The Vagenda

How One Man in the Army was Defeated by Feminax


So, I have a close male friend who is in the Army. As a matter of fact, I am also in the Army, but no, this isn’t going to be your workaday rant about sexism or an excess of lad culture in the forces. In my experience, the British Army’s zero-tolerance policy to any form of discrimination – be it discrimination against gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion – is actually highly effective. But I digress.

This friend in the Army. He’s going on an assessed exercise next week, off for a few weeks of running around with rifles and crawling in the mud, to be tested on how well he can boss people about. Now, I happen to have already done this particular exercise before, because I am – *GASP* – a female who just so happens to be more qualified than a male counterpart. In the process of imparting a few gems of wisdom unto him, because I’m a good friend like that, I learn that he has recently sustained an injury during a particularly aggression-filled (and apparently vomit-filled) match of hangover-rugby (WHEYYYY, LADS, LADS, LADS!)

I listen as he describes his injury: some kind of bruising to the ribcage. It’s causing him a significant amount of pain. An injury is never a good thing a few days before you’re set to go on an exercise. I’m not a doctor or anything, but it’s starting to sound like something along the lines of internal swelling (no jokes at the back.) He says he’ll just have to dose up on ibuprofen and get on with it as best he can.

I nod sympathetically, and think back to times when I’ve acquired similar injuries during training. I’ve always relied on Naproxen to get me through swelling related dramas. I tell him he needs to get some before he leaves. Naproxen does pretty much the same thing as ibuprofen, but I have always found it to dull the pain more efficiently, and reduce inflammation faster.

There’s one problem though – I think you usually need a prescription to get Naproxen. I inform him of my concern, and he has, typically, left it far too late to arrange a doctor’s appointment and get the injury seen to properly. But WAIT! I remember that one can, actually, pick Naproxen up off the shelves of one’s local Boots, Superdrug, or generic supermarket. I tell him such, and he is all ears, saying he’ll go into town tomorrow and get some if I think it will genuinely help him out.

I then inform him of the second problem. The Naproxen that you can pick up in Superdrug is not sold under the name “Naproxen.” It is, in fact, sold as… wait for it… “FEMINAX.” It is marketed as pain relief from menstrual cramps. For WOMEN. Who MENSTRUATE. I duly inform him of this, and the horror which greets this revelation is almost tangible. ‘FUCK THAT,’ is his exact response, in all its articulacy.

Even after explaining that Feminax and Naproxen are EXACTLY the same drug, just sold in different packaging and under different name, my friend’s aversion to venturing into the female health section of a shop is still strong. ‘I DON’T get periods, ergo I am NOT going to buy Feminax,’ is his line.

‘Whatever,’ I tell him, ‘I was just making you aware that there’s something out there which might just be more helpful than ibuprofen.’

He never even gave me the chance to explain that back in the day, they used to give mefanamic acid (another anti-inflammatory pain reliever) to the lads struggling through P-Company, the physically brutal and mentally gruelling selection process to get into the Parachute Regiment. Now, I am currently prescribed mefanamic acid for severe period pains – but a few decades ago (sold as ‘Ponstan’ back then, because why not?), hard-ass soldiers aspiring to earn that coveted maroon beret would pop those pills like they were going out of fashion.

Later that day, I receive a Snapchat (a phenomenon which I feel deserves its own Vagenda article, due to its tendency for being a medium primarily geared towards requesting nudes from females, and distributing unwarranted dick pics on an unprecedented scale). Voici le Snapchat:



I screenshot the Snapchat because I felt that the allotted ten seconds are not sufficient to adequately ponder its contents. Portraying shelves full of various pink-cardboard-packaged products, the sender is clearly in the feminine products aisle (because how else would we know that the tablets were intended for us unless they were fuchsia pink?!) I mentally praise my friend for summoning enough bravery even to venture into such uncharted feminine territory, and think to myself, ‘No wonder he couldn’t bring himself to buy it! Imagine how embarrassed he would have been at the checkout! Especially when the cashier quizzed him about the tablets, as they so often do with the purchase of painkillers; he’d have to either explain what he needed the Naproxen for, or say he was buying it on behalf of an ACTUAL FEMALE!  I totally understand his Feminax-related struggles!’

And then the other half of myself speaks up. ‘STOP RIGHT THERE. HALF THE POPULATION have periods. Why should I be understanding of his embarrassment? Let alone, why should I be able to relate to it?! I frequently find myself opting for the self-checkouts and choosing to battle those frustrating “unauthorised item in the baggage area” moments, rather than presenting my shameful tampons to a real-life cashier in a guilty acknowledgement that yes, once a month, I do in fact bleed out of my vagina. Just like half the people in the world do/ have done/ will do. I know I shouldn’t find it embarrassing, but I do. And frankly, the fact we still blush about purchasing period-related products is ridiculous.’

Discussing the embarrassing transaction of buying tampons with a different male friend resulted in confusion. This other friend – who, in fact, left his military training because he hated spending so much time cold and wet and miserable and being screamed at to “FUCKING GET A GRIP!” (Ed: How did he survive high school?!) – hypothesised that embarrassment over periods is like embarrassment over farting, or any other bodily function. Everyone does it, but it’s still embarrassing.

But is it really comparable? Scatological humour can have immense comedy value, for one thing. Think of all the films you’ve seen which contain some variant of fart/ shit/ vomit-themed comedy. LOADS (this may, obviously just be me… possibly because I have a penchant for immature comedy films and slapstick humour). But the monthly visit from Aunt Rose? That’s a no-go humour zone, especially around men.

Within my circle of friends (which consists primarily of military-minded men), I’m expected to find their ‘bantz’ about penises/ wanking/ balls/ all of the above in some sort of weird combination absolutely double-me-over hilarious (which, to be fair, they often are), but the second I make a wisecrack about menstruation, it will be inevitably met with stony silence. Periods are an unspoken shame we’re expected to guiltily brush under the metaphorical rug. In fact, the lengths that I’ve gone to in order to hide the fact that I’m in an emotional, bleeding, aggressive state from my male colleagues while on longer training exercises know no bounds. The most memorable was the time I informed everyone I had a case of the shits to legitimise my frequent disappearances off into the woods to ‘deal with stuff.’ A case of the shits has banter potential. Periods do not.

The caption on the Snapchat perfectly encapsulates this. As it says itself, the shame is TOO MUCH. What shame is that, really? The shame of being stood in the feminine health aisle in the first place? The shame of admitting you’re injured? The shame of the cashier potentially presuming you’re buying pain relief for a period-stricken girlfriend/sister/mother/friend who hasn’t had a chance to get to the shops? The shame of buying a product marketed for women? The shame of the other Army Lads finding out you’re using Feminax (aka NAPROXEN) to get you through the exercise? Who would have thought that that prefix “femi-” could be so psychologically powerful?

I find this especially bizarre, considering the fact that this friend is hands-down the most respectful person I have ever met. He treats all the female soldiers he works with exactly the same as the male soldiers, he thought Maggie Thatcher was a goddess (Ed: PROBLEMATIC, but I get the picture), and he would never consciously do anything to disrespect a woman in any way. Given all this, I don’t understand how he can still subconsciously subscribe to the concept that this essential aspect of femininity is shameful.

But whatever. His loss. He’ll be on exercise by now, probably soldiering on with his damaged ribcage, through the pain which will still break through the meagre defences of ibuprofen, wishing he’d overcome whatever ludicrous masculinity complex he has and just gone ahead and bought the Feminax.

I can’t help but think that it’s funny how someone can be absolutely fine with the all the challenges of working in the armed forces, but is terrified by the thought of taking pain-killers that come in a pink box.


21 thoughts on “How One Man in the Army was Defeated by Feminax

  1. I’d just take the pack out of the box (and put them in one from the MANPILLS section which I assume also exists. Though I don’t think it does, because men are allowed to use products of any colour but pink). Since switching to a menstrual cup I’m saved the ‘shame’ of shopping for menstrual products, but I think for me I feel uncomfortable about specifying my own menstruation, but don’t mind making jokes about it in general.

  2. Previous boyfriend refused to pick up any “female stuff” when doing the shopping.
    I upgraded. Current boyfriend (who does the vast majority of the shopping. In fact all of it unless it is an emergency have to pick up milk on the way home type scenario) is happy to pick them up. We have had a few mishaps along the way (continence pads came home one month “They were on special! And they’re pads!”, but now I think he is beginning to know more about that dreaded pink section than me.

  3. Naproxen is the shizzle. It is the most amazing wonder drug, and I worship at it’s little pill-shaped alter, giving thanks for the wonders of being upright and conscious during my period, and at having the sheer dumb luck to have been born at a time and in a place where you can buy this stuff over the counter. Even if you do have to be lectured by a some spotty youth about the terrible dangers of taking more than half of one every month or something. I don’t know, I switch off for that bit. JUST GIVE ME THE PILLS KID.

    Also, your friend needs to get his shit together. He is currently being less manly than my web-developer fiance with an aversion to violence, because he will go to the shops unattended and buy me all my period-related needs. This is my personal standard for being a Real Man ™.

  4. Slight tangent but does anyone else find that, rather than being embarrassed by periods, you’re just less likely to mention that you’re on because everything you say or do becomes less valid, like being hormonal removes all ability to form rational opinions, or get rationally angry anymore? With my girlfriends we all bantz about periods like it ain’t no thing, but I’m so wary of mentioning it in front of male friends lest everything I say is dismissed as “on the rag”…

  5. Totally get what you mean. And if I’m particularly feisty or, heaven forbid, opinionated when I’m on, I will even excuse myself and put it down to hormones like my flare of personality is shameful.

  6. I went through military training a couple of years ago, and on one exercise our (all-female) platoon synchronised. Literally about two-thirds of us got our period at the same time. As this caught a few people by surprise, it led to frequent urgent requests for tampons being passed around. We had a few blokes attached for the exercise, and the sheer horror on some of their faces at just having to SAY the word ‘tampon’ was priceless. Even more so when they actually had to handle the thing to pass it back to whoever needed it. To be fair, they got ribbed mercilessly by both males and females.

  7. Period shame is such a constant ongoing issue for females all over the world. Are men so disgusted by it as they associate the vagina with non-bleeding activities? Because bleeding from other parts of the body is so totally acceptable, yet from this organ its an ongoing battle.


  8. But period embarrassment really isn’t the same as being embarrassed over other bodily functions. I don’t think anyone feels ashamed about buying toilet paper the same way they do about tampons, even though ostensibly the products serve a similar purpose. We don’t feel shame about buying deodorant or breath mints, so why should pads be different, if periods are just like any other bodily function? Shame and a need for secrecy dictated my feelings about my period for a long time because that’s how I was taught to feel from the very beginning. When we were taught about periods in school the girls were separated from the boys and given “the talk,” and from that point forward it felt like periods were something we were supposed to hide from them. There’s no logical reason why the boys couldn’t have stayed in the room and learned about tampons along with us, especially since they would most likely be buying those products at some point as well.

  9. I am not normally ashamed by my period – I have no embarrassment when buying pads etc. However, I was once at a festival and needed to empty my mooncup in a portaloo. Despite trying furiously to flush away all evidence of my menstruation, portaloos not having the most efficient flushing system, some traces were left. As I was walking away, I heard a man who, entering the portaloo, shouted “Gross, someone’s on their period!”.
    I wanted to turn around and tell him that, on the whole campsite, there would be dozens of women menstruating, and he should just deal with it. But I was just too embarrassed, and didn’t say anything for fear that he might realise it was ME who was bleeding (heaven forbid!)

    Menstruation is a key step in the survival of the human race, so why do we all feel compelled to pretend it doesn’t happen??

  10. Not unlike (some) male reactions to breast-feeding. Milk coming out of the nipples of female breasts? The horror!

    Presumably it’s ultimately about male ownership of female bodies, which ought to exist only as they appear in the male gaze, shaved, plucked, fake-tanned, airbrushed, possibly distended with chunks of silicon here and there. From all we hear, teenaged boys are shocked to see a real female body (I don’t know if this is true, happily no longer being remotely teenaged myself), and adult men might be going down the same path.

    This leaves women with the undesirable choice between trying to conform to male expectations by concealing reality and making said alterations to our bodies or parading the realities of our bodies and enduring male disgust which they’ve been socialised to think is perfectly acceptable, even manly, to express. To the extent that it is OK to be openly sexist about a menstruating woman’s mental capacities even if for the other three weeks a month they have to be respectful of us.

  11. Feminax is naproxen? Thank you so much for this, I’ll be down the chemist later.

    As for your army friend, wtf? Why would he be embarrassed?

  12. So happy I grew up in a female positive home, just me and mum, plus many aunties. Periods were explained as an everyday kind on event, no biggie. I have never worried over buying period supplies openly, in fact as a 3 year old who was learning the value of thrift when shopping I called out to Mum over 2 aisles “Mummy, tampons are on special, do you want some?”, much to the horror of many other early 80′s shoppers. My Mum also remembers the time a rogue tampon rolled out of her bag across the bar she was at, the barman scooped it up and announced “Sorry, they aren’t legal tender”. We really need to have more fun with all this, after all it is the reason we are all here.

  13. I’m guessing you’re also saved a bit of dough as well. :)

    (Embarrassingly enough, I’d never heard of such a thing until your comment. now that I’ve googled it, I’m rather intrigued by the idea)

  14. My parents separated when my sister and I were 9 and 7 and we stayed living with my Dad. Naturally, it was his role to buy all our ‘feminine products’ when the time came – and then every month after that! He never expressed any embarrassment or shame about having to buy a selection of pads to meet our needs, or to start buying tampons when I decided I preferred them. As a result, I have never felt any shame myself when buying these products and hopefully never will!

    Until reading this article, I never really thought about whether he would have been embarrassed buying the products for the first time. Although, I suppose once you’ve had children you know that the vagina serves more than one purpose and get over it. I might ask him though!

  15. Exactly! I used to have a teeny-tiny purse in which I kept everything. Pulling out a fiver at the till in Sainsburys one day, a tampon flew out, wheeeeeee! The male shop assistant helpfully pointed out where it had landed but we were too busy giggling to do anything about it.

  16. Follow your intrigue. I’ve been using one for the past seven years and am slightly evangelical on the subject.

    In that time I’ve only had to relpace it twice, (once when my car was broken into and it was stolen – unfortunate theif – and the second time when my dog decided to use it as a chew toy). After two periods getting used to it there is now absolutely nothing that could convince me to change back, running, swimming, anything is possible, (up to and including non-penatrative sex with people who would normally be squeamish about any kind of period sex).

    Totally wish I’d come across it sooner.

  17. Dude! (Lady dude?) I have one of those. Mooncup, the most awesome thing ever to have crossed my period’s path. I gave myself 2 months to get used to it, but was sold by day 3.

    Never again will I have to wonder whether I bought enough tampons or pads in my handbag (I don’t even own a handbag) to last me until I get home. Never again feeling like I’m wearing a nappy when I use a pad in the summer or when exercising. Never again wondering if I have a trailing tampon string when I swim. All I need is one squishy cup of silicone. Once it’s in, it’s in, I barely notice it, and since you just wipe it clean you’re carrying all the sanitary products you need with you in your own vagina! Handy! I’m very low maintenance and love to be outdoors so this suits me down to the ground.

    I started using it for the environmental aspect – since it’s reuseable I cut down on a lot on non-recyclale waste- but I seriously love it.

  18. Arguably, no such thing as Imaginary Man. Possession of Y chromosome the only qualification requirement for Real Man. Likewise for Real Woman (but minus the Y chromosone, obviously)

  19. I grew up with a fairly positive impression of periods and although my symptoms of throwing up, almost passing out with the pain and doubling over constantly, was embarrassing to no end at school, the actual period wasn’t a problem. I never fear buying pads and will let nobody make me feel ashamed of having periods