On Bleeding

I’ve been inspired by the Pursuit of Harpyness (and the excellent poem they linked) to talk a little bit more about my period, before I stopped having one.

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.


13 Responses to On Bleeding

  1. Crowfoot says:

    Hear hear.

    About that “joke”? It’s so stupid as well! I mean, dude, she bleeds and lives; SHE’S TOUGH. We see men bleeding and living in the movies all the fraking time. Bah.

    My mom was very laid back about the whole thing, stereotypically Danish. Sex and menstruation was so wev. I remember she used to have a Danish book on childbirth with photos and everything – very graphic, but respectful. And as kids we’d hover around it and stare in a kind of shocked/impressed amazement. Some local families, however, did not approve and came to my mother tut-tutting and exclaiming “how indecent!” She told me that she remembers one father saying quite angrily “how dare you show my daughter where babies come from! we told her it was the stork!” Or something – it was the early 70s. My mom was just completely confused by this reaction.

    “Indecent??” she said. “But it’s just natural!”

    I love my mom πŸ™‚

  2. eloriane says:

    Haha, that sounds really cool! My parents gave me the Period Talk like five times before I ever actually got mine– friends would sleep over and bleed on my sheets, or something, so they thought I was just hiding it– but sex was never really mentioned either way, since I never really asked. A fellow Girl Scout once explained it to me, and for probably five years everything I knew about sex was “it’s when a guy puts his thing in your you-know.” This same friend educated me about hell: it is on the floor.

    Seriously, she couldn’t bring herself to actually say anything– she just pointed down! So I was just like, “oh, ok, hell is dirty shag carpeting.”

    And sex is when a guy puts his thing in your you-know.

  3. yinyang says:

    Last night, I was watching American Idol with my family, and a commercial came on for tampons. My dad almost freaked out. He said things like, “This is not a women’s show!” and “It’s gross.” I gave him a look and asked him why that was – and he didn’t really reply – but I wish I’d challenged him more. Because it is completely fucked up how much work we as a society go through to hide menstruation, and the restrictions that places on women’s behavior.

  4. eloriane says:

    But they don’t even mention menstruation in tampon ads! It’s all euphemisms and weird blue liquids!

    You’re totally right, though, and good on you for calling him out at all. It’s tough to talk about taboo subjects in “polite company,” especially when you’re trying to call out the taboo itself! It’s when I’m most often told that I’m “being too loud.”

  5. Great timing! I started my period about an hour before this was posted. πŸ™‚

    The first period story coming to mind was a couple of years ago. I was on a school trip(community college, so at 17-18 I was the youngest person). Out of 8 people, 7 of us were 20s or younger, and 2 were male. The older person was a woman, about mid-fifties. Somehow, the subject got onto menstruation, and the older woman got upset that we were talking of such things “in mixed company.” Pretty much everyone was on the “WTF? Men can’t hear about periods?” front when we conferred after getting off the bus, but still, it bothers me that periods are so contentious and verboten that anybody believes men’s dainty ears can’t handle the word menstruation.

  6. Jezebella says:

    Didn’t you know? Men are delicate creatures whose consciousness cannot be soiled by the knowledge that women poop, fart, or bleed. It might hurt their little fee-fees.

  7. Stratonike says:

    There’s this poem called “Quinceanera” by Judith Ortiz Cofer that deals with a little girl wondering why menstruation is considered shameful. At the beginning of the peom shes talking about putting her dolls away and growing older, and then the poem comes to:
    …I am to wash my own clothes
    and sheets from this day on, as if
    the fluids of my body were poison, as if
    the little trickle of blood I believe
    travels from my heart to the world were
    shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
    men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
    not bleed into your eyes from His cross?…

  8. BeckySharper says:

    So glad you liked that post! We had fun talking about our periods, and we’re gonna do it again soon! I completely agree that periods are a huge part of a woman’s life, whether she hasn’t had them yet, is having them or has ceased having them.

    I actually find that in my relationships with men, I judge them by how they react to my period. The ones who are sympathetic to the cramps and willing to have sex regardless score high in my book. The ones who are squicked out by it generally don’t last long.

    One very useful thing I’ve learned from 21 years of menstruation: how to remove bloodstains. When my boyfriend accidentally cut himself in the kitchen and bled all over his shirt, I immediately took it to the bathroom, ran it under cold water, applied some peroxide and then handed it back to him completely spotless. He was so impressed and said: “How did you know how to get all that blood out?” I raised an eyebrow and he was like “Oh. Right.”

    • Crowfoot says:

      Hi BeckySharper, welcome!

      I’m sure Eloriane will come by and say hello too but I know she’s pretty slammed today so I thought I would in her stead.

      I also agree that menstruation is such a large part of our lives, again regardless of whether we have them or not – if we don’t, then we’re aware of their loss (at least at the time, I guess post-menopausal women stop thinking about it after a time?), and if we do, then we deal with how it works in our bodies, for good or ill. I also kind of judge men by how mature they can be about the whole thing. It should be seen as just natural, no big deal, not disgusting. I mean, it’s not like stuff doesn’t come out of their bodies too! πŸ˜›

      And I also really agree that it’s important for us to talk about it, own it. Reclaim it. Take that taboo off it!

      (your blog title is awesome! :-D)

  9. eloriane says:

    Haha, Crowfoot beat me to the punch! Basically, yes: everything she said.

    Especially the “pretty slammed” part… aaaugh!

  10. […] and being trans: the blogaround! I’ve been reflecting on this post of mine, and epsecially the idea that “Even women who do not menstruate have, thanks to […]

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