There will be blood
At first it’s only about the lower back pain. It almost feels like it’s only muscular pain, due to bad positioning. But it’s much worse. The pain scrawls in the lower belly, it warms up my insides dangerously. I urgently need to use the bathroom. In the next three hours, I will run there three times. The pain increases, increases and increases more, until I stagger. I sweat, I wobble, and I vomit. The suffering creeps down my legs and sends electrical shocks to my knees. I can’t move them anymore, I can’t stand. It’s nothing but chaos in my head, nothing but this pain, and I pray, I beg for it to stop. It will: only after a few hours and powerful pain killers, and it’ll make me drowsy for three days. After the first agony, the dark red, almost crimson blood starts leaking and with it comes the warm satisfaciton of feeling it flow down, the relievement of having it outside instead of inside me.
Shocked ? Then you might be part of the 45% of men disgusted by menstruation or 58% of women who are ashamed of it. « Visit from Aunt Flo », « that time of the month », « on the rag », there are more than 5000 expressions invented to avoid calling it by its name : I BLEED SO I AM HEALTHY. Because that’s the truth. My truth and of 4 billion other women on this planet. So, we are in 2018. Why is it we still hide our tampons on our way to the bathroom, even on the conveyor belt in the supermarket ? Why is it that periods is still so often the only reason men think of when a woman shows her strong character ?
The suffering creeps down my legs and sends electrical shocks to my knees. I can’t move them anymore, I can’t stand. It’s nothing but chaos in my head, nothing but this pain, and I pray, I beg for it to stop.
For a better understanding, let’s go back in time. For a long time in history, women’s menstrual cycle has been studied, (by men of course) and has been the subject of many beliefs and unfounded superstitions.
In the medieval times, for instance, it was commonly thought that menstrual cramps were nothing more than the punishment for Eve’s original sin. There was no treatment or pain relief available for them at that time, which forced them to use some dark magic tricks like... rubbing their vaginas with a boiled toad ! Back then, they had no other option but to use papyrus or nuts to put in their vaginas to retain the flow.
Finally, in the 1930’s, our good old tampon was invented. Nevertheless, it was highly inadvisable or even forbidden to use it because it might had brought sexual pleasure or even deflowered them. It was then more common to use some kind of bizarre belt, awkwardly similar to a chastity belt, with a strap that comes under the legs to collect the blood. This device was used until.. 1970 !
The Story of Menstruation
In 1947, a film on the menstrual process, produced by Walt Disney, was shown in many schools in the USA in order to educate boys and girls about it. A narrator explains the female anatomy, as well as disproves some old beliefs about menstruation. « And there’s the old taboo against exercise, that’s nonsense. Exercise is good for you during menstruation. Just use common sense. »
By the time of its release, the film was seen as a great revolution (never ever until that point in time had a film so much as mentionned the noun « vagina » !). However, the narrator carries on with advising young women to keep on smiling and keeping a good image, because, whether they want it or not, they have to live in society. It seems that since 1947, mentalities haven’t really changed…
Those beliefs and traditions and in fact still anchored deeply in some countries’ culture. In Japan, for example, it is commonly known that a woman can’t become a sushi chief, because, when on her period, she will make the fish go bad. In some countries of central Africa, schools are not equipped with toilets, so 28% of the girls have to stay at home during a whole week per month. In Pakistan, 44% of women don’t have access to the sanitary products they need. But, even worse I think, a hindu tradition, which considers menstruating women as impure and dirty, forces them to spend a whole week in a small wooden hut outside their villages, most of the time without food or clothing. In 2017, a young woman in Nepal died of a snake bite in her hut. Early 2018, another one was found dead because her hut took fire and nobody came to rescue her.
If those customs are still deep in people’s mind, it doesn’t prevent some women to be outraged by them and say it out loud. In 2015, after having decreed that impure women couldn’t be authorized inside a temple during their periods, a hindu temple chief decided to install a « period detector » in each of his temple’s entry. Indian women immediately reacted, including Nikita Azad, by launching the #happytobleed hashtag. Associations such as feminisminindia and menstrupedia supported the initiative and hundreds of women posted pictures of themsleves with the hashtag.
Elsewhere in the world, organisations like Clue offer websites or applications for young women to express their doubts and ask questions. Other movements like PERIOD. and Myna Mahila in Mumbai want to raise awareness and distribute menstrual hygiene products to homeless women.
Rupi Kaur, indian painter and poetess living in Canada also attracted attention on her with her artwork « period ». One of the photographs, showing the artist on her bed with a red stain between her legs, has been seen and commented throughout world. Instagram censored it twice because it was considered too shocking. Rupi Kaur posted it again everytime, and she comments the events in an interview : “I wanted to demystify society’s ideas of the period, and show that we are disgusted by something so strikingly normal, so strikingly universal, while being so accepting of images of women being objectified and overly sexualised.”
Other controversial issue: the tax on feminine hygiene products. In Great Britain, it amounts to 5%. Even if some countries have announced its end or partial reduction, Switzerland declared it was going to stay at 8%. It is still considered as a "luxury product". A november 2018 study by the Guardian can show how much a woman has already spent on her period, depending on her age and when she got her first period. Had I lived in Great Britain, I would already have spent £464, including 22£ only for the tax.
Sarah Lambert, french artist based in Bali, also published a series of drawings on the theme. She is shocked about the lack of recognition of the pain we endure. "The subject is by far not enough spoken about, although it's absolutely normal. Women should be respected much more considering what we endure."
So what can YOU do, to end this period shaming nonsense? To be able to stop hiding, keeping silent and finding excuses? Or to make your wife, your mother, your sister feel good about her period?
1. Get informed, and you will learn to see the beauty of a menstruating woman. Yes, I promise.
2. Have period sex. It can be a powerful icebreaker ! It is only blood, when you think of it, which, by the way, can come in useful as a natural lubricant. Moreover.. the orgasm is a natural painkiller, which can make this bad week pass more easily.
3. Leaks happen, to everybody. It’s already embarrassing enough, we don’t need you to laugh stupidly at it. Just get over it.
4. Use the expression « period » or « menstruation » instead of one of the 5000 other expressions we invented to describe it. A woman on her period is a woman on her period, period. And as Hermione Granger once said : « The fear of a name increases the fear of the thing itself.»
It’s time to act and face the reality. A bleeding woman is a source of life.
Period. The menstrual movement
Feminism in India
Heading picture by ©Sarah Lambert