“So, I had my finger up this guy’s arse…” begins my med student friend. Already I’m ecstatic. Not because I especially enjoy stories about rectal examinations, although I am keen to find out what happened next (was there a portal to Narnia up there? A missing Virginia Woolf manuscript? An iPad?). In fact, I’m grinning like a dolt because my friend, a lady, isn’t blushing. Not even a little bit. Neither is she lowering her voice to a socially acceptable mumble or shunning eye contact. And I couldn’t be gladder if there was a two-for-one offer on decongestants at my local pharmacy. There’s just something exhilarating about women being unashamedly gross.
When I was thirteen and my musical tastes were questionable, my older brother explained to me why Limp Bizkit are called Limp Bizkit. In my naivety, I’d always associated them with tea-dunked digestives. On learning the rules to the infamous soggy biscuit game after which the band is named, my first response was envy. It wasn’t that I wanted to sit in a circle with my female friends, masturbating over baked goods. It just seemed wildly unfair that boys were allowed to be disgusting (competitively so) while girls had to be shrill in the presence of bad smells and pretend that they never got diarrhoea.
At around the same age, a school friend asked me, out of the corner of her mouth, if I ever, “You know, touch yourself”? “Constantly”, I wanted to say. But I settled for something vague and noncommittal. When it transpired that she, “You know, touched herself,” confessions started gushing out of me in an emotional equivalent of The Exorcist pea soup scene. Before long, we were using the word “wank” and exchanging tips. For me, talking about masturbation for the first time was almost as life-changing as discovering the act itself. The dialogue that my friend had opened up confirmed that I wasn’t a deranged bonobo, just a libidinous teenager. And, holy shit, girls were allowed to be horny. This was revolutionary.
For me, female grossness has retained its social importance. The 1990s saw the debut of the ladette. Women who got trashed, pukey and lewd were, apparently, appropriating masculinity. In 1997, the ladette died of alcohol poisoning in Ibiza. She vomited her offal into the gutter to a Vengaboys track. Denise Van Outen showed up at her funeral with a six pack of Hooch. Now, the ladette has been replaced by someone much more subversive: the woman who’s filthy in her own right. From Lena Dunham tweeting about her bladder movements, to Lana Del Rey becoming the first ever pop star to describe what her vagina tastes like in a song, to this tampon ad aimed at young teens that laughs in the face of ladies water skiing to “I’m Every Woman”; today’s rude girls are storming the mainstream. Men no longer own gross.
In fact, the shifting tropes of tampon ads are a great visual representation of the evolution of female foulness. Gone are the dark days of inoffensive blue liquid demonstrations. For the first time, we’re allowed to bleed actual blood. And a recent Russian Tampax ad where a shark gulps up a swimmer who’s leaking out of her swimsuit is about as bloody as it gets. My brother, that same one who told me about the biscuit game, announced to me the other day that he thinks the women in tampon ads have become “toilety”. When I asked him for an explanation, he described the typical toilety woman: British, slightly flushed and in a hurry. The toilety woman is perfectly happy to declare, in front of a group of friends, that she’s going to the toilet. Hell, she might even announce that she’s going for a piss. She means business and she doesn’t have time to flutter about like a doily in the wind, pretending that she’s made of Kinder Buenos from the waist down.
“So am I toilety?” I asked.
“Yeah. You’re pretty toilety,” he replied.
“I think I like being toilety,” I said.