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!