Guest on GRID

The Great Outdoors Knows No Body

A woman’s body shouldn’t bar her from exploring the great outdoors.

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I was 17 when I first saw the stars from the top of a mountain.
 
It was February, and my friends and I had this cheesy idea to spend Valentine’s weekend on a mountaintop. I remember the uphill—the long, straight ridge sloping gently up towards base camp, until the ground was such that we needed all fours to ascend. My knees were violently shaking. Never again, never again, never again. But I guess that sunset view made it all worth it in the end. You know, something they say about conquering ourselves and not the mountain.
 
As it turns out, this is one of the few vivid memories I have of my period.
 
For the record, women don’t normally file away memories based on whether or not they were on their period. But I remember this distinctly because of two things: First, that you never forget what it feels like to climb up (more like crawl up) a vertical mountain face on top of your college boyfriend and be more afraid of him noticing your tagos than cramping during a crucial hold; Second, you also don’t forget walking through the camp with all your bloody napkins sitting pretty inside a transparent plastic bag.
Photo by Jeric Rustia, as featured in Vol. 5
By now, I’ve probably lost most of my male readers. But if you’re still here, I wrote this especially for you. This piece is about a certain relationship you might share with a woman who travels. I think I might know why she loves being out there (maybe even with you).
 
You see, the dirt and the grit—call it the “Great Outdoors”—she loves it because it cares not about the body she was born with. The Great Outdoors favors only the bold, and rewards only the brave. Every step you’ve taken, every struggle you’ve faced, she has faced with equal, if not more intense determination.
 
She was born with a “condition” that allows her to bear life, and to bleed every month, for it. She was conditioned to fear being covered in the same dirt that now covers you both. She was told, all her life, that the strength of body and temperament are qualities reserved only for her male counterparts. And that her period must be kept as secret as the bloody napkins she stuffs in opaque plastic bags.
 
Being a woman is, at times, rather nasty business. We’ve just learned to clean up real good.
Photo by Sonny Thakur, as featured in Vol. 03
A friend of mine gifted me my first menstrual cup on my 22nd birthday. One look at its 75% recycled packaging, and I could already tell that it was something born out of an active, environmentalist, neo-hippy, feminist idea. I was never more excited to get my next period. My body was ready for this 21st century device.
Holding it in the palm of my hand however, my immediate thought was, how am I going to get this inside and outside of me? Because in case you weren’t aware, a menstrual cup is literally a plug for the vagina, designed to catch the menstrual fluid. It’s the size and shape of a proper shot glass, which creates a vacuum seal when a woman shoves it up her—
 
Let that sink in for a moment.
 
Those who swear by these cups will do their usual sales pitch by saying it’s good for the environment, empowering for women, or both. It saves her from throwing 150 kilograms of napkins and tampons away in her lifetime (you just dump the blood into the toilet and wash the cup for reuse). Because one cup can be reused for about five years, she gets her money back in about 24 cycles (or two years).
 
For me, the best part is that it never gets in the way of my activities. Think: running up a mountain in a mini diaper (napkin) or with string hanging out of you (tampon)… Not very pretty. With a menstrual cup, she’ll put up with none of these because it tucks away quite nicely.

Left: Photo by Sonny Thakur, as featured in Vol. 03
Right: Photo by Francisco Guerrero, as featured in Vol. 05

Now, I work as a researcher in marine science. I am also a free-diver on the weekends. This means I get paid to be by the ocean three to five days out of a week. It also means I get to go on paid adventures: open air buses for 10 hours, never knowing what kind of bed you’ll be sleeping in, what food was going to be served or if your stomach could handle it, and, what size, shape and form of toilet, latrine, or tiny hole you needed to squat over, if at all.
 
Naturally, female hygiene has no room in this “cowboy” lifestyle. But my menstrual cup has shown me the light. It gave me the boldness to free-dive, skin to bikini, on the tails of sharks while on my period. I didn’t need to sit on a bloody napkin for 10 hours on a bumpy bus ride, reusable or otherwise. It’s so comfortable that I even forget it’s there. Goodbye, trash. Goodbye, Toxic Shock Syndrome. I was drunk on the power the cup gave me.

In my head, I thought I was the most progressive girl I knew. I thought I was the 21st century woman. But in reality, what really made me a 21st century woman was that I was allowed to have these progressive beliefs in the first place. I was born into a society that recognizes my right to practice them loudly, and even shoot other people down for doing or believing otherwise. I didn’t realize that it was privilege that allowed me to make these choices about my environmental impact and about my own body. I was privileged enough to be able to talk about it openly. With smugness and all.

Photo by Francisco Guerrero, as featured in Iss. 13
It was in interviewing Audrey Tangonan that I first became aware of these privileges. As the founder of the only local brand of menstrual cups, Sinaya Cup, Audrey has been working to convince girls and women to simply be open to this option. The main hurdle, she says, is that Filipinas have yet to achieve that level of comfort with our bodies—that is, we simply don’t talk about it enough. 
 
“I think a lot of it is culture, especially religion,” she says. There’s an undertone that your body and your vagina is a ‘sin’ that you have to keep a mystery, or shouldn’t even explore.
 
More than that, it’s the idea of losing something when we get to know our bodies this way. “[Some Filipinas] cannot wrap their heads around the idea that you can use a tool inside and it doesn’t take anything away from you.” Unfortunately, the very design of the menstrual cup squats right on this value.
It is for this reason that Sinaya Cup makes its hardest sell, not on the basis of its environmental benefits (as there are other, less invasive alternatives), but on being the cup from which flows female empowerment. It was meant to expand women’s choices, and not outright replace them. Otherwise, Audrey stresses, if we forced women to use this seemingly more practical alternative, the cycle of coercion will never break, and women would be left as bereft of power as they were before.
 
Her body, her rules.
 
So is this the part where we help change women’s perceptions about their bodies? The answer is: No.
 
This is the part where we encourage women to simply start talking about their bodies.
I wrote this for you too, male reader, because I believe in a world where men can contribute to this conversation. I want to believe that someday, women could talk about their periods freely, but choose not to because they believe that periods don’t matter in their daily lives anyway. And I truly believe in the menstrual cup’s power to get us there. It makes me believe that a woman can now choose what’s best for her body, and that her body shouldn’t limit her in any way.
 
But until such time, us women will just have to keep talking about our bodies until they no longer become a headline as a crime scene or a political issue. We’re going to answer, patiently, all the questions everyone has ever had about the nature of a woman’s body. And we’re going to do whatever the hell we want; get out there, explore, and travel. Because the dirt, the grit, the stars, and the sharks — they don’t care about the body we were born with.
 
The Great Outdoors cares only that we are bold, and brave, and resourceful, and kind. Call it the Great Equalizer.
 
So to answer your question, yes, she can pee when it’s inside her. Go and tell the whole world.
 
 

Originally published in Vol. 05
 
Banner photo by Sonny Thakur, as featured in Iss. 07