Of “An ode of hatred to my Diva Cup”, and Green Eggs and Ham

Alex Logan recently published “An ode of hatred to my Diva Cup” in Huffington Post. Alex had seen a lot of good press about cups and about the Diva Cup in particular. Despite being persuaded to try one, ultimately she found that it wasn’t for her: she found the cup was uncomfortable to insert and wear, that it leaked, that it led to awkward experiences in bathrooms, that it was socially embarrassing. She was relieved to return to tampons. And with that non sequitur, I will now talk about green eggs and ham.  

“Say! I like green eggs and ham!” 

In the Dr Seuss book, “Green Eggs and Ham”, when the main character, Daniel, finally caves in Sam-I-am’s incessant spiel on the merits of Green Eggs and Ham, he loves them and starts shouting it to the rooftops like a Diva Cup enthusiast. “Say! I like green eggs and ham! I will eat them ANYWHERE! I do so like green eggs and ham!” But not everyone likes, so to speak, the green eggs and ham when they finally try them. As is implicit in the premise for Alex’s blog, there is no shortage of stories of people singing the praises of menstrual cups – for the Sam-I-am good news story you can try Diva Cup, Moon Cup, Juju, Lunette, this website, and others here, here, here. Of course, many of these are on producers’ websites so it would make sense to be suspicious – I’ll get back to that. Even so, a portion of women who try them are not sold on the cup.

Not everyone likes green eggs and ham

So my first thought reading the post was to be reminded that menstrual cups are not for everyone (for starters they’re only for menstruating women!) Maybe half of women who try them really love them and would never go back. That’s borne out by studies, by the survey on this website, and by the expanding pool of consumers and ranting enthusiasts for cups particularly as women get more access through the internet. Alex Logan’s article highlights some issues with cups that feedback to this site reiterates – uncertainty with how to insert them, how to change them, and discomfort with some models. Some of this is insurmountable, a lot of it can be addressed with better information. But it shouldn’t be surprising that of those that do try them, not everyone likes them. You only need to look at bad reviews of good movies for evidence that not everyone is on the same page about everything. For my own part, I don’t like ham – but I probably wouldn’t write an ode of hatred to it. I haven’t tried green eggs but I did eat a pickled egg once – it was OK.

“I would not, could not, in a tree. Not in a car! You let me be”.

My next thought reading the post was disappointment with the exultant comments underneath like "I knew my instinct was right" and “finally a real and honest review”. This is what got me to thinking about green eggs and ham. “I will not like them, Sam-I-am”, the Daniel character insists, having never tried them. The Sam-I-am man following Daniel around insisting that green eggs and ham are delicious when eaten in a variety of locations only makes Daniel all the more defiantly suspicious.

So while it’s constructive to hear Alex deciding for herself on Diva Cup and putting it out there for others – bucking an apparent trend for uncritical enthusiasm - it was disappointing that most of the critical comments about cups were clearly from women who hadn’t tried them. Confirmation bias finds a ripe home on the internet – I imagine if the guy in the Dr Seuss book had access to the internet during his pursuit from Sam-I-Am he would be looking up websites headed AN ODE OF HATRED TO GREEN EGGS AND HAM. “I knew my instinct was right”, he would say. “I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere”.

“Would you, could you, in the dark?”

Because menstrual cups are increasing in popularity it’s likely you’ll be able to find an increasing amount of material both positive and critical – some of it from individuals, some of it from competing products. On the whole I’d have to say that even if the negative press increases, that’s a good thing. Because even the half of women that do prefer cups once they try them – some surveys find more like 70% - is a whole heap more than you would think looking at supermarket shelves or girl’s magazines or TV advertisements or the other mediums by which information on menstrual hygiene has been distributed for the last few decades. Even bad publicity is still increasing awareness (of sorts). Until the ‘Diva Cup cult’ comments started stalking the internet, you would be very hard pressed to know that an alternative to pads and tampons even existed. I know I had no idea until a few years ago, and then when I heard rumours the process of finding out more was like trying to join a cult or buy drugs. I wished I had found out years ago and saved many years of unfortunate experiences with disposable products. To save some other people the same experience is one reason I started this website.

Hot air 

If you find the positive spin on menstrual cups insufferable, then pay attention to the ads for tampons and pads that are doing the exact same thing (although generally with more money involved). The much more overwhelming message out there is to use disposable products – products associated with freedom, security, swimming, horse riding, flowers, popularity, normality, cleanliness. Most of us are not stupid enough to believe any product really brings those things – but we do, unconsciously, tend to associate them. One of the first ads for tampons I ever saw had some hot air balloons in it. I was too young to have the faintest idea what it was talking about – and what was said was in such coy language, it’s no wonder. It was something about this new variation on the product being very light.  I still tend to think of tampons when I see a hot air balloons, much as I think of Flake chocolates when I see white clothes and willow trees.  

With any product it makes sense to keep your bullshit meter on. That goes for cups as well. If you’re someone who suspects you won’t like cups then there are thousands of sites you can go to find women and girls saying the opposite of your suspicions – saying they are clean, comfortable, life changing, or at least pretty convenient. Conversely, there’s an increasing number of posts like Alex’s to consider. And a million or so ads and magazine articles promoting disposable products. Those ads worked on me for a long time - but not, I might add, through any comparative judgment, just through a lack of knowledge of any alternatives. But it’s still nice they even had functional pads and tampons (it’s more than most women had in the past, or have now), and also that they had ads for them– TV ads weren’t allowed to mention periods at all until the 1970s. 

“You do not like them. So you say.”

Even though, as Alex points out, there’s an upfront cost to buying a menstrual cup, you still haven’t got that much to lose by trying for yourself. As Sam-I-Am says: “Try them! Try them! And you may”. It’s not a fashion statement - you’re not buying one for someone else to like what you’re wearing (although, for example, if you buy Ruby Cup then one goes to a girl somewhere where the choices are far more limited). It’s worth at least considering what it is that you like and dislike about disposable products. There might be a host of reasons - but also think about whether it’s just because it’s familiar. I once participated in a half hour market research survey on the phone about which brand of oil I preferred – in the end I realized that I truly did not care. Which is OK, but not to be confused with having really weighed up the options. 

You may like them here, but not there 

You don't have to decide to love or hate menstrual cups. There are pros and cons - you might like change, you might not. It might be better, or worse. A cup might, on reflection, just be better for some situations (e.g. travelling).

But it’s one thing to not like something, another to not be bothered, and another to be afraid of even contemplating something. Some women seem to prefer disposable products because of a lingering suspicion their body contains radioactive or otherwise toxic waste, and that their nether regions will explode if touched by anything other than a penis or the equivalent of surgical gauze. They have their reasons for thinking that (disgust around menstruation seems to be more or less culturally innate), but objectively - the risks are far smaller than that.

There’s risk and there’s catastrophic risk – and there's for human tendency to overestimate the latter, while underestimating everyday hazards. An increasing body of evidence shows how we think a lot less than we like to think - that we rationalise rather than apply rational thinking - and that we change our minds a lot less than you might have expected. That’s another reason why I started this site. We are an institutionally consumer and political society tacked awkwardly on the top of a species, and upon cultures with millennia of taboos. Menstruation is prominent amongst these taboos. Another widely held taboo, coincidentally, concerns eggs. Women – pregnant, lactating, or menstruating ones in particular (have they left any out?) – are forbidden from eating eggs in many cultures (for example in parts of Africa or India). Re-reading “Green Eggs and Ham” I realize that not once does Sam-I-Am tell Daniel to do anything or that he’ll like anything: he just keeps asking, “do you”, “would you”, and “could you?” I guess Sam-I-am wouldn’t get too far against breaking some of the strongest taboos - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth asking.