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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.
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Menstruation Station Blogaround

28 Mar
Red means yes...99% accurate!

Red means yes...99% accurate!

I enjoyed last period’s period blogaround so much that I’ve decided to make it a feature, to be published on or around the first day of my cycle. I’ll put some links up, and perhaps some menstruation-related writings. If you have some nuggets of menstrual wisdom to share, feel free to leave a link in comments, and I’ll publish it the next cycle.

Linksies!

As you may be able to tell with the title of this series, I like rhymes. This explains my affection for this link.

Essin’ Em: Fucking Blood (period sex w00!)

Gender Goggles: Menstruation and being trans – the blogaround! (I was planning to do this next cycle, but eloriane beat me to it.)

The Pursuit of Harpyness: Periodical 3 (I should note that my love of rhymes is beaten out by my love of puns, so the title of their series sends me into giggle-fits.)

Shakesville: Feminism 101-Periods (oldie but goodie)

Frau Sally Benz: ummmmmm uhhhhhhh hmm (this is totally gonna be the image and prose for next cycle)

Womanist Musings: Boo Yah It’s Period Time (great post, especially with what I wrote below. Also, I look like Megan, but w/ auburn hair – she even has pit-hair! squee!)

Two Women Blogging: My Little Red Story

My Private Casbah: My First Period

Prose!

So, last month when I said the Divacup was all that and a bag of chips (don’t those look yummy?)? I may have been exaggerating slightly. I do have some concerns with the way I relate to my period when I use it. Actually, it would be more accurate to say my concerns are with the way I don’t relate to my period with the Divacup.

In some ways, it forces me to confront the reality of my period more than I ever did with pads and tampons – I have to stick my fingers in my vagina to insert or remove it, which gets some blood on my hands. If I’m home, that’s no big deal because I can easily access a sink, and if I’m in a public restroom, I just wipe the blood off with some toilet paper. But in other ways, it’s like my period isn’t even there. I can’t feel the Divacup when it’s inserted, which bothers me, for reasons both rational and irrational. First, the rational. I forget the cup’s even inserted, which means that I leave it in for a lot longer than the recommended 12 hours – as in, I’ve left it in for over 48 hours before. That’s not healthy-sounding. Technically, the TSS risk posed by tampons isn’t present with menstrual cups, but I don’t want to push my luck. I think it would be wise to start using cloth pads in the latter part of my cycle, after the initial heavier flow in the first 3 days. Which means I need to get the sewing machine out and clean the sewing room (yes, I actually have a sewing room. It used to be a dining room – interesting insight into my priorities, no? Though right now, it’s more of a junk and dust-collecting room). Secondly, the irrational reason I don’t like the Divacup – I feel like this lack of awareness that my body is menstruating disconnects me from myself somehow. Menstruation is part of my reality – I feel like I should remember I’m on my period when, you know, I’m on my period. The first couple of days, I cramp a bit, but then, I forget about it completely, even though I usually continue menstruating for 3-4 more days. I feel like it disconnects me from my existence as a menstruating woman – like I have a detachable vagina. And that bothers me. My vagina is a part of me. It makes me feel somewhat disjointed that I can forget it exists for long stretches of time. I don’t feel like my period is something I should be able to forget about, and I’m not entirely sure why I feel that way – I only know that I don’t like it.

The Menstruation Station Blogaround

8 Mar

Happy International Women’s Day! Ready to talk about periods?

From The F-Word: A tiny rant on XKCD.

From Rotten Little Girls: Emotional symptoms associated with periods are oftentimes utter bullshit.

From Womanist Musings (who posts regularly about menstruation): Guest post by Holly of Menstrual Poetry (great blog-name!) encouraging open conversation about periods.

From Bitch Ph.D: Men don’t wanna hear about icky stuff! and Shame! Shame! Shame!

From The Pursuit of Harpyness: Women who love to talk about their periods (the comment thread is excellent as well).

From Gender Goggles: The taboo of talking about periods and the inherent sexism that goes into that.

If you have any more links (self-promote if you like!), leave them in comments.

And because so many of the posts I just linked are about opening the lines of communication on menstruation and reclaiming it from its taboo, I’ll share a bit of personal period history.

I got my first period the summer before I turned 13. My mom and I were visiting her sisters and mother in Tennessee, and I went to the bathroom during supper. My mom and I had talked about periods before, so I knew why my underpants were all bloody. So I washed my hands and went back to the table. About half an hour later, everybody but my mom and me left to go do something, so that’s when I said, “Mom, I started my period.” So I was outfitted with pads and tampons from a local drug store, and given a lesson in application of both. She wouldn’t have bothered with tampons, but I wanted to go swimming as my aunt had just installed a pool in the back yard.

A few months later (late September 2001, to give some perspective), I had been bleeding onto my sheets and clothes, and apparently feeling insecure about it. Because my parents and I were out to eat, when my father told me that we needed to talk as a family. My mom silenced him with a “not here.” So for the ten minutes it took to pay and get to the car, I was in an anxious panic, wondering what they expected me to do about all the blood on my sheets. It, as is probably obvious to you, had nothing to do with my period. My parents were separating. My father was moving into an apartment across town. And that moment is inextricably linked to my period and the insecurity that being an almost-teenager gave me.

I don’t remember my periods in high school, other than one where I had pretty bad cramps and was sick at the same time, and feeling like I needed to tell someone, but being too overburdened with the shame and taboo of menstruation to be able to.

At some point my first year of college (which was also my senior year of high school), I learned about menstrual cups. I spent several weeks researching, then forgot about it because I had no way of paying for it. Right around the same time, the event I cited in comments on the Gender Goggles post (linked above) happened.

The first period story coming to mind was a couple of years ago. I was on a school trip (community college, so at 17-18 I was the youngest person). Out of 8 people, 7 of us were 20s or younger, and 2 were male. The older person was a woman, about mid-fifties. Somehow, the subject got onto menstruation, and the older woman got upset that we were talking of such things “in mixed company.” Pretty much everyone was on the “WTF? Men can’t hear about periods?” front when we conferred after getting off the bus, but still, it bothers me that periods are so contentious and verboten that anybody believes men’s dainty ears can’t handle the word menstruation.

I was sinking into moderate depression, so my mom decided I should go stay with her sister (the aunt with the pool mentioned above) for the summer. I made plans to buy the Diva Cup before the trip, but that didn’t happen. On the drive up there, I got my period. And I hadn’t packed any pads. So,I bled into some toilet paper until I got a tampon from another of my aunts, and drove to Walmart (*shudder* I hate Walmart, but this is small-town America) the next morning to buy some pads. At some point in the summer, my grandmother bought me some pads because she wanted to make sure I was okay for things to protect my clothing (which was sweet, because acknowledging the fact that I have a period was a big step for her – she still doesn’t know how much I know about s-e-x). A few uneventful months passed (in terms of menstruation, at least), and in November 2007, I got my Divacup. In the middle of my period, so it had to sit on the shelf until my next cycle began (I have reason to believe this was the cycle that broke my hymen-ow). But once I got past the learning curve, the Divacup has been wonderful. I have trouble remembering I’m on my period when it’s in, and my cramps seem to have lessened since I began using it (correlation =/= causation and all that jazz, but it’s still nice to not need to curl into a fetal position every time I get my period).

And then, my periods got really irregular. I would have a 25 day cycle, then a 14 day cycle, then a 35 day cycle. This continued for a while, and finally it pushed me to go to the gynecologist. He tested my hormone levels, to check for PCOS and thyroid problems, which came back negative. The gynecologist recommended hormonal birth control if it was bothering me (it wasn’t), so now I have irregular periods with no apparent cause.

Which brings me to today, on the tail end of my period and writing this blog-post on March 8, 2009, International Women’s Day.

Titty-wrap hugs,

niema