Tampon Taboos

Yes, this post might be about Tampons, but as has been pointed out several times, a taboo is something that has been known for a time, and then classified as a no-no. Since we are in Africa, a taboo would have to be known for several generations and quarantined as a taboo through those generations likely backed up by some oral tradition about why-not. There, we can’t really have tampon taboos, since tampons are fairly new *phenomena* 🙂

Well, the thing is, the thingy I am talking about is not a taboo either. African culture celebrated sexuality, assigning a full celebration of rites around ‘it’. When a girl reached puberty, she would go through education at the hands of the elder women at the end of which she would go through the rites of passage and become a ‘woman’. Talk about informed consent. Yeah, yeah, you are going to point at the circumcision that went with it. I am against genital mutilation. Just so we are clear. This article is not in any way an effort to make light of the brutal abuse that has caused pain for many young girls and women in Africa. But this article is all for the education that went with the rites of passage. I mean, how can you make a decision to be a woman without the information you need to make that decision?

So let’s go back to the thingy that started this all. The Tampon. At this juncture I might delve into my teens, and an experience that very nearly jarred the bejesus out of me. The Bejesus remains in me, although a certain person who might be considered my boss has as of today Patented my insanity as his. Japanese Kiondos. Sorry, I digress.

Well, I was 15, maybe 16. Those who can remember me from back then will testify that I was a very ‘boyish’ girl. Arm wrestling when the teacher was out of class, rugby practice in a team with only one other girl, oh yeah, and sitting on the wall wolf-calling at the hot girls (Daddy, you shall not comment. Mum’s mouth is zipped. We are not going to discuss species, and confusion.) Oh dear, I have wandered off again, haven’t I?

Anyway, a few years before this I had hit menarche. I had been pre-informed by mum in the ‘talks’, so i was not really shocked about the blood. But I was surprised to find out that I was a girl after all. Mum was quick to explain that I did not have to stop climbing trees, although my brother strongly advised against it, since he ‘expected me to grow up and be worth some cows.’ Mum introduced me to Tampons. We did the read-up on how to use them, and how to look out for Toxic Shock Syndrome. And then she held my hand when I tried it the first time and so I was started on climbing trees even on menstruation days.

And then came the incident that happened when i was 15, maybe 16. After rugby practice, one late afternoon, I went to the changing rooms for a shower. While i was in there, the Home Science Teacher who was on discipline duty that week walked into the changing rooms. Just as she walked in, my box of tampons fell out of my school bag. I didn’t even think much of it, until she reached to pick it up, and then looked back at me with a frown.

“Are you a virgin?”

What? What do you mean ‘Am I virgin?’ I don’t even remember answering her. I do not think I answered her. And if I had she probably would have died of stress related myocardia. Next thing I knew we had mum leaving her job to come for a PTA meeting. I think the situation would have deteriorated very fast if not for the Principal’s intervention. In retrospect, Ms. Lavingia rocked. Can’t remember that Home Science teacher’s name. Mrs. Otieno, Mrs. Ochuodho, something like that. Anyway, the PTA meeting turned into a ‘let’s educate the damned home science teacher’ session including read ups on how the vagina naturally adjusts to the tampon, and how they reason for resistance might only be ‘fear clenching’. I was not embarrassed at all. But Home-science teacher could not believe we were talking about Vaginas in the presence of ‘the child’! then she went on about destroying ‘the child’ by adopting European cultures by talking about sex. We were not talking about sex, just about the vagina, tampons, periods and adjusting to penetration. 🙂

So I remembered this incident a few days ago when someone decided to take a bashing on a kind mzungu who wanted to help collect and donate sanitary pads to poor Kenyan girls. The argument was tampons would be far much cheaper, and far much better for the environment, considering size, material and so on. At which point someone else, I think perhaps the kind mzungu, mentioned that Tampons are considered taboos by African women.

So here is my take on it, limited, since my insanity has been patented and I can therefore only use it with the very likelihood that I might be sued for copyright infringement.

Tampons are not the issue. Sex is. Sexuality is. (Honestly, judging from some people’s opinion, we should all not be alive, seeing how sex is such a bad thing) It shouldn’t be a problem but someone has perpetuated the idea that discussing sex and sexuality is a European thing. Wrong! It is not a European thing. If it was, there would not be any poor Kenyan to donate sanitary pads to. Now do not get me wrong, I have nothing against the kind mzungu. Remember that saying, ‘Mwacha mila ni mtumwa’? Well, that wise person should also have mentioned the absolute confusion of abandoning ‘all’ culture indiscriminately, and then trying to get back on the ox-cart. Seriously damaged home-science teachers.

So now, we are still having sex, but it is a bad bad thing and hush do not talk about it, or anything that has to do with it. Just use pads, which are generally uncomfortable, comparably expensive and do not ‘penetrate’. In the meantime, the same issues that have you accusing tampons of being taboos, will mean that more and more women are living unfulfilled sex lives, oh they do, cause the birth rate still has not dropped. It means that women will die of cervical and breast cancer. What didn’t you know breasts have everything to do with sex, and we do not dicuss sex, let alone go for pap smears or breast exams? I mean how can you let some strange doctor probe your ‘ladybits’? And did you know that quite a few gynaecologists are men?

Well, now, I guess what all this means is that we shall continue contributing to the environmental disaster, and continue dying of diseases that could be controlled and cured if caught early on. That’s our tampon taboo. Sigh.

© Juliet Maruru 2009 www.jmaruru.wordpress.com


3 thoughts on “Tampon Taboos

  1. You are very right. I think it time that we should address the truth without being shy. In my community there is a saying that goes that”KIRIRA NI URATHONI” meaning when it comes to councelling lets not be shy and save this generation.


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