Here’s a question: why the fuck can’t I complain about my period to anyone and everyone? In the filing cabinet of the subtle ways in which sexism shapes our lives, I feel the unofficial ban on talking about your period deserves a folder. Women do talk about their periods, of course; but it seems to me that this only happens with freedom and nonchalance when in the company of exclusively other women. Or at least this has been my experience ever since I first got my period, at the ripe age of 16; every time I mentioned it in front of other people, my sister – always the guardian of what is appropriate and polite – would shoot me a look and sometimes even growl silently at me through her teeth. To this day, when I whine about it on facebook, she leaves messages to the extent of “what am I going to do with you?”
But of course, there is no reason why we ought not to talk about our periods. They can play a major role in our day when they are at their height, especially when they are painful or otherwise inconvenient. Yet for some reason we are supposed to remain discreet about them in certain company; you’re not supposed to mention to anyone other than a relatively good friend that you are having awful cramps, for example – yet such rules do not apply to other comparable debilitations, such as headaches. Indeed, it feels sometimes as though we are supposed to pattern our behavior during our menstrual cycles on the lighthearted and “feminine” packaging of tampons and pads – nothing but sunshine and flowers here!, don’t worry!
But it just so happens that I hate my period. I hate the mess – although I have to confess a kind of Burkean wonder at the fact that I hemorrhage that amount of blood every 6 weeks or so – and I hate the pain. The pain especially. Cramps for me feel not merely like pain, but like life-energy sucking pain; the experience is not merely one of discomfort but a total lack of ability to fully concentrate on what you are doing or enjoy the environment around you. Fortunately, this level of suckiness only lasts, for me, around a day, two at most. But for some it can be longer, acutely painful, and even lead to passing out if you are not sufficiently hydrated or rested. Yet even with my relatively mild affliction, I find the only thing that helps get me through cramps is to react to them appropriately – no matter where I am. So, cycle after cycle, there I am in the coffee shop gritting my teeth and banging the table in pain – cause cramps fucking hurt, and I don’t see any reason to sit there and stoically pretend as though I am not suffering.
The only argument I could see for refraining from this level of honesty is that it might encourage the idea that women cannot be put in responsible positions because, you know, during that time of the month they just completely lose their shit and can’t be trusted. But this is absurd, because any medical condition, taken to a certain level of discomfort, can have the effect of being debilitating or changing our moods – and in that case, there are methods to cope with the situation. But no one ever suggested that a man who was, say, running for president, could not be trusted because he was prone to chronic migraines. Yet, with periods we are expected to both bear them with complete grace and be disqualified from certain positions of power because we can’t, apparently, really cope with them.
Perhaps the stigma surrounding our periods also relates to a general Puritan queasiness about genitalia and female sexuality in particular – for to complain about your period to someone who is less than a close and/or female friend is to implicitly acknowledge, between the two of you, that you have a uterus and a vagina. And, somehow, this makes us uncomfortable.
I am sure there are many illuminating anthropological theories and explanations for the stigma surrounding menstruation – but today, I just wanted to complain. Because if there was any routine, physical experience that it is valid to moan and groan about, it’s a period. And I see no reason why it is rude of me to say so – frequently, loudly, and emphatically – when that is what is on my plate. So fuck that noise.