Extreme Tourism

Virtually Icky

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health

The What? Yes. It's actually a virtual museum ( http://www.mum.org ) since founder Harry Finley closed the bricks-and-mortar version he established in the basement of his New Carrollton house in 1994. He says he's hoping to find a permanent public location for the artifacts, "hopefully in Washington." But not a medical school. "Medicine studies the disorders of the body," Finley writes on the site. "Menstruation is not a disorder."

What's There? Some 1,400 Web pages show how menstruation is regarded culturally and commercially around the world. Dozens of categories include belts, bidets, cups, dispensers, humor, essays, art (some painted with menstrual blood), huts, religion, poetry, odor, pads, advertising and shame. The site gets several thousand hits a day, says Finley.

Help From Afar Though makers of menstrual products were initially horrified at the idea of a museum, Finley says, Tampax eventually donated about 1,000 boxes of products and files from its archives. Proctor & Gamble sent another 100 boxes of archival items. "People send me things from all over the world," says Finley, who updates the site every two weeks.

Why? The subject "doesn't have a sexual appeal for me," says Finley, 63, a retired Department of Defense employee and lifelong bachelor. "For most people it's a turnoff, and most people are taken aback, men and women. I knew when I started people were going to think I was completely weird and I would be criticized. But I wanted to do something I thought was totally worthwhile."

Adverse Reactions? "Oh, boy. The worst reaction was from my family. My stepmother told me more than once I'd disgraced the family name. I got pretty depressed about that. She hasn't spoken to me in 12 years," says Finley. When he meets new people, "I try not to tell them; I'm past that. I tell them I paint portraits, which I do."

Anyone With, Um, a Prurient Interest? "Oh, yeah. It's both men and women. There haven't been many [fetishists], but when I had the museum open maybe three men visited who were intensely interested in this and afraid of anyone finding out about it, including their spouse. One guy from California got divorced when his wife found out about his interest in menstruation. But I don't think they're dangerous. They're shy about it. As far as I can tell, they're not doing anything illegal."

-- Buzz McClain

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