Cramps, bloating, irritability, acne, feminine hygiene products. Menstruation sucks. Period. But what sucks more is the shame and embarrassment that comes with it. While America is not the worst place to be a bleeding woman, it’s not the best either. We’re still allowed to go to school and enter the kitchen while we’re on our periods, unlike some ladies living in Africa, but there remains a stigma against menses in our society.
Recently, I read Gloria Steinem’s article “If Men Could Menstruate,” published in Ms. Magazine. It plays with a hypothetical reversal in present-day society: what if men could menstruate and women could not? Steinem uses the topic to discuss how people in power justify inequality. She humorously brings up the holidays, celebrations and, of course, luxury name-brand tampons that would arise around men’s menstruation.
Why isn’t menstruation viewed in such a positive light for women?
Men have historically held more power in society. So if they got periods, of course this would be seen as a good thing. Before reading this article, just based off the title alone I’d assumed that it would hypothesize a situation in which men experienced periods, instead of women.
Of course, then we run into some biological issues. Since menstruation happens so that one can become pregnant, men would then be the child-bearers. Since they’d have to be able to feed their children, I guess men would also need breasts and wider hips to carry a child. And could they still be considered men if they would need a uterus and a vagina to actually give birth? If men now menstruated, would that mean women would have more power?
Instead of looking at the world and wondering what it would be like if men menstruated instead of women, we should consider the possibility of women not having to face shame for a completely natural bodily function.
In her book “New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation”, Chris Bobel discusses a movement that started in the 1970s known as menstrual activism. The theory battles female body shaming and fights to end the stigma associated with menstruation.
“Increasing numbers of women began to question the safety of menstrual products and, more fundamentally, the social construction of menstruation as little more than a shameful process,” Bobel writes to explain how menstrual activism began. She also brings up how menstruating was known as a “curse” since it was seen as unclean and impure in some cultures.
Bobel also highlights some menstrual activists, such as the “Bloodsisters” who spoke out about the health risks associated with certain feminine hygiene products, and Elizabeth Kissling who brought up how women are seen as “Other” and how that plays into societal views of menstruation.
This brings us back to Steinem’s thoughts on how menstruation is only seem as “negative” because it is associated with the “inferior” gender. Once this negativity is lifted, will there be more equality between the sexes, or will there have to be equality before the stigma is eradicated?
Menstrual activism is still prevalent today as both women and men try to erase the taboo that surrounds menstruation.
Recent menstrual activists have fought against the sales tax on tampons and other feminine hygiene products. Fusion’s love and sex writer Taryn Hillin explains that while many states exempt “necessities,” tampons are rarely included in that category. Pennsylvania is one of five states to actively discontinue the tax on feminine hygiene products, while 40 states still have the “tampon tax” — five states do not have any sales tax.
Menses have come up in the media recently as women fight to erase the stigma associated with “that time of the month.” Kiran Gandhi ran the 2015 London marathon without any period protection as an act of menstrual activism. Meanwhile, Rupi Kaur caused an uproar on social media when the pictures of her blood stained sweatpants and sheets were removed by Instagram twice.
People shame what they don’t understand. Almost every woman menstruates, so why is over half of the population forced to feel shame for something they cannot control? As Bobel says: “Menstrual activists assert that menstruation is a healthy bodily process — a vital sign — that should not be cursed, masked, or suppressed.”
So don’t wrinkle your nose at the thought of talking about menses. Learn about the process. Menses impact everyone, whether you’re aware of it or not.
Note: I’m writing this column about feminist issues, but anyone is welcome to comment on what I have said. Strongly negative or hateful comments will not receive a response, but I am happy to start a discussion with curious readers.