This past weekend, there were two prominent posts about menstruation in my Facebook newsfeed, which surprised me somewhat, given how loath we are as a society to openly discussing women’s plumbing, with all its joys and inconveniences. One was a well-circulated link that led to a Huffington Post article about a clever response back in October by UK-based feminine hygiene manufacturer, Bodyform, to a snarky post on their Facebook wall by the “disgruntled” boyfriend of a consumer. The other was a practically unbelievable story about the Texas Senate, fearing projectiles from the spectator gallery during a hearing on SB 1, one of the nation’s toughest proposed bans on abortion, confiscating tampons and pads from women entering the building. Oh, and by the way, they weren’t confiscating guns. Just feminine hygiene products. ‘Cause those are LETHAL, ya know.
Anyway, all this social media buzz over periods yesterday led me to ponder once again why exactly it is that it’s drilled into us from the minute we start bleeding (and even before) not to talk about, or even reference, our monthly “visitor.” Just consider the vast selection of euphemisms we use to describe that time of the month, so that we don’t have to say “period.” Scandalous! Shocking! When I was a teen, growing up at a boarding school in England, we called it “The Curse.” Welcome to womanhood, friend! It all starts with a curse. Not only are we taught not to say it, we’re urged to hide it in any way possible. Many of us recall with deep embarrassment the intense shame of visibly bleeding through to the seat of our pants or skirt in a public place. The forced improvisation of getting caught short without supplies and having to awkwardly arrange wads of toilet paper in our underwear. The way we furtively tuck tampons up our sleeve or try to jam them discreetly in our pockets while on our way to the restroom (I did this just a couple of days ago). All those pretty little zipper cases for carrying and concealing feminine hygiene products…. I have to confess, though, I did buy this one for my daughter because I thought it was freakin’ awesome. She hid it at the back of a drawer and it never again saw the light of day.
As much as I hate having to tiptoe around the subject, I must confess I’m not really a huge fan of menstruating. At 43, I’m actually looking forward to being done with it in a few years. In pleading acceptance and transparency, I’m not necessarily advocating for a celebration. But really, people…it’s just a bodily function, for Gawd’s sake. We make jokes about all the other sticky, gooey, runny things that our bodies eliminate. What’s so different about this one?
This blog post pretty much sums up the way I feel about periods. And in my own understated way, I’m trying to do my bit to break down the veil of secrecy and darkness surrounding menstruation. I send my partner out to buy my tampons, even if doing so provokes a panic attack. Not because he’s afraid of being seen, mind you, but because he’s easily overwhelmed by the sheer choice of menstrual accoutrements available. When I started my period in the early 80s, I was handed a maxi pad the size of a phone book and an elastic pink waist belt to clip it onto. No, seriously. Judy Blume wasn’t exaggerating. Thank God for today’s vast range of choice in menstruary accessories. And I ask my 11 year-old son to grab them, too, when we’re out shopping together (“Mom, what does Patented LeakGuard mean?”) I once had to give him a pad to staunch a nosebleed in the car. He was stoic about it, although he made me swear never to tell anyone (sorry, honey…)
I have absolutely no fear that exposing my son to the mysteries of menarche at such a young age will traumatize him for life. In fact, I think he’s pretty comfortable with the topic now, and will hopefully be an enlightened and understanding partner one day. The other day, his sister was in a grumpy mood, and my son turned to his father, shrugged his shoulders, and reassuringly explained, “Don’t worry, Dad—she’s just got Pre-Menstrual System.”