Do you ever wonder how the first woman on earth felt when she looked down and realized she was bleeding from between the legs? Perhaps she’d just woken up or was enjoying a tasty meal of wild berries and grass while lounging around the ol’ cave. She’d been feeling these weird pains in her mid-region recently and was pretty sure her chest and hips were getting bigger, and this week she’d found herself crying over everything from a beautiful sunrise to a sarcastic comment from the cave boy next door. Then all of a sudden, there it was: the warmth and a flow down below. “Wait, what the… what IS that? Is that coming from me?! HOLY HUNTER-GATHERER, I’M DYING! TELL MY MOTHER I LOVE HER!”
That’s what I imagine, anyway.
This is something I often do: observe how an age-old feminine issue is dealt with now and then ask myself how it might have been handled way back when. It’s entertaining to ponder how certain nuisances were addressed before modern technology intervened to hopefully make it easier on us, and how it must have felt to be among the first women to experience one of these uncomfortable situations in the first place.
For example, who came up with tampons? It doesn’t take too creative an imagination to glean that women would use some kind of absorbent fiber or material to deal with the bloody show once they determined it to be a monthly occurrence and not necessarily foreboding of one’s demise. Still, who thought to shove something up there as opposed to just bleeding onto it?
I was bored and decided to research the origin of the tampon and learned a few things. I started what I’m sure the gal next to me at Starbucks found to be a hilarious Google search and ended up reading a piece on on the web that briefly details the history of feminine hygiene products. I learned that the tampon has conceptually been around since the 10th Century when Greek women fashioned up handy lady-part stoppers from lint wrapped around little pieces of wood or else used other materials like moss or animal skin. Smart cookies, those Greeks.
Imagine though being the first girl to try this. You’re tired as hell of having to walk around leaking all over yourself and are still trying to live down the absolute humiliation of soiling your lily-white toga at the grape-stomp last week. You’re stewing over how not cool it was for Persephone to draw attention to it and make a big scene in front of that cute boy with the wavy black hair when you think to yourself, “You know… what if I just plug myself up with this fluffy stuff over there?” You find that it works well enough with a few tweaks, then have to try and fish it out later. Hmm.
“Seriously, Demetria, what is taking so long? Get out of the bath chamber!”
“Can you just give me a minute please, for the love of Zeus!??”
As I also learned that it turns out the tampon as we know it today wasn’t actually invented, or at least made commercially available, until the 1930s. Moreover, it was invented by a man! Thank you, Dr. Earle Haas: I wore diapers as a child and am personally not keen on wearing them again until I no longer have active control over my bladder. I much prefer your little cotton menstrual cork to the cumbersome sanitation pad. I’m sure I also speak for the rest of my tampon-toting sisters when I thank you for the addition of an applicator for easier insertion as well as the convenient little chord for removal. Kudos.
I stumbled across another interesting fact broken down to which I was already mostly privy: the term “on your rags” is indeed derived from the practice of women in the early days using old rags as pads that they then washed and reused much like one would do to a cloth diaper (there’s that diaper theme again). What I did not know was this little tidbit that had me laughing out loud like a crazy person:
“The first mentions of the menstrual pad were seen around the 10th century when Hypatia, a Greek Alexandrian philosopher was said to have hurled one of her used menstrual rags at a gentleman caller when she did not wish to be called upon.”
I’m sorry – what?!? Oh that is COLD! My girl Hypatia had to have had it UP TO HERE with Achilles or Aeneas or Aesop that week.
“Listen, Hyp, sweetie. I didn’t mean it when I said that toga made you look a little bit thick in the empire waist. Let’s just get out of here and have some wine and olives at my place. I promise I won’t try anything.”
“Oh, back to your place, huh? Like where you took that bitch Diana last week?! And how many times do I have to tell you that I don’t even like olives!?! Go AWAY!” Reaches under toga. Yanks out bloody rag and hurls it. “Ugh!”
“Oh wow, baby. Are these your pant— wait. Why are they… is this… Aw Hades, woman!”
I seriously chuckled out loud in the middle of a coffee shop playing that one over in my head, and for a good few minutes, too. I mean, think about it. Rejection sucks, but rejection via bloody menstrual rag chucked at your face sucks way harder.
My ridiculous imagination and tangential reasoning aside, being a woman even in 2015 can be a pain in the fallopian tubes. Cramps still hurt, PMS is still stupid, and unless you’re enlisting a physician’s help to not do so, you’re going to have to bleed for a few days each month for a significant portion of your adult life. Still, we’ve come a very long way with modern convenience and that is something in which to take comfort. The feminine product aisle at Target may not feel like a jackpot of any kind in our everyday lives, but the women of yore would likely beg to differ. One might say we’ve gone from rags to riches, and thank goodness for that.
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