There are some ways in which I miss having a period as part of my life. I can never really participate in the female-bonding period-talk, since I don’t remember when I got my first period, and I only had it for a few years before I started taking birth control to help control the pain, and within months I started “cheating” on the BC and skipping the sugar pills. Plus, my mom and I were pretty open about our periods– we were on the same cycle, so we kept stealing each others’ pads– but not in a really notable way.
Oh, wait, I do have one story: I got my period on vacation in Canada, the summer I was eighteen. I hadn’t been planning to have it, but I’d accidentally left my next month’s pack of birth control at home, and all I had were the little placebos. This was the summer that I met my Crazy Uncle for the first time. He’s my mom’s only sibling, and he and his wife are hermitous and miserly– so much so that they never came on our extended-family vacations, and I was eighteen before I met them. (My mom says they visited immediately after I and each of my two brothers were born, but I don’t remember that.) Meeting them was a huge disappointment, though– my Crazy Uncle not only made bizarrely-intimate comments about my weight and hobbies, but was also cruel to my dog. This dog! I did not like him.
However, he was a medical doctor. In Canada, even. He could write me a prescription for birth control, as my mother pointed out. If I asked him to.
I did, of course– my period is damn painful!– and it honestly wasn’t too eventful, the asking; I don’t even remember whatever snarky comments he made. But I feel the need to share because I want to have at least a period story. I think it’s really powerful when women talk to each other about their periods, but I would feel silly calling for others to fight the taboo without having at least something to share in return. So there you go.
I think it’s valuable to talk about menstruation openly, because the presence (or conspicuous absence) of menses is such a huge part of women’s lives, and because it’s part of life only for women. These are also, almost certainly, the reason that we do not talk about menstruation. Ok, so the reason we use is that “it’s gross!” but so is sweating and there’s no conversational sweat-taboo. Deodorant isn’t sold in some kind of euphemistic “masculine products” section. People sweat, and talk about sweating, in movies and television all the time. (Hell, we even talk about poop on TV, and it’s way grosser!) We, culturally, do not engage in any kind of mass-delusion where we pretend that nobody sweats, ever. It’s just something our bodies do, naturally, and you ought to clean up afterwards, but that’s Ok. And that’s not even getting into our bizarre PMS-madwoman mythos.
I also think it’s interesting that even though blood is associated with hyper-manly things– fighting, getting injured, hunting, eating red meat– it’s women who actually see blood as part of their lives, and actually know what, for example, bloodstains look like. When I got back from my epic road trip, I was describing to a large co-ed group a super-creepy basement that I wandered into (and quickly out of again). Everyone was sort of nodding along with the ominous spray-painted messages on the walls,
the piles of broken mattresses, and so on, but then I said, “and then, there were all these stains all over the mattresses! It was this bronzey-brown color, dark around the edges!” All the women in the room made appreciative, “ooh, creepy,” sounds, but all the men just looked at me like I was crazy. None of them– not even the ones who hunted regularly, or who had impressive gun collections, or who wrestled or fenced– none of them had ever seen a blood stain. They thought blood was bright red, even after it dried.
How is it that the humans who routinely deal with blood are dainty, but those who, apparently, are at risk of vomiting at the mere mention of another’s bodily functions are tough? I’ve heard the misogynistic joke (if you can call it that) “don’t trust anything that bleed for five days and doesn’t die,” but it always evokes in me a sort of pride in my fellow women, followed by utter disgust with society. We take a lot of shit! We spend a little less than a quarter of our lives bleeding. For some of us, it hurts like hell. For most of us, it’s at least a little uncomfortable. But we deal with it, so much so that it’s an experience totally invisible to those around us, and we do it without talking about it openly. Which is kind of cool, at first glance. But incredibly fucked-up, the more I think about it. Why is it so vitally important that we make our periods invisible? What’s so shameful about someone else “finding out” that we menstruate?
Even women who do not menstruate have, thanks to our cultural expectations, a relationship with menstruation, positive or negative, that is both powerful and very, very real. So we should talk about it. And since we’re obviously taking about the post-revolution utopia, men should listen, without the belittling comments.