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The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health

("The Little Red Book About Being Indisposed")
By Renate van der Bas
2011, De Boekenmakers, The Netherlands

A book about menstruation just appeared (2011) in Dutch that has created discussion in the press (for example) and I hope among the citizens themselves. Although the Dutch seem more grownup than Americans about things of the body, more discussion is a plus anywhere.

Below, I translated one chapter.

The chapter deals with the curious status of Anne Frank in Japan, Anne Frank being the young Jewish girl who hid in an attic in Amsterdam during World War II until Nazis discovered her and her co-inhabitants.

Only her father survived the war. He later found her diary, which stunned the world with its sensitivity and openness.

"Ongested zijn" means  "to be indisposed, unwell," a euphemism for menstruation in Dutch; the similar phrase is "unpässlich sein" in German. Americans of course have called it being sick and some might still do.

I thank the author, who sent me this copy.

Below: The cover. The 160-page paperback book measures 5 1/2 x 8 1/4" (14.1 x 21 cm).
Below: I translate Chapter 8,
"'Anne has come,' or how Anne Frank broke taboos in Japan."

((In the first paragraph, below, Anne Frank writes "a sweet secret" in her diary. The book Sweet Secrets: Stories of Menstruation is by a contributor of much information to this site, Kathleen O'Grady.)
"Every time I get my period - and that's only happened three times - I feel that I, despite all the pain, misery and filth, I have a sweet secret that I carry with me, though I have nothing but problems with it, I'm glad in a certain sense, always when I feel the secret in myself again."

Anne Frank wrote in her diary on various dates poignant intimacies about her changing body, starting menstruation and her sexual feelings. In the first Dutch edition of the diary in 1947 various fragments from the diary were published, but the time was not ripe for her thoughts. (Plus, paper was scarce and the first publisher opted for a not too thick book! Trivial motives ...)

Later editions appeared, and in 1986 a more complete and scholarly edition compared all the editions side by side. The passage about "the sticks" - tampons - was included.

The openness of Anne Frank, special enough, meant a lot in Japan. In this country people do not talk easily about menstruation [or many other personal things]. The way Anne Frank wrote in her widely read journal in Japan was a revelation for many young girls. The first day of menstruation was even called "Anne's Day," or women said "Anne came." A Japanese historian told employees of the Anne Frank House [in Amsterdam] that menstruation thirty or forty years ago was something negative, which you did not talk about. "Anne's diary created an opportunity to talk about it. More and more women would be proud of their periods, as Anne was proud."

Anne became a popular name because of Anne Frank and also because of a children's book in which a red-haired Anne was the main character. It inspired the menstrual hygiene industry to bring out a sanitary napkin named Anne.

David Barnouw wrote about this. The [Dutch] newspaper Volkskrant interviewed him about the commercialization of the name of Anne Frank. "Is the Anne Frank menstrual pad real?? The Japanese read 'The Hiding Place' [achterhuis, in Dutch, where Anne and others lived before the Nazis found them] simply very differently. In Japan, talking about menstruation was taboo, but Anna wrote quite openly about it. This makes it popular with Japanese girls. This cultural difference is nice. I don't think we should be judgmental about interpreting it."

On the site mum.org [this site] you can see the Japanese Anne tampons, from 1968, which were supplied with finger coverings so they could be "cleanly" inserted. Did the Japanese think that the Dutch had always been as open as Anne Frank? That was certainly not the case. Take this excerpt from a story by Betty Notenboom, showing the atmosphere in the sixties in many Dutch homes:

Much more about Anne tampon (generous Tambrands donation).

"Telephone. 'Lou, I started my period last night!' Jesus, that was nothing to call about. I felt my face get red, and turned away from the people at the table and answered as nonchalantly as possible, 'Tough luck for you.' "Don't be so matter of fact! Listen to me. Mum thought it was unfortunate that Christmas was already here, but we get the cakes the day after, do you also celebrate?" I stood speechless for a moment. 'Hallooo, Louise?' 'Why cakes, why a party?' I finally managed to say. "Ah, come on, say it, pretend it's nothing, a woman only gets it once in her life."

"The whole room was eavesdropping, otherwise I would have certainly said that all the misery of clots in your underpants, Kotex in your backpack, abdominal pain, spots, fear of stains are not exactly the most festive side of the woman insofar there were festive sides. At my house a word like ongesteld zijn [literally, to be unwell or indisposed] would be called The Curse. Hah, a sweet secret Anne Frank called it, so again it would be my fault that I could discover nothing of sweetness. I remembered being embarrassed my first time, how my mother nervously put a sanitary napkin in my hand and almost reproachfully said: 'Child, you're early, Rose was almost thirteen and you're not twelve ...' It lasted a few days, and it would come back every month, which I heard from Rose. My God, you don't talk about such things."

Anne Frank's writing about sex and menstruation has sometimes led to the books being called unsuitable for young readers by American schools and libraries. In 1983 a state commission in Alabama called it a "real downer." It's of course too sad for words that such a lively girl came to such a cruel end.

"Recently I've been reading somewhat more adult books. I'm working on 'Eva's Youth' by Nico Suchtelen. The difference between girls' fiction and this isn't so very great. However, there are also things about women selling their bodies to strange men in the street. They demand lots of money. I'd die of shame with such a man. Furthermore it says that Eva was menstruating. Hey, since I want to, it seems so important." 29 October 1942 (1947 edition).

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