrors the breastfeeding freedom campaign, as that is about another natural function which unaccountably offends some people when it is performed in public.
These days, individuals or services which discriminate against women who heave their vast baps out in public to sate the appetite of some mewling middle-class brat are rightly shamed by social media and the press. Even those who implore the women to try to breastfeed with a little discretion instead of stripping off to the waist and squirting warm and frothy breastmilk over fellow diners are rightly labelled misogynistic throwbacks, people who are palpably on the wrong side of history. We are women, is the cry, and this is what we do, like it or not. It seems to me only a matter of time before menstruation is seen similarly, with café and restaurant chains taking pride in being ‘menstrual-friendly’ and those who do not get with the programme cast into retail oblivion, hounded on social media sites and with demonstrations of furious women, and Jon Snow, waving tampons outside their premises.
There is still some distance to travel before we reach that sunlit upland, but with every tampon selfie and donation we draw a little closer. In the meantime there will be many struggles — mostly with unnecessarily squeamish men. They will carp and cavil. They will respond with puerile humour masquerading as satire. But they will not win in the end.