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.