The Modern Menstruation Conversation
When it comes to thinking about your menstrual cycle, I wonder what kind of story you have around yours? For me, it was just another thing to conquer to prove that I was not so lame as to be affected or held back by in my post-feminist life, full of possibility and ambition. For my Mum, I’m sure it was a story of discretion, of private business, something hidden with no need of discussion, apart from here’s your pad, welcome to womanhood, now go get on with it. In some societies – very, very rare societies - menstruation has been appreciated for what it is: a spectacular bodily symphony that allows for the creation and growth of life and in that context, it holds power. It’s been source, it’s been shame, it’s been a blessing, it’s been a curse – all dependent on the see-sawing gender power plays, almost always governed by the patriarchy, that determine our societal views around women, equality and freedom.
For the vast majority of geographies and cultures, menstrual blood has been dialogued with disgust, particularly in the context of religious text or philosophers where menstruating women could apparently destroy an entire crop simply with her vile presence, as documented by Roman misogynist Pliny the Elder who wrote:
“Contact with [menstrual blood] turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison”
I don’t know about you but I’m fairly sure that the blood from my uterus has no more obliterated a beehive than blood from any other part of my body. My feeling is that Pliny was simply another horny arsehole who resented this most natural of fluids for turning him away from the vaginas he wished to ply, inconveniencing his demand for sex. The smell perhaps wreaking havoc with his bland sensory palette, causing the horror of flaccidity that he would rather put down to the horror of the bleeding woman as opposed to his own feeble constitution and faulty phallus. But where are we at right now? How far have we really come? What is our perspective, our conversation in 2019 around this most important cycle for life? How much has changed and how much do we all know beyond what women and men were told 20, 40, 100, 2000 years ago?
Without doubt, the fog of knowledge around the intricacies of our menstrual cycle, along with the downright sulky attitudes of men such as Pliny, go hand in hand with oppression. Insulting the fundamental make-up of one genders physiological workings – ensuring that the negative dialogue of women was inseparably interwoven with what biologically defines them – was as masterful a stroke by the patriarchy as it was utterly absurd that any of us would lap up such speak. But lap up we did. When carried through the literature of something as powerfully brainwashing as religion or false academia, it was ensured that the very essence of what gives woman the height of her value in the context of continued humanity – the power of life to recreate itself – would be stripped away. In concealing this immense value, even from women themselves as well as in fact, utilizing it as confirmation of female weakness, we created a monologue of misogyny deeply inseparably interwoven into a woman’s very identity. Just take a moment to absorb that.
More than 80% of women that I see in clinic or in workshop about their cycles, who have problems with menstruation or anywhere else in the endocrine system, do not even know that there are four distinct phases of their own inner hormonal composition. I was one of those women until about 5 years ago. I was 39 years old. I am at times torn to pieces in reflection of all of the torment I endured emotionally in not understanding the song of my hormonal cycle; of not knowing, not just the nuances, but the big sweeping hormonal strokes that were directly affecting the pituitary gland – the Queen of my entire endocrine system sitting in the throne room of the emotional centre of my brain. I can’t help but wonder how many young female lives have been affected with self-harm, even suicide, simply because they did not know that in a week they might have a better foot hold on the strong emotions swirling within them and then in that follicular time they could do the work to get them through the next luteal phase that may also be coupled with adolescent depression? The decisions that have been made about relationships, jobs, family members, living arrangements without clear understanding of the role of my own reproductive hormones on my emotions? Or on my energy levels? The sheer volume of utterly misplaced inner self-doubt and negative self-talk that would have been avoided in the knowledge that my progesterone is doing this, my estrogen is up to this and therefore I am like this.
That we are still having to have the conversations around basic anatomy and physiology of the female body with young women in this special way, outside of their education systems, should act as a guide as to how far we still really are from this idea of equality. The way the world is structured from inflexible working hours, to holiday gaps, to sick leave are still very much a man’s way or the highway. Yes, there have been some steps toward greater job opportunity and closing the gap on wages but really where are we if negative language is still the NORMAL around one gender’s most natural physiological function? Just imagine a world where women held their power because we had convinced everyone globally that a testicle was a most putrid of possessions, that one glance or certainly one touch could sicken, kill or mame almost any living thing that happened to be exposed to it’s horror. That men learned to move through the world with such a curse by adapting every part of their lives to make sure no-one talked about the testicle, no-one touched the testicle, that if non-testicled people were coming to stay in their house, they would sleep in the stable, they would accept that the testicle made them weak and therefore they should get paid less and certainly should not be making big decisions about the world – how could they when they were clearly deformed, so ghastly that butterflies and beetles would die if just one testicle walked through their field, let alone two! That we could become so entrenched in that negative language that even the gender possessing that physiology embraced the same kind of rhetoric! Of course this is a most ridiculous and weak comparison but the levels of ludicrous are no lower than what most women have accepted as the norm about their own cycles – the mania of the follicular, the whore of ovulation, the neurosis of the luteal and the downright dirty of the bleed!
Ultimate equality is when a woman gets to be a woman as is the nature of her system, and this means with all the fluctuations of what’s happening in her body – that at some times she will have all the ideas in the world along with all of the energy to implement every single one of them and at others she will need to be more inward, more in need of rest and in contemplation. The fluctuations of a woman’s system – which is inseparably linked to her emotional centre – is not neurosis. It is not mania or inconsistency. It is THE natural. The consistency of a woman in her menstruating years IS the ebbs and flows, the peaks and the troughs and equality is recognising, acknowledging, educating and RESPECTING these absolute fundamentals of the cycle. The expectation that the way a man’s system functions with very little hormonal fluctuation as reflected therefore in the male emotional expression, is the way we should all be, and that this sameness is the definition of equality, is misogyny. Full power and representation of the future of feminism is no longer seeking what men have but in having access to all of these same opportunities and sculpting them to suit the fundamentals of the female. It starts with every woman knowing her own menstrual cycle and all of the attitudes, gifts and atmospheres that it comes with, knowing her own journey through perimenopause and her metamorphosis into the second spring of menopause, and working with this symphony within to schedule everything that happens in all other areas of life. This is the future of feminism.