Despite our period’s push to education, it seems we’re stuck on an old societal pivot. Bloody gore is fine, as long as it doesn’t come from a woman.
Picture this: It’s Thanksgiving 2007. I am 12 years old. I roll out of bed and trudge to the bathroom before I turn on the Macy’s parade. When I pull down my pants, there it is. The Red Spot™. I am now christened with the shed lining of my uterus into the lunar sisterhood, the blood covenant, that is becoming a woman. Outwardly, I act as if I will rue this day well into the afterlife, but inwardly, I am thrilled.
At the ripe old age of nearly-13, I was the last of my friends to earn the privilege of ruining pair after pair of underwear. Ever since, I have been one of the few and fortunate women whose menstrual cycle is literally 28 days to the hour. I can trace every moment of my cycle from the first drop of blood to the visceral, all-consuming, unmistakable increase in libido before ovulation to the one-sided cramp during ovulation (mittelschmerz, bitches. I am the 20%), to the oh-God-I’m-crying-again-my-tits-hurt-I’m-bloated-someone-come-pour-salt-down-my-throat of PMS. (If you want to get graphic, discharge tells a similarly easy to interpret tale. Y’all already know.)
Call me crazy. Call me a product of terrible sex education. Call me a wannabe witch with an affinity for tall candles, the colour black and vials filled with the blood of my enemies. Whatever. I’ve always been fascinated by the menstrual cycle.
Mostly, it’s a strong reaction to the taboo of and the stigma attached to *gasp* period blood and by extension, the unwillingness to demystify periods.
I know people who blush and are visibly repulsed by the mere mention of periods, and – surprise – they are usually men.
To live in a male-dominated political and cultural climate utterly consumed with keeping women subordinate to their reproductive systems, the irony of male squeamishness toward periods is so chronic that it’s almost dead. When the leader of the free world can say, “blood coming out of her ‘wherever’,” it lays bare the constantly-implicit sentiment that once a month, women become the Hyde to our usual Jekyll.
The dominant religion in Western society literally says its adherents are “washed clean by the blood of Jesus.” Some sects even believe they are drinking Christ’s blood through transubstantiation during communion, and amazingly, we struggle to compartmentalise and confine that influence except in the case of period blood. We collectively feel compelled to avert our eyes from any association between vaginas and the colour red. Ever seen a pantyliner commercial that uses red liquid? No. It’s always blue, and any semblance of a nice, big clot is conspicuously absent. It is an enigma to me. We are inundated with gore when it comes to the media we consume (even the story of the crucifixion is borderline torture porn), but blood pertaining to an event exclusively experienced by people with vaginas is somehow too much.
The obsession with pristine femininity (i.e., it pleases the male gaze) is prudish. Our reproductive health and bodily autonomy depend on normalising periods and period-talk.
This leads me to believe that it isn’t about the blood. It’s about the reminder that vaginas do not exist to cater to every whim of man. The Levitical uncleanliness still attributed to menstrual blood is childish. No one’s asking anyone to turn into a vampire (unless you’re into that, IDK), but to label a natural phenomenon that approximately 50% of the population experiences as gross is akin to a toddler’s response to broccoli over chicken nuggets.
I’m not even necessarily talking about sex here (I mean, I am, but not entirely). But anyone who believes manipulation of the female reproductive system such that we have bodily autonomy is unnatural yet refuses to acknowledge, understand, or engage with the natural processes that beget fertility and/or the appearances and functions of vaginas that don’t specifically cater to men of this sexual moment (e.g., waxing) is ass backwards. Perhaps even more ass backwards is any man who wants vaginas to appear and act a certain way yet maintains a regressive political stance toward female sexual health unless it’s convenient for him (i.e., “so glad you’re on birth control so I don’t have to wear a condom” or “I don’t support policies that make birth control affordable and accessible, but I am pro-choice, you know, just in case I fuck up”).
That’s the crux of it: prioritising aesthetics over health.
Perpetuating the taboo of the menstrual cycle puts our health at risk. Attributing extreme pain, uncontrollable mood swings and gushes of blood to periods allow us to collectively brush off these concerns when women express them. None of these symptoms is normal. Anyone could be indicative of health issues like PMDD, endometriosis, PCOS etc, but construing the worst-case-scenario as the norm is a great way to keep periods swept under the rug.
Cute little slogans like “shark week”, “red week is head week” and “someone’s on the rag” might be funny, but when grown men say this shit to each other and then turn around with their tails between their legs to look me in the eye and say “gross” at the prospect of any fluid that isn’t white or clear, I am astonished by the boldness and entitlement it takes to be so immature.
It always catches me off-guard and confuses me because I don’t think anything of my period. Someone has to show explicit revulsion to make me self-conscious about it. I’m not just talking about sexual partners, but no matter my relationship to the men who display these attitudes, it boils down to how they view female sexuality.
Maybe I’ll remember that next time I am within earshot of any implication that women should be totally open to semen going anywhere it damn well pleases. Imagine the fragile male ego shattering if I turned around and said, “EW,” like a five year old.
The obsession with pristine femininity (i.e., it pleases the male gaze) is prudish. Again, I’m not asking men to drink, bathe in or keep period blood in a vial. I’m asking them to just, like, be cool because even though their disgust with period blood says much more about them than it does about anyone who has a period, the negative consequences of and responsibility for their regressive attitudes fall squarely on the shoulders of those of us who have periods. It’s just another way people with vaginas are socialised to hide and ignore their emotional and/or physical discomfort for the sake of the straight, cis man’s special snowflakiness.
It’d be nice to claim our periods as a source of power over the men who are repulsed by them, but those same men legislate our bodies from a place of willful ignorance. When merely talking about period blood is considered radical, something is still amiss. But that doesn’t mean we should capitulate. Our reproductive health and bodily autonomy depend on normalising periods and period-talk because, well, periods are normal.