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The hilarious, stressful, hidden world of menstruation | On the Rag: Periods (full episode)

August 26, 2019


Kei nga kirirau o te ipurangi, rarau mai ki a On The Rag. Citizens of the internet welcome to the very first episode of On The Rag. I’m Alex Casey I’m Leonie Hayden And I’m Michele A’Court We started as a humble podcast on thespinoff.co.nz and by podcast, I mean an excuse to drink wine with each other and talk shit and throw shade at the patriarchy. And now, we are an online video moving pictures talkies show! Whatever this is. 4D Is it telly if it’s not on the telly? I think it is. Well it’s not radio. Who knows. Is it Youtube? It’s not the wireless. Are we vloggers? I think this is coming live at you from Myspace. (Laughing) And so what we’re going to do, is, we, every month we’re going to tackle a topic, that has to do with feminism or womanhood or some issue going on in New Zealand society. And because this is our very first episode, hold onto your tampon strings because it’s about… periods. Tampons! Bleeding! Vaginas! Get it up ya! Get it in ya! Feminists, always going on about your periods. Bleeding. (Laughing) So I think we should, the first thing we should do is explain what a period is, because I think we all have some expertise in this area. I am an expert. This is a science lab. It may look like a kitchen. We have all of these delightful crocheted goodies, made lovingly by our On The Rag community By our friends! And a shout out to Pani Chapman Yep. Our colleague Madeleine’s mum made our tablecloth Beautiful! She’s a legend. Do you need some props? I think we need some props. Ooh, that’s too soon. It’s a bit big (laughing) An egg happens right? So you’ve got two egg stores. Those are the sort of sacky things, right? Yup. And you’re born with all of your eggs I understand? Yes you are. And then one of the eggs, once a month, travels down Goes for a little trip. An epic roadie. A solo They take turns, either side, this is one of the things I know… Do they? One month, another month Really? They take turns. It’s very democratic Otherwise you might just end up with heaps of eggs left in one and none left in the other And you’d walk on a lean (laughing) I’ve got too many eggs And then they, they bed down right? Well yes so in your uterus, as things get ready for it, like it sort of decorates itself with wallpaper, red flocked wallpaper. Yeah and plush carpets Make it cosy Velvet throw cushions Yes, very much like that And the egg gets all comfy And then if the egg gets fertilised, with a cookie, then it nestles in, but if it doesn’t get fertilised it goes, “I’m out of here” and it leaves and takes all the interior design with it. It’s brutal It’s actually like the ultimate Marie Kondo aye? Yeah. That’s right Get rid of it Thank you for your service Your uterus is like, this lining brings me no joy, get out! Get out. So then you bleed. For days and days.. For days and days and days. So why all the other stuff, why the self-loathing? (Laughing) Because of the hormones that go, “am I gonna, am I going to make a new human?” And then “oh, I’m not going to make a new human”. You piece of shit, you piece of shit, why don’t we cry and watch babies on Youtube? Yeah. That’s just me I think that’s what happens. But there must be all kinds of other things going on, because one of the things that we don’t talk about very often, is that what goes with periods is often, um diarrhoea. Can you say diarrhoea I think if you whisper it, it’s fine Can you say diarrhoea on the internet? It starts with “D” and ends with “oea”. A chocolate cookie Why, why does that, why do those things go together? Because it’s a fire sale! This is where our medical expertise ends Get everything out, get it all out, start again, I feel like sometimes I’m going to lose an organ (laughing) out of either of those orifices (laughing) Was that my spleen? And sometimes I’m like, maybe I don’t need it We are such medical professionals So as well as, you know, bleeding profusely out of your uterus, once a month as some of us do, it’s also something that we’re all quite ashamed of Yeah Raised to sort of treat as I’m absolutely mortified to be here to be honest Well you’re supposed to keep it a secret aren’t you, you’re supposed to manage the mess and the pain and the whatever it is, without letting anybody know what’s going on, because it’s a sign of how evil women are Yeah, exactly, tuck your tampons, bra, sometimes hide them in a bun That’s a good idea Or like a little ammunition belt, but make sure it’s hidden It would be great to wear a cross belt, just with tampons through it . That would be great. But I discovered, as it turns out, there are other attitudes to people bleeding, that don’t involve you know wrapping your shameful loins in ten metres of cotton wool actually there are other cultures with other attitudes to these sorts of things, so I went on a bit of a journey, to discover what my Māori ancestors thought about it. Colonisation! For Māori, it’s changed everything about how we live, what we wear, how we speak “How do you do” and for those that get periods, it’s even changed how we bleed. There are a lot of words in te reo Māori for this time of the month, some of them are waiwhero, mate marama, mate wāhine, māui, ikura, but a lot of what we know about the old ways of our people, has been lost or distorted by white colonialist male ethnographers like Elsdon Best. Far from assessing things with this amazingly objective Western rational thought we hear so much about, ethnographers like Best transferred so much of their world view into the recording of Māori culture that a lot of it got distorted, especially about the gender roles held in traditional Māori society. To be clear, the idea that women are inferior to men is an entirely Western construct. This was not a view held by Māori, but it does mean that many of the stories about wāhine, the tikanga specific to wāhine and the power wāhine held, has been dismissed over the years. So when I decided to ask what my ancestors did when they got their period, I also had to ask why. Michele Wilson is the co-founder of I Am Eva, New Zealand’s first period underwear, and Frankie Apothecary, a beauty brand that takes inspiration from rongoā Māori, natural medicine. So you are informed in a lot of your work by an understanding of what our ancestors did, pre-colonial, in their practises and their knowledge around menstruation… so what did you actually learn about attitudes to bleeding and how are they different from how we think about it now? They’re super different, today it’s whakamā (shame / embarrassment) to talk about your period, but that’s really different for how it was for our ancestors. When our menstruation arrived, it was something to be celebrated, it was tapu, it had mana, it was special because it was, you know, our direct link to our whakapapa. This idea of whakapapa, or genealogy, is central to the Māori worldview and it’s reflected in a lot of the language we use: ‘whenua’ means both land and placenta, ‘ūkaipō’ is your home and also means to be nurtured by a mother, ‘whānau’ is to be born and is the name for your extended family too. It’s all part of what Dr. Rangimarie Rose Pere of Ngāi Tūhoe calls the ‘te awa atua – the divine river The flow of time and the flow of blood through women are one and the same. You know our tūpuna believed that our waiwhero, our menstrual blood, carried our ancestors, so you know everything is returned to the land, yeah bleeding straight onto the whenua is a gift. I do know some wāhine that still do that today. Right, just sort of at the beginning, or as sort of, the first bleed of every single month? When they feel the need, it might be during the full moon, if it aligned. Yeah, cool. Do you want to do it? Kind of. (Laughing). And so all of this has obviously gone, this knowledge, and this respect for Papatūānuku has gone into your product that you’ve developed, which is a pair of period underwear. Yes. And what’s in that, that is sort of better for you than all of these terrible things that they put into sanitary products? First of all, they are not single use, so they are not just discarded, which is not friendly to Paptūānuku but I wanted women to feel comfortable during times where there is a bit of pain and discomfort. Our tūpuna used to use angiangi which was like a sponge-like plant, which absorbs, is super absorbent, they’d wash it and reuse it, they made it into a menstrual pad, a reusable menstrual pad, so I really wanted to recreate the idea of not having to discard of anything. It’s four layers, very similar to angiangi as well – it’s not angiangi. So yeah, the wahine just wear their underwear, wash them, reuse them. I just wanted to create something that would help women feel comfortable and that was a little more in line with tikanga and our stories. Angiangi moss sounds like something that probably, is still around, is it like, quite easy to find? Yeah, I know where there is some growing just up the road, so I can take you. Oh my god, shall we go and find some? Yes, lets go. In her thesis, researcher Ngahuia Murphy calls menstruation a potent site of decolonisation, cultural reclamation and resistance. Lord I am here for that. So yes Heaps of it! – we’ve got it growing abundantly all over here. It’s like a whole life times worth of periods, right here. Exactly. It’s really soft, like you could actually imagine it feeling like, quite comfortable down there. This different perspective on bleeding than the one I grew up with, helps me understand my place in the world a bit better, as a wāhine Māori, and it takes the edge off all the messaging that wants to make me feel weird and dirty about it. I am an inextricable part of the land, the people and the divine river. Now if you’ll excuse me. (Laughing) It was so disrespectful of the sacred knowledge of my ancestors. Oh dear. You didn’t actually use it, did you? You’ll never know. I’m thinking of switching, though. Yeah. It’s eco. Look how spongy that feels. Yeah, that’s great. I would trust that over a bloody supermarket pad. Comes from nature. Goes back to nature. Goes back to nature. I’m just gonna sniff. I think my favourite thing that I learned was about sort of bleeding straight onto the land as an offering to Papatūānuku. I find that really appealing as a concept that you are, like you have that physical bond with the land, not just a spiritual bond, but like it’s an actual tangible thing that you offer back. I think that’s really cool. What is terrific about that is a completely different attitude, that it’s not a secret. Yeah. Yeah, and imagine, like Michele says, if we actually got to acknowledge the first day, anyway, of when you start bleeding and you’re in so much pain and you’re so tired and everything feels wrong, imagine if you were just – society was just like, “Yeah, take a day off. Take a step back, if that’s what you need.” I love that. Yeah. It’s just something that’s celebrated and acknowledged. I often think that – They’re fine with it. – why Mother Nature arranged us to be like that ’cause you’re kinda forced to take a day to nurture yourself, right? Except we don’t, we soldier on. We take the panadeine and eat the chocolate. Nothing’s happening. Don’t talk about it. Definitely don’t have a party about it or like tell the village. Do the opposite. Yeah. Although, to be fair, it is probably the time where I least want to have a party. True. But it at least would be nice if someone wanted to have one for me. And you get to have a party for other people’s periods. Exactly. That’s good. Did you guys get “the talk?” My first memory of seeing a tampon or any kind of education was year seven, Ms. Lyford dropping a tampon into a glass of water and going, “There you are.” Did you think that’s how much it would be absorbing inside of you, an entire glass of water? Yeah. I’m like, “That’s how much liquid is in there? That’s how big my vagina is?” But then to add insult to injury, I remember Raven, the high school bully, I hope you’re watching, leaned in behind me and was like, “That’s gonna happen to you.” I’m like, “Thank you, Raven.” Thanks, Raven. Was she aware it was also going to happen to her? He. Oh! Sorry. He. I know. Insult to injury. Not very sisterly at all. It’s really not. It’ll be the closest Raven gets to a vagina is a glass. That’s what happens. You know, I feel like I didn’t get an adequate education. Yeah. A lot of it came from movies, television, what have you. And then the human brain just fills in the blanks for itself with a lot of weird shit. Exactly. For my story, I looked at advertising TV advertising, print advertising, just to look back at the kind of history of tampons and pads and the whispering woman in New Zealand. Roll the tape. You don’t need to be a scientist or even bleed blue liquid out of your vagina to know that advertising has taught us a lot about periods. That went astray. These days, period ads are all BMX riding and rock climbing, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the 1930s, period propaganda primarily came in the form of terrifying pamphlets. “One of these days, at any hour of the morning or even in the middle of the night, you find coming from you a bloodstained fluid. When this happens, you’re to take from your dresser one of these Kotex pads and wear it with this elastic girdle.” Girdle. In the ’40s and ’50s, it was all about discretion with simple ads and brown paper packaging. By the ’60s and ’70s, pads shed their girdles, freeing woman to stand on any rock formations they pleased. Beltless? I didn’t know there was a beltless napkin in super. There is now. New Stayfree Super Maxi Pads! Then came the halcyon days of the ’80s and ’90s, where TV advertising was still as cool as the ice caps and every bleeder danced in white. For many, these groovy white women were our first encounters with tampons and pads, but which one stuck out the most? I took to the streets to gauge the public opinion. What’s your earliest memory of seeing a pad or a tampon advertised on TV? Honestly, I can’t even remember. I can’t remember either. Oh gosh. What a question. Oh, the ad where that guy dresses up in the tampons and is like (makes noise). Ta-ting! Ta-ting! That one. Yeah that was it and I didn’t actually have a clue what the heck it was about, but I just found the ad hilarious. Or them like dunking it in blue water. “See? It expands!” Okay, yeah. Yeah, what is that blue water? What is that supposed to be? I don’t know. Do I have blue water? The blue was always just like – it felt very weird. Like an alien period. If you were to make a realistic period ad, what would it look like? Oh my gosh. You know what? It would be blaring pain. It would pretty much be like- I don’t wanna like show violence, but it would be like if someone was kicking someone else in the back while pretty much throwing red paint over them. Someone sitting in bed watching Netflix, like eating food. Comfort food for sure. Like pyjamas, like comfiest clothes With a wheat-bag to stop like cramps. Like it’s realistic yeah After collecting menstrual memories on the street, it was clear that some ads stuck out more than others. I took my findings to Jill Brinsdon, the first female ad creative in New Zealand. Jill, do you wanna start by telling me a little bit about your own experience in the advertising industry? I was 25 or 26. I remember going into a boardroom, and I’m pretty sure in Australia, in Melbourne, I was the only female that had been in that room and hadn’t said, “How do you have your coffee?” They didn’t know what to do with me because I was this chick. They would either try and get me to be one of them, so do that, or they would wait ’til they were alone and then they would tell me how impressed they were with me and then their hand would go onto my knee. Ugh. Try new Carefree Slims, the only tampon with the silk ease cover, making – What kind of research would go into making an ad? So in a global context, they will have done $200,000 worth of the research to find out that women wanna feel safe, for example. So they’ll put on a white outfit because obviously, if she’s wearing a white outfit, she’s safe. She is not gonna bleed out on the white. You know? Or they want to still be active, so then you go, “Oh, well, that’s why everyone that wears a tampon can windsurf or jet ski,” which has always been disappointing to me if I wear a tampon. I can’t do any of those things. No. It’s really gutting because they promised me I could. Okay, well, thought experiment. Yeah. Let’s say that men had periods. What would their ads look like? Well, I think they’d be really dramatic. It would either go, “This is a major issue that we deal with every month, month in, month out. No wonder the period is given to the man, because the man has the gravitas to deal with this. Or it would actually be the opposite, climbing up hills in extreme. You know? They would be called things like Primo and Mega Load. Mega Load. All of the language would change. It would be called the Mega Load tampon. So we’ve come a long way since the whispers of girdles and white linen, but there’s still not that many ads that show us the realities of menstruating and the different kinds of people that menstruate. But at least now, thanks to my super slim, invisible, leak-proof pads with extra wings the only thing I have to worry about is my serve. (Laughing) That’s a classic shot. That is beautiful. You’re an action woman. My reality. There’s nothing she can’t do. What I can’t do is hit a tennis ball over a net. Faked it perfectly. Thank you. And fun fact, I actually had my real period that day and it was a real guess who as to if it was fake blood or real blood all day. Didn’t know. Couldn’t tell you. She’s so method. I should get an Oscar for that. That’s such commitment to the- Maybe you were in sync with your imaginary self. You see? True. Your alter ego. Commitment to the craft. But it’s also you know – it’s actually happened to me before and I’m sure we’ve all experienced- The stain on the back of the skirt is very triggering. I had quite a horror story. I was going to a job interview at a cafe/diner, and I was wearing a very light, light brown skirt which the button had broken, so it was done up with a safety pin at the back and I was peak very heavy flow, so I had doubled up two maxi pads so that I could push one right forward and one right back into a nappy, basically. My interview ended. I stood up. My skirt fell to the floor ’cause the safety pin broke. Didn’t fall down a little bit, it fell to the floor, and the wings on the front pad were just (makes noise). No! I sat straight back down and I don’t think the guy who had been sitting opposite me interviewing me had clocked that my skirt had fallen down. He just didn’t understand why I’d sat down again after saying, ” Thanks for coming.” And I just smiled at him like a psychopath for 10 seconds ’cause I couldn’t figure out what to do and he was like, “What are you still doing here?” While I went – Oh no. And shuffled out of the room. Did you get the job? I did not get the job. So when I first started bleeding, staining underwear and stuff, I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to tell my mum about it. I started collecting all of the undies and the pads. This is gonna get rough. This is gonna get rough In a bucket in the little underneath our house, in the basement where a ghost would be. Bucket of shame. Where a ghost or say a sentient bucket of pads might live Sure. And every couple of nights I’d just pour more bleach in the bucket and load up until there was this huge wad of stuff and then I just left it there. We moved house and it’s probably still there. (Laughing) Oh my god. The shame of it though, that’s the thing I can’t get over. Yeah. That I would rather do that, literally what a serial killer would do than tell my own my Mum that I had started my period. Yeah. Let’s just Ted Bundy this shit, let’s just keep going. More bleach, more bleach, in the basement. Oh no. Well that’s why these stories are so good, right? To like, sharing other peoples horror stories with each other, is really good. Cause we gotta get over … it happens to half the population for a really significant period of their lives, so why aren’t we? So here’s a thing you might not know if you don’t have a uterus. The average person who menstruates, and by the way there is no average person, has 480 periods over their lifetime give or take the odd pregnancy. Now if you bleed like a pinprick it might involve 480 little packages like that, but if you’re a heavy bleeder that could involve four, five, eight times as much as that, up to $16,000 according to international data. But really it’s the short term 28 day-ness that’s the real problem for people, especially on a limited income. Like you can’t say “I’m a bit broke this month so I don’t think I’ll have a period.” Which means, according to a KidsCAN study, one in three people who have periods have had to choose between this and stuff like this, right? And sure potentially absorbent, but high risk of yeast infection. Also, imagine if you’ve got three kids who are riding the crimson wave with you, right? You’d be bloody drowning in it. The other serious cost is lost work days for people like me, periods can be so painful they have you vomiting for two days and send you to bed. That’s why I had my uterus out, or as I like to call it… parked my ute up. The other really serious cost is what we’re doing to the planet. Globally, more than 45 billion tampons and pads are disposed of each year and it takes 450 years for a pad to break down. Assuming the planet lasts another 450 years that’s going to be a problem. But hey, we’ve only been using disposable products for a few decades and there’s a growing movement to go back to our crafty ways. Reusable, recyclable, affordable and pretty cool. Joining us in the OTR kitchen we’ve got Amanda from United Sustainable Sisters, welcome. Thank you. You’re a social enterprise, right? Correct. And you have been set up to try and deal with that massive landfill nonsense that we just saw on screen. Yeah, waste reduction is really at the core of what we do. But there’s also kind of knitting circle vibe to what goes on, cause women get together to do this, right? Yeah. Yeah we do. Knitting circle without the knitting, sewing circle That would’ve been better, yeah. Show us what they look like, what you guys are making. These are our pads and … Oh my gosh. Little surprise. So cool. Have a look, there’s two parts to it. The really easy part to do is the shield in the middle, or the liner in the middle. Right. And then the shield is the more tricky sewing. Even I could do that. Yeah, it’s just overlocking, and straight stitches, cutting, straight lines. And there’s a couple of layers of what sort of fabric? So that’s just cotton, I think it’s a soft brushed cotton. And then these ones here are cotton as well. And then in the middle is PUL, which is a polyurethane fabric, which stops anything leaking onto your undies. That makes it look like a party. Yeah it does Yeah, a discreet little package. Yeah discreet. And then the little clips here just clip to your undies. Oh, around your undies. Wait a minute, show us that. It’s got wings. That’s brilliant. You’ve gotta sew your own model so people can come and do the sewing circle thing, so you give some of them away that’s part of what you do. Yeah. We donate them, it’s on a sliding scale, and we give them to women’s groups and any sort of groups that are working with vulnerable one as well. Great. That’s so cool. That’s amazing. I just happened to have a sewing machine here. Do you? How convenient. I often have one just, you know, they’re just easy to carry around. Can you show me how to make a bit of the pad … Oh look there’s a treddle This is the sort of finished liner, you can see it’s been overlocked this is the easiest part, and yeah. This is just sewing straight lines and then overlocking it. And again, if you don’t sew at all, it’s just cutting out straight pieces. There’s so many different parts to it, but you don’t have to be a very talented sewer to do. Well that’s perfect. Can I have a little jush on this one… This is on wrong. I’ve got one of these bits. Yeah this is the shield, which is the more fiddly part to do. You can see there’s actually … Sorry. There’s actually three layers to it. We’ve got, that’s the PUL and that’s the outsides on here. It stops the leakage. Leakage-freakage. Leakage-freakage. Here we go Can I have that back, I’m gonna finish pinning. She’s away. Yeah, see it’s like riding a bike. This is amazing. Did you back stitch back there? Ah, for god’s sake. Jesus. Rule number one back stitch. I’m going to back stitch from here and we’ll chop that bit off so this is now the beginning. Someone’s period is riding on this Michele, just remember that. Oh okay, so there and then how do you back stitch, what’s the … I think it might be that one. Oh you do this one. No wait, yep. Just to be clear Michele is making this. There are people who know how life works. Right? Yeah, she’s making that I’m back stitching bitches. This is great. Oh I’m exhausted. You’ve got a lot to do. Yeah you’ve only got that much left to do Michele. So tell me about the model, did you invent this model or have you seen something like this working overseas? Yeah, overseas there’s Days for Girls and they do a similar model and internationally as well. Yeah. So we’re sort of based off that. Great. Well I’m hooked. Well not actually hooked under there, but this is great. Thank you for coming into us. What’s your website for people
to find more about you? Um We don’t really have a website. Well, we’ve blown it there. You got a Facebook page? We have Facebook yeah. Yes. It’s just Facebook.com/unitedsustainablesisters. Fantastic, thank you Amanda for joining us on our inaugural, On the Rag video. That’s alright, thanks for doing some sewing. You’re very welcome I’m into it now. You’ve got a lot more to do. Sure. Yeah, before you get onto that we should finish our episode with a segment we like to call Kia Ora Kuini. And our Kia Ora Kuini of our period episode is Kiran Gandhi who is a marathon runner,
ran the London Marathon in 2015 and free bled through her leggings the entire time. She bled the whole way. To remove the stigma about periods and bleeding. Kia Ora Kuini. Kia Ora Kuini. Kia Ora Kuini. Yeah. And that’s it for our very first episode, we did it. That’s brilliant. Thanks for watching everybody. Thanks for watching and make sure you listen to our podcast if you don’t know about us already on The Spinoff and we’ll be back next month. Hei tērā marama Hei tērā marama. Ka kite anō. So we’ll just … I’m gonna take this if that’s alright. yeah. See you guys later. Yeah. This is going really well. Do you need help getting yours off? Yeah. We’ll come back and get you later Oh I’ve just caught it up there Thanks so much again. Oh no worries, oh yeah. No, don’t … I’m gonna pretend I didn’t see that No everything’s fine, everything’s fine.
I don’t know … Scissors would be good. Bye Michele. Bye. It’s gonna be great. I’ve broken it.

11 Comments

  • Reply Melissa Peaks March 13, 2019 at 3:04 am

    Love your work ladies! Liked and subscribed 💕

  • Reply Amber Easby March 13, 2019 at 3:08 am

    I love this so much

  • Reply My Cup NZ March 13, 2019 at 5:00 am

    Excellent! Love this so much!

  • Reply Australian Girls In Gi March 13, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Girdle

    I laughed so long I had to hit pause

  • Reply R M March 13, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    Omg! My fave podcasters have actual faces- I thought you were just floating voices ❤️❤️

  • Reply Rebecca Gibbs March 21, 2019 at 8:54 am

    awesome stuff! Loved the tikanga about bleeding to Papatuanuku- always felt the urge to do this and now i know it must be my ancestors telling me to harden up lol

  • Reply Roimata XX March 22, 2019 at 2:45 am

    Yay loved this episode.

  • Reply MJ May 2, 2019 at 4:39 am

    “It leaves and takes all the interior decorating with it” made me laugh so hard I cramped.

  • Reply Erena Thompson May 7, 2019 at 5:08 am

    Love your content! Nga mihi nui kia koutou!

  • Reply Jeanette Tuhi May 18, 2019 at 2:57 am

    Yay a refreshing look at periods loved the story of how Maori viewed waiwhero so enlightened Kia Ora queenie

  • Reply Maryanne Cathro June 15, 2019 at 8:07 am

    This ROCKS! Michele it reminds me of the time you described Wellington's Opera House as a uterus. <3

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