This is a personal post, inspired by a lifelong struggle many women go through: Once a month, we start speaking in code and/or communicating in odd head-tilts/blinks and grimaces with other women, because this is how we convey the message that we’re having our periods and in pain; cover for me so the boss and the men don’t notice.
Because it’s not enough that our body is going through a part of a monthly cycle that can be quite debilitating for many women, we have to hide that weakness from our superiors and half the human population, who inexplicably get the idea that we should be out horse-riding, bicycling or doing cartwheels in all-white pantsuits when Aunt Flo comes to visit. There’s plenty in modern culture to make women hate their monthly menses, besides the insipid TV commercials. It just doesn’t fit the demands of our modern lives that we should be at a less-than-peak-state for a few days once a month– we can’t afford to miss work or school, so bring on the painkillers and herbal teas. Women have done this for so long that it’s become automatic; meanwhile, you have to wonder what changes in work life or in healthcare would be enacted if male policy-makers had to bleed and bloat every month.
While the symptoms for all women are different, the period is a always few days out of the usual–it just is, and it’s been so since the dawn of time. I’ve found it counter-productive if not outright damaging for women to deny the need for more rest during “moontime”, and more qualified doctors have written books on this topic. I’ve been in ridiculous situations before, near-fainting while conducting outdoor tours during my period (there were always logistical issues around getting replacements, a reason why I quit) and I’ve known women who would be curled up at home with a hot water bottle at home if they could, but they would still valiantly turn up at work (customer service), keeping their hot water bottle wedged between abdomen and desk. There are just some symptoms of the period you can’t mitigate even with the maximum dosage of your preferred medication. Something will bleed through, if you’ll allow the expression; the period just demands extra care and attention, no matter how one wants to feel about it.
Denial isn’t an option. Accommodation is required, but is tough to arrange in our treadmill-running modern lives. And it looks ridiculously impossible in societies that shame and ostracise menstruating women due to either religious or cultural beliefs. But make no mistake that all the cultural constructs that make womanhood and menstruation a burden are just beliefs. (This doesn’t mean I’m minimising the suffering of women with painful periods–I used to be incapacitated by them, tellingly, when I listened to a mother who always told me how awful being female was. But in holistic healing, the solution isn’t to hate the pain. Menstrual pain is pain, but to see it as a curse is counter-productive.)
Much of modern life is almost anti-life. More women, I feel, would realise that they already know this on a visceral level if we were not distracted on what products to buy to help us cope and keep up. Could you imagine a society in which women were allowed to be women, instead of trying to deny it every month for most of their lives starting at puberty? How much less would we hate our periods and our femininity? What would be the positive knock-on health effects on our bodies if we loved our monthly cycles instead of hating them?
I’m just going to take my own rest here, and end with a bit of comedy. Who benefits, eh, from making women aware of all the “problems” that come from being women?