Me and my menses

When I was a little girl, I overheard my mother talking to my older sister about “getting her period” and in my usual fashion I managed to concoct a story far more interesting than the version my sister was hearing, probably for the first time. In my version, when I became a “big girl”, a notification would arrive via mail (yes snail mail not email) to tell me that I officially now had my period. This would be a grand affair, people would be told, my family would hold a banquet in my honour! Of course, at that stage of my life nothing was more exciting than getting a letter in the mail, so you can imagine that as long as my fantasy rang true, this was an event I was looking forward to with unparalleled impatience. I am not sure how long after that the veil of childish imagination was lifted, but I am sure of one thing, reality sucked. If you’ve gotten this far, then let me allay your fears. This is not a tale about my first period (while that is an entertaining story, I have no interest in it at the moment). What I do want to write about is menstruation and how we’re raising young women to feel dirty and though this is something to be ashamed of. So, if me merely using the words “period” or “menstruation” has not yet deterred you, please read on…

A guy friend once rummaged through my handbag and upon finding a tampon, neatly contained in it’s signature blue wrapper, promptly flung the bag and the offending item on the floor and backed away as if it would attack him. Now every girl whose has gone through puberty will admit that when that time of the month rolls around, it’s never fun and sometimes it can be downright scary, but being afraid of sanitary items befuddles me. I wonder if my male friend assumed that the bleeding from my uterus was contagious (if I hadn’t lost you earlier, “bleeding from my uterus” out to do it). Did he think that he’d miraculously grow a uterus and then once a month or thereabouts (everyone is different), he’d shed his uterine lining? Or was it that he was raised to think that menstruation was dirty, that even talking of it was “gross” and in fact downright offensive? Imagine how offensive it is to be confronted with the reality that I, like many women, actually bleed and (gasp) that I carry around tampons! Women can talk among themselves, always discretely stowing any items that may offend, always sympathetic and understanding when a friend talks of mood swings or cramps. But dare mention anything outside of your circle of girlfriends and watch people squirm and shy away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about bring up your cycle to random strangers, or popping an update about your flow into dinner conversation but I think it’s all time we grew up a little and stopped encouraging the myth that menstruation is dirty, that the word is taboo, that the female species should be embarrassed by something that is natural.

Personally, I’m sick of young women coming into puberty being forced to think of themselves as unclean or gross. Honestly, if we were given the choice at a certain age, most women would say yes to the multiple orgasms and no to their monthly visitor (see how neatly I’ve incorrectly summed up what it means to be a woman?). But here’s reality, reality means we bleed. Reality means that we’ve come a long way from a rag in the feminine hygiene department. Reality means that there are young women all over the world with little or no access to sanitary towels because the cost is prohibitive. Reality is that some girls in this wonderful country we call South Africa are forced to miss school because of their period. Reality is that we teach young women to abstain from religious ceremonies, from entering religious sites because they are “not clean” during menstruation. Am I the only one who takes offense that a God that created me, shuns me because my body is doing something that that said God intended for it to do? I clearly don’t see the same thing applied to men once a month (and please men have cycles too, they may not bleed but no one’s convincing me that they don’t have all the other symptoms at least once a month, every month!). So, my point is this (don’t be so surprised that I have a point), menstruation is a normal, natural thing. It is neither filthy nor embarrassing, we were built this way and it’s time we stopped being stupid about it. The world is tough enough as it is without us having to stress about something that is a natural part of life.

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