Wednesday, October 1, 2008

So I Got My Period

I awoke this morning with a familiar ache in my lower back.  Wow a month goes by quickly.  Why am I writing about my period?  Well the answer is pretty simple really, it is because menstruation happens to all women and it is something we never talk about in real and meaningful ways.

imageWhen a company is trying to sell us "protection" to hide our periods then it is fine to talk about it.  If a company is trying to sell us medication to deal with the "unnatural symptoms" that come with having a period then it is fine to talk about it.  Menstruation is as natural as breathing and yet unless it is related to making a profit for some company it is treated like a dirty shameful  little secret.

Women may whisper about it quietly amongst ourselves in small groups, but menstruation is something that we are told from our very first period to keep quiet about.  Blood on our clothing is seen as a shameful accident.  We buy special underwear for our moontimes and conceive of periods as a dirty foul mess.

Many major religions view women who are menstruating as unclean.  On the basis of the foulness of the biological process, women are barred from participating in many ceremonies.  Ask yourself what bodily secretions that are specifically male do we socially consider foul? 

How many times have you heard jokes about how you become an irritational creature every 28 days?  Periods get no respect because they happen to women . The male biological process is elevated, and worshipped.  When a man ejaculates it is called the money shot.  How many reams of film have been dedicated to immortalizing  this, as though it is some miracle of nature?  Oooh look there is some semen, everyone get excited.

I think it is time for the period to come out of the closet.  It need not be some mysterious dirty little secret.  Having periods regularly is an indication that we are healthy functioning women and nothing about that should be seen as shameful. Treating a period as foul is just one amongst a myriad of ways that womens bodies are subject to discipline and treated as less than. 

If every 28 days  of our existence we  accept the idea that we are foul and disturbed bodies how can we rightly assert that we are equal beings?  Yes this is part of our biological process and it is different than a mans, but that does not mean that it should serve as reason to justify the continual reduction in the status of women. So yeah I have my period, and I am whole, healthy and functioning.

 


34 comments:

AR said...

There are a great many bodily functions which are natural, healthy, and non-shameful, but which people nonetheless try to avoid talking about. Periods are not unique in that regard.

Renee said...

I said gender specific body functions. Name me one specifically male gender function that is deemed shameful in the same way that a period is.

AR said...

I wasn't arguing against the idea that they are considered shameful, but against citing reluctance to talk about them as evidence of that.

kat said...

We buy special underwear? Really? Someone forgot to tell me that I'm supposed to buy special underwear. Why?

Renee said...

@Kat I do and no several women that have period underwear...

@AR Refusing to talk about it is absolutely evidence that periods are something that are considered shameful and dirty. In fact dirty and foul are words that are often attached to menstruation when we deem to speak about it all.

AR said...

If that's evidence of shamefulness, then it's only evidence of shamefulness in the sense and to the extent that urination is shameful.

And as for dirtiness, well, why not? All excreted and most secreted bodily fluids are considered dirty, and menstruation is ultimately a form of excretion, after all.

AR said...

To clarify, I am again not arguing the point that menstruation is often considered shameful. I agree with that point, but just think that this particular reason is not a particularly good one, and why use shaky reasons when you also have such concrete arguments as ceremonial uncleanliness and the existence of so many irrationality jokes?

Renee said...

@AR I addressed this way because I believe in the importance of language because it informs discourse.

glennishamorgan said...

Good post. It's true people hate talking about periods but, it is a normal function for females. We shouldn't be ashamed to talk about it.

ottermatic said...

I love my period. I will talk about it anytime, anywhere. I'm also a cloth pad devotee. It's amazing; I was also enthusiastic about my period, but using cloth pads makes me actually look forward to it. Take that, patriarchy, you assholes.

ottermatic said...

Well, how many times have you announced, "I have to pee!" before going to the bathroom to pee, compared to how many times you've said, "I've got to go change my pad!" before going to the bathroom to change your pad.

I love my period. I will talk about it anywhere, anytime, and I'm a card carrying cloth pad revolutionary. I was on hormonal bc for awhile that took my period away for almost three years and I was seriously in mourning for it. As soon as getting pregnant ceased to be the Worst Thing That Could Ever Happen, I ditched the bc and now I am so much happier. Hooray for my period!

Macon D said...

AR, you seem obstinately oblivious to Renee's valid point that menstruation is still considered more dirty and shameful than other bodily functions because the misogynist patriarchal order still exists. As I was reading the post, I planned to write a comment about the ridiculous ubiquity of the glorified money-shot in porn, but then Renee covered that too. One is condemned and shut away (unless, as Renee also points out money can be made from it), while the other is constantly, bizarrely glorified. Your attempt to level the bodily playing field earns you a, um . . . red flag.

Shelley said...

Great post.

@ the undie question: Ya, most women I know have certain pairs we wear during that time so nothing nice gets ruined.

@ the public discourse question: in my personal opinion it shouldn't be anyone's business why I'm headed to the bathroom. If they ask, I say I'm powdering my nose, or ask "Why do you want to know?"

That doesn't mean I'm ashamed, it means they shouldn't have asked me a question that was none of their business in the first place.

The Link Back Project said...

Those commercials work! I and my wife talked on this same subject yesterday. (except it was yeast infections) And if a woman asked me about yeast infections, the only answer I could give would be... "My doctor says Mycelex". I indeed have been branded.

The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

A professor I knew once said when her daughter first started her period, all her friends and family gathered for a festival, all dressed in red, with creative red foods and drinks. It was a celebration.

victoria said...

Some female acquaintances of mine have constructed a "red tent" in their back yard, like the one Anita Diamont wrote about in her novel "The Red Tent." It's actually a modern style blue camping tent, but the idea is to build a sacred space for the females in the house to go during their period. (NOT because they're considered impure, btw, but b/c they want to honor their bodies and themselves).

Shelley said...

Oh I've heard of those parties. I think it's kind of nuts, but hey! Any reason to have a party is okay with me. =)

(by nuts I mean strange-sounding to celebrate a normal bodily function like nocturnal emissions, for example)

Ouyang Dan said...

"those parties" are called menarche parties. It is meant to celebrate a girl's transition from her maiden phase to her mother phase (not that she HAS to become a mother, but that she is capable), becoming a protector of life and taking on another likeness of the goddess.

It is usually for a young woman and her close female family members and friends. Nowadays you wear red, bring a gift wrapped in red paper, and celebrate the wonder that is being a woman, and is not unlike a Bat or Bar Mitzvah. It is so beautiful to take something as wonderful and life giving as a period and celebrate it, rather than being embarrassed over something that is going to happen.

As far as the stigma, of course there is a stigma! We are taught from early puberty that our periods are evil and dirty. When my mom was in high school they told her that the aches and pains of a period were imaginary and all in her head. In the movie "Superbad" (which I have not watched, except one scene for a point), a girl is shown humping up on a guy and walking away leaving a red smear...Hilarious! See how funny it is that a girl left a disgusting mess! People are worried about women leaders being near the "big red button" during her "time of the month". Think of the words used around it, like Renee said. We need "protection" from our evil blood, we need to be mindful of leaks to avoid "embarrassment". We are lead to believe that it is inconvenient and horrible, even to the point that now they want to eliminate it w/ our birth control (BTW, the period you get on BC isn't a "real" period anyway, but blood your body is tricked into shedding to reassure you you are not pregnant).

Inga Musico's book, Cunt talks in depth about the stigma of periods and how no wonder women get cranky, we are trained from practically birth to hate something about ourselves that is going to happen whether we hate it or now.

And I though many women had period underwear, the kind you could bleach if it was stained, and also to avoid ruining your "nice" ones. Jill at Feministe calls them your "C" team or something like that.

Thanks, Renee.

Ouyang Dan said...

I also forgot to mention that in Paganism and Wicca, a woman is considered most powerful in her workings when she is on her moon, especially if it happens to fall during the three days of the full moon. You can actually track your own period using a lunar calendar and predict when it will start.

In the last few years I have come to love and embrace my period. Can ya tell? ;)

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Awesome post Renee!

I love my period, but it has taken me years to get to this point and say I love it! I use cramp bark which is a natural remedy. I also have been wearing washable pads since I was 16. I wear them because it is only natural for the flow to flow out.

When I was 16 I did call Tampax (which I believe is made by Proctor & Gamble - bad company) and told them, "did you know that you have bleach in your tampons and this is unsafe for woman?" The person on the other line basically said, "yes we know this but there are no proven negative effects." Yeah right?! Sorry, there is no bleach going in my sacred feminine parts. So from that point forward I have been committed to wearing washable pads for numerous reason but mostly my health and because of Mother Earth.

Over the years I have been embracing my period. I love it because it is a beautiful process. I do get horrible cramps so there is one day that I need to completely rest. Also as a spiritual being the moon time/period brings woman a sacred space during the dream time. Dreams are more intense, detailed and beautiful for me. My intuition and seer abilities are stronger during my moon time. I feel it is important to honor this time as a sacred time.

Elena said...

These are my favorite period undies: http://www.canowstore.org/store/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=CANOWSTORE&Category_Code=P1

The "feminist" ones are red, which works, but the "Period" ones are my faves.

I use a diva cup instead of pads or tampons, and I love it!

I still remember this story from Gloria Steinem's "If Men Could Menstruate":
"...listening recently to a woman describe the unexpected arrival of her menstrual period (a red stain had spread on her dress as she argued heatedly on the public stage) still made me cringe with embarrassment. That is, until she explained that, when finally informed in whispers of the obvious event, she said to the all-male audience, 'and you should be proud to have a menstruating woman on your stage. It's probably the first real thing that's happened to this group in years.'"

Ouyang Dan said...

@OMB~

Yes yes yes! Me too! I have similar experiences in my dreaming! My dreams talk to me more during that time, and if I take the time to examine it, they are indeed foretelling.

I can't use diva cups b/c of my IUD, and while I have taken years to get as comfortable as I am w/ my moon, I still haven't gotten over the feeling of pads. I am a guilty tampon user, but baby steps, I suppose.

tinfoil hattie said...

Wow. I LOVE this post, and the comments. I have ALWAYS griped about this, and I'm glad someone with a real audience is talking about it! One of my pet peeves is the way ads show how absorbent menstrual pads & tampons are by pouring some mysterious blue liquid on them. Goddess forbid they use RED! Because that would mean MENSTRUAL BLOOD! EEEEEYYYEWW, gross! Although I guess they don't use yellow liquid for diapers, do they.

Between "Hate your period" and "You'd better douche that nasty woman-part of yours" ads, I'm getting really tired of women's bodily functions and vaginas being super-extra-special gross and repugnant.

By the way: There's another "Red Tent" movement called "Red Tent Temple." If you google it, you can see if there's a Red Tent near you. These particular events are held on or near the new moon every month, and are open to all women, bleeding or not. Some are at private homes, some are in community centers, etc. I LOVE it. I go to the ones in the DC area and it's just a sacred space for women to go away and be women together for several hours, doing whatever we want. Some do art, some read, some knit, some write, some nap, some sit. It's become a monthly necessity for me.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! It's so great to hear women sharing their experiences, both good and bad.

Ouyang Dan -
Can you really not use a diva cup due to your IUD? I asked my gyno about it when I got my IUD inserted and she said that it would be fine. I've used it a couple times since with no apparent suction problems, but I'm curious what you were told.

Fatsweatybetty

Renee said...

I have been curious about menstrual cups for sometime now. I still use pads and occasionally tampons but nearly with the regularity that I used to. My Gf said that menstrual cups can only be used in the home because of leakage. I was wondering what experiences people have had with the cups.

Renee said...

@Ouyang Dan
e are trained from practically birth to hate something about ourselves that is going to happen whether we hate it or now.

Exactly...how many times have you heard it called the curse. How many young girls are taught to hate their periods before they have their first one.

lsmsrbls said...

Renee,

I love your posts. I just wanted to point out that menstruation does not happen to all women.

Anonymous said...

I love my DivaCup! I love it so much that I would not have gotten the IUD (and 12 years of worry-free birth control) if my gyno had said that they would be incompatible.

It was a little tricky getting used to the DivaCup insertion when I first started, but it was similar to learning to use tampons for the first time. Once it is inserted, you give it a full turn and it creates a suction seal that prevents leaks. I've been using it for about six years and I have never had a leak (and my flow is medium to heavy). It holds a lot more fluid than tampons, but you could even use a pantyliner as back-up.

Everyone I've talked to loves their DivaCup/Keeper and I haven't heard too many people say they've ever had problems with leaks, even when leaving it in for 8-12 hours. Actually, the few people who did have trouble with it turn out to have differently shaped vaginas or something (tilted or slanted, I can't remember the exact issue) which made it hard for the cup to seal properly, so that's something to consider.

Overall, I can't say enough about it. I don't have to buy pads or tampons every month. It saves money and the environment. I have a much happier relationship with my period because of the DivaCup.

/Love letter to my DivaCup
Fatsweatybetty

space said...

I'm kind if indifferent toward my period. Take it or leave it. Minor pain from cramps two days of the month, and a little mess, are not a big deal. I don't get any premenstrual problems.

I never heard it called "the curse" until I watched "Carrie" several years after puberty. My mother just explained it to me naturally when I was 10 1/2 ('cause that was around the age my older sister hit puberty - I was starting puberty then but took two more years to reach menarche). At health class when I was 11, I learned more about it, and actually kind of looked forward to it as a sign of womanhood. When it actually came - preceded by a rare moody Saturday that my family had jokingly chalked up to PMS only to find out they were "right" a couple days later - it wasn't all that eventful or exciting. I simply asked my mom which pads I should use as my way of announcing my new development.

aviva said...

Thanks for this post. And the comments are fantastic as well. I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship towards my period (glad that it signifies I'm healthy, not glad that it hurts and I bleed very heavily the first several days and have to worry about ruining sheets and the like). To add the to the menarche stories: my parents bought me a small red ring to celebrate when my period started, which was a traditional a friend of theirs had carried through with their daughters. It was a nice touch and signified to me not only the fact that I was growing up but that my parents respected both me and my body.

In another vein entirely, I'm not sure if you've seen this, but it's quite relevant to this post: Disney's 1946 sex ed movie The Story of Menstruation. Talk about being oblique.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

All this talk about the Diva cup and I have been wanting to try it for years. Maybe I will try it very soon! The Diva Cup is still good for Mother Earth!

There is also the Keeper... http://www.keeper.com

And the Moon Cup... http://www.mooncup.co.uk

Anonymous said...

Ugh, what the hell. A cum shot in a porn movie is named the MONEY SHOT, because the WOMAN gets paid the MOST money for DOING it. Are you seriously that oblivious to why things are called certain things?

Renee said...

@Anon are you seriously unaware that while the actress may be paid more than the actors that the porn industry is run by men

amandaw said...

"Having periods regularly is an indication that we are healthy functioning women"

oh renee! i love you to death hon but you have to be careful here. can you see the ableism in this statement?

(sorry, i am quite late. personal crises mean my reading falls behind. you are good enough to come back to either way ;))