Are Periods Really That Special?

There’s this thing about periods (menstruation, for clarification) I’ve been pondering lately. It’s how they’re simultaneously something cherished and celebrated, something essential to womanhood – and something that needs to be hidden, something that shouldn’t be talked about, and occasionally something that makes those people who have them irrational and crazy.

I’ve talked about period shaming before, and how the fem hygiene industry portrays menstruating is something that needs to be concealed through espionage-worthy heists. Added to that there’s the pervasive idea that periods make women irrational, moody and prone to emotional outbursts (we can’t have those!). And that menstrual blood will cause milk to curdle and menstrual sex will make you an outcast from your tribe. (Ok, so those last ones aren’t commonly held beliefs anymore. But you get the picture.)

On the other hand, there is an increasing movement to bring periods into the open, through research, discussion and education. In period-friendly circles, menstruation is something that is celebrated, de-mystified and openly discussed. I very much admire the work of menstrual activists and educators – or really, anyone who doesn’t think periods make you insane and shouldn’t be hidden.

However one thing that frustrates me in the is when periods are taken to be the defining, essential element in womanhood. Because really, periods aren’t that special or amazing. And it’s not accurate or fair to say that all women have periods: not all women menstruate, and not only women menstruate. Remember this transphobia in this Libra ad?

I’ve always had a weird relationship with my period – it’s made my life pretty miserable at times, but I’ve never really gotten much satisfaction from that fact that I’m menstruating. Really, it’s not that wonderful an experience: blood is messy, and because I’m so forgetful I often end up having to do a lot more washing than I usually do. I get cramps and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in pain, or can’t concentrate at uni because it feels like my uterus is punching me every thirty seconds. It’s something that my body does and I deal with. Nothing more.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate periods, I don’t think they’re gross or dirty or anything to be ashamed of. I have been a dutiful feminist and tasted it, and I did once use it to paint a picture just for fun. (Can you still look at me with a straight face now?)

It’s just that they’re nothing special for me, and given the choice I would choose to simply not have them. I know you can skip periods on birth control, but I’ve tried it and it makes me feel ill, and I don’t actually need it for contraception. I also don’t want to have children, so there’s really no reason for me to have a period.

If you feel connected to your body through your period, or enjoy it, or feel more connected to your identity as a woman by menstruating, then obviously I am not going to tell you that your feelings are wrong. But I do question the centrality of periods to the concept of womanhood as a whole. It’s just blood, it’s just something my body does because it happened to be born female. That’s all there is to it for me.

As always, please share your thoughts and experiences, as long as they are respectful of others!

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11 thoughts on “Are Periods Really That Special?

  1. I’m ready for my bleeding days to be over but as I am just 39 I think I have a few more years in front of me. I don’t find it gross or anything, it is just inconvenient more than anything. I could do without the sore boobs and the intense moods that come with different stages of my cycle. I could do without the cramps and the skin break outs and the mess. And the small fortune I spend on pads and tampons. I did the washable pads thing for a while but it is just easier to buy them. Not very environmentally friendly I know… I was on medication for endometriosis when I was a teenager and for 4 years I didn’t have a period. It was beyond awesome. Now I get it every time I go camping or am away from home for one reason or another. So ready for it all to be done with.

    1. Yeah, the inconvenience is really what gets me too, and the sore boobs/sore everything are just annoying. At least I’ve managed to switch to menstrual cups, so I’m not spending a lot less money on pads/tampons – before I’d buy a pack of tampons and one of pads a month, and now I buy a pack of pads every three months. It works pretty well.

  2. Whatta fantastic article! I hate periods to the point I skip them. It’s not that they’re disgusting or shameful, you’re right. I just feel a lot better without them.

    Nothing shocked me and it was good to realise I’m not alone. Because too often do we feel as if we can’t share our stories and feelings about periods.

    As for ^ kind of tired of people thinking no one can make a decision not to have kids and not change their mind. Why is it so bad that some people don’t feel the need? I honestly wouldn’t be bothered if I didn’t have children but if I do, then hey I do. It’d be nice that no one judge me or patronise my decision.

  3. http://www.mum.org for a funny look at all things menstrual.

    I find it a nuisance too – but at the moment I have a hormonal IUD that has reduced my bleeds to a bare minimum and when I get it out I will go back to using the cup which really revolutionised the whole experience for me – they are the best. I’m glad you’ve got one Jo because I was going to suggest it if you didn’t already.

  4. Agreed. I’m on an IUD and went two blissful years without a period! I don’t feel more womanly when I’m on one, I feel bloated and angry. Wishing for the day science can turn it off until I want kids! I know some women like to have them. Fine – but no reason why they should be imposed on the rest of us!

  5. Hm, I think, I’m even more indifferent to it, I do not even care I’m bleeding (admittedly, it has never been very strong nor painful for me, so I am in the lucky position of being able not to care). It’s just, well, my body, may it be female or anything else (if it were “male”, would things be really less messy, less nasty, less inconvenient?). So, if asked about it, I think, I wouldn’t even chose to skip periods, I’d just shrug. (btw, it’s of no use for me, either: don’t want kids.)

  6. I have endometriosis that’s pretty poorly managed by birth control pills. (I can’t manage to skip, but the pills do substantially reduce the heaviness factor.) As well, I’ve tried most other forms of pain/bleeding reduction less drastic than a hysterectomy (which I am still thinking about but which is major surgery, potentially resulting in adhesions and more pain).

    I don’t hate my periods — but I also think that might be because I just can’t work up the energy to hate them anymore. They’re inconvenient, they’re expensive, they’re worrisome, they’re draining. And you know — none of those are adjectives I associate with being female, feminine, a woman, or womanly. 😀

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