A while back one of my fellow humourless killjoy feminist friends came up with the idea of a list of “Things we wished people spoke more openly about”.
The conversation that ensued lead to several revelations amongst the group and numerous exclamations of “I am SO glad we’re talking about this” and “OMG I thought this was just me” and “why don’t we talk about this stuff? This is GREAT.”
So this is part two of my ongoing but irregular series – “Things we wish were talked about more openly.”
Just like last time, I am going to add a lengthy content warning, mainly for the benefit of my family who might not want to read about my intimate shizzle.
This blog, and indeed probably the whole series, will feature talk of things like sexual acts, body parts, bodily functions and fluids and other things that often make people (right across the gender spectrum) feel uncomfortable. It’s almost certainly going to make my family feel uncomfortable, so if you’re related to me, you might want to stop right here.
I am going to say, straight up, that a lot of the things that are likely to come up are things that I personally find really difficult to talk about. I spent a lot of time hating my body and not really wanting to look at it, feeling awkward and anxious about sexual acts, being ashamed and scared of things my body did and generally feeling unable to talk about it. So just as you might be leaving your comfort zone to read this, I am going out of my comfort zone to write it. So we’re on this journey together.
“I wish we spoke more openly about…
Menstruation and PMT”
I recall that my school education session on periods was woefully inadequate. It left us all with the impressions that:
- If you have sex, you will get pregnant. So don’t.
- When you are on your period you are gross KEEP IT A SECRET AT ALL COSTS
- Periods are gross and icky. DON’T TALK TO BOYS ABOUT THEM
- It’s just a few tablespoons of blood (LIES)
- Vajayjays are dirty. Try not to touch them
I was never really told what was coming out of me was pretty amazing or marvellous or perfectly ok. It’s taken me decades to be able to unpick all this.
What does get talked about a lot is PMT – but it’s usually framed as a big joke as to why women are in a bad mood or being grouchy. There’s a lot of talk about OH LOL HORMONES BE MAKING GIRLS CRAZY BITCHES but it’s not taken terribly seriously. But PMT symptoms can be really serious, and varied and honestly? They can really really suck. Treating PMT as some ‘bitches be crazy lol’ thing does a great deal of harm to women who are having real physical and mental symptoms. So forgive me if someone makes some bullshit “on the rag lol” joke at me and I imagine ripping your fucking nipples off. It’s easy to be a humourless bitch when you’re not actually being funny.
But there is no ‘once size fits all’ for PMT – and women experience all sorts of different symptoms. Some lucky ones don’t get any. Personally, I get really mood swingy, teary and grumpy and find it hard to concentrate. I don’t always connect the dots sometimes; I spend 3 days wanting to kill things/other people/myself and crying at fucking adverts and because of my history of mental ill health every time I’m like THE DEPRESSION IS COMING BACK. 3 days later I’m like “oh. Hello womb lining.” I have to pee way more, my IBS flares up. I don’t want to do anything. At all. I don’t even want to write this blog. I had to force myself to sit at this laptop today. My body temperature is higher and I feel hot all the time. Boyfriends haven’t always understood why I don’t want to snuggle when I am on my period. BECAUSE I AM MELTING GET OFF ME. I don’t get cramps – for which I am eternally grateful – but I do get hormonal migraines. Regular as anything, once a month. Full on, someone-is-trying-to-stab-their-way-out-of-my-eye-socket-with-an-icepick migraines. Painkiller resistant, soul destroying, please kill me now migraines. Every period. I’ve been having periods since I was 14. So in theory I’ve been having migraines every month for over 20 years. That’s more than 240 migraines.
Only I haven’t, because (with the agreement of my GP) I run packets of pills together to avoid having periods for several months at a time. This suited me down to the ground for many years, as I still believed all the things I learned at school about periods (refer to the list above) and therefore was really happy to not have gross blood doing gross things euw gross.
A lot of crap is talked about hormones and what they do (see the ‘boys will be boys‘ rubbish excuse) but that’s sort of the point isn’t it? Hormones are punchlines or excuses and that detracts from being able to talk about them in a meaningful way.
It took me many many years to get over the idea that my vagina-during-my-period was gross and untouchable. Vaginas are naturally self cleaning. Period blood is seen as a waste product, like poop or pee – but it’s not remotely the same thing. It’s the uterine lining that a woman’s body has prepared to grow a foetus. If you think about it, that’s probably the cleanest thing ever. It has to be – it’s going to grow, nurture and nourish a tiny potential life which hasn’t got its own immune system. It’s…kind of amazing when you think about it. But it also isn’t just blood. There’s all sorts of weird stuff coming out of there. Weird textured stuff. Clots. Weird stringy sticky stuff. I swear I thought I was completely abnormal for YEARS because this ‘couple of tablespoons of blood’ they’d told me about at school bore no relation to this flood of weird Xenomorph-acid-like substance. I thought I was ill or weird. It took a long time before I felt comfortable enough to talk to other women about this and you know what we discovered? We ALL thought our discharge was weird and we all wished we’d just talked about it years ago.
So why don’t we talk about this? When talking about it helps us understand each other better? Helps women feel they are normal and not alone, and helps guys understand what women are going through. It’s such a huge taboo that it has an entire Wikipedia page about it. Why is it such a huge taboo? In these enlightened times, does it need to be a taboo at all?
Gloria Steinem wrote a rather marvellous essay imaging a world in which Men were the ones that menstruate. Of course, it’s satire, and not entirely serious. But it’s a refrain I’ve heard often. If men had periods, toilets would always have sinks inside the cubicle. Sanitary products would not only be not subject to VAT, they’d be FREE. If men had periods, there’d be allowance in job laws that allowed flexible time off for PMT. If men had periods, it would be a sign of strength, not of weakness.
It’s been a ‘man’s world’ for a long time, and feminism has been making gains over the last 40 years in leaps and bounds. It may seem like a weird ask, but I would like a next big leap to be for the taboo over talking about periods to die in a fire. It’s not just an issue here in the UK with girls feeling confused and alone and scared/wary of their own bodies – in other countries it has serious ramifications for the education, welfare, safety and wellbeing of women and girls.
We need to be able to talk about menstruation, our own, other women’s, those of women the whole world over, without fear or revulsion or jokes or snarky jokes. Boys and girls both need to learn how normal and natural they are, that they aren’t dirty or weird. Men and women need to learn how to communicate properly about what their bodies do.
Periods are perfectly normal. Let’s talk about them.