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Facebook reminded me this morning that, on this day six years ago, I had PMS. “Hormonal blues,” I had posted. I looked at this Facebook Memory, and a part of me thought, Why do I feel the need to publicly track my menstrual cycle? while another part of me thought, Thank god I publicly track my menstrual cycle! Because, on this day, 6 years later, I have PMS.
This is probably not how Mark Zuckerberg meant the algorithm to be used.
Today is also a full moon. I am on the lunar cycle, mainly because I have had the privilege of working for myself for many years and don’t use alarm clocks or artificial light. I wake with the sun and sleep when it’s dark, and without the interference of artificial light, my period naturally aligns itself with the moon. That means I’ll be getting my period today or tomorrow.
That also means, as I know from years of experience, that today is the day my body adds a Fire Sale flag to my hormones, and I become The Most Desirable Woman in the World. Trust me, it’s not how I feel: I feel bloated and oily, and the day before my period is also the day I cannot tolerate being touched by other human beings. It’s why I’ve joked for many years that I am biologically wired to never have children: because the last day of my fertility is also the day I will cut you, if you come near.
But I also know, from years of experience, that no matter what I look like, say or do, the men I encounter on the day before my period will react to those little waving flags of fertility, from a quick eye-brow raise of interest, to a flashed smile, to a head turn, a leer, a follow, a chat, and always an attempt to touch — handshake, hug, pat on the back. And they won’t even realize they’re doing it.
This is not to say that I am even that physically attractive on any given day. I’m not: I’m middle-aged, and I just got the Late-40s Volume Bob haircut I’ve been avoiding up until now. Over the past couple of years, I’ve put on extra weight which, like so many women, I do from time to time in an attempt to be invisible so I can just get shit done without obstruction.*
My nails are ragged, my feet Hobbit-like, my eyebrows unplucked.
I’m generally feeling uncomfortable in my body and my clothes, struggling with aging and attractiveness and mortality and all that fun ladystuff. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep moving.
But this full moon morning, as I lay in bed looking at my Facebook Memory from six years ago, thinking about my menstrual cycle, the fire sale on my eggs, and gauging just how annoying my day is going to be, I also found myself thinking about werewolves.
We all know the legend: mystical shapeshifters who pass as normal-looking people in everyday life but who have been cursed to transform, against their will, into ravenous, powerful wolves at the full moon, that will rip you apart and eat you alive. To be murdered by one of these beasts is terrible; to survive is even worse. Then you become one of them, and the cycle repeats and no one is ever safe.
It’s interesting to note that in the classic werewolf tales, women were never werewolves, and women never survived a werewolf attack. Only men survived, now cursed themselves with a taste for blood at every full moon.
Up until the mid-Twentieth Century, before electricity was commonplace in people’s homes, and office hours influenced the structure of our home life, almost all humans lived diurnally, and almost all women were on a lunar menstrual cycle. This is fairly well — if unscientifically — documented.
But what does that mean for men? Could it be that the average man is the werewolf, that the legend was created to come to terms with and give a context to violence women suffered in their moonphase, their own hormonal freak flags waving, well beyond their control?
And we all know at the full moon, certain affected people — traditionally, men — turn into werewolves, creatures with supernatural strength and speed, that hunt and kill… suspiciously right around the same time women were at the peak of their fertility cycle. So what if it’s not the moon? What if it’s not magic? What if werewolves were actually men, responding to biological signals and forcing themselves on women, regardless of laws and morality? What if the supernatural powers were simply adrenaline? What if the werewolf legend was created simply to give context to violence against women in societies that didn’t have the tools to otherwise explain?
Most fairy tales, myths and legends were created for exactly that purpose: to give context to the unexplainable, to provide balance in an unbalanced world. The problem with the werewolf legend is that the werewolf is cursed, helpless against it’s transformation, and ultimately not responsible for its bestial violence. Even when a werewolf is killed, there is often sympathy for the sufferer of the curse, rather than the helpless victims who have been mauled, murdered and eaten by his hapless violence. And while that works within storytelling and movies, it has had the unfortunate effect of becoming normalized in our real-life culture and society. Men can’t help themselves, they just turn into howling wolves at the sight of beautiful (read: fertile) women. And still, and always, they bear no responsibility for their own sexual drive.
I moved to Berlin a year ago, and after a few months, I noticed that on full moon nights, I tended to stay home. Berlin is generally a safe city, but Berlin is also Berlin, and everything you can imagine people doing in Berlin on a full moon is pretty much what happens here.
And like every other place on Earth, sexual aggression and violence goes underreported here. On full moon nights over the past year, I thought I was staying home because I was feeling shy, or insecure, or hypersensitive due to pre-menstrual hormones. But this morning, I realized I’ve stayed home to be safe.
As women, we’re told we should feel good if we have the power to turn men into animals, beasts who can barely control themselves — what an excellent measure of a person’s value and desirability! Congratulations, you’re so beautiful you turn men into rapists! But really: what a crock of shit, trying to get us to believe it’s a good thing to subscribe to and participate in our own harm.
In storytelling, myth and fairy tale, it’s commonly accepted that there are no new stories — only new ways of telling them. The werewolf legend has been around since the Ancient Greeks, and has played a role in the development of civilization as we know it from the time of Petronius in 66 AD.
In order to dismantle patriarchy, the system that denies agency to women and finds it so easy to oppress, we must also dismantle our myths and our legends, the stories we tell ourselves, the fairy tales we use to normalize behaviors, or we will be doomed to repeat them. In order to truly progress and build a better world, we need some new stories.
*also, I like to eat.