Menstruation Happens. Period. 4

“It is not menstrual blood per se which disturbs the imagination — unstanchable as that red flood may be — but rather the albumen in the blood, the uterine shreds, placental jellyfish of the female sea. This is the chthonian matrix from which we rose. We have an evolutionary revulsion from slime, our site of biologic origins. Every month, it is woman’s fate to face the abyss of time and being, the abyss which is herself.”

Camille Paglia

Every four weeks the story about the young lady who ran this year’s London Marathon on the first day of her period pops into my head and I remind myself that it’s part of a bigger thing that I want to discuss here.  In fact, it’s bigger than one blog post.  I’m talking about period shaming.

Kiran Gandhi

Kiran Ghandi and her friends, running to raise money for Breast Cancer Care, smile as they cross the Tower Bridge during the London Marathon 2015

As far as I am concerned, my period happens because my body is doing it’s job of clearing itself of waste materials.  It’s pretty much on a par with sweating, having a runny nose, peeing or taking a dump.  They can be gross and inconvenient but are necessary and natural mechanisms that have become stuck with through natural selection as our species has evolved.  I have no doubt that this point of view would have some people up in arms – how very dare I lump menstruation into the same category as faeces! – but you know what, there is nothing special about menstruation.  A person being on their period should not be a something that society makes into a “thing”.

But, we do.  And we will have to as long as our children continue to be taught that the configuration of our genitalia should define our worth, how we are treated in law and prescribes what behaviours we should expect and accept.

Now, I appreciate that we have different levels of squeamishness when it comes to the human body.  Some people get nauseous looking at belly buttons, others have iron stomachs when witnessing (and even being covered with) other people’s bodily waste evacuations.  Period blood is no exception and there are an unfortunate few who (for a whole variety of reasons) struggle with their own periods in this way.  I do not envy them.

Generally speaking, I fall into the iron-stomached brigade (although some of the Jackass vomit-related stunts really pushed me to the edge).  I like to just think I am sensible about any kind bodily fluid or waste: cover up and wash up as necessary. The scientist in me is used to having to do it anyway.  For the most part, I find that my periods are generally just something that I keep track of so I don’t have to write off any more pairs of knickers.

My first reaction to Kiran Gandhi’s decision was annoyance at her attention seeking.  The reports I heard/read mentioned something about tampons and raising awareness but all I could think was how uncomfortable it would be to run a marathon with drying blood chaffing my crotch and legs.  Over time I started to view things a little differently.  I’m still not convinced that her tactics were the best, especially as she really just seemed to do it as an afterthought.  However, from my point of view, a woman who got period stains on her during a public event should be a non-event.  No one bats an eyelid when someone is sweating profusely or firing snot rockets during a marathon so our society needs to get over making a big deal about periods.

Instead her actions divided us.  Again.  There were those who applauded her for her awareness-raising actions, there were those who were just plain grossed out and there were even those who used it as part of their rationale for their misogynistic agenda.  Of course, the split wasn’t necessarily by gender or by sexuality but it was a split.

With all these thoughts in my head I have decided I want to look further into societal attitudes to menstruation and people who menstruate, so I am intending on this being the first of a series  If you’re interested in following it then keep an eye out for posts  tagged #MenstruationHappens.


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