Diary of a Diva: The DivaCup: Where the story begins

anja2Every year around November, the Gender Equity Center at California State University San Marcos holds an incredibly important, empowering event called “Love your Body Day”. The day is held to celebrate all of the unconventionally wonderful things about our bodies that get left behind in its representations through everyday media, such as its ability to have curves, move to music, appear much more unique and diverse than perceived, and so much more.

Last year’s event was a particularly incredible one because the new staff at the “G-Spot” added brand-new topics to the day’s agenda, including a whole new focus on “vaginal health”.

I remember receiving the phone call from my friend who was a staff member at the G-Spot as well as a student on campus. She knew my interest in and advocacy for The DivaCup and wondered if I would be interested in holding a table promoting alternatives to tampons and pads (i.e. re-usable alternatives).

Volunteer my time to force women to push their societal boundaries and discuss their vaginas? Yes, please.

Here was an opportunity to seriously change at least one, if not many women’s relationships to their “feminine hygiene” routines. The environmental impact is one thing, but the idea of telling women that it is okay to touch themselves, to let go of shame and to come out of their “bleeding” closets is something I MIGHT dream of creating a career out of when I rest my eyes at night.

Anyways, I declined the offer.

JOKES, EVERYONE! OF COURSE I ACCEPTED! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? CANCEL ALL PLANS, I’M GOING TO TALK ABOUT BLEEDING VAGINAS FOR THE AFTERNOON!

In classic Anja fashion (that’s me), I procrastinated on all the amazing things I wanted to do for the booth and stressed that I didn’t have enough information to share come the day of the event. “There is so much they need to know”, my mind frantically pondered. I mean, people write whole books on this topic! My favorite authors have spent thesis write ups and years of research on obtaining this information and here I was, a booth squeezed between a coloring-book table and a make-up removal stand, hooking women in by yelling about my DivaCup and waving it around like a flag.

anja1Eventually, I printed out three sheets of paper and “elegantly” placed them on my table (aka used bright red masking tape on a ripped up table cloth) which stated the health risks associated with tampons and pads and the number of disposable “feminine hygiene products” a woman uses on average in her lifetime. For all other questions, I was armed with “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and my moon-time diva, Scarlett who carried little print-outs with DivaCup’s website and Facebook links.

I also included print outs of sea-sponges and re-usable pads but it was 2013 and people love the freedom of seeing and believing. Therefore, I was equipped with a REAL-LIFE (gasp!) DivaCup and an insertion demonstration that put all pre-existing DivaCup hand-models to SHAME (JUST KIDDING, youtubers).

I guess I had been prepared for some curiosity around my table and the topic in general, but not nearly the amount I received. Included in the long list of my interests, aside from promoting DivaCups in virtually every conversation with anybody, is everyday sociology. The reactions were fascinating and while I was wrapped up in consistent presentations, (“Ever heard of The DivaCup?” “Yeah, but, remember how alien tampons felt when you first tried those?” and “You set it and forget it!”) I couldn’t help but observe the varied reactions I received and how the variables of gender, age, ethnicity, and accompaniment all came into play.

The feminist in me wanted to approach every man that laughed or scoffed as they passed and inform them that they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this wonderful life process or that the landfills being polluted with the billions of non-recyclable, toxic products that were being sold to his loved ones WERE, in fact, a MAN’S issue, but that wasn’t what I was there for. The goal of the day was to re-introduce women to this process in their bodies that was being taken away from them under the disguise of “practicality” and “discreetness”.

While most of the women that came up to my table did so wearily, they always left in wonder with a DivaCup card in their hand.

I’m not afraid to tell someone that The DivaCup will change their lives; In fact, I firmly believe The DivaCup has the power to change the world. This is my true opinion and I stand by it!

When the day ended I was out of cards and in complete awe of the amount of people I met who had never known there were any alternatives to their annoying, expensive, and time-consuming relationship with tampons and pads. I felt like if even one woman decided to switch over, my mission was complete. After all, the beauty in The DivaCup user is knowing that there is absolutely no way the story ends with her- that seed will sprout its way in the minds of hundreds of other women and so forth – ONWARD, I thought. Then I patted myself on the back and let my ego have its way for the next half hour.

I just moved to Norway, a fairly large country with only one DivaCup carrier, as listed on the website. That’s right, in this entire place.

Things are gonna start changin’ around here, Norway.

Love.
Anja

Anja Jerkovic
anja2Anja is in her 24th year of life on earth and is learning how to grow deeper into her-self with every day that passes. Academia and a few amazing professors helped push her into a passion for social justice and in particular, Gender Studies. She is currently exploring, living and looking for work in Oslo, Norway where she is sharing the wonders of her DivaCup and attempting to persuade local stores to start carrying them. She loves people, dogs, laughing for a large majority of her day, feminism, and cinnamon rolls. Feel free to add her on Facebook because she probably wants to be your friend.

{Guest Post} 9 Tips for Talking to Girls about Periods and The DivaCup

SexpressionsAs a sexologist, part of my work at Sexpressions is helping people unlearn negative ideas they have grown up with so they don’t pass these on to people they teach. Unfortunately, our culture hides or degrades many natural parts of being a woman. Between commercials promising that a particularly discreet, blue-liquid-absorbing pad or tampon will fool anyone and keep the secret safe and people whispering about “aunt flow”, young girls get the message that menstruation is something shameful that needs to be hidden and only discussed in rare, tense conversations.

Within this environment, girls can feel shame or discomfort when they even consider learning more about their own bodies, let alone less touching or looking at themselves “down there”. Sadly, these feelings can limit their options. I have heard far too many young girls uncomfortable with The DivaCup simply because they think putting fingers inside them or touching bodily fluids would be too gross.

Developing, exploring, and learning more about an adult body can be a thrilling, joyful experience that is worth celebrating. Here are some of the top things I tell parents, nurses and teachers to help girls embrace their changing bodies:

1. Start young

Not only are today’s girls having their periods much earlier, starting early and having several smaller conversations about periods, puberty, and sex can take away from your stress about “the talk” and the discomfort girls can feel when these major issues are crammed into one conversation. With many talks, you can answer things as they come up, recognizing when they will understand something and it is appropriate for them. Unless you are giving negative messages or blatantly wrong information, you can’t do this wrong!

2. Celebrate change

While not every girl will feel comforted by a menarche party, private moments like when they ask for help with what femcare product to use or ask a question can be met with warmth. Sometimes, these may come as a surprise, and being startled by a rapid change in how you think about them is normal, but even a day or week later, recovering and radiating positivity can help girls feel more comfortable with their bodies.

3. Listen

Menstruation is incredibly personal. There are many ways girls will have periods and many options they can try to help them. While your experience and those of other women you know are great starting points; it’s important to respect and listen to each girl’s unique experience and help them find what will work best for them—this is something where they are the only expert! Once they have finished talking and you understand their unique concerns, it’s the perfect time to suggest lesser-known options that can help. If they are worried about cost, the timing of bathroom trips, discomfort, or leaking, The DivaCup is a great option to talk to them about.

4. Model being supportive

It’s sad to say, but young girls can be very mean, and this can make already difficult times even worse. Modeling support for menstruation and other bodily changes can help girls see how they should support other girls around them. Seeing this kind of support can also encourage them to expect the same from others and ask for help when they need it, even if they’re feeling frustrated and ashamed.

5. Notice your body language

Reaching out to teen or tween girls can be a difficult balancing act. They want and need a lot of autonomy, but teen years can be gruesome without help. A great compromise for anyone close to girls is encouraging them to ask questions and generally confide in you. A lot of this has to do with subtle signals like the tone of your voice and body language. By paying attention to these nonverbal cues in other tense conversations, you can be aware of what you may be unintentionally saying and work to seem calm and approachable when that’s what girls need.

6. Inspire investigation

Another way to let young girls be independent is to give them the drive and skills to learn things themselves. Keeping age-appropriate books about menstruation and sexual health in the house and making it clear that they’re available can give a healthy outlet for curiosity. And if a girl is already interested in climate change or health issues, you can encourage her to investigate environmental damage and potential toxins from pads and tampons and show her where to learn about greener alternatives like The DivaCup.

7. Use media as a tool

Girls’ changes are not divorced from the rest of the world – just about anything can be a jumping point for a conversation that can help. Even something as small as asking why they use blue liquid in commercials for menstrual products, or why people in these commercials are wearing white and playing sports can help girls start thinking about how media can make women feel uncomfortable about their bodies. When girls start to notice these on their own and see how media may be affecting them, they’ll avoid a lot of the negativity it can create.

8. Know when to say you don’t know

Inevitably, kids will ask you something you just don’t know. Sometimes, these moments are even better than when you do know because not only can you find the answer together, you can show girls how to find it themselves! Sadly, it’s common for people to give answers based on what they think they know when this may be outdated, incomplete, or a cultural myth. This is one reason many women don’t recommend lesser known menstrual products like The DivaCup. When you start saying something, you may want to think about when and where you learned it. If you’re not sure it’s right, or that it’s the whole story, this is another great opportunity to show them how to find trusted information.

9. Use humor

Puberty and menstruation don’t need to be serious topics all the time. Being lighthearted wherever possible can help children feel more at ease in the conversation and with their own bodies and feelings. If you are comfortable with it, you can tell a story of when you got your first period and needed to make a makeshift pad—laughing at these can show girls that when these situations happen to them, they will also be able to laugh, eventually. These stories can also break the ice and turn a tense moment into one where girls are comfortable enough to listen. This makes a perfect opportunity to share what you’ve learned to avoid these concerns, from carrying extras to switching to The DivaCup!

Professional shotStephanie Mitelman, M.A., CSE
Stephanie is Montreal’s only certified sexuality educator and a national trainer on issues of sexual health and youth sexuality. She teaches at McGill and Concordia Universities, and is a founding member of The Sexual Health Network of Quebec. In 2000, she started Sexpressions, which offers sexual health resources and training for teachers and front-line healthcare workers. She also regularly trains and consults in Aboriginal communities across Canada and on sex education for youth with special needs, particularly those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Visit Sexpressions today to learn more!

Let’s Dance in Support of V-Day!

Diva is excited for Valentine’s Day! We love the chocolates, the sweet love notes and romantic surprises, but above all, we love the reminder the day gives us: to love, respect and care for those we love.

vdayutvs_web (1)In addition to February 14th being widely known as Valentine’s Day, more and more it’s recognized as V-Day – a day that holds the potential and inspiration to change women’s lives for the good through the ONE BILLION RISING campaign.

Founded by playwright Eve Ensler, best known for the award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues, V-Day is a global call to action for men, women and children to join together on Valentine’s Day to draw awareness to violence against women and to work towards change.

V-Day events are hosted around public places – places where women should feel safe, have access and feel welcome. People join together, most often through dance, cheers and performance to show the world “what justice looks like!”. Each V-Day we love seeing the impact and positive ripple effect that comes from the many events planned in support of V-Day!

coj_webMore and more people are joining the day’s events. Musicians like Pink are using their talents to empower women to work toward change, drawing attention to the pain, abuse and inequality women and girls around the globe face daily. Campuses are holding performances of the Vagina Monologues with proceeds going to support local women’s shelters and community centers. Projects like City of Joy in Congo are providing women with a safe space to receive counselling and support needed to move forward from past trauma. And every year organizations like Diva International Inc, donate products for raffle, helping to raise much needed funds for organizations that are helping women overcome injustice.

Last February 14, 2013, ONE BILLION RISING was the biggest mass action in human history when people in 207 countries came together to dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women. 

This Valentine’s Day show your support for V-Day by dancing for justice, attending a performance or holding your own V-Day awareness event! You can also be involved throughout the year with V Girls, a global network inspired by Eve Ensler’s book I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls, which is dedicated to helping the voices of young girls be heard.

You can also share why you are rising, why you are standing up for women’s rights, equality and fair treatment through image and words on the ONE BILLION RISING webpage.

Lastly, show your support by attending an event!

Q & A with Jac Torres-Gomez, founder of The Crimson Movement and author of Cycling to Grandma’s House

The Diva Team had the opportunity to chat with Jac Torres Gomez co-founder of The Crimson Movement and author of the newly released children’s book, Cycling to Grandma’s House. Be inspired by Jac’s vision for providing all women and girls with access to menstrual health education, community support and menstrual care. Don’t forget to enter below for your chance to win a DivaCup, DivaWash and Cycling to Grandma’s House softcover book!

1. What was the inspiration behind Cycling to Grandma’s house?

9781483406374_COVER.inddMy background in education, community development and literacy has shown me the power a story can have to teach our children and communities. When several parents (including single parents) approached me asking if I knew of any resources they could use to broach the subject of menstruation with their children, I realised that there is actually a lack of easy, safe and clear information out there for parents and educators to use to ‘break the ice’ with the topic of menarche and menstruation. I knew that writing a children’s book that could be used with children as young as six years of age to teach about menstruation would pave the way for these important conversations. Then when I became a parent to a daughter in August 2012, I realised that it was time to create this book so that in time, I too could use a powerful story to introduce my daughter to menarche. The main character, Luna, is inspired by my daughter Isabella.

2. How did you go about collecting the research for the book?

I started by speaking to my friends and family across the globe and asking them a simple question ’How does your community or culture celebrate menarche?’ I wanted to gather stories of the most positive ways different cultures or families celebrate menarche and share it within a children’s book. Surprisingly, I was met with a lot of shyness and even confusion from my friends. One teacher friend in Denmark told me she took the question to her staffroom and asked three female colleagues the question, and they were so embarrassed by the question that they started laughing uncontrollably. When they finally took a breath, they said to my friend ‘but we don’t celebrate it (or even talk about it) at all!’ When I started hearing these stories, I realised that there was a great need for a children’s book that helped pave positive ideas about how some families in some cultures celebrate menarche. Additionally, creating an educational resource that could even be used in our schools, would make a difference for our educators and families to mark this important occasion in some way.

From this point I did further anthropological research to learn more about how specific cultures celebrate or mark this coming-of-age time, and then started writing the first draft of my book. After this draft was complete I spoke to educators, children, parents and experts working in the area of menstruation education such as Jane Bennett and Lara Owen, who all helped me to redraft and develop the story. When I realised that the story itself needed additional information to support the conversations that might arise by children towards families and educators, I wrote a final notes page for parents and families providing more detailed information and a reference list.

3. What to you was the best part about working on a project like Cycling to Grandma’s House?

The wonderful conversations I have had with families when I speak about my book. For example, I met a single father last week of a now adult daughter and he told me that for years he dreaded having to have ‘THE’ conversation with his daughter, and in the end got a female friend to explain menstruation to the young child after she had been asking about it for a few weeks. He told me that a resource such as mine would have been really useful to help break the ice in the conversation with his daughter about menarche, and also to help alleviate his fear a little too. It is exciting to write this book and to be a part of this change for our families and schools.

5. Luna chatting to Rachael imagining a caterpillar turning into a butterfly4. Tell us about the illustrations in the book and the artist.

Erin-Claire Barrow and I met at a ‘pad-raiser’ in July 2013 where we were fundraising for menstrual products for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Material Aid Fund in Melbourne, Australia. I was speaking at the event about the importance of having open conversations about menstruation, and mentioned that I was doing a crowd funding campaign to raise funds to publish a children’s book about menarche. Erin-Claire approached me afterwards and said she was an illustrator and would be interested in being considered to illustrate my book. She submitted some gorgeous samples of her work and I was hooked! Erin-Claire is extremely talented and I know publishers will be knocking at her door once they see her work published in Cycling to Grandma’s House.

The illustrations in the book are vibrant, rich and throughout the book delicately and subtly carry the different themes of menstruation. For example, Luna, my main character, has this wonderful long ‘flowing’ hair; her dress, bike and shoes are a gorgeous red colour themed throughout the book and she uses her shiny red bike to ‘cycle’ throughout her town to learn about how different cultures celebrate menarche. A lot of time and energy went into ensure the visual translation of my ideas and manuscript were correct and Erin-Claire showed true grace and patience in respecting my creative vision for this project. It was a true joy to work with her.

5. Why do you feel cycle awareness is important for young girls?

By having open conversations with our children about menstruation, we can address the fear often associated with this important time. When a girl is aware and empowered by her cycle and the importance it has on her health it can help stop the fear often associated with menarche, and can have broader impacts on her physical and mental health and can even have an impact on life choices such as relationships. In some contexts it also means girls may stay in school because communities understand the needs of a woman because of menstruation.

6. How did you get involved with the Crimson Movement?

After working for more than a decade in Community Development and education, I had seen time and time again the barriers facing women and girls due to menstruation such as lack of facilities in schools, financial stress due to unaffordable products and a fear due to lack of knowledge about what menstrual actually is. In 2010, my friend Kim and I started a small project to share information around the different kinds of menstrual products available globally such as The DivaCup, however once we started having these conversations we realised that there was actually five major actions of action that needed addressing around menstruation: environmental, financial, educational, cultural and social. From this grew The Crimson Movement, and my children’s book project sits under the educational, cultural and social areas of action within my organisation.

7. Share a bit about the organization and the work they are doing?

The Crimson Movement works with different partners internationally through our five areas of action. We run projects such as our Purse Pad Project in Papua New Guinea and also work to support other projects such as doing pro-bono consulting work supporting menstrual projects for Eco Femme in India. Our goal is to empower communities to understand and address the barriers facing women and girls due to menstruation, and if the result of our work is that people are having open conversations to support our women and girls, we are achieving our goal. An important part of our work is the creation of a platform where we share the amazing work others are doing across the globe such as The DivaCup through our Partners webpage.

8. How can the Diva Community get involved?

Read Cycling to Grandma’s House to your children and speak to other families and schools about the book and how it can be used as a tool to break the ice around conversations about menstruation. The more conversations we can have that make speaking about menstruation a normal part of our dialogue, the better it will be for our children and the closer we will be to breaking down this taboo. Why not have these conversations today with an important woman or girl in your life? Ask them what they know, what they wish to know, about cycles, about healthy bodies and tell them they are WONDERFUL!

9. Where can we purchase Cycling to Grandma’s House?

It will be available through Lulu from February 1st 2014 as an e-book, paperback and in hardback. You can sign up to our newsletter to receive updates and information about The Crimson Movement news and how to purchase Cycling to Grandma’s House.

Jac.torres.gomez

Jac Torres-Gomez

Jac is an award winning community development practitioner, teacher and writer who is deeply passionate about supporting women and girls to achieve their potential. Her organization, The Crimson Movement, is a non-profit organisation working to empower communities everywhere to understand and address the barriers women and girls face due to menstruation. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Oscar and young daughter Isabella.