It’s community that builds us

There’s this song about ‘Community’ that we used to sing in school. It went something like  this:

It’s I – it’s I – it’s I who build community (x3)

It’s I who build community

Roll over the ocean roll over the sea; Find it in my heart to build community (x2)

It’s you – it’s you – it’s you who build community (x3)

It’s you who build community

Roll over the ocean roll over the sea; Find it in your heart to build community (x2)

It’s we – it’s we – it’s we who build community (x3)

It’s we who build community

Roll over the ocean roll over the sea; Find it in our hearts to build community (x2)

There’s no need to engage too many brain cells in figuring out that the philosophy underlying the song is a civic republican one based on individual effort for collective good. But lately I’ve been giving more thought to the equation in the reverse direction, and looking for specific examples of community. I make no secret of my affiliation with the position that the cultural logics of new media shape perceptions of, experiences with and contributions to community.  I also bring to my growing understanding of this position (I hope any lapses in congruence with it may be forgiven) my own experiences with having access to, feeling a lack of, and attempting to reassemble a sense of community from available resources. That is why the following example resonated with me:

On Facebook, I subscribe to a number of feminist pages. One of them is A Girl’s Guide To Taking Over The World:

Recently the admin posted the following photo of a feminine hygiene product (oh all right. It’s a MENSTRUAL CUP):

The text that accompanied  this picture read as follows:

“OK, so this a follow up to the first ‘I bought a Mooncup’ post. Many people asked that I feedback my experiences once I had tried it, so here goes. (All the gory details, so stop reading if you are squeamish). I had a mixed experience, so first the pros: It was effective, very, more so than tampons. I wore it on the first night of my period (a heavy bleed) and found it full in the morning (quiet a shock in itself) yet it had not leaked at all. Even a super tampon would not have coped. It was easy to put in, I couldn’t feel it at all, so I would say it was comfortable. It doesn’t have the dry feeling that tampons have that can also lead to thrush in some women. The Cons: It was quite hard to remove at first, I felt it had gone in too far and them worried that it might be stuck (possibly a natural reaction when you are unused to something). The biggest surprise was that I did find it a bit messy- surprised because I use a Cap as my chosen form of contraception, so I’m totally used to inserting/removing that and I’m not at all squeamish about blood but it did seem like a lot and the experience was more involved than I thought. Conclusion is I will keep trying with it. Having had a very heavy and painful period after being 7 days late I’m thinking it wasn’t the best month to test it out. But I will say much of the advice left by members of this page really helped me and the raving reviews have made me want to carry on… It is very strange telling 140,000 people about my menstrual experience but I hope it helps others thinking of trying this product out.” (Emphasis added)

Apparently it did help, but not only in the most obvious and intended way. The thread of comments, which can be accessed here (as long as they remain there – I can’t be held responsible if someone removes them) contained not only questions and responses to them, but also unsolicited experiences with the device, expressions of solidarity among women and even the odd male contribution. Almost palpable was a sense of relief that someone had made it permissible to talk about the ‘gory details’. The fact is that using the cup is a messy experience. No women likes dealing with her menstrual flow. But we do it anyway. It’s worse when we have to whisper about it to each other. Pushing the discussion underground makes it hard to normalize the suffering as well as the solutions. Everything about menstruation seems like a dark secret. I think this is made worse when we lose the resource of a household full of women to engage with. I first heard about the menstrual cup on an online discussion board. We all knew each other as fans of a particular children’s books series, and there was a sense of community built up through discussion topics that went beyond the fan fiction to deal with everyday experiences with children, cooking, worklife, relationships, hobbies, emotions etc. In that milieu, someone felt free to talk about the chafing she was experiencing from sanitary napkins and someone felt free to talk about her experience with the menstrual cup.

It was interesting to me to see the cup turn up on this feminist page, because given the page’s revolutionary motivation, it’s hard not to see the use of a discussion of menstruation as a way of holding up to the eyes of the patriarchy that which it works so hard to ignore (yet make piles of money out of with disposable feminine hygiene products). But it was also a reassembling of community resources to address an issue that needs community.

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