Brown paper parcels

One day out of the blue the chemist shop stopped housing its pads and tampon supplies in neat layers row after row wrapped in brown paper.

Rather like the way these days they sell cigarettes in what they call plain packaging, they did the same with products essential to women once some brainwave landed on a way to manufacture materials that soak up our period blood and leave us more able to function in the world during that trickly time of the month. 

Something of those ancient attitudes and disgust towards female bodily stays with us, with me. The yuk factor, again not unlike the yuk we experience when we talk of shit and defecation.

I suspect our response to faecal function comes out of childhood and toilet training, a necessary part of life, otherwise we’d none of us be able to manage our shit and where we put it. Hygiene would be a major problem. 

We need to learn to distance ourselves from our own toxic waste otherwise it makes us sick.

But period blood is not toxic waste in the sane sense. It’s blood, dry and stale and like any blood if left out to dry and curdle it will start to smell unpleasant but it’s not inherently unpleasant unless we think it so.

A few of my husband’s wowser friends from many years ago when he was still a school boy were communicating about their distress at what they see as ‘cancel’ culture. The way they imagine the so-called minorities are controlling the public discourse these days. 

All this emerged from their concerns about the renaming of Australia Day to invasion day From their privileged position as older white males. But also from their sense of lack. They believe indigenous people who to their minds have been well cared for want more than their share. 

They have no idea of what we as a nation have done to our indigenous people and the extent to which no amount of money thrown at them will undo the damage.

The damage will only be undone through a united effort at changing the story from one of our entitlement to a recognition of what our ancestors did and how we have profited ever since.

The final insult – to my sensibilities at least – came in the form of a message from one male friend to another.

He quoted an interview between major General Cosgrove on an ABC radio program. I do not know how true this is or whether its another example of fake news, so I try to hold it lightly.

It follows:

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The comparison of rifle use to prostitution alarms me. 

It’s not exactly wrapping pads in brown paper bags, but it has the effect of silencing. And sure, the interviewer might have been out of line likening teaching kids to use rifles with teaching kids to become violent killers, though if you follow it through, why else would anyone use a rifle other than to kill, whether people or animals. Or to practice hitting inanimate targets. 

But to suggest that women are equipped with an innate skill to be prostitutes using that old fashioned word as well, not sex worker. That women are born with a capacity to sell their bodies for sex for the pleasure of another, as of it’s a given, alarms me to the pit of my gut.

This is what I call misogyny.

An insult hurtled towards a female because she has dared to challenge, albeit in a clumsy manner, the man’s use of guns. 

Why did we ever hide pads and tampons behind brown paper other than to imply there’s something secret shameful about them? They must be hidden. This means that their function also needs also to be hidden. The secret nature of women’s bodies need to be hidden.

And then if we call out the secret nature of any desire to use a gun, to kill or maim or assert oneself, even in the pleasure of being able to hit a target, needs to come out of its plain paper wrapping to expose it for what it is, a dangerous activity, especially in the wrong hands. 

The function of periods: they’re part of the procreation cycle and of fertility, life giving stuff in women.

The purpose of guns: to kill. To end life. 

If birds ran the government

Birds are smarter than we think. The other day out walking the dog, my daughter’s boyfriend suggested we cross the street on our return home.

‘To pay our respects to the birds,’ he said. ‘So they put in a good word for us at the parliament of crows.’ 

Crows can recognise human faces, he told me. They retain a memory of the same face for several years, and are particularly wary of menacing humans. 

I prefer the notion of a parliament of crows to our human parliament. In my fantasy, crows are better placed to judge behaviour and to establish fair practices in communal affairs. We humans tend to make a mash of things. 

In my imagination, I can see the flock of senior crows seated in the top most branches of a eucalypt nodding wisely. Their bright eyes aglow with contemplation on how best to proceed in face of the ongoing damage to their space. 

Humans chop down trees. Human make endless noise with their cars and machinery such that the crows’ nests with their delicate eggs tremble even when well placed in the fork of a tree. And the days have grown hotter with each passing year, the storms more frequent and less predictable within the bird calendar of events. 

The parliament of crows is not one to exclude its younger crows, its females and even the crow whose wing was bent in a freak accident when the crow collided with a streaking car that leapt out of nowhere. 

My imaginary crows are into equity but also they discipline their flock in ways we humans can only imagine. They hold no truck with poor behaviour, no skylarking among the young sure of wing birds, the ones who want to interfere with their neighbouring birds’ nests. 

No, the crows are respectful of other birds and their territories while standing up for their own.

Here I speak of our indigenous crows, not the huge thugs whose ancestors arrived here from the UK over a hundred years ago.

The native crows are at one with the land, the crow visitors or at least their offspring are less able to know the limits of their space. They over step the mark. Grow fat on human rubbish and mess up the landscape for everyone.

I never was one to plunge myself in my imagination into the mind of an animal or bird and my imaginings here can only take me so far before a certain itchiness attacks me. 

An irritability in my ears and mine’s eye. I want to connect to what I write. I need it to mean something to me beyond my imaginings and for this I need my memory of events. I need to add the human element. Perhaps because I am not a bird, not a crow but a human person who finds the vagaries of human kind the most amazing and puzzling of all my observations, even as I recognise the limitations of this.

When I first read about a second woman who died alongside her three children and the police urged caution in concluding this was yet another example of family violence, a man taking away the lives of his wife and children, I did not desist in my immediate speculation, it was the father. It happens so often these days.

When we later discovered it was the mother who killed herself after killing her three children the world flipped a little to the side. 

Some mothers kill their children. And we do not yet know what was happening in the mind of this mother that she should destroy the lives of her three small children but I suspect some madness in her mind that told her it was a kind thing to do, or too dangerous for them all to live.

The family violence we read about more often when men kill their partners and/or children is more often motivated by rage and revenge. Though then we have the story of Medea. Yet Medea is a story written by a man. Had Medea been written by a woman I wonder what trajectory this story might take.

Sometimes mothers are cruel to their children. Some mothers murder their children. All mothers are from time to time ambivalent about their children and most of us mothers struggle with the needs of our children weighed up against our own, especially when the grand narrative of our lives is one of laying our lives down for our children. 

A call to selflessness and nurturance that in many ways has been fuelled by the patriarchal narrative, one that says the men might be selfish because they need to go out into the world and fight for their wives and children. 

Whereas the women at home in the care of small children must put their needs aside for the good of the family. There is no room for a woman’s ambition or desire for self in the patriarchal narrative. It requires a genuine self-disregard on the part of women to blossom. And this gets passed down the generations. 

So when we hear about a woman who has killed her children we are thrown off balance even more off balance than when we hear about a father who has taken the lives of his children.  

And the parliament of crows sits on high in the trees and looks down on our failure as a species to care for the next generation in caring for ourselves and the other creatures around us, including the plant life and all aspects of our landscape, the water and sky, the sun and moon.

Because we are a flawed species and have not yet learned to live in a balanced way. Have not yet learned to find a comfortable reckoning between our individual needs for recognition and the needs of all as a group which requires a certain loss of individuality to thrive. When the group is first and foremost the entity for which we care and our own individuality is nurtured within such a powerful occurrence as a parliament of crows.