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Warning: This post contains discussion about menstruation and the human body. So don’t leave comments talking about how I ruined your breakfast because I’ve already warned you.
Just when you thought you’d heard about all the types of shaming – fat shaming, age shaming, beauty shaming, thin shaming, slut shaming and a laundry list more – there’s one more. Menstruation shaming.
This comes as a surprise to me, especially since I happen to be a woman and I also happen to menstruate. I’ve never felt ashamed or been made to feel embarrassed. We all went through that awkward phase during puberty where we had nightmares about getting blood on our chair at school, sure. Boys have their own version where they ‘rise to the occasion’ in front of the class. And we all had that dream about forgetting our pants. But, we’re talking about adults here. I’ve never had someone point at me at work and sing “Kenda’s on her perrrriod… Kenda’s on her perrrriod”. If you have then you work in a screwed up place and you need a new job (and a good lawyer).
A photo series, There Will Be Blood, by Emma Arvida Bystrom draws attention to this concept with images of women in every day situations – but with the addition of being able to see their menstrual blood.
Even though I’m a woman and I’m suppose to be rallying with my sisters about how this empowers us… I just can’t. I don’t understand the need for this statement. Everyone who has been through puberty – male and female – is familiar with this concept. Some men may be a bit squeamish about it, especially when it comes to intimacy, but there are just as many women who are also ‘hands off’ during that time. Call me picky, but I’d rather keep my bleeding to myself. That doesn’t mean I’ve been oppressed by society or I hate my female parts. I also don’t like to have snot running down my face – that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my nose. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it needs to be as free as the wind. Defecation is natural, right? I seriously hope no one starts a ‘free pooping’ movement.
So, in case you missed the memo: women bleed once a month. “This is empowering.” I’m not sure exactly how that works. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, that part is obvious. (Yes, I understand other countries and cultures may have a different view – this isn’t about them.) But empowering? I feel empowered when I tackle a job, make a change in the world, stand up for myself and accomplish things. I felt empowered when I lost my period and carried life inside me. My monthly cycle kind of just handles itself. Am I missing some extra woman power? I want all the womanliness I can get so it makes me wonder about my other bodily functions. Should I feel empowered when I pee? Someone give me a hint here.
That led me to another trend: free bleeding.
What is free bleeding? Boy am I glad you asked. It’s the suggestion that menstruation is, again, natural (just in case you missed that bullet point the first time) and that means you should just let your body do it’s thing. Without stopping it. As in – no tampons or pads. According to an article on Feministing.com, you shouldn’t feel a responsibility to keep it under wraps:
“But, I do feel expected of. Like I have to take care of my period so I can be a functional member of society. So enter the idea of “free bleeding.” More of a mindset than it is an action, the idea is, as this blog title gives away, letting ourselves bleed. No judgement, no worries about messiness or cleanliness. Just letting it happen.”
the article goes on to instruct
“…lay on your bed naked with sheets you don’t mind bleeding on, and focus your thoughts on letting yourself bleed.”
Hold up a minute. What if I don’t LIKE the feeling of bleeding all over myself and ruining my sheets, blankets and whatever else I happen to be in contact with?
“…heck, this might even include a tampon! remember, this is about you and what’s comfortable for you”
Now I’m really confused. If you use a tampon then what is the point of the exercise? Is thinking about the bleeding the important part? I shared this with a friend and she read my mind when she asked, “What exactly are we accomplishing by focusing on bleeding? What’s going to happen?”
Yes, what exactly is this about? Are we saying containing your flow is a bad thing and you are subconsciously hating your body for doing it? Are we saying concentrating on your flow makes something magical happen? Are we saying it’s healthier? Maybe if you forget to change your tampon on a regular basis – yes, you should definitely do this and save yourself the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. But I’d wager the majority of women don’t have that problem. Many of us like keeping Aunt Flo contained, make a point to keep a check on her and we’re reminded she’s there on a regular basis.
Menstruation doesn’t make me feel empowered. After dealing with it for 27 years the magic is gone. Now I wish I didn’t have to experience it at all. That’s not society shaming me – it’s my own dislike of feeling cranky, crampy and ready to rip someone’s head off every 28 days. I also like feeling clean and dry. If that makes me a less powerful woman in the grand scheme of all things natural, I’m okay with that.
What do you think?
Is menstruation shame a real problem in the US? Do you feel empowered when your monthly visitor comes calling? Am I off my rocker and losing woman-points for writing this? Let me know.