I wasn’t surprised by the reaction I got from talking to people about this blog post, but what surprised me was the number of times it happened. The first thing people did when I told them was ask, “Why would a man want to write a blog post on periods?” The easiest way to answer that question is to simply say, “…Because you asked that question.” Both in the media and everyday interaction periods are constructed as a taboo subject, regulated to women* and hidden from men.
My first memory of anything period related came from when I was 9 years old and running around the school playground; I noticed that three of my friends were all huddling together and excluding themselves from the other kids. I approached them with curiosity only to find that I wasn’t welcome, “Go away Luke, we can’t talk to boys right now.” They put a protective arm around my friend Kerry and only with some persistence did one of the girls break away to tell me to leave them alone as “Kerry has had her first period.” I let out a sympathetic “Ahh,” although I really had no idea what it all meant, only that I should understand this is something girls need to ‘deal with’ and boys need to stay well away from.
As I got older I came to understand that not only was this something that boys weren’t to be a part of, but that it was something that people were definitely not ‘proud of’ or spoke about freely. My religious upbringing reified this belief with the bible story of “The Woman” who had a constant period for 12 years. 1 Having exhausted all medical cures, “the woman” decided to find a cure for her “embarrassing and humiliating ailment” through Jesus Christ; she did this by inconspicuously making her way through crowds of people so that she could touch his garment. Both the moral of the story and the fact that the authors didn’t even give her a name demonstrate that in Mosaic law, and just about every other culture since, menstruation has been constructed as something ‘unclean’ and to be kept secret.
I’m sure that everyone has a memory or two which demonstrates this point, whether it’s girls being separated at school to receive a ‘period talk,’ or buying tampons which look like sweets in an effort to avoid any man from being aware that you have a completely normal functioning body. I’d like to now turn my focus however to the way in which periods are constructed around men.
Hiding from red: periods and men
The inspiration for this blog came as a reaction to a viral video from a tampon company’s advertisement, you can find the link at the bottom of the blog2.
The company’s reaction to Richard’s Facebook post is funny only because everyone can briefly share a moment where we all recognise the inconsistencies in tampon adverts, just so long as we can rest assured that it will all go back to normal after the commercial is finished. That is to say, the advert provides a brief comic relief to the perceived trauma of menstrual cycles.
What’s really upsetting about this advert is that they missed an opportunity to create a healthy debate about the misrepresentation in period ads by refocusing the issue completely around men. The blue liquid and montages of women playing sport are all a façade to protect men from a ‘horrifying’ reality. It never ceases to amaze me that in a society which socialises men with all the brute strength and emotional detachment that comes with masculinity they would be reduced to tears at the sight of period blood, the cleanest type of blood there is, and yet happily sit through a two hour action film where body parts are spewed all over.
The criticism that I’ve had for this argument from various friends has been that we can’t expect all men to want to have sex with women on their periods and that the reaction of those in the video are justified, “Some people can’t even look at blood!” Whilst there is some truth in this, I want to make it clear that historically menstruation has been seen as a barrier used either consciously or subconsciously by women to prevent men from fulfilling their innate sexual responsibilities3. I believe there’s a fine line between acknowledging people’s genuine fear of blood and creating an argument which reduces women to an object dedicated to men’s ‘natural urges.’ There is a lot more to periods than just sex.
What I hoped to achieve with this blog is to not only vent my frustration about society’s view on periods, but also to encourage more men to be confident enough to not only talk freely about periods, but reject the idea that they are something to be afraid of. I want young women to be free to express themselves without being made to feel unclean, weak or emotionally stunted. I want couples, friends and employers to openly discuss the issue without it being treated as a taboo. And finally, I hope biology lessons on periods can be shared with both boys and girls so that we can not only embrace the differences between genders, but more importantly look for similarities.
There is so much to say on this topic which I couldn’t fit in here but my hope is to just start a conversation about something that is too often remained silenced.
*In this blog I refer to periods being regulated to women, but want to acknowledge that not all cis-gendered women experience menstruation, nor that all women are cis-gendered. My intention is to highlight the construction of gender norms on an abstract level.
1Watchtower and Bible Tract Society (1987) ‘She Touched His Garment’ in Watchtower, 1 June, New York: WTBTS.
3Laws, S (1990) Issues of Blood: Politics of Menstruation, Hampshire: Macmillan.