All around the world, women are learning how to take care of themselves with very little, and being punished for their biology. This pervasive attitude is not okay. In honor of Menstrual Hygiene (awareness and improvement) Day, we will be talking menstruation. To find out more information and to lend your support to the cause, please visit the dedicated website.
It All Started With A Cunt…
Let’s talk about periods for a minute. Oops, sorry, let me try that again…
Let’s talk about a woman’s special time (of the month – can I say that?) for a minute.
Okay, how about…So you know that pesky Aunt Flow…?
Nevermind. Fuck that. We are lucky enough to live in a time when the concept of menstruation is finally starting to shed the taboo of our entire human history. So let’s talk about it for a minute, because the more we have these conversations, the more we understand human biology and evolution, and finally, the more we can lift our shackles of oppression.
Menstruation has induced the isolation (and resulting oppression) of women since before history, and probably even before proto-language. Hominid ancestors lived in small groups, susceptible to attacks from other animals, and in this context, the isolation makes some sense; women bleed, the smell of blood can attract predators. But our evolution, in many ways, left women behind. Patriarchal societies mandated continued isolation long after the abatement of safety concerns by the development of complex communities.
Excuse Me! We’re Trying To Have A Conversation
Just a couple of years ago, Outfront Media, the company responsible for advertising decisions for the MTA (New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority), rejected an ad from Thinx, a brand of period panties with a social mission. The same company that allowed for the posting of advertisements for breast augmentation and 50 Shades of Grey claimed the menstrual-themed ads were too explicit, in part due to imagery, but also because they contained the word, “period”.
Are we so incredibly delicate that we can’t openly discuss a biological fact that affects about half of the population? Or does it come down to male fear of female power – a power that is undoubtedly activated once we release the Kraken?
Introduced by Judy Gahn in her 1993 book, Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World, Metaformic Theory is the idea that menstrual rites and rituals have a significant effect on human development. Whether you subscribe to this theory or not, you can not deny that the practices associated with menstrual bleeding have contributed to the general makeup of society. In modern terms, the most pervasive hanger-on from ignorant beginnings is our inability to discuss the sloughing of cells in “polite society”. (Have I ever mentioned that I hate “polite society”?)
But there’s a chance that our evolution, everything that separates us from the other animals of the kingdom, is entirely based on the fact that human females experience visible periods. Only a few primates, some bats, and a shrew have a similar menses cycle, but with pregnancy and nursing altering flow, very little actual blood is observable with these animals. Living from the land connected people to all facets of nature. The lunar cycle, linked to the oestrus cycle, allowed women not only to observe but also to become responsible to the passing of time in a way no other species has. This idea implies that such an observation could have been the impetus for much of our intellectual development. If correct, then the reason we have agriculture is because our women bleed.
I’m old enough now that I’ve been able to start seeing the change of patterns that I had come to think of as unchangeable. But nothing is static, everything evolves, and that includes the shame and embarrassment that a person undergoes because their body bleeds.
I remember it started with having to hide products in my backpack at school. Other girls would be invited to find things in their friend’s bag, but mine was a source of constant fear – fear that, at the bold age of 10, I would be discovered as one of the dirty dirty bleeders that plague the land. I was too scared to ask anyone else about it. To this day, I have no idea if any of my friends were going through the same thing at that time because we just. don’t. talk. about. It.
As I grew, the pain of my period grew with me. Most months I experience severe cramps, vomiting, all kinds of fun back-end business, mood swings, bloating, back pain, muscle weakness, I could go on… And that doesn’t even get into the added excitement of, what I call, “blow-out periods”. Since this is not a story about me, I’ll sum up my situation with: I’ve never been able to rewatch Howard’s End or hear mention of the Plaza Hotel without having some epic flashbacks.
In my late teens and early twenties, I went to several doctors looking for answers. I’ve been tested for endometriosis twice. And that’s it. Because, until relatively recently, if you have extreme menstrual symptoms, the only offer for diagnosis was endometriosis. But it is getting better, there’s more funding for studies, and I am finally looking at a possible diagnosis for my own epic internal battle.
“If men had PMDD, it would have been studied a long time ago.”
PMDD, or PreMenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, is one such possible diagnosis. Though it finally received an official listing in the DSM-5, the condition itself is quite contentious among doctors. Some believe it’s the result of culture, others believe it’s less a specific illness and more a mixture of other mental conditions, like bipolar depression or anxiety, but I believe I don’t care. It explains decades of symptoms mostly ignored by doctors, and it is actively being researched. The thought that there is a ten-year-old girl somewhere, about to experience the stirrings of original pain, but who will not have decades of silence and doubt to go through alone, just makes my heart flutter with joy.
Don’t forget her. Keep her in mind. She doesn’t have to go through what many of us went through, but only if we keep the dialog going. Even today, girls are being kept out of school in Ghana when menstruating, so if you’re having your conversation in the United States, be prepared to get really loud.
We’ve got a whole world that needs to hear us.
To learn more about periods, and the products that will keep you and the Earth healthy, check out our companion piece, Your Red River: A Beginner’s Guide to Menstruation
And make sure to find local events in your neighborhood for Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28th, so you can help break the silence on silent shedding.