Listen to this story
Picture this: It’s Thanksgiving morning, 2007. I am 12 years old. I wake up and trudge to the bathroom before turning on the Macy’s parade and, when I pull down my pants, there it is. The Red Spot™. With the shed lining of my uterus, I am now christened into the lunar sisterhood, the blood covenant, that is becoming a woman. Outwardly, I act as though I will rue this day well into the afterlife. Inwardly? I am thrilled.
At the ripe old age of almost-13, I was the last of my friends to gain the privilege of ruining pair after pair of underwear. Ever since, I’ve been one of the few and fortunate women whose menstrual cycle is literally 28 days to the hour. I can trace every moment of my cycle: from the first drop of blood, to the visceral, all-consuming, pre-ovulation increase in libido, to the one-sided cramp during ovulation (mittelschmerz, bitches), to the oh-god-I’m-crying-again-my-tits-hurt-I’m-bloated-someone-pour-salt-down-my-throat.
Call me crazy. Call me a product of terrible sex education. Call me a wannabe witch with an affinity for tall candles, the color black, and vials filled with the blood of my enemies. But I’ve always been fascinated by the menstrual cycle.
Mostly, it’s a strong reaction to the stigma attached to period blood and, by extension, an unwillingness to demystify periods.
I know people who blush and are visibly repulsed by the mere mention of periods, and — surprise! — they are usually men. To live in a male-dominated political and cultural climate utterly consumed with keeping women subordinate to their reproductive systems, the irony of male squeamishness toward periods is so chronic it’s almost dead. When the leader of the free world can say “blood coming out of her ‘wherever,’” it lays bare the implicit sentiment that once a month, women become the Hyde to our usual Jekyll.
The dominant religion in Western society says its adherents are washed clean by the blood of Jesus. Some sects even believe they are drinking Christ’s blood through transubstantiation. Yet amazingly, period blood — which plays a crucial role in the actual reproducing of humans—is somehow ungodly. We collectively avert our eyes from any association of blood, vaginas, and the color red. Ever seen a pantyliner commercial that uses red liquid? No. It’s always blue, with any semblance of a nice, big clot conspicuously absent. We are inundated with gore when it comes to the media we consume (even the story of the crucifixion is borderline torture porn), but blood pertaining to an event exclusively experienced by people with vaginas is somehow too graphic.
This leads me to believe that it isn’t about the blood. It’s about rejecting the monthly reminder that vaginas do not exist to cater to every whim of man. The levitical uncleanliness still attributed to menstrual blood is childish. No one’s asking anyone to turn into a vampire (unless you’re into that), but to label a natural phenomenon that approximately 50% of the population experiences as “gross” is akin to a toddler’s response to broccoli.
I’m not even necessarily talking about period sex (I mean, I am, but not entirely). But anyone who believes man-made contraception is unnatural while refusing to acknowledge, understand, or engage with the natural processes that beget fertility is ass backwards. Perhaps even more ass backwards is any man who wants vaginas to appear and act a certain way, yet maintains a regressive political stance toward female sexual health until it’s convenient for him (i.e. “I’m glad you’re on birth control so I don’t have to wear a condom,” or, “I don’t support healthcare policies that make birth control affordable and accessible, but I am pro-choice — you know, just in case I fuck up”).
That’s the crux of the issue: prioritizing aesthetics over health.
Perpetuating the taboo of the menstrual cycle puts our health at risk. Attributing extreme pain, uncontrollable mood swings, and gushes of blood to periods allow us to collectively brush off these symptoms when women experience them. None of these symptoms is normal. Any one of them could be indicative of bigger issues like PMDD, endometriosis, or PCOS. Casually construing the worst-case-scenario as the norm is a great way to perpetuate shame and prevent women from proper diagnosis.
Witty slogans like “shark week,” “red week is head week,” and “someone’s on the rag” might seem funny, but when grown men say this shit to each other, then turn around with their tails between their legs to look me in the eye and say “gross” at the prospect of encountering bodily fluid that isn’t white or clear, I am astonished by the boldness and entitlement it takes to be so immature. It’s this sort of explicit revulsion that reminds me to be self-conscious about my body; I don’t think anything of my period otherwise. It doesn’t matter whether these repulsed men are my sexual partners, or random strangers on the street, it has an effect. Being grossed out by periods says something about your view of female sexuality, and your view of females more generally.
The obsession with pristine femininity is prudish. Again, no one is asking men to drink, bathe in, or worship period blood. Just like… be cool. While men’s disgust with period blood says much more about them than it does about periods, the negative consequences of and responsibility for their regressive attitudes still fall squarely on the shoulders of those who menstruate. It’s just another way people with vaginas are socialized to hide and ignore their emotional and/or physical discomfort for the sake of cis men.
It’d be nice to claim our periods as a source of power over the men who are repulsed by them, but it’s hard to brush them off when those same men are empowered to legislate the bodies they’re willfully ignorant of. When merely talking about period blood is considered radical, something is amiss. But we should not capitulate. Our health and autonomy depend on normalizing periods and period-talk; it’s the only way to prove that periods are, well, normal.