Friday, July 18, 2008

period drama

I posted before about the fact that my period has returned. One male reader reported a certain disquieted response. It's one thing reading about my baby's first steps, he can relate to that, but periods? Shudder!

The strange thing is this little exchange took place on a blog where lads are lads and love to push the boundaries of what they can discuss and say to each other - they love to discuss everything ick - from coprophagia, the consistency of their poo, all sorts of violence and gore, anything sexual is grist for the humour mill. But I've discovered the wolfsbane - the mere mention of a menstrual blood clot, and they're retching and running for the hills! Is it kryptonite?

Delighted as I am by this finding this sudden bit of power, it did initially make me want to do an early 90s comedy style riff about my flow, but in fairness the gentleman in question is perhaps more of the generation in which women were unable to buy tampons and menstruation was an unmentionable secret.

But as is clear, this blog is me. The fact that I've had my first period in a year and nine months is a significant thing for me as a woman - it spells out a return to normal feminine rhythms, ovulating again. It means I am back to my own inner routine, not the baby's. It is significant that I could now conceive again. I've never even taken the pill, as disrupting that rhythm didn't seem natural to me. This is something I want to document and mark, for myself. It is something that is central to me, and how I see myself as a woman.

Menstruating and the hormonal rhythms that come with it are very important to women. And when men laugh them off or shy away in disgust, it seems wrong to me.
But why all this menses-phobia? Why is the idea of blood from a woman's womb more terrible than, for example, incest, rape, coprophagia, any number of bizarre and nasty things!

Well, we know why. It's the vestige of a longstanding Judaeo-Christian misogynistic drive to wrest power from the hands and centres of women, who give birth, who hold the power within them. The first calendars were lunar, based on the moon's cycle, which a woman's menstrual cycle will naturally follow if given the chance. Our blood responds to the pull of the moon's path as the tides do. The lunar calendar has thirteen months, and women have, on average, thirteen periods a year. But the Gregorian calendar did away with that, imposed the solar calendar on us, along with a more patriarchal rule. Why is the number thirteen considered unlucky? Call it a smear campaign...

And so we have churching , we have the mikvah in Judaism. The idea that menstruation makes a woman unclean. Well, sure it can be messy. But what is wrong with menstrual bleeding? It makes sense - you build up a womb lining you don't need each month, if you aren't pregnant, it falls away - it's a far less unpleasant concept than a cut finger or strained muscle. Yet it has the power to fear and revolt. In the same way that the word 'cunt' has been imbued with the connotation of the worst that there is, the unholiest of unholies, cold you call anyone anything worse than a woman's genitals?

My mother had a very healthy attitude to menstruation, and I was never afraid or mystified by the idea. Or ashamed. It never bothered me that people might know I had my period (well, until I was teaching, and realised I was losing, ahem, the rag, with the same set of little fuckers at the same time each month, when normally I could deal with them, and I was horrified that one of them would work it out and say 'are you premenstrual, Miss?'). I bought a mooncup a couple years ago and I find it good - you have to get blood on your hands to use it though, and pour the little cup of blood out each time it fills. The blood is a dark ruby, it doesn't smell, it is rich and warm and I find it rather beautiful, to be honest. What is all the fuss about?

Men reading may say, what does this have to do with me? Well, if you are a father or grandfather, you need to be able to handle your daughters' or granddaughters' menarche, their coming of age, without withdrawing, or changing your relationship, or making them feel somehow rejected, or dirty, or strange. I think this is a huge area that needs to be more discussed, and brought out into the open.

If you don't have children, but you have a partner, I think her menses is something you should be aware of, if not in tune with. If only to remind her she's not losing her mind once month :)

This is something important, not to be turned into snide jokes, or to be disgusted by. It's not something to fear, but to revere. The real test of the ebbing of patriarchal values in our society will be when menstruation no longer carries with it any associations of embarrassment, disgust or shame for either sex.

Phoof, I feel better!


morgor said...

well it doesn't really bother me as a fella, but they are bloody messy sometimes. har har har.

Holemaster said...

There's a tribe in Papua New Guinea (or Borneo or some other forested mountainous area that's not near us) where the men cut their inner thighs and bleed. They know the women have a power the men cannot possess so they try to emulate the process. And I'm also thinking that as they tend to so this all at the same time, it would suggest that the women all have their periods around the same time - Moon cycles as you mentioned Jo.

jothemama said...

I heard about that before, except I heard they shove sharpened twigs up their noses!

I was horrified, but my friend who had really painful periods responded with 'So they should, stick sharp twigs up their noses!'

I think if your period's as bad as sharp tigs up the nose, you need to do something about it, not insist men shove sticks up their noses in empathy...

Holemaster said...

There's also two tribes that live in two different valleys in Papua New Guinea separated only by a few miles. On one tribe, the women stay around the village and look after the children, prepare the food and keep the huts tidy and make the clothes while the men go out to hunt and gather. In the other tribe, the roles are totally reversed. I can only imagine what they get up to when the men and women meet up in an isolated boar run.

Nick McGivney said...

Glad you got that out of your system, Jo. I can't really see the fuss either. It's not dirty, it's a biological function of a most wonderfully inventive machine and if it didn't happen we'd all be elsewhere.

One query though. I've been brought up on a tv diet of ads for 'feminine hygiene' products, so I know what's what. How could you make such a glaring error as to think that female discharge is red? It's a truth universally acknowledged the world over that it is in fact a pale, watery blue.

morgor said...

In the same way that the word 'cunt' has been imbued with the connotation of the worst that there is, the unholiest of unholies, cold you call anyone anything worse than a woman's genitals?

I don't think that's why it's considered a bad word, if that was the case then fanny would have the same power.

guys use it in the same way that you'd call someone a dick or fuckface or whatever.

I call my flatmates cunts everyday.(or whatever else comes to mind)

I think women find it more offensive because it can be used to imply that a woman is useless apart from in a sexual way. Like a whore or slut, but just put more crudely.

jothemama said...

I think this is a topic that merits research, morgor.

It's nice that you have such a positive world view (really!) but I don't feel so condfident that everyone would agree. Nor do I think the fanny argument really holds up.

I think the word is getting de-mystified, which is why I'm all for its use, taking the negative power out of it.

But just because you and your mates use it mate-ily, I don't think it takes away from its deeply misogynistic origins!

problemchildbride said...

Great post, Jo. Wish I'd caught it earlier.

I purchased a mooncup online the other day after hearing about them for the first time and getting a rave review about them from my sister-in-law. Right about now it should be hurtling over the Atlantic to me.

jothemama said...

I'm your woman for a chat about periods alright. Nobody commented on te picture. I love the picture.

Sniffle&Cry said...

Hey Jo, they frighten the shit outa me. I never get them right and am always caught out by the timing and I’m actually good at sums and remembering stuff. No my missus get’s the PMT real bad sometimes.

I think we squirm because it’s not of us, to us blood means something bad happened or is happening. And even knowing what type of towel she needs or how heavy the bleeding is, after 25 years, and even now with my daughter’s period, there’ll always be an otherness about a period, well to me anyway. I wish there was a more outward visible sign though, so that we’d always know, before and during, just so that we could be more sensitive at that time.

I bought my daughter a moon charm to celebrate her 1st period ( and more practically €20 credit) – Modern man me.

Madonna and pad perhaps.

jothemama said...

Nice work Sniffle! I'd like a sign too, I forget as well, and I think I've turned into a looney. It can be quite scary.

You're right about the otherness, spot on. Same with everything to do with childbirth, sadly.