Menstruation Conversation*

31 Mar

After responding to my latest blogaround, Eloriane wrote a great post on the way menstruation is discussed in the efforts to reclaim it from its “eww, women’s uterine lining. I can’t believe you expect me to listen to this” taboo.

It makes the whole process so filthy and uncomfortable, and impossible to talk about. The few places where feminists are trying to break the menstruation taboo are, half the time, uncomfortably period-positive for me– I have nothing nice to say, ever, about this process, and I don’t like the idea that I have to “embrace” menstruation or else I’m just a puppet of the patriarchy…How do we fight the truly stupid cultural perception as PMS as totally crazy-making while still having room for stories, like mine, in which that is a problem? I mean, it happened when I broke my hand, too; discomfort makes any person irritable.** But I’m not always sure that there’s space for me to say, in period conversations, that I am in discomfort, and it does make me irritable, even about things that I don’t really care about, without coming across as some kind of patriarchy-loving troll. But talking about it anywhere else would be laughable– I mean, if it’s unbearably “grooossss” to talk about a perfectly natural shedding of one’s uterine lining in non-feminist spheres, how much more unbearably gross is the same thing plus poop?…It’s not acceptable to say that periods are gross and terrible because eww, they come from women’s vaginas. But we need to leave the space for people to say that their periods are gross and terrible because eww, poop everywhere.

You really ought to read the whole thing. Here, have another link.

How do we make sure that the conversation allows people that have really shitty periods to have the same safe space to talk about this as people who have okay periods, or periods that are kinda crampy at the beginning then are barely noticeable? The idea of reclaiming it from the taboo is that women’s bodies and genitals aren’t vile, disgusting things on the whole (that whole “Don’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die” trope), but by saying that, we shouldn’t say that our bodies are utterly incapable of emitting anything but rainbow-scented shit from our asses and adorable purple daisies from our vaginas.

My menstrual blood is pink and smells like flowers? Doesnt yours?

My "menstrual solution" makes me bleed hot pink and smells like flowers. Why the fuck doesn't yours?

We still need to be honest about what our periods do to our bodies. We still need to be able to say things like “PMS does X to my body” without feeling like we perpetuate the patriarchal stereotypes about women. In my first period blogaround, I linked Bitch, PhD’s M. Leblanc, who said,

“I’m twenty-five, for god’s sake. Most of the men I know are pretty comfortable with The Woman Thing and not inclined to act like twelve-year-olds and giggle. But it’s still awkward. It still feels strange to disclose to a male friend that I am grumpy as fuck because I have awful, awful cramps.”

I think some of the trouble we have in discussing our periods is that we’re still trying to be the Angel in the House.*** We still struggle with killing the idea that women should be these demure, perfect creatures that don’t complain. But when we do speak up about our periods, it’s just “harpy shrills” or something nobody wants to hear because it’s “too much information.” We need to “quit our bitchin'” or nobody will take us seriously. How the fuck is that not patriarchy in action? I feel like the need we have to not talk about how our periods affect us negatively, while ostensibly telling the patriarchy “Hey! It’s blood! Get the fuck over yourselves!” (a sentiment I fully agree with) is almost an extension of the idea that women’s bodies are unimportant. Stories like Eloriane’s are so seldom told, and so seldom welcome, because they present menstruation in a less-than beneficial light. Because they are stories of how a woman’s body can be less than perfect. Because they give the lie to the cultural myth that reproduction is good, that menstruation, while sort-of sucky (I mean, eww! Blood! Out of a va-jay-jay!), is ultimately for the greater good, something to be suffered through.

So how do we deal with this? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m inclined to defer to Liss’ suggestion: that “[p]ersonal narratives are an extremely powerful bit of teaspooning” and that you tell your story, and I’ll do what I can to spread it as far as I have influence. But I’m also worried that that’s not enough. How can it be, when you’re fighting the fucking hydra of patriarchy, and eleventy-billion heads grow back once you cut any of them off?****

And a general note: if you don’t have horrifying, painful problems with your period, tell your story too! As many people fighting this hydra as possible makes it a hell of a lot easier to kill.

  • “You have a great gift for rhyme.” “Yes, yes, some of the time.”
  • *This reminds me of a joke that’s always made me wince from my favorite play, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Professional asshole Roy Cohn is dying in the hospital of AIDS, one of the complications of which are horrible abdominal cramps. Cohn’s line (paraphrased because I am too lazy to go look for the quote in in my copy of the play in the next room): “Holy shit this hurts! No wonder women are such evil harpy bitchez once a month!”
  • **Virginia Woolf’s “Professions for Women” is a good place to continue from Wikipedia if you are unfamiliar with this metaphor, and the way I am using it.
  • ***That’s not to say that the fight isn’t worth it, it’s just to say that it’s fucking hard.
  • ****Can anybody tell me how to get WordPress to not format my asterisks as bullet-points? Because I kept fixing the formatting every few minutes, and it kept reverting to bullets. And I do not like bullets in my foot-note section.

4 Responses to “Menstruation Conversation*”

  1. eloriane April 1, 2009 at 12:45 am #

    …people that have really shitty periods… Literally!

    Okay, so, on the one hand, I’m totally mortified that people are now reading about my poop, because now that my PMS has subsided a little I’m not sure I would have written that post if I hadn’t been PMS-ing.

    But I also think it’s a case of, again, PMS lessening one’s ability to deal with crap, rather than making one totally bonkers. So I’m glad I did PMS (well, not really, but you know), because I wouldn’t have written it otherwise, but it needed to be written. Because as much as I appreciated all the period-blogging that’s been going on, your blogaround, for example, was mostly posts where I wouldn’t have felt totally comfortable talking about my own experiences. Two posts on period sex, for example, and one titled “Boo Yah It’s Period Time”– definitely necessary conversations, but also places where saying “MY period is gross and terrible” would be thread-jacking. I don’t want to call you out– it was a good blogaround!– just saying that there’s another experience being overlooked.

    So, as embarrassed as I think I will always be by that poop thing, I’m glad you’re opening up the discourse. Because sometimes periods are gross and terrible, but it’s not just because the patriarchy says so.

  2. niemaodpowiedzi April 1, 2009 at 1:02 am #

    [D]efinitely necessary conversations, but also places where saying “MY period is gross and terrible” would be thread-jacking…[I’m] just saying that there’s another experience being overlooked.

    And I need to stop overlooking it – part of what your post pointed out to me is that I need to be seeking out more than what comes into my RSS reader, which is what I’ve done for the last two blogarounds. I can’t read everything, obviously, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I can’t work on highlighting experiences that are different than my own. That’s part of what being an ally is for me – showing the systematic erasing of voice, and giving those that have been erased a loudspeaker and a visit to the top of my soapbox. Granted, my soapbox isn’t very tall, nor my loudspeaker very loud, but once you stack the soapbox on top of other soapboxes and get an intercom, it can do a lot of work that staying silent completely negates.

  3. eloriane April 1, 2009 at 1:25 am #

    Like I said, I didn’t mean to be calling you out– I love your blog. Just sayin’, in general…

    Most of my blogarounds lately are basically just “here’s cool stuff from my RSS reader that I don’t have time to discuss properly!” but the trans/menstruation blogaround you linked recently was an attempt to return to my original style of blogaround (seen here,here, and here) in which I pick a topic like, say, princesses, and do a lot of googling to see what I find. Those blogs weren’t in my RSS reader before, but they are NOW! It’s a great way to learn a lot and find those voices that I’ve been overlooking.

    Or, more briefly: yes, I agree with everything you’re saying, and I wish you the best of luck! :D

  4. niemaodpowiedzi April 1, 2009 at 7:45 am #

    It wasn’t so much a call-out as a tap on the shoulder…”Hey, you mind acknowledging I exist too?”
    And thanks for the compliments!

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