Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pulling the Plug

Does this photo look familiar? If it does, you are probably a female who entered adolescence in the late 60's or early 70's. This pamphlet (or one just like it) likely made its appearance during an excruciatingly uncomfortable private talk with your mother or distributed to a special girls-only "health class".

Did it get you all enthused and excited about your imminent crossing over the threshold of girlhood to womanhood? It scared the crap out of me and caused me endless worries - not least of which was the fact that there was no way on hell or earth that I could aspire to our young model's hairdo. Mary Tyler Moore Junior, I was not.

In light of this walk down menstruation memory lane, this week I had what must have been the strangest conversation with a Moroccan woman I've had since I arrived in this country. A colleague beckoned me into a private area, ensured that the cone of silence was in place, and asked if she could ask me a personal question. It was about tampons.

Wow. I can only suppose that since the unveiling of my Maghreb Maxi-Slipper - for there has been little else talked about in Morocco - I am now seen as a Menstruation Maven.

Her question it seemed was not hers but that of a male friend (hitherto known as the he-friend). Hmmm. The he-friend confided in her that his girlfriend (
hitherto known as the she-friend) had admitted to him that she routinely uses not one but two tampons at a time during her monthly pursuits. Thinking that this was strange (i.e., the notion that she double-dipped rather than the fact that she even broached the topic in the first place), he approached my colleague. Is this normal? he asked. Since my colleague does not avail herself of this method of personal hygiene, she came to me, the creator of the Maghreb Maxi-Slipper. I admitted that I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing (if my flow were that heavy, I'd be crawling to my gynaecologist on broken glass begging for a radical hysterectomy), and intimated that she was not telling me the whole story.

My colleague reluctantly admitted that the she-friend had instructed the he-friend that by routinely wearing 2 tampons at once (no doubt in conjunction with horseback riding, vigorous aerobics, and bungee jumping), she had probably inadvertently ruptured her hymen. The little dim light in my head finally clicked on. He wants to know, my colleague confessed, whether she's still a virgin or whether (and here I paraphrase) it's all a crock of poo? She then added, He wants to believe her. So, I said, Do everyone a favour and tell him what he wants to hear.

Insert flashback to my 16th year. My mother - having just been asked to pick me up a box of torpedoes, shakes her head and offers this little gem: In my day only married women wore tampons.

Resume story. At times it's hard to imagine that in Morocco's capital city, where young women routinely wear hip-hugging jeans so low that much of what makes a plumber a plumber can be seen at 20 paces, that virginity is still such a hot button.
Although recent reforms in family law have given Moroccan women more rights than those in most Arab countries, a woman's chastity as a prerequisite for marriage remains. This is especially true in Morocco's rural areas and city slums. The reality is that Moroccan women are under just as much pressure (from their boyfriends as well as the provocative images flashed across their television screens via their new satellite dishes) to engage in premarital sex as women everywhere else in the world. If they don't put out, their boyfriends will seek more willing fields to plough, procure the services of the city's prostitutes, or engage in "temporary" homosexual activities. Their options are simple: keep their legs crossed (and hope for the speedy approach of a proposal & wedding date); open their legs (and hope to Allah that there is no pregnancy); or offer up their nether region's other orifice. Needless to say, anal sex is a rather common alternative to its vaginal counterpart: there is no fear of pregnancy or a nasty post-coital "where's the blood" fiasco.

And what of that blood? I've spoken to many Moroccan men who are sexually active and they are uniform in their desire to bed a virgin. In other words, the girls they're schtupping now don't have a snowball's chance in hell of becoming Mrs. Ahmed Double-Standard. So what's a girl to do if she wants to have her cake & sleep with it too? - hymen reconstruction surgery.

For just a few thousand dirhams (about $300), a young woman of questionable morals (but enviable experience) can come to one of Rabat's private gyno-clinics and have a hymenoplasty, wherein biodegradable suture clips are surgically attached to what remains of her hymen. One wedding night poke and voila! blood. New Husband is happy. If the bride lives in an area of the country that still practises the Sabah ceremony (the very public raising of the flag of the sodden bedsheets) then Everyone is happy.

With the growth of a middle-class in Morocco and the continued embrace of western culture and mores, restrictions on premarital sex are slowly lifting. But for those in other regions and from other income brackets, the loss of virginity for a girl often leaves her no other option then to turn to prostitution. It comes as no surprise that sexual assaults are often unreported because of the stigma attached to the victim. She is no longer a virgin and therefore virtually un-marriable - although families sometimes offer her rapist the opportunity to marry her and make an honest woman of her. Lucky lucky girl.

Until then, I'm glad that my colleague's he-friend's she-friend has enjoyed a sexually active life before marriage. Chances are that all of her boyfriends and male relatives are doing the same - the problem, of course, is that as the Teflon Gender, they can indulge their passions with zero repercussions. Will using 2 tampons at once destroy a woman's virtue? Unless the tampons are 12 inches long, it's unlikely. Of course this is a moot point since she-friend isn't using 2 tampons at all, is she? But I admire her ingenuity and her reluctance to drop 3000 dirhams on a virginity restoration procedure. As the Menstruation Maven, I might suggest that she pick up a bar of Virginity Soap - I always keep one on hand in case of emergencies. As for their
fiancés, the Mr. Double Standards of Morocco, perhaps they can thank Allah for the women who have condescended to marry them and wait until they get to Paradise to despoil their 72 virgins.

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