INTERVIEW ! Elise Thiébaut, "Ceci est mon sang." ENGLISH
Rowenna bookclub: You read her book once, twice, enough to make you die of laughter and getting rid of some guilt feeling, well, SO DID WE ! "Ceci est mon sang, une petite histoire des règles, de ceux qui les font et de celles qui les ont", of Elise Thiébaut, was a hit in many countries last year. You asked for it, here it is !
In her book full of humour and wisdom, she delivers a part of herself, her story, her intimacy. Journalist and feminist, she was able to beautifully put words on periods and all phenomenons that surround them.
What does being a feminist mean to you?
To me it’s a matter of obviousness to be a feminist. We live in a patriarchal world where the inequality between women and men is institutional. It is therefore more than necessary to work for equality.
Structural gender inequality is actually the source for all other inequalities. If a child learns from very early on that one of its parents has more value than the other, it will hold as truth that people’s worth is in their class, gender, skin colour, etc. For me, feminism is a form of humanism, it teaches us to cooperate as a group towards each others happiness.
What is the next step to make sure men get involved in menstrual health, costs, etc.?
When I give a conference about the menstrual cycle, there is always a point at which I turn to men and boys and ask them: « What about you ? what do you think happens in your body? ». Well, in their bodies, many things happen with hormones, too! It is important to make them aware of that. When a boy ejaculates for the very first time, no party is organised. It does however mean that he is now able to reproduce, just like a young woman when she starts her period. I explain to them that, biologically speaking, menstrual blood and sperm are similar. But one holds a stigma and the other doesn’t.
Men are fertile 365 days a year, women only 4 days a month in average. If they are better informed on their bodies, and on the role they play in reproduction, contraception and parental leave could be better shared in the couple. Women should not carry the whole burden of reproduction on their shoulders.
How can we make society accept that women get their periods, which make them more sensitive, but that our voice is still worth being heard?
This phenomenon has two sides: the premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and the stereotypes. Many studies have been published on our biology. One of them tells us that hormone levels are similar in all of us, but that different people will react differently, also depending on their life status. Another study, led by Robyn Stein De Luca, shows that when a menstruator (someone who menstruates) feels he/she is going to start her/his PMS, the PMS will be more intense. Menstruation is a something hard to go through, because it hurts and because society decided it was something negative. So when you feel it is starting, your body is expecting pain and discomfort and gets ready. Result : you’re in a bad mood. I don’t mean to say that this hormonal phenomenon is only in our head, it does exist. But reactions are diverse from person to person. If someone suffers from endometriosis, for instance, periods will be more painful and can create a disability. Migraines can be unbearable. And for some people, hormonal fluctuations will lead to depression, which are used as arguments against them. Nobody should be told that her/his pain is not real, but instead should be respected and supported.
Very often, people (mostly men) make remarks such as « are you on your period? » when a woman expresses her feelings. Such statements could be also said about men, who develop testosterone. This hormone is necessary to make spermatozoids but also make men more aggressive. So we could tell them « Hey, don’t you have too much testosterone? » when they express themselves too harshly. But would they agree with that? I don’t think so. No human being is a hostage of its hormones and deserves such discriminations.
Tomorrow, on 6th of June, a national women’s strike will take place in Switzerland. It is often said that it happens in Switzerland because there is still so much to do here in comparison with other countries. How do you perceive this from France ?
I don’t quite like this aspect of competition, the fact that a country is late next to others. It is not a race.
We talk about your strike in feminist environments , as well as the national solidarity it implies, and I find this amazing. Generally speaking, the Swiss manage to make a whole out of your so many particularities, you are full of respect. The strike could be taken as an example for other countries.
How about a feminist strike in France ? Would it work ?
I really don’t know, but we are thinking about launching something similar in France for March 8th 2020. It worked well in Iceland, and we think that such an initiative could help to solve global issues of inequalities towards women : period poverty, gynaecological health, abortion movements, but also violence and poverty that affects women a lot. We need to me strong and united to tackle future challenges : climate crisis, the end of biodiversity, and for that we need our whole energy.
Interviewed by Elise Dottrens on June 13th, 2019