Saturday, 5 September 2009

periods. Periods. PERIODS. P.E.R.I.O.D.S.

[Carrie, the period horror film]

It is about time, in human evolution – in Western society’s evolution – that we started talking about periods. We talk, joke and laugh about shitting, farting and puking but not about women bleeding for a week a month. Why? Because it’s dirty that’s why - Biblically unclean.

We don’t talk about menstruation - and by ‘we’ I definitely mean men AND women - yet pretty much all women do it all the time. Its something that looms large in our lives. We fear, expect and will it when it starts. It mortifies us when it leaks. It ruins romantic weekends and when you’re in an intimate relationship with a woman it is something you both have to bear (x2 for lesbians).

This post has been inspired by a conversation I have just come from in the pub with two men (can you tell?). They took it well. One of them admitted that the first time he spoke about periods at the age of 8-ish he said he was confused about the blue stuff that came out of women. I have had a handful of conversations in the past mostly with women about periods but it’s only ever come up with good friends and sometimes in hushed tones.

This is the point. Girls and boys are rarely told about the ‘stuff’ that happens to the opposite sex during puberty and beyond. It leads to fear, misunderstanding, shame and repulsion. The natural functions of women has for millennia resulted in the notion of women as fundamentality ‘unclean’. The woman who shouldn’t be touched during her monthly period or you will be unclean till evening (Leviticus, which is all about the periods, and sleeping with animals). It has spawned a fascination and abhorrence with female functions and feminine ‘dirt’.

It is 'the curse' and the ‘sin of Eve’. It has as many euphemisms: having the painters and decorators in, on the blob, got the curse, Aunt Flo is visiting, time of the month, on the rag, women’s problems, riding the crimson wave, closed for maintenance, ketchup on the burger (OK, I made that one up).

I’m not the biggest fan of Tracey Emin, but I admire the fact that she brought dirty femininity to the fore in her art. The visceral reaction to her work is often due to her use of things like used-sanitary products in her ‘self-confessional’ work. Yeah, you might not like it and think its lazy and attention-grabbing – but what attention! The reaction to a woman laying bare her ‘filth’ and remnants of menstruation still has the ability to shock.

Menstruation is something that punctuates women’s lives, a regular reminder of your potential fertility. I’m not saying that it puts me in tune with the earth or the moon but it is a regular reminder to me that I’m a mammal.

There is interesting research around blobbing and contraception where randomised controlled trials have been conducted on extended oral contraceptive cycles. The fact that most women on OC take the pills in 21 days followed by a pill-free and bleeding week is not medically necessary. Women can stay on OC pretty much permanently with minimal spotting and few ill effects over the general OC side effects and recommendations for use over time (i.e limit to 8 years [pdf]). And yet many choose, if made aware of the choice, to allow for a pill-free period if not monthly than every three or so months. This suggests that there may be a desire to menstruate which may be for a number of reasons: confirming no pregnancy, excuse for not having sex, the ancient Greek feeling of menstrual catharsis?

There are gruesome facts about perioding that rarely get mentioned: that you shit differently, sometimes it hurts so much you vomit, it can make you uncoordinated and bump into things/knock things over, your breasts can swell and hurt, you get incredibly hot at night and can’t sleep, you get water-retention and go up a dress-size (BTW these things don’t happen every time or all at once, that would be really inconvenient).

All women have had to make make-shift sanitary towels out of bog-roll at one time or other. We’ve all had to get blood stains out of our favourite pants and or jeans. We all have the stories about when we found out about what periods were, when we started, the chats with our mothers, sisters or teachers. But those chats were always hushed and never involved men.

We have to pay (albeit reduced) VAT on ‘sanitary products’ or ‘feminine protection’ (the euphemisms upset me more than the bleeding) despite them being very far from ‘luxury products’.

Sometimes it makes you emotional, sometimes it doesn’t – so it’s not alright to assume women are ‘over-emotional’ because of their ‘hormones’. Women are called ‘over-emotional’ and men are said to be ‘in a bad mood’. They both might be true, or it might be that they’re arseholes. There may be a chemical reason for it but it’s not necessarily because of a wandering womb or meandering testes.

And then there’s sex and periods. There might be a few jokes about men becoming men when they get ‘blood on their helmet’ but what about women masturbating to relieve periods pains – (messy but it works). Some lesbians make a sexual act out of blobbing – anointing themselves on with menstrual blood – more power to it, even if it does make you look like Nosferatu.

When do we ever talk about the blood clots, the changing colour of the blood over the period, heavy month followed by light month, sanitary towel – tampon transition, and let’s not even get started on moon cups (sorry, I’m a green but I draw the line here I’m afraid).

Plus I can’t think of any better argument against intelligent design – bleeding every month, intelligent? No. Where’s our endometrium reabsorption?

As it is such a regular function for half the world’s population, let’s stop pretending it doesn’t happen. If we do talk about it let’s not use it as yet another misogynistic insult (in a past workplace a twatish manager said of a woman: “Not sure if you can say this these days, but it was probably her time of the month!” NB: if you start a sentence with “Not sure if you can say this these days…” then you can’t say those kind of things these days).

So please talk about periods. Let’s destroy the myths and stop pretending its not happening. If you’re a woman ‘of child-bearing age’ its happening. If you are a man who sleeps with women, works with women, is related to women or knows women, you are in the proximity a woman who is, was, or is about to bleed.

There definitely are periods. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.


Neuroskeptic said...

"Plus I can’t think of any better argument against intelligent design – bleeding every month, intelligent? No. Where’s our endometrium reabsorption?"

Ah, but you're forgetting that God just isn't very fond of women anyway. He did it deliberately to annoy you :P

Anonymous said...

pah nonsense, next you'll be trying to tell us that women don't fart flowers.


Naomi Mc said...

Oh no, that's true. We also fly when you're not looking.

Abi said...

I am very proud of the fact that I *do* talk about periods with my male friends, and the ones who get all 'oh, feminine troubles, I don't need to know' get told to put up with it. "I have to go through it, you can jolly well hear about it!"

It started because I was shocked to discover a few years ago that my boyfriend had been taught very little about periods - he thought they only lasted for 3 days, and that you could control the flow. I put him right, and he has been wonderful at helping me when I have really bad pain (it gets to the point where I throw up, and the painkillers I have been prescribed don't always work), and he has never tried to claim it is not his problem, or that he doesn't want to know.
I had a lovely conversation with a guy once who was really interested in knowing about periods, but didn't want to ask anyone in case they thought he was being rude...

And don't get me started on the 'but it makes you feel like a woman' stuff - if I was allowed to take the pill (I have migraines, so thrombosis risk) I would be *thrilled* to miss out on the pain and inconvenience!

Sorry for the long post, I get a bit carried away when period-ranting.

Naomi Mc said...

Not at all. Ranting about periods is what this blog is for ;)

Lady McScamp said...

I tried to take the pill for 3 months straight recently but my body rebelled half way through the 3rd packet and just came on as per end of a 21 day packet. I then spotted for the next month which was odd as it's never happened to me before, I think I have an obnoxious uterus that was just humouring me and my period free dreams for a few weeks before it did what it wanted anyway and really rubbed it in to teach me a lesson.

sarahthegreen said...

naomi you rock
to add to your list - we don't talk about how your periods can be different after having a baby - after my son i couldn't wear tampons anynore, so back to towels which hadn't used since i was 13. for those who don't know: IT'S LIKE WEARING A NAPPY ALL DAY...
when i was at university in early 90s someone had been round all the toilets and scribbled over the 'soiled' and written used in caps on all the 'pls place soild san towels in bin provided'. i thought that was so much more radical than any of what we were getting in the classroom!
ps i bought the mooncup, with good green intentions, and still can't get round to it...
(sarah g from work, by the way)

Naomi Mc said...

Thanks Sarah.

And thanks for reason #49 why having children is frankly terrifying.

Anonymous said...

Women who do talk about their periods are sometimes characterised as boringly 'banging on about it'. I've heard people say that Jo Brand 'isn't funny because all she talks about is her periods and how much she hates men'.
I also recall a drunk Graham Coxon: "PJ harvey is nothing very complicated! All she talks about is she wishes she was a man and she talks about her monthlies, and she talks about some dress she can't fit into and that's about it really!" (although he later retracted this when sober).
I suspect some people characterise women talking about periods as 'boring' because it's an easy way for them to dismiss the discussion.

Naomi Mc said...

Ew. "Monthlies" has been added to the list of abhorrent period euphemisms.

Everyone knows bodily functions are fascinating which is why they are regularly mentioned throughout historical literature right up to making fart noises with your hands. Comedy gold.

But there is a prudishness about 'women's functions' that some people wish would just not be spoken of.

Probably the best and most feminist analysis I've seen of this phenomenon comes courtesy of South Park. Yes, you heard that right:

Green Gordon said...

I'm sure the people whose cicrles I move in (not a euphemism) are much more comfortable talking about periods than (talking about) defecating. Maybe you need new circles...?

Anonymous said...

But giving birth can result in lighter, less painful periods - has for me and a few people I've spoken to about it.

As for mooncups - I'm a total convert. Green, painless, and don't dry you out even on light days. Can't imagine wedging my vagina full of cotton wool any more.

Anonymous said...

Great article.
I love my mooncup, though.
I forgot to take it to work, a couple of months ago, and had to use a tampon when my period started: I'd forgotten how uncomfortable and horrible they are in comparison.

Isis the Scientist said...