In a recent article on the Art of Manliness blog (a blog I admire, enjoy, and envy, as I’ve watched it grow into a well-sponsored and funded site) there was an article about “10 Survival Uses for a Tampon.” It was a pretty well-written article, with some fascinating tidbits. I had already known about the efficacy of tampons for treating bullet wounds and nosebleeds, but using one for blowdart fletching or a phase 1 particulate matter water filter? Cool!
Unfortunately, there was a tone about the article I didn’t like.
Forget Everything You Know – Or Think You Know
Basically, the author was apologetic throughout the article. In the beginning he asks the reader (implied to be a man, though AoM has a significant female readership) to “forget” everything they know about tampons. Which made me laugh a bit; having done a few stints as a Sensitive New Age Guy as well as husband and father to four daughters, I probably have bought more tampons than most men my age, and I still wouldn’t say I know much about them. For the average upper-middle-class male forgetting everything they know doesn’t take long, I suspect.
Perhaps I am wrong in that assumption, but I know that for the rest of the article the author kept on making comments like “Yes, that’s a tampon in my mouth. Try not to think about it.” He even ended the article with the suggestion that yes, while it may seem ridiculous, you ought to have a tampon or two in your “survival bag” just in case, because look at all of the things it can be used for!
My thought was: How about putting it in there so that the woman who you are with, or who you meet, can use it if she needs it?
Why would a man who is tough and strong and prepared and able to handle any disaster need an excuse to put a basic item of hygiene into his kit?
In the comments, the trend continued to go downhill. The tone was typified by Harry, who asked “How do you deal with being in That Aisle,” (yes, he used capital letters) “in the pharmacy, trying to figure out a “just plain tampon” amongst the many that are available?” His mortification was echoed by many other men in the comments. Basically, the idea was that if anyone sees a male at the checkout counter, or in the aisle, or with the box of Tampax Pearl in their basket, suddenly they are emasculated. Castrated, neutered, effeminized (I know, not a word, but it should be) and immediately enrolled in the Nicholas Sparks Book & Movie of the Month Club. People even came up with excuses to use if someone happened to see a tampon in their survival kit.
I know their pain. I understand what it feels like, because I have stood in That Aisle many times, trying to parse out the differences between plastic and cardboard applicators and brands and sizes. When you’re the SNAG sent on the mission to get the tampons, trust me, you want to be sure to get the right brand. And he’s right, there’s a bewildering selection.
Allow me to offer my own solution to Harry, born of experience. It’s a fairly simple three step process:
- Ask someone who works there, or someone in the aisle with you, if they know where that particular brand/style is.
- Put it in your basket.
- Just buy the tampons.
I have done this on multiple occasions. Guess what? I am still a former Marine. Still a father of four. Still able to grill pancakes over a campfire, fire a pistol on a range, watch Jason Statham movies and yell at hockey games. To be fair, I don’t understand hockey, I just enjoy watching it, but the basic idea is this: my masculinity is not threatened by the fact that I have, on occasion, provided tampons for the women in my life who have needed them.
The Delicate Tinfoil Balloon
What makes me sad for Harry and others is that their own self-identity is so fragile that something as common and benign as a tampon can threaten it. According to the article, the product may have been originally developed for treating war wounds, fer gossakes – how much more manly can you get?
Then again, it’s not just fragile masculine egos. How many women have had the experience of someone in their life telling them not to try some sport because “â¦a lady doesn’t do that.” How many people keep their political opinions to themselves because they may not agree with the entire platform of their party? How many times do any of us not do something because it threatens, somehow, a role that we have in our lives? Or do something we’d rather not, simply because “â¦that’s what a real [insert role] does?”
A long time ago, when I was far younger than I should have been, I remember being particularly proud of an imagined skill. I had read up on the skill thoroughly, as was my wont in those days, and rather foolishly imagined that the brain dump would translate into physical skill. I bragged to other, less-read participants that I could easily best them.
As the particular skill in question was basketball, you can imagine how the actual game went. I lost. Badly. Humiliatingly. I remember very clearly feeling like my ego had been this great big shiny tinfoil balloon that had been popped.
But the metaphor worked for me. Because I realized that if you took a great big popped tinfoil balloon and crumpled it up, what you ended up with was a very tiny, wrinkled, shiny, very solid piece of material. If you were very careful, adding on layer upon layer of shiny, it would grow, yes, but at a very slow rate. More to the point, it would be solid – backed up by strength, not assumption. No one could pop it.
That became my metaphor for ego and self-identity. Over the decades I’ve layered on quite a few things, and stripped a few layers as well. I’d say that it’s a pretty fair size – smaller than some, bigger than others. More to the point, though, I do not fear it being “popped.” The things I have accomplished are solid, the skills I’ve acquired are based on the real, not the imagined, and I still pretty much suck at basketball. That’s ok – I’m good at other things that are more important to me right now.
I believe it’s worth while to look, occasionally, at the identities and roles you value about yourself, and test them. See how fragile they are. Can you do something that society believes atypical and still rest secure in that role? If notâ¦it might be worth re-evaluating exactly what makes that identity important to you, and what purpose it serves in your life.
I’d love to hear about it. After all, a real blogger gets people to comment on every entry, right? If I write a blog post and nobody comments, am I still a blogger?
Yes. I am.