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Lucy Perkins 

Philosophy and Pharts

For some reason, the things that everyone deals with are the things that become taboo in our culture. Farts, boogers, burps, bowel movements, these are the things polite people aren't supposed to talk about, despite the fact that they are ubiquitous. This has always seemed an amazing irony to me. Bodily functions are obviously a common ground for many kinds of people. Everyone, from working class joes to multi-millionaires, from rural country-folk to city slickers, should be able to relate to burping. Why, then, are movies about such crude topics huge moneymakers, while polite types try not to snicker when someone burps at the dinner table? Why do we feel embarrassed when we do something that everybody else obviously does, too?

And that's only part of the story. For whatever reason, other things that are gender-specific are also taboo. Rather than talking openly, women frequently whisper at each other about tampons and feminine hygiene, especially when men are in the room. Many women treat "female issues" as if they need to be carefully kept from the male sex. And if you happen to hang out with my mom, you should be aware that "period" is also a dirty word, so much so that it's best to stick with calling the punctuation mark known as a period "that dot at the end of a sentence."

I have no idea why menstruation is the equivalent of a poorly guarded national secret. Frankly, if you're a man and you're ignorant of the facts of female menstruation, then you need to get hold of a health textbook. In fact, if you ever come in contact with women, then you need to at least be aware of the concept.

But menstruation is so taboo, many men are actually embarrassed to go buy feminine hygiene products for their significant others. I really don't know why this is. After all, it's not like anyone's going to think the products are for them. I can just imagine the cashier: "Excuse me, sir, but you might want to try the new pads with wings. They're on aisle 3."

A friend of mine recently pointed out an example of something else that shouldn't be embarrassing but often is. She became fully aware of the issue while watching a recent episode of ER. Apparently, a doctor on the show gave birth last season and now she's breastfeeding her baby. Her breasts began leaking during surgery, and she was embarrassed because she had to leave and deal with the leakage. Why on earth she was embarrassed is a good question. Anyone familiar with breastfeeding should be aware that leakage happens.

It first occurred to me that these issues might point to some kind of pervasive sexism in our culture. But although there are indeed many signs of sexism in our culture, I don't think this is necessarily one of them. Why? Because this isn't just an issue with women. You men are certainly aware of certain "conditions" that are embarrassing but that are as normal and regular for men as menstruation is for women. Unplanned erections, for example. I've heard enough stories from men about such incidents, which usually culminate in a book being held over one's crotch, to know that these situations are definitely considered embarrassing.

Or how about sex in general? Not all sex is immoral or kinky, and occasionally sex is for the purpose of procreation. (I'm mentioning that for you sticklers out there.) The vast majority of people have sex at some point in their lives. Even so, people in the United States are so embarrassed by the idea of sex that they can't even discuss it with their families.

But the really ironic thing is that all of these perfectly normal bodily functions are considered taboo in normal conversation, yet other issues that are actually grosser ­ and rarer ­ are apparently OK to discuss. Just for starters, I've seen that commercial about herpes about a million times. Really, if you have genital herpes or whatever, you should go talk to your doctor privately. I don't want to hear about it. Herpes is not a perfectly normal part of the human experience, as opposed to farting, which definitely is. But somehow it has become more socially acceptable to make a commercial to deal with herpes than it is to make a commercial to deal with farting. Go figure.

And despite the taboo against discussing sex, apparently erectile dysfunction has more than reached the stature of polite conversation. How many junk e-mails do I get every day hawking Viagra or its bastard twin, Herbal Viagra? How many times have I been forced to hear Bob Dole get more specific about his sex life than anybody would ever have wished? I mean, I'm all in favor of people loosening up and talking about sex openly, but do we have to start with septuagenarians?

Analyzing the current American view of what is embarrassing and what isn't, it seems as though people are trying to accentuate their differences and play down their similarities. Commercials have no problem spotlighting people with herpes, and talk shows have no problem showing off people who are into kinky sex. Yet, average people don't want to talk about female menstruation, which is a natural part of every woman's life.

Times like these, however, require people to look for those things that we share, not those that make us different. Our differences are clear enough: religion, clothing, food, government. We're all focused on our differences.

Maybe it's not exactly classy to mention bodily functions, but at least they're something all people share. It's a place to start. I'm not saying that lifting the taboo from boogers and pee is going to save the world, but it may make for less Tom Green movies. And the quicker his 15 minutes are up, the better the world is going to be. *

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