To preface: Menstrual cups are just starting to gain awareness in Korea, primarily online. There are a couple of online shops that carry Keeper products, and the Moon Cup was my first cup. (I didn't find out what they'd done to UK Mooncup until much later--in fact, for the longest time I thought I had a UK Mooncup.) Women (including myself) have been blogging about their experiences with menstrual cups since about 2007, as far as I can tell. It was all under the radar and pretty friendly, though I sensed nervousness from non-users about inserting something that looks fairly large. Even from women who'd given vaginal birth multiple times!
And then in September 2010 blogger Dari's (fittingly, the name means Moon Child) entry about her extremely satisfactory experience with the Moon Cup burst onto the scene. She talked about how her gyno advised her against tampons due to endometritis when she hates disposable pads and has no patience for washable pads, how she discovered the Moon Cup, and what a great experience it was for her. She showed pictures of the Moon Cup and her other cups from Feminine Wear (a small Meluna and a Lunette Green Diana), and recommended menstrual cups to all women. (Though she added the caveat, not to virgins. Not because she was against virgins using the cup, but because she wanted to avoid too much controversy.)
But controversy broke out anyway.
I'm not sure what it is about her posting that unleashed such negative responses. Maybe it was the high-profile author. Dari is the blogging handle for Hanna, the writer and artist for a popular web comic called Muk-hoe ("Meet in Silence"). Maybe it was because the blog post, unlike the earlier blogging on the subject which centered around the positives of cup use, was also sharply critical of disposable menstrual products and their health and environment issues. Maybe it was the implicit, if hardly ground-breaking, admission that she is an unmarried woman with sexual experience (she mentioned her Italian boyfriend in a special issue of "Meet in Silence"), which seems to shock some people.
Whatever the reason, there was a storm of criticism of her post. Some comments complained that she was trying to "force" people to use menstrual cups. Some talked about their negative experience with cups and said her posting was unbalanced, that she should have mentioned the negatives as well. One commentor, Lone Butterfly, claimed that menstrual cups had serious health risks, all in "I heard that-" hearsay sentences without any citation. (A friend of mine loved her cup and bought menstrual cups for all our friends, and I heard they all found it so painful and obtrusive they threw theirs out... I heard it puts a serious strain on the uterus, I heard it's unhygienic... All internally-worn menstrual products are bad for you...) There were other claims of health problems, the usual speculation about endometritis, that the cups were not sterile and were an infection risk, and the danger of leaving "dead" menstrual blood inside the body. Some thought the cup would stretch one's vagina out, and some were just plain rude, and I mean "how loose do you have to be to fit that, bitch?" rude.
I'm pretty sure anyone with any knowledge of the subject can debunk each and every one of the above handily, and I'll tell you what I did about it. I should also mention that a lot of the responses to the were positive, from women who had made the switch or were considering it. A couple of guys said they would recommend it to their girlfriends. So I think the posting was an overall positive for menstrual cups. Acrimony draws attention, if nothing else, and some of the issues Koreans have with menstrual cups were brought out in the open.
What I could not stand, however, was to allow the misinformation and outright fear-mongering to go unchallenged. I would have to address the full issue in a separate blog post of my own, which I am researching. But I also wanted to address some of the most prominent misinformation in the comments.
The original post had been closed to further comments, and no wonder given some of the insults people were hurling there. Dari, though, made a second post defending and clarifying her earlier positions, including lots of links about the adverse health and environmental effects of disposable products. I introduced myself in the comments as a fellow cup user and proceeded to debunk some of the commentators' arguments. I pointed out that humanity would be a little thin on the ground if the vagina could safely accommodate only sterile objects, and that it was a self-cleaning environment. I also said the cup had never been linked to a single case of TSS, unlike high-absorbency tampons. I wrote about how the cup is held in place by muscles, and that the "tightness" that people were so protective of was a function of muscle tone (and often, nervousness), not of keeping the vagina free of intrusion. I decried some people's conception of the vagina as an inert and delicate, almost dead organ that needed to be kept sterile and, of course, unused. I mean, never mind that the vagina is actually rather muscular and robust, anything to keep women in fear of our own bodies eh?
I also followed the trackback link to Lone Butterfly's post, Between Convenience and Safety. Of all the commentators on the menstrual cup post she seemed to have the most tenuous relationship with truth, judging by the improbable story of her friends' cup use, the hearsay-infested concern trolling, and the vague blanket statements. She also seemed to have some kind of personal stake against cups, judging by her slippery fear-mongering statements and the extra time she took to write an anti-cup post.
She did not disappoint. She started out by saying that she agreed the cups were extremely convenient, and thanked Dari for the information. (She'd also started out by thanking Dari in her comment to the blog post--this seemed to be her mode d'operation, hiding venom behind initial sweetness.) Then she pointed out, "as everyone knows," that insertive methods for containing menstrual blood are bad for you. Then she laid the fear-mongering on thick, talking about how delicate the vagina was and that it could never be 100% recovered once damaged. Then, prefacing her lack of expert knowledge, she said internal methods hurt women in two ways: First by damaging the vaginal walls, and second, by keeping dead menstrual blood in the vagina thus increasing the risk of infection. Then, likely conscious of the overwhelmingly positive English-language online writings on menstrual cups, she added that the risk was higher for Asian women because we are far smaller and weaker than Western women. (If anyone's blood is boiling at this point, let me tell you that you are not alone.)
Lone Butterfly also briefly mentioned the psychological problems with tampon use and the low rate of tampon usage in Korea. (I find that part of her argument the most convincing, actually. Cultural perceptions of the woman's body have made the vagina an object of fear for many in our culture and others. My problem was that she was perpetuating that fear.) Then she went on to reference the earlier story about her friends' failed attempt with Moon Cups, though she didn't go into the specifics this time, just calling the incident the Moon Cup Strife and shuddering dramatically. She said the cups are large, painful, and obtrusive, which was an odd statement for someone who stated on Dari's blog that she'd never used the Moon Cup her friend bought for her (I know, BS meter screaming) because it looked so big and intimidating.
She ended with more passive-aggressive fear-mongering, saying the cups could be good for someone who had no difficulty with tampons, but people with uterine and vaginal problems should desist and that all women should be cognizant of the long-term risks. She closed saying that she hoped she hadn't offended anyone, the fondest wish of the timid passive-aggressive whose highest ideal is neither principle nor ideal, but to be safe from displeasure while throwing all the punches she likes.
I should also mention that throughout this post there was not a single link, not a single quote or story that could be attributed to anyone, other than LB's gyno who was allegedly the one who told her that Asian women are not like Western women. Otherwise the whole thing was vague hearsay, conventional wisdom that evidently everyone knew but me. The comments were all positive, and there was a lot of resentment and defensiveness about Dari's original post and being "told" to use menstrual cups.
Well it looked like time for... Devil's Attorney to the rescue! I thanked LB for giving an alternate perspective on the issue, and said up front that I am a cup user myself but menstrual products are strictly a matter of personal choice. The best anyone else could do was give the best information available so all women could make an informed decision. (Translation: I won't let your bullcrap stand as the last word.) I told her that I had never heard of and been unable to find any information on menstrual cups damaging the vaginal walls, and if she had any concrete information on this could she please point me to it because i was concerned for my own health. I pointed out that all the alleged health risks were strictly speculative and unsupported, including the risk of endometritis. I told her that I had done my research before going on the cup, and that her concern(-trolling) was based on vague fears and anxieties about the unknown (unknown to her, that is, because she hadn't done any research, I refrained from saying), which did a disservice to a women who should make their decisions on the best possible information. I also pointed out the fallacies in her conception of the vagina as a weak and easily damaged organ. I gave a few links to information that supported my position. Then I waited with bated breath for her response, because I could tell this was going to be good.
True to form, Lone Butterfly did not disappoint. She said that the risks of internal products were well-known, if speculative. (Yes, I'm well aware of purely speculative yet well-known facts. They're called a lot of things, but not facts.) She gave me the line about how the cups were not sterile and had to be hand-inserted, and thus was an infection risk for those with preexisting conditions or women with... wait for it... "delicate vaginae." (*Bursts out laughing*) She talked about the pressure and pain of cups which she had heard from those she knew (untraceable again, of course), and that inserting a solid object (it was getting increasingly obvious this woman knew exactly nothing about cups) into the vagina for long hours could damage it, though this time she qualified with "though it's different from woman to woman." She said she couldn't support her argument scientifically because menstrual cups were so new that no one knew the risks (like I said... knows nothing about cups), and the lack of information about the dangers did not mean the cups were 100% safe. She said I and other cup proponents proponents (she called them believers) should prove they were 100% safe (she said "100%" three times in that one comment, must be her favorite number), and that (anonymous) experts advised against the cup. She defended against charges of being anti-woman (I don't know who made that charge, because I didn't and I didn't see anyone else do so), and said the same charge could be leveled against the Moon Cup proponents who pushed a painful, untested, dangerous product on women. Then she thanked me for my detailed comment. Thanking me, the dangerous anti-woman cup fanatic? Too precious for words.
I was enjoying myself by this time, and feeling guilty about it because I know LB's type. I have friends a little like her, irritating friends at times but some of the nicest people I know. From my assessment she wasn't malicious per se, but rather fearful and timid, probably wouldn't hurt a fly. She was anti-cup not because she knew anything about them, something painfully obvious from her writings, but because of fear. She saw Dari's recommendation as a command to use menstrual cups, but the size of the cups and reusable nature kicked off fears about her body, and fears about hygiene. On the other hand, she was afraid to disobey because she feared that would make her anti-environment and anti-women's health. The only way out of this bind was make cups seem dangerous, and therefore the decision not to switch rational--because her own say-so wasn't enough for a woman afraid to make choices. If she had to be a little slippery with truth and facts in the process, that was what she would do. In a very real sense she was hurting, and here I was laughing at her floundering.
But neither could I let her misinformation stand. LB could deal any way she liked with her issues, but this was on the internet where other women and girls could be taken in by the inaccuracies she was giving out. So I restrained myself to facts, pointing out that menstrual cups were invented in the late nineteenth century and were commercially viable since 1987. They were just not that new, and yet there was still no word on any danger. I said the cups were not sterile and did not have to be, and talked a bit about the vaginal environment and the physical property of medical grade silicone that minimized the risk of infections. I could not prove that the menstrual cup or any other product in existence was 100% safe but that the risks, from all that I could find on the subject, were minimal. I also asked her to point out where I had called her anti-woman so I could apologize. I said I didn't think anyone was bad or anti-environment or whatever for not using or advocating cups, I just wanted everyone to make choices based on sound information. In that sense, I told her, she and I had a lot more in common than at first glance.
That was September 24, 2010. LB hasn't replied back, so it looks like I more or less got the last word on the subject. I'm actually grateful that she didn't take down my comments, which would have been within her rights. That means anyone who reads her post has the opportunity to see a rebuttal. I don't know how many people will scroll down that far, but at least it's something. In the end, everyone makes their own decision and there's only so much I can do.
So yeah, it was more of a brief spat than a full-blown war, but I feel like I learned a few things. I had a glimpse of the personal and cultural fears surrounding the cup, and learned that fear breeds misinformation to rationalize its own existence. The fear isn't really about bits of molded silicone per se but rather about women's bodies. There's the fear of inserting something into what women were taught should be an inviolate place. A common euphemism for vagina in Korean is "precious place," (giggle) implying that it's something delicate and always in danger of irreversible damage, especially from the evils of sex.
There is also, I think, a deep fear of what it means for a woman to take control of her bodily processes, the revulsion and shame of which is the drive behind so much profit. If enough women found out that the period doesn't have to be an uncontrollable and uncertain experience but something they can manage without needing disposable products, it would mean not only the death of disposable product companies, but a perception of the vagina and the female body not as shameful, unpredictable, and fragile nuisances, but as actual "precious places" with a life and rhythm all their own. I know I've never looked forward to a period before I started on menstrual cups, and I know how much I learned about my body in the process of cup usage. That kind of knowledge and control, to some, is dangerous because it makes women even harder to control than they already are. I think it is that change of paradigm that motivates both enthusiasm and fear of cups. Its very convenience, the control it gives women over a major bodily function, is threatening to some because it's so powerful.
I don't want to go over the deep end here and suggest that women who use disposable products are slaves of the corporate patriarchy or whatever. Disposable products are in many ways a revolution of their own that freed women to a greater degree from the inconvenience menstruation. But the cup, as anyone who has used it can attest to, takes that freedom a step further and changes the whole paradigm in a way that respects the natural process of the body and is friendlier to the environment. That's a powerful idea, and therefore dangerous to the status quo.
I'm glad I did my own small part in the menstrual cup fray because it became the impetus for me to learn more about menstrual cups, menstrual products, and the vagina. (This community was a huge help!) I'm researching to put together a Korean guide to menstrual cups, the pros and cons, on my blog to help people make their decisions and to dispel some of the fears. The social, psychological, environmental, and economic implications of the cup continue to interest me, and I'll be writing more about that, too. I was never deeply interested in feminist theory before, because feminism was something I took for granted like the air I breathe. My experience with the "Cup War" showed me that there's still work to do, the work of thinking, writing, and sharing. It's a discourse I've watched with great pleasure in this community and am honored to become a part of. Thank you all for helping me and so many others without even knowing it.
P.S.: My large Fleurcup arrived day before yesterday! It's gorgeous, and I can't wait to try it out my next period! *squee*