(Warning: This post is really long. Primarily because it took me about 3-4 weeks to write and research.)
Well, It seems like menstruation has been the hot topic on feminist blogs for the past few months, and I wanted to follow-up on my previous post about using hormonal birth control to suppress menstruation. For those of you who missed the earlier post here it is at Alas and at Rachel’s Tavern. My concerns about menstrual suppression revolved around three issues 1)the lack of studies of the long term health effects of this 2)the possibility that women may get pregnant and not know about it in time to get adequate prenatal care or have access to abortion and 3)the marketing and framing of menstruation as abnormal bad or gross. If I were to prioritize those three things, the last one is the one that I am most concerned about, and that is the one I would like to emphasize in this post.
Amanda over at Pandagon took exception to my view, and made this argument:
The problem isn’t discussing one’s feelings about it or anything like that, but I have a big, fat problem with the kneejerk assumption that “natural” is more valuable than “unnatural”. Every time someone praises menstruation as something that makes them feel like a woman or whatever, I wonder if they’re working for Tampax or something.
The only problem with that argument was that it was not my point. If I was making that argument, I think she has a valid point. I try very consciously to avoid the term “natural”–things like poison ivy and stinging nettles natural. The natural framework is problematic. First, off you’d be hard pressed to get people to agree on what is natural, and second we can’t assume that things that are “natural” are necessarily better than things that are created by people. I also think there are just as many people making money off menstruation as there will be on stopping menstruation. Whether you think a period is “natural” or not, we do need to understand that there is nothing abnormal about periods.
One commenter defended my position very well. La Luba said,
But traditionally, it is the male body that has been viewed as “normal” or “natural,” and the female body that is viewed as abnormal, unnatural, cursed, in need of “fixing.” Arguments like this are really intended to reclaim the female body as OK in its own right; that there isn’t something wrong with us, simply because our bodies aren’t male.
I’m not attached to “natural” as meaning “completely without medical intervention.” But I’m very suspicious of an effort by Big Pharma to focus the marketing of this pill formula towards women without problem periods. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. There is a lot of effective right-wing organizing towards abolishing birth control; Big Pharma is reacting to that by targeting the market in a way they know will have a positive effect on their bottom line–by reminding women of the negative aspects of their periods. That will create a demand. Women who wouldn’t dream of fighting for their right to control when and if they get pregnant will definitely get out in the streets to demand the right to live without a period–and don’t think for a minute that has nothing to do with the history of how women, and our menstruation, has been viewed.
Color me skeptical.
And yes, the fact that many women aren’t aware that “periods” while on the pill speaks to the fact that we are taught to be divorced from our bodies and their functions—that we are taught that our bodies are for being seen and being “done to,” rather than being active. I’m seeing this issue against a backdrop of how women’s bodies are viewed and treated, and I see Rachel’s point about semen. Semen has never been traditionally viewed with the negativity menstrual blood has. We haven’t heard semen referred to as “the curse” our whole lives.
I can’t see the marketing of this pill as being any different from the marketing of say, breast implants, or plastic surgery. Restorative breast implants and plastic surgery can make sense for cancer patients, or burn patients….but is this something the rest of us need, or should want? No one would question this “choice” if periods had been traditionally viewed through a neutral lens, as neither good nor bad, just there. That’s not the backdrop we’re working with here. Especially considering the religious overtones of “unclean” menstruating women; of “hysterical”, “unstable” menstruating women. Those myths are still out there. We are still fighting those myths. Whether or not an individual woman makes the choice to take this pill is immaterial. But whether this pill is seen as a “magic bullet” to rid us of the “hysterical” myth is very material. I don’t want a future of “but of course women are just as capable as men! we’re not hysterical anymore, ever since the pill! It’s only those women who don’t take the pill who are hysterical!!” arguments. There’s plenty of pseudo-feminists who would ride that train. (not that it would work. the bars would just be moved again.—but that’s another reason these conversations are necessary.)
I’m not saying that having this pill as an option is adding fuel to these fires. This pill is neutral, in and of itself. I’m saying it’s well worth questioning the why of this option. There are good reasons for making this choice, to take this pill. There are also good reasons for making the choice to not take this pill. Guess which choice is likely to be validated in an antifeminist, capitalist society such as we live in? A world where plastic surgeons make sales pitches in health clubs, because working out isn’t “enough” to make a woman “beautiful?” A world where women are more likely to swallow a man’s semen after oral sex than men are to perform oral sex on a menstruating woman (why is menstrual blood generally considered “ickier” than semen, hmm? wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact it comes out of a female body, would it?).
Natural hell. That’s not the bottom line for me.
Later LaLuba, also added the following comment which I agree with,
Who here is fetishizing “natural” I don’t have high blood pressure; does that mean I’m fetishing the concept of “natural” if I don’t take high blood pressure medicine?
I haven’t really noticed a mainstream tendency to fetishize natural. The mainstream tendency is to fetishize the “better living through chemistry”. And women’s bodies are the favorite battleground. For all the mention of fetishizing “natural”, I have yet to hear of a bottle-feeding mother being asked to leave a public place for not breastfeeding. It’s breastfeeding mothers who are regarded as disgusting, animalistic, filthy, unsanitary, and a public health hazard. Not to mention just plain slutty broads who want to show their tits. I have yet to see much cultural support for women who aren’t getting the full intervention workup. And yes, part of that is because historically, women were/are viewed as being closer to “animal” nature than men. I don’t like fuzzy-headed la-la arguments about some amorphous concept of what is-or-is-not “natural” either, but dammit, we are pressured to tamper with our bodies more than men are, and for specious reasons. Like I said before, there are good reasons for choosing this particular version of the Pill (in reality, a continous dose of the same-old-same-old Pill), but there are also good reasons not to. And women who choose not to are likely to be regarded as unclean freaks, the same way breastfeeding mothers are.
Look. This Pill has been around for generations. There’s a reason it is being marketed in this way, at this time. And it’s because of the pre-existing disgust women were taught to feel about our bodies. Yes, blood stains clothing. Yet people in general do not feel the same way about a bloody nose and a bloody cunt. There is a special revulsion reserved for menstruation. Why? It’s not just about the bloodstains.
I think we need to take a particularly strong stand against the phenomenon that La Luba addresses (in the bold writing). I strongly agree with this proposition. Marketing anti-period or no period pills really is really an ingenious way to help the fight against birth control. I can’t tell you how many young women I know who swear they take birth control pills ONLY to regulate their periods or cut down on period cramps. They say this because they know it is much more acceptable to say, “I am trying to feel better during my period” than it is to say “I’m having sex, and I don’t want to get pregnant.” I’m not chiding people for taking BCP to cut down on painful periods. I’m just pointing out that the “ick” fact associated with periods is something that the right wing embraces, and feminists need to be very careful not to embrace this too.
To me one of the underlying issues is body image—how we feel about our periods is part of our body image. Body image is not just whether we like our weight, breasts, or cellulite. It’s also whether or not we accept the bodily processes that are associated with women. A study by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals found that MOST women did not enjoy their period (71%) and would like to stop periods (62%). I don’t necessarily find this troubling. I did find some of the study’s other findings bothersome:
Forty-five percent do not avoid touching themselves when menstruating; but the sample was split on whether they thought menstrual blood was disgusting, at 37% disagree/strongly disagree and 37% agree/strongly agree.
I’m shocked at the number of women who will not touch themselves when they are on their period. I remember having an argument with a classmate in high school who believed that women were not supposed to bathe while on their period. She learned this from her mother who forbade her from washing during her period. One of the other findings I found interesting was the fact that 75% of women “believe men have a real advantage by not having the monthly interruption of a period.” On some level this is probably true, but I worry that people are not going to realize that it is the social arrangements of patriarchy that disadvantage menstruation, not anything defective in women’s bodies. Menstrual shame is a real issue that should not be minimized. In fact, Planned Parenthood dedicates a whole webpage to the subject.
The scientific community seems divided over the issue. The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has released a statement on menstrual suppression. This statement includes results from three studies on the subject of menstrual suppression. Here is a quote on the study findings (the bold emphasis is mine):
Authors of the first paper, Christine Hitchcock and Jerilyn Prior, reviewed studies that have been published on extending the schedule of oral contraceptive pills in order to reduce the frequency of menstrual bleeding. They concluded that we do not yet have evidence to suggest that menstrual suppression is entirely safe and reversible. The second set of authors, Alex Hoyt and Linda Andrist presented results from a study of women’s attitudes toward menstrual suppression. They concluded that negative attitudes toward the menstrual cycle were a better predictor of women’s interest in menstrual suppression than women’s menstrual symptoms, suggesting the importance of psychosocial factors in women’s decision making about altering their menstruation. The third paper, by Ingrid Johnston-Robledo and Jessica Barnack, addressed popular media coverage of menstrual suppression. From their analysis of print media, they concluded that regular menstruation is presented as bothersome and even unhealthy. Advocates of menstrual suppression and its benefits were afforded more space than opponents and risks. As with many other health issues, women are not getting accurate, balanced information, rendering an informed decision about this health care option difficult if not impossible.
While the response of this group is more tempered, the doctor who created Depo Provera, has a popular (but controversial) book arguing that menstruation is obsolete. (I still think menstruation is no more obsolete than semen.) Others advocate menstrual suppression, but don’t go as far. Here are two good sites that give information that is generally favorable to menstrual suppression—The Well Timed Period and No Period.
Some people, who disagreed with my previous post, took me to task arguing that I did not know what a period is. They claim that people taking BCPs do not have periods, just break through bleeding. I think what these people are missing the fact that the definition of a period is socially constructed, and the vast majority of people define a period as bleeding from the vagina as part of the cycle of a woman’s reproductive system. I know cases of women not taking BCP who were anovulatory, but still had monthly bleeding that they label as a period. Most women label the period in which they bleed as their period whether they are on BCP or not. Since my argument was more about the potential marketing of periods as icky disgusting and gross, I think the physiology of BCP is a moot point. What troubles people is blood coming from a woman’s vagina. They don’t care whether she has ovulated or not; they don’t care about the lining of the uterus.
Let’s be real menstruation needs a public relations firm. Imagine if I had written this post about diet pills or a new breast enhancement pill, making the same argument that women should have the right to take it, but that we should be leery of the marketing. I think we would see many more feminists up in arms. I have a feeling the response would have been much different, and I would have been getting high fives all over the place. The disgust with female bodies is widespread unless of course we are talking about the aspects of our bodies that are most accepted by men. (Having your breasts partially revealed on the cover of Maxim is good, but having your breast partially revealed while breast feeding invokes a totally different reaction.) I think views on menstruation are some of the most negative, especially when you have only 45% of women willing to touch themselves while menstruating.
I’m not saying that women should not take these sorts of BCP regiments. I believe in women’s rights to make decisions about our bodies. I also haven’t lost sight of the fact that our bodies have been and continue to be pathologized, and that’s a part of the reason that I still want my period.
Endnote: Clearly, this debate is very contentious among feminists. I collected several discussions on this subject, which are listed below. Overall, the feminist bloggers that I have read are fairly evenly divided on this issue, and both sides seem to feel passionately about the subject. Here are some posts on this subject: Pandagon, Shakespeares Sister, Feministing—Pt. 1 , Pt. 2 , Pt. 3, Niobium, Pandora’s Bazaar, Deanna Zandt, The Primary Contradiction..
Pingback: Reproductive Rights Blog
Pingback: Feministe's Journal
Pingback: Thinking Girl
Pingback: I Still Want My Period by Breast-enhancement-pill
Pingback: Twenty-three and Counting
Pingback: feminist blogs
Your post is as long as you promised, but it’s a good followup that should spark some solid conversation.
Since it’d be difficult to defend the status-quo (having a period) against claims of period suppression’s convenience, elimination of ick, and the like, what’s the first step? I understand that some societies make menustration a big positive deal– should we be trying to create such an environment? Would that kind of a campaign resemble the pro-breastfeeding campaigns? Are there advantages to menustration that can be touted?
I have rather mixed feelings on the menstruation question. During pregnancy and postpartum, I went for not quite a year and a half with no period. I have to say that I did not miss it one bit, and I was rather sad when it returned, as soon as my daughter started eating solids (in some women BFing suppresses menstruation much longer, but alas, not for me). I don’t find my period to be disgusting or unclean, but rather an inconvenience. I feel cranky and crampy for the week before (nursing while menstruating makes the cramps MUCH worse). It’s a nuisance to remember to tote along tampons and running the risk of leakage should I be less attentive to it than I should be.
On the other hand, I like knowing that I’m Not Pregnant every month. Also, I am one of those women who found that hormonal birth control has unpleasant side effects, so period elimination through hormones is not really an option for me.
I, too, am very wary of the fetishization of the natural, though I am surprised that anyone would deny that this fetishization of the natural exists (“all natural ingredients! a natural cure for the common cold! etc., etc.). The natural in our culture is too often treated as synonymous with the good, particularly on the left. However, we should keep in mind as we discuss the Natural, that it is natural for the female of our species to be pregnant every two years or so until menopause (or death in childbirth). In a pre birth control world, sexually active adult women did not menstruate on a regular monthly basis–the cycle was constantly interrupted by pregnancy and BFing. We have already deviated from the natural state by seizing control of our fertility and eschewing a state of constant gravidity.
Funny I just mentioned this issue in passing at my place today.
I think you are absolutely right to be leery of how this thing is going be marketed and treated in our culture. I can absolutely see it being treated like something women should do to make themselves more sexually appealing to men, regardless of the consequences for the women. And I can see that kind of marketing reinforcing all sorts of damaging notions. I can also imagine a class divide by which menstruation will become associated with poorer women who can’t afford this medication.
But unlike many other things that women are encouraged to do for the sake of sex appeal (such as undergoing plastic surgery or wearing spike heels), this one has the potential to make our lives much easier (assuming that this drug is safe over the long term).
To me, this medication has always been linked to the idea of my convenience and my control. I am not ashamed of my period or grossed out by my period. But I do find it inconvenient. And that’s a good enough reason for me to hope that the Pharma folks get cracking on studying the potential health effects. My body exists for my pleasure and convenience and anything that can enhance those two things safely is a net positive in my book!
I’m afraid I have to disagree that a period is socially constructed. It’s no more a social construct than semen is. The fake periods you have on the pill are a social construct, for sure. But periods are the sloughing off of uterine lining, not just basic bleeding. That is indeed different. Your dismissal of the very real problems periods present women is troublesome to me. It would be very easy for a pseudo-feminist anti-choicer to lift your argument full scale and argue against contraceptive use. Especially in the pathologizing of the female body (you’re not pregnant because you fear womanhood) and the notion that troubles caused by this body function are the patriarchy’s fault and no excuse to opt out (if 10 children is too many it’s because the patriarchy doesn’t support women with tons of children and/or the patriarchy’s fault that men feel entitled to fuck you after you’re “done”).
The pathologizing of the female body is a practical thing, and not just some airy symbolism. Women’s bodies are pathologized so that they can be hurt or crippled. The existence of the period has been used as an excuse to pathologize women’s bodies, as your examples of women who are forbidden to shower or touch themselves during the time shows. The patriarchy loooooves the period—just one more way to mark women as different and lesser. The entire reason there’s a “period” built into the pill is to satisfy the patriachy, because it’s so symbolically important to them. And why is it? Well, one simple, obvious reason—it marks a woman as fertile.
And this is why I really don’t like the period being so damn important to the idea of womanhood. Now we’re in patriachal territory, where a woman’s fertility is what makes her a woman and women who don’t menstruate, like post-menopausal women, barely count at all. So really, in that sense, period surpression is striking a blow for solidarity with our post-menopausal sisters.
Happy Feminist, I see your point, but wouldn’t drastically changing societal attitudes not only towards periods but women’s bodies in general also make having periods a lot less inconvenient?
Eeewwwwww! There are first-world women who don’t wash their vulvas when they menstruate? Why give up washing, if you have the goddess-send of indoor plumbing?
Happy Feminist, I see your point, but wouldn’t drastically changing societal attitudes not only towards periods but women’s bodies in general also make having periods a lot less inconvenient.
The inconvenience I suffer isn’t linked to social attitudes. I am literally referring to the time I have to spend in the bathroom every day, and getting up at least once in the middle of the night, to deal with this. That may sound minor, but I have days when I am running around so much, it is really aggravating to have to stop, grab a tampon, go to the bathroom and do my thing. And it is aggravating to have to stock up on various “feminine products” as opposed to just one pill. If I can rid myself of something that aggravates me, why not?
Also there is the issue of physical symptoms that many women experience from minor discomfort to out-and-out pain. Mine isn’t terrible, but I have I do have to pop an aspirin when I first get my period due to cramping in my legs that last several hours.
I’m self-employed and in an entrepreneurial frame of mind when I work.
I’ve lived with maybe ten or a dozen women in sufficient intimacy to have a good idea of how much time and attention an ordinary menstrual cycle takes.
As an entrepreneur, I’d rather have a bullet through my leg than have to deal with the hassle and time-suck of a period every. god. damn. month. The bullet would would eventually heal and I’d be done with it.
It’s a MAJOR competitive disadvantage.
Well, I am not sure I would go that far.
It’s not that big a disadvantage for someone who can charge off wasted time to someone else’s expenses. It’s a big disadvantage if your time belongs to you exclusively.
Or so it seems from my POV, anyway – admittedly, I haven’t had to actually deal with it. But I see my wife being call-it 10% less effective for call-it 15% of the time – and a 1.5% net reduction in my effectiveness would be a pretty big deal.
Hmmm. I bill by the tenth-of-the hour. So I will try to figure out next month how much billable time I spend (ahem) dealing with my period.
The other factor which is critical for me – and which I can see wouldn’t be very important for most people – is that I often bid for work in a competitive manner in a short timeframe. Being distracted or out of the loop at the unpredictable times when the competition opens up can be a major hit for me – I’ve got multi-thousand dollar a month clients that I would not have gotten if, at the time when we first talked on the phone, I hadn’t happened to be at the top of my game. Little things can make a big impact. (Like in Amp’s cartoon.)
HF: I agree with what Rachel said, and I’m not here to dictate what other women should or should not do, but I do have to wonder where the dividing line is between societally-created or manipulated inconvenience and true inconvenience. As an example, I hate paying so much for the products I need every month, but if other products (like the menstrual cup) were given out on the NHS for free and we all got proper instructions on how to use them when we were young, a lot of the dashing about so you can change that tampon/pad before it leaks would be gone.
Not to mention that if our society weren’t based on rushing around, doing things that as far as the wider picture goes are pretty p0intless, a lot of the extra pressure we feel when we’re on the rag would be gone too. But of course, that’s ridiculously idealistic.
That’s just an example. Of course, I know lots of women do have quite serious issues with painful periods, but I also have to wonder how much of that is due to other things in our environment. I suspect for a large number of women, it is due to additives in our food, other chemicals we come into contact with daily, etc.
I think that even if proper studies were done of women and menstruation (ones that would benefit US, not just satisfy men’s curiosity about us), most women could have periods that didn’t involve suffering. Yeah, there would always be some women who for a variety of physical reasons would still have pain and therefore need treatment, but I’m guessing the majority of us wouldn’t be suffering every month.
And no matter what our position is on whether we want to have a period every month, surely we have to be aware of the “Ick” factor and its misogynist base? Maybe the position that women who do not like having a period could take is being able to say that they don’t like them, but supporting women who don’t have a problem with them, and also working towards changing societal attitudes towards menstruation. While those of us who don’t mind having them could support those women who do, and *not* making the mistake of fetishising the “natural”?
How did I miss this? “the hassle and time-suck of a period every. god. damn. month.”
Oh come on. Yes, I know there are extreme cases of women who are actually ill every month, or who bleed so much they have to be constantly vigilant, but for the most part, if that’s the kind of period you’re having, your doctor ought to be taking better care of you (assuming that in the US, you could even afford to see one, that is).
For MOST of us, it’s actually not that much of a hassle. And “time-suck”??? What, do you suppose that tampon/pad changing can’t go on at the same time as taking a piss/dump?
You know, I hate being put into the position where it looks like I’m minimising the suffering some women have. I don’t want to do that, but I also don’t to pretend for some man that oh yes, periods are just the WORST, when the truth is that for most women they’re pretty unremarkable.
Amen to the latter comment Crys. I also don’t think that per Robert’s second comment, one’s period usually makes women “distracted and out of the loop at unpredictable times.”
It’s basically just . . . aggravating. I have never experienced it affecting my performance at work (and I’m a litigator which can be a pretty fast paced and all consuming job) nor have I ever been aware of it affecting someone else’s performance. The one exception I can imagine are those women who actually experience debilitating symptoms.
I guess we ARE seeing illustrated in this comments section some of Rachel’s points — the assumption that because periods are aggravating and require some attention that they actually affect company’s bottom line or a woman’s ability to perform competently.
As for Crys T”s comments in #14: I think some of the inconvenience we experience may be socially created but those social pressures (like having to run around) are not related to the social construction of menstruation itself. Also, I like having a hectic, fast-paced lifestyle! So again for me, it’s about tools to accommodate my preferences rather than having my body call the shots.
In regards to The Happy Feminist’s comment about “having to stock up on various feminine products” — may I recommend using either a Diva Cup or a Keeper? These are reusable cups that generally only have to be emptied twice a day, and once you empty it you just rinse it and put it back in (so you don’t have to carry any spare products at all).
I used to think it would be icky, but then I realized I was being ridiculous, and that even if you (gasp!) get some menstrual blood on your hands, it washes off. Using one of these cups has made my period way, way less inconvenient/unpleasant. I think that if more women felt comfortable with their bodies during their periods (and of course I’m not arguing that the women here are not!), these would be much more popular.
Scott said, “Would that kind of a campaign resemble the pro-breastfeeding campaigns? Are there advantages to menustration that can be touted?”
As far as the first question, maybe it could. But I wouldn’t go with the sort of “breat is best” kind of statement. I think we would need to have PSAs saying things like (I’m paraphrasing here.) menstrual blood is not gross, women aren’t crazy when they are on their period. I would need to think about it more. Like maybe an ad of a woman going about her normal day, with the caption. “She’s on her period. Can you tell?”
As far as the second, question I would need a little more of a medical background to tout bio benefits, but I think the advantage of knowing that you are or are not pregnant is a good one.
Happy said, “I can absolutely see it being treated like something women should do to make themselves more sexually appealing to men, regardless of the consequences for the women. And I can see that kind of marketing reinforcing all sorts of damaging notions. I can also imagine a class divide by which menstruation will become associated with poorer women who can’t afford this medication.
But unlike many other things that women are encouraged to do for the sake of sex appeal (such as undergoing plastic surgery or wearing spike heels), this one has the potential to make our lives much easier (assuming that this drug is safe over the long term).”
That’s a really good set of points.
Speaking personally, I don’t find my period to be much of an inconvience, but I also have a really hard time imagining not having it, which makes me wonder how I will respond to menopause.
HF said, “I guess we ARE seeing illustrated in this comments section some of Rachel’s points — the assumption that because periods are aggravating and require some attention that they actually affect company’s bottom line or a woman’s ability to perform competently.”
Yeah, exactly what I thought when i read Robert’s comment.
For heaven’s sake. I was trying to provide a data point, from one type of job where a minor inconvenience could make a significant difference in outcome.
You know what does affect a person’s ability to perform competently? The ability to contextualize a statement of limited applicability into its appropriate field of operation, instead of taking everything as a general.
My apologies for providing data.
Amanda said, I’m afraid I have to disagree that a period is socially constructed.”
But it’s not about it being real of fake. I’m just pointing out that we have a cultural definition of a period that is not necessarily consistent with a medical definition.
Amanda said, “It would be very easy for a pseudo-feminist anti-choicer to lift your argument full scale and argue against contraceptive use.”
I have thought about that possibility, and I thought that was going to be your initial reaction to the older post. But thhey can use the period suppression argument too. I can easily imagine a menstrual supression is good argument from the right wing. I can imgine women being expected or forced to use menstrual supression, but I do not think that this constitutes an argument against it.
Amanda said, “The pathologizing of the female body is a practical thing, and not just some airy symbolism. Women’s bodies are pathologized so that they can be hurt or crippled. The existence of the period has been used as an excuse to pathologize women’s bodies, as your examples of women who are forbidden to shower or touch themselves during the time shows. The patriarchy loooooves the period—just one more way to mark women as different and lesser. The entire reason there’s a “period” built into the pill is to satisfy the patriachy, because it’s so symbolically important to them. And why is it? Well, one simple, obvious reason—it marks a woman as fertile.”
So you think it is all connected to fertility. Well, I guess I think it is way more complex. Patriarchy is a sneaky snake, and it can shift into multiple forms–both pro-and anti period. It sounds almost like you’re saying women can be freed from patriarchy by supressing menstruation? Are you? If so, I don’t buy it.
this is my first visit to your site. I was pleased to find a post on this subject, as I have been thinking on a related post on my own blog for some time. I didn’t read the original, just this follow-up, but will comment anyway. :)
Here’s my thoughts – I hope none of this is too redundant:
The aspect of controlling one’s period seems to be an extension of the more general attitude that women’s bodies are unruly and in need of control. This is not a new idea. This task is placed on women themselves as a sort of self-regulation, as many femininity practices are. Women are placed in the position of having to control our bodies in order to be of better service to men under patriarchy – to be more sexually available, as Happy Feminist points out, and this also has aspects of giving women more freedom over their unruly bodies — which can be seen as a positive thing for the woman who wants to be more competitive with men in a man’s world, or just wants to improve her chances of socio-economic advancement through marriage (still a woman’s best chance at climbing the ladder of economic freedom). I do not think it is positive in the least. There is nothing about periods that need be considered gross, unruly, etc.
I have been concerned about the general negative attitude towards menstruation for some time. With the discovery of the Diva Cup to the mix, the inconvenience of menstruation is really not all that major. There is no real inconvenience about it anymore; I hardly think about my period until it’s time to go to bed. I deal with my period once in the morning and once again at night. I no longer have cramps, and the expense of feminine hygeine (a term I object to strongly) products is minimal. With the changes I have notices in my period and my body from ending my dependence on tampons – even natural cotton unbleached tampons, which I had been using for some time, and the changes I have found in my level of inconvenience, and the changes in my body post-menstruation, I am convinced that tampons have been causing me to have more cramps, more headaches, more mood swings, heavier flow, and more inconvenience than is necessary. Why don’t more women use/know about menstrual caps – as someone above mentioned? Multimillion dollar ad campaigns from playtex and tampax that encourage the attitude that dealing with a period must include not touching one’s vagina and that menstrual blood is so gross it must be discarded of in a disposable manner.
I guess waht I’m concerned with is the general attitude towards women’s bodies as being in need of CONTROL. And that the task is placed on women to control THEIR OWN bodies for the benefit of MEN. Theres a sort of panoptical effect to this sort of domination, that wears women down into behaving in ways that benefit not themselves, but men. Why should a man care whether I am menstruating? Because he “can’t” have sex with me? Why not? Because menstrual blood is gross? Because sex ain’t sex without penile penetration? There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as my mom would say (maybe not in this context!), when it comes to getting off… the focus on the penis as the instrument of sex should not force me to control my body in certain ways that are detrimental to me.
Rather than ‘fetishizing the natural’, I’ve always seen that concept of menstruation being comforting, etc, as a throwback to that patriarchal concept of ‘washing out the system’ – menstruation is women’s filth that must be cleaned out once a month (that, and Amanda’s mention of the “she is fertile, therefore good!” concept). I have to say, I’m wary of anything that interferes too much with menstruation, but at the same time, I, personally, never thought “eww, menstruation, so gross; I wish I could avoid my monthly ick” when I heard of this (I’d readily go down on my girlfriend when she’s on her period, sure thing), rather, “Oh, I really would like to avoid all that pain.” I’m guessing, though, that a lot of women would definitely think of it as a solution to that icky problem that of course ISN’T a part of a natural cycle.
Speaking just for myself, I agree that the Diva Cup and similar products are a wonderful idea, but I don’t happen to want to deal with menstrual blood in liquid (or semi-liquid, or clotted, or whatever) form; I’d rather soak it up and dump it. But I’d really rather not have periods at all. From my point of view, the choice is between bleeding from the vagina for several days every four weeks, with occasional mild cramps and possible additional laundry, or not bleeding from the vagina for several days every four weeks, cramps, etc. I just don’t see that bleeding from the vagina has much to recommend it.
I’d like to offer a point of view I haven’t really seen on this page yet. I have endometriosis. While I found having my period to be uncomfortable and I always spent at least one day ill, I never thought my periods were that horrible and was actually diagnosed only because a surgeon noticed it while removing my appendix. I’ve been on birth control, in one form or another, since then. It’s been four years and the difference is remarkable. I just didn’t know that what I was experiencing was not normal until then. I’m not going to lie and say that’s the only reason I use birth control because it’s not. I also do not want to get pregnant.
First I was on Depo-Provera, more commonly referred to as “the shot.” I was on this for over two years and experienced breakthrough bleeding frequently, sometimes for weeks, even months at a time. It was not the most pleasant experience. I probably would have stayed with it however because, while an inconvenience, I wasn’t getting pregnant nor was I experiencing the illness and cramps I had always had before. Then I moved to a different town and my new doctor told me she did not want to prescribe it for me because of how much calcium it takes from your bones.
So she put me on a generic pill and has me taking it much like Seasonale. I am supposed to take active pills for 90 days and then a week of inactive pills. I still experience breakthrough bleeding after about six to eight weeks of active pills. This is really inconvenient for me, mostly just because it comes out of nowhere and lasts until I take inactive pills. I have started taking a week of inactive pills when I start to notice breakthrough bleeding so I don’t have to deal with it for another six weeks. One week is quite enough for me!
My point here is this: how many women are going to understand that the results are not always 100% period free? I know I’m not the only woman to experience breakthrough bleeding in this manner. In the studies I have read, some women reported that they quit taking the pill in the extended cycle format because of the breakthrough bleeding.
So while this drug might sound great .. I’ve been using the pill to delay my period for over a year and before that was using Depo-Provera to eliminate it and it did not work. I’m due for an annual exam soon (all the ladies know how excited I am for that right?). I’m going to ask my doctor to prescribe me the pill the old fashioned way. My body wants to bleed for a few days every month and after experiencing light bleeding for several weeks at a time, I’m perfectly ok with that.
My apologies for providing data.
Which would be fine, if you actually were providing data. You weren’t. You were reiterating traditional myths and biases about menstruating women. That’s not “data”, and you know it. You did provide a fine example of what Amanda was talking about when she referred to the patriarchal construct of the period, and the pathologizing of women’s bodies.
Thank you Rachel, for bringing this back. And thank you for understanding what I was saying. I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t giving a knee-jerk “no” response to this issue based on some concept of what is “natural”, but that wasn’t the response my comments received. Yeah, it’s true my views on medical intervention tend to flow towards using the least amount of intervention necessary to solve a problem, but that isn’t based on some hippified version of what’s natural, but with an eye toward unwanted side-effects, long(er) recovery times, and frank distrust of the medical establishment (especially the pharmaceutical branch).
Thank you Rachel, for reminding us of the marketing angle of this form of birth control, at this time. There was a recent full-page article in my local paper on “the no-period pill”, as if this is new technology. It isn’t. This is technology from my mother’s generation (as Amanda and others have pointed out). I can’t help but think this is a response to the overwhelming success of the anti-feminist anti-birth control crowd. Because even the women who enthusiastically participate in anti-feminist movement still think their periods are anywhere from inconvenient to gross.
And I’d hazard a guess that there isn’t one of us who hasn’t at one time or another been shamed for having a period. I don’t think the solution to this should be “well, just take the Pill and stop having periods.” I don’t want to see “feminists” walking hand-in-hand with the patriarchy at shaming or blaming women who choose not, or cannot take this Pill. Because yes, that has been the response of the white, middle-class led “official” feminist movement toward mothers—don’t want the job discrimination that comes with motherhood? Tough shit! We marched for choice. Choice. You know, choice? Abortion? And you’re the dumbass who didn’t have one, so, uh, not our problem! So, anything that relates to children is basically a non-issue in that arena.
Also, keep in mind that at the same time there’s this marketing push for a no-period pill, more information is coming out on the effects of pseudoestrogens in our environment (from pesticides, herbicides, plastics, etc.). Reminding women of the grossness, inconvenience, and bloodstains of our periods (and expect to see more of Robert’s argument trotted out; that women can’t think, can’t compete, and aren’t “at the top of our game” on our periods) is one way—maybe the only way—to overcome suspicion on whether there are any possible side effects to taking hormones.
Full disclosure: I choose not to take the Pill for medical reasons. My father has been taking medication to prevent spontaneous blood clotting ever since his mid-to-late thirties. My mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer in her early forties; it returned two years ago as bone cancer. Even so, I have had the Pill pushed on me by medical doctors. I get to argue with M.D.’s about my choice (a reasonable one in any case, but especially considering my family history) about my refusal to take the Pill (“just because your parents had these problems doesn’t mean you will.” “you do know the Pill is the most effective form of birth control, don’t you?!”). So, I argue a while, play the game, and then get my damn diaphragm (which insurance won’t pay for). This is what marketing incentives by Big Pharma do. It has an effect on the accessibility of birth control options. Fewer options of birth control is not a good thing. The Pill is paid for by insurance as long as it’s prescribed for reasons other than birth control. And yes, some feminists are already taking that and running with it—-far and away from those feminists who don’t have this form of access. It’s our problem, not theirs.
Now to really stick my foot in it—open question to all women who do not have painful and/or debilitating periods, yet who find having one inconvenient: why? Why is having a period inconvenient if there isn’t a medical issue? Please do not take this question as an accusation. I am trying to understand this perspective. That’s all. I’m trying to get where you’re coming from.
And another reminder: nowhere have I given a blanket “no” to this. I’m questioning the practice, but nowhere have I advocated its banning. Just so we’re clear.
I really wonder why feminists are even having this discussion. Yes, there are arguments for and against, but I don’t want people imposing their political views on the most intimate aspects of my personal life. If I wanted people telling me what to do with my body, that I need to check I have permission to use hormones to skip my period, or whether it’s ok for me to give blowjobs, I might as well pay attention to sexists.
The world is already full of people who want to pontificate about exactly what women should or shouldn’t do with their bodies. I don’t see that it makes much difference whether the justification is gender essentialism, or religion, or feminist politics. In all cases, my answer is the same: it’s none of your business.
[Comment deleted by Amp. MAP, you’ve been banned. Please stop posting on this site. –Amp]
Rachel as someone who had real problems with her periods I’d really object to this sort of campaign. I felt huge pressure to act normal, to pretend I felt OK. This was as prevalent in feminist literature as in mainstream media. If I wasn’t OK then I was letting the side down, and premenstrual problems are the result of feeling bad about your period anyway. For example, the Our Bodies Our Selves section on premenstrual problems is woefully short.
I support anything a woman does to try an alleviate pre-menstrual symptoms. I discovered mine were due to dairy intolerance and it changed my life. But not everyone’s symptoms can be made to disappear, and it has to be OK to have symptoms that inhibit our lives.
I don’t think anyone (here, at least) is saying “You must do this” or “you mustn’t, on any accounts, consider this” – just “think about WHY you’re doing what you do, and what societal concepts may be helping to form those choices.” …is just my take on things
Maia said, “I support anything a woman does to try an alleviate pre-menstrual symptoms. I discovered mine were due to dairy intolerance and it changed my life. But not everyone’s symptoms can be made to disappear, and it has to be OK to have symptoms that inhibit our lives. ”
Can you tell me more about the dairy thing? That’s interesting. I have never heard of it affecting menstruation.
The simple story is that I stopped eating dairy and I stopped suffering premenstrual depression up to two weeks a month. I had along history of dairy intolerance, and hadn’t drunk any milk since I was a small child. I experimented not eating dairy when because of other symptoms entirely, and only realised that I wasn’t having symptoms when my period arrived (and a year later I still find it somewhat of a shock to have my periods without a long-running lead in period).
In terms of how many other women’s symptoms are also caused by dairy prodcuts, I don’t know There are people who argue that lots of pre-menstrual symptoms are caused by dairy produdcts. I’m very wary of that sort of approach. I find universally messages about food and what women ‘should’ eat very dangerous. I have seen dairy products linked with pre-menstrual depression in a book on premenstrual symptoms , but I have no idea if there was any research to back it up.
This is not responding to a specific person, but I’ve found many of the arguments against taking the pill contuously to be very dismissive to the issues of women who do have problems with their periods. I’ve actually found in my life in general that women who don’t have problems with their periods tend be dismissive to women who do have problems (ie I suck it up, why can’t you). Like one of the above posters, I have endometriosis, my treatment for this for years was traditional birth control pills, I would miss 3+ days of work each month because I was too much pain, even with pain relievers to work or do anything, but sit in the bath or curl up with a heating pad. Eventually one of my doctors suggested I start taking the pill continuously on a three month cycle, and at first yes I did have break through bleeding and so on, but missing three days of work every three months instead of every month. I eventually got good insurance that covered more treatment for the endo, surgery, followed by a regimen of some scary medication, after that I went back to using the birth control pill continuously, but this time instead of stopping every three months to get my period, I just stop taking the pills when I get breakthrough bleeding or menstrual cramping, over time the amount of time between periods has increased (I went nine months once). The difference in my quality of life is absolutely astounding. I don’t think that the entire periods are natural, we could embrace them and love our bodies is a healthy approach for a lot of women. Yes, of course we should love our bodies, but periods are not something that we should necessarily embrace, because for many of us it’s extremely dismissive of very real problems that exist with them.
Here’s why feminists are having this discussion, from the Pandagon thread:
Lubu: Women who wouldn’t dream of fighting for their right to control when and if they get pregnant will definitely get out in the streets to demand the right to live without a period
Maureen: Um. And that’s a bad thing? We can totally win the War Against Contraception now! Score!
Know what I heard when I read this? “I’m perfectly happy to play the patriarchal game and access my birth control by claiming I need it for reasons other than birth control. At least I get the BC, right? And that’s what really matters. As for you other women who can’t or won’t access birth control in this way—hey, you let me know when you’ve won the right for women to use birth control because women should have an absolute right to control their own bodies, mmkkay? You go, girl! I’ll be right behind you….a couple of miles back.”
Now, I’m fairly sure that my interpretation was not the one intended by this person. It just probably never occurred to her that there are some of us who cannot take the Pill, either for medical reasons or for reasons of affordability. So, no…it’s not a “score” against the patriarchy. So the patriarchy loves periods, because it sets us apart and makes us “lesser” than men—and the solution is for most of us to eliminate our periods? Gee, what next? Where and how else are we going to alter our bodies to try and be acceptable to the patriarchy? Aren’t women already doing that and it isn’t working? I’m not so sure the patriarchy loves periods. They sure as hell don’t love breastfeeding.
And there’s a thought—between my grandmother’s generation and mine, breastmilk went from being considered food, to a bodily waste product akin to piss and shit. And it’s irrational of me to think the same dynamic won’t be present when it comes to my period—something that has been traditionally viewed with utter revulsion for generations?
No, it isn’t my business (or anyone else’s) if you eliminate your period. In fact, I won’t even know if you don’t tell me. It is my business when this is presented a a be-all end-all liberating choice, and all of a sudden women who aren’t making this choice are viewed as unliberated, primitive throwbacks. It is my business when my preferred forms of birth control become harder to find and more expensive—a double whammy, since my forms of birth control aren’t subsidized by insurance, and meanwhile “feminists” are whistling Dixie and conveniently acting like women who don’t have this access don’t count. And it’ll damn sure be my business if my daughter tells me when she’s a teenager that despite having watched Nonna die of breast cancer, that she’d rather risk breast cancer than be “the weird girl with the period” at school.
La Luba said, “Where and how else are we going to alter our bodies to try and be acceptable to the patriarchy?
You know what I think is a good comparision–armpit hair. Women with arm pit hair are treated as icky and gross in this culture. I can really see us doing this with periods too.
You’re right to bring up the class and health care aspects of this. I know that many doctors do not like to perscribe hormonal methods to women over 35.
(Although think the most recent studies didn’t find a link between hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer.)
Indeed. I can’t take it because, in my case, it triggers severe depression. I know other women who can’t take it because of migraines, etc. So while I have no real problem with women individually choosing to take the pill continuously, the notion of this becoming the norm, or being done for “competitive advantage,” is pretty scary to me.
There’s a difference between expressing a view and imposing it.
I’m not so sure the patriarchy loves periods. They sure as hell don’t love breastfeeding.
The patriarchy loves periods, pregnancy and breastfeeding only when they handicap women and confine us to “our” sphere. When women demand accommodation in “men’s” sphere, our “beautiful” “natural” bodily processes become disgusting and bad.
No, I don’t think menstrual supression will “free” us from patriarchy. I just think the importance that we place on the period—the social construct you’re referring to—is actually patriarchal. The patriachy allows women to only be Real Women if they are fertile, as evidenced by menstruation. When you begin your period at 12 or 13 (nowadays, 10 or 11 a lot), you’re generally told that you are a woman now, though you really won’t be the age of the majority until 18. On that thought, I’ve also heard jokes like, “Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed.”
On the other end of it, the ending of your period and the onset of menopause are treated like great tragedies, because our society still thinks that you become an Unwoman if you’re post-menopausal. My whole point is that the affection that we have for it as a symbol of womanhood is wholly patriarchal and implies that fertility is the marker of womanhood.
The other thing that bothers me about this discussion, if I may be blunt, is that the hinting around about how period supression would be “for” men. Basically, to be out with it,we’re saying that women would take this pill because men in our lives think periods are gross and want to be able to fuck us without blood. The thing that bugs me about this is that the implication is that women, without patriarchal influence, would be just fine either skipping sex a few days a month or getting blood everywhere. (I have sex on my period once in awhile, and blood gets EVERYWHERE.) Color me skeptical. One reason I like the pill is because it makes sex itself more fun for both parties, since you aren’t inconvenienced by the condom. Periods are the same way; it sucks for both the man and woman to have your horniness derailed by a period.
In fact, I would add that I’ve only had one boyfriend complain and that was in college. All the rest think I’m totally square if I have qualms about spraying the bed down with blood. Now, the kind of men I date are probably not typical men, of course. But they don’t care in no small part because of male privilege; things like matching sheets don’t matter to them so they’re happy to spray down the sheets and throw them out.
The patriachy allows women to only be Real Women if they are fertile, as evidenced by menstruation.
Yes and no. Certainly, that is one trait the patriarchy requires in Real Women, but far from the only one. I have yet to be considered a Real Woman by anyone subscribing to patriarchal ideals, despite menstruating. In fact, despite Pregnancy, Childbirth, Breastfeeding and Motherhood. (And I’ll say right now that the first three make you Unwoman in the eyes of the patriarchy, and Motherhood unaccompanied by Marriage does too.)
And yes, I think we can expect to see articles in men’s magazines advising men on how to pressure their wives and girlfriends into suppressing their periods, the same way there are articles now on how to pressure wives and girlfriends into losing weight. There is an incredible amount of pressure exerted by men on not breastfeeding. I don’t know any women who chose not to breastfeed because of medical issues or because of difficulty breastfeeding, but scads of women who didn’t attempt breastfeeding because their husbands told them if they did, they’d end up with ugly tits. C’mon. Time magazine lists Seasonale as one of the “coolest inventions” of 2003. The wave of the future is that Real Women will suppress their periods.
As for the bedsheets, yeah, blood can be messy. So can the “wet spot” (which can also stain) of vaginal secretions and semen. Again, why is one considered inherently more gross than the other?
My whole point is that the affection that we have for it as a symbol of womanhood is wholly patriarchal and implies that fertility is the marker of womanhood.
Not for me. I wouldn’t say I have a special affinity for my period, just that I don’t feel a disaffinity for it. I don’t worship my fertility; I use birth control also—just not the pill. I’m just saying hey, this is my body, and it’s functional the way it is (which in itself is privileged, because I currently have a body that doesn’t need medical intervention. If I am blessed to live long enough, that will change.).
And see, that’s a part of it. I feel very, very fortunate that I am one of the lucky folks in this world that doesn’t have to get up in the morning and medicate myself just to live. I’m not looking forward to a world in which my functional body will be viewed as inherently damaged because I have a period. I’m not looking forward to a world in which a woman’s period—even if non-painful—is seen as a medical problem in need of correction. I’m not looking forward to a world where daughters ask their mothers why their bodies automatically need altering, but their brothers bodies are fine the way they are. (‘tho I’m sure there will still be daughters who will have the common sense to ask why a pill isn’t developed to stop nocturnal emissions).
Hey! There’s a thought! What about those pesky nocturnal emissions? Anyone working on a pill for that? No? Wonder why not…..
Menstruation is inconvenient because of the vaginal bleeding. Really, that’s pretty much it.
Periods are the same way; it sucks for both the man and woman to have your horniness derailed by a period.
Well, I see that — although personally I’m much more of a stereotypical man about cleanliness.
On the other hand, for quite a number of women, birth control pills derail horniness. There are a large number of women for whom the pill is contraindicated, for one reason or another — which is why the “hey cool! menstrual suppression for everyone!” attitude makes me a little nervous.
This is an excellent conversation!
Some thoughts upon reading this:
1. I am definitely going to try a menstrual cup.
2. I am definitely going to try to cut out dairy and see if that helps my pre-period depression. It is pretty bad, and I am willing to try anything. If anyone else has good advice, or has dealt successfully with this, please let me know.
3. I am amazed by the fact that so many people apparently don’t have sex during their periods: that is the best time for my husband and I- the week before and the week of my period- it is when my libido is strongest, and I just assumed it was hormonally the same for every woman! If a man ever had a problem with sex due to menstruation, he would be laughed out of the bed. I personally think the “wet spot” on the sheets is much worse then the blood on the sheets. Of course, I can’t use light colored sheets two weeks out of the year, but it’s quite worth it.
4. Ultimately, I think this: Women with troublesome periods should seek every possible medical relief for them, whether that be period-ceasing or other treatment. I would also like to see the menstrual cycle be considered less shameful for women. I see even in feminists a general disgust of women’s bodies, and wish that we could somehow promote amongst ourselves acceptance of our vulvas. I laugh writing this, because it sounds so new-age hippie. But some women won’t touch themselves, or look at themselves, worry excessively about their smell, etc. And I think that the pharm industry is captalizing on that in a way that is not so great for “vulval acceptance”. : )
I am one of those women for whom having a period is a life-shattering event. And I mean this literally.
It starts with a full week of fevers and chills, along with severe mood swings that I literally have NO control over (I’m not talking about weeping at hallmark commericials or irritability- I’m talking about locking myself in a room for fear I may assault someone or worse) and hallucinations.
This is followed by two to three days of violent stabbing pains going through my abdominal area, often strong enough to knock me unconscious or vomit profusely.
After all of this, I finally actually start with the bleeding – which then goes on, and on, and on, for about 10 -15 days. And I’m talking major bleeding, like changing a pad every 20 minutes and I still sometimes overflow.
And yet, still, I don’t want this option. Because there should be better options. Doctors have known since the methodology of the BCP’s function was understood that you could use it to completely suppress menstruation. That was what, 50 or 60 years ago???
Can you honestly imagine going to the doctor for any condition, and getting told that the best treatment available was invented over a half century ago, and while some tweaks have been made, no one has come up with anything better?
The other rub for me is that NO ONE KNOWS WHY WE MENSTRUATE. Considering that, is it really completely wise for half the population to be playing around with their circadian rythms when we don’t know why we have them, how they work or what they are doing precisely? We don’t need research on the safety of the birth control pill, we need research on menstruation. Why do humans menstruate, and why do they do it so often (most animals only menstruate when they are fertile, and only a few times a year, sometimes only once per year)? Precisely what is going wrong with women like me that our periods are so debillitating? Are our hormone levels awry (awful hard to tell when there is NO FUCKING BASELINE that has been established as the normal level), are they cycling the way they are supposed to, are we missing some regulatory gene, in some WTF???
If we knew all of this stuff, I’d feel a hell of a lot safer taking the pill. As it is, I have to plan around being mostly useless approximately 2/3 of every month – as you can imagine, severe periods do not suffice as a protected disability. Thanks patriarchy!
I must admit I thought menstrual blood was kinda gross before I started using a Keeper (now I’ve got the Diva Cup). But seeing it in its liquid state (as opposed to “staining” something), it’s alright. It’s a nice colour, actually. And my cramping has also become minimal now (used to be out of commission for a day plus – actually, I once had three exams for a course, and they were all a month apart … yep, I didn’t do so well in that one). I can’t explain it, but it must have been the tampons (only thing that changed).
I can understand why women need to control painful periods, but I fall on the side of “if it ain’t broke …”. I do take BCP, but for the sex. I admit it’s useful when camping or travelling to skip a ‘period-like’ bleeding, but I don’t really care one way or the other about having a period.
I *am* concerned about girls and women being thought of as gross because they bleed. Girls especially face so many pressure about how they look/act, and at such a young age. I’m a Girl Guide leader (like Girl Scouts, but in Canada), and I’ve heard 10 year olds talk about eyebrow waxing. It’s more than a little disturbing. When we give out kits lists for camp, I’m always keen to explicitly list “menstrual products” on there. I hope that if the girls have some role models who don’t think that periods are something to hide or be ashamed of, they’ll be more comfortable with themselves.
I think the analogy with underarm hair is dead-on. Completely normal, yet considered gross. And so many women shave because of this social pressure, without questioning it (or so I imagine). I think with marketing the ‘ickiness’ of it all, periods could become like this. After all, it’s easy to shave (or take a pill everyday), so why fight it? And the people who have periods? Weirdos. Even if there’s a medical reason.
I’m also interested in why we menstruate, and also why there is so little research and so few theories about it. You’d think several hundred years into the study of anatomy and physiology we’d have a couple clues.
And if there were such things as “masculine hygiene products”, what would they be? Testicle wipes?
[/end tired rant]
Indigo, I loved your post and I think it brings up an important issue–the fact that for those of us who do have problem periods for one reason or another, birth control pills are often touted as the only option. Got endometriosis? Polycystic ovarian syndrome? Irregular cycles? Unexplainable period pain? Doctors will throw the pill at you and send you on your way. I was treated this way for YEARS by doctors before I was taken seriously enough to get surgery for my endometriosis, and the pill ended up making my symptoms much worse, rather than better (so those of you with endo, take note–the pill isn’t necessarily a good thing for us, either.) As some folks mentioned above, menstrual pain can also be a symptom of a food allergy/intolerance; dairy seems to be the most common in my personal experience but I’ve also heard similar stories about soy and wheat. PCOS can indicate thyroid conditions, etc etc. It’s not as simple as having a messed-up cycle and needing some standardized dose of hormones that REALLY was designed to prevent conception, not treat a disease.
Disorders of the female reproductive system are given very short shrift by the medical establishment. There’s relatively little research on them, few experts, and most people that I’ve spoken to have barely even heard of endometriosis or PCOS. Women who suffer with these problems are rarely taken seriously or given focused treatment–it’s just “Oh, here’s a prescription for the pill,” when who knows if those hormones are really appropriate for our conditions or good for our overall health? As Indigo said, with all the knowledge and research that we have, WHY don’t we know more about this stuff? It’s because women’s medicine is still substandard. Men are still considered the default, while women are confusing, women are mysterious, women are enigmas by nature, so why bother trying to understand them and the weird things that happen in their bodies? Just give them the pill. So that’s yet another reason this menstrual suppression stuff seems suspect and disturbing to me–seems like another way of just shoving women’s health issues under the rug.
I had incapacitating periods in my teens, not nearly so bad as some people here but enough to keep me from working at least one day a month. The pill helped some (even after I stopped taking it), and having kids did away with the problem entirely. I still find periods incovenient — they are just plain messy (more so because nowadays, being perimenopausal, I never know when I’ll get one or how long it will last). I don’t like having to run into the restroom every hour or so at work and wearing black in case I stain my clothes. You can say I’m under patriarchy’s thumb if you want, but it is no one else’s damn business if I’m on my period, and I prefer to keep it to myself. I still think I would rather have the periods, and I wonder too about the potential health risks of mucking about with my hormonal balance.
(What’s a Diva cup? How does it work? Doesn’t it leak, or fail to catch everything?)
A Diva Cup (or Keeper) is a small cup that is inserted into the vaginal opening and collects menstrual fluid. It really works quite well, although I will admit it does take a bit of effort to figure out how to insert it properly. After a couple of months, it is EASY to insert and remove. For the first little while, I recommend using pantyliners along with the Diva Cup. The Diva Cup never gets FULL (although this dependes on the person, I guess – it doesn’t for me). This is something I was amazed to discover, because tampons made it seem as though my periods were very heavy. Not true! With the Diva Cup, it is necessary to empty it only once every 12 hours – unlike tampons, every two to three on heavy days. Once it is inserted properly, you can’t feel it. I prefer to Diva Cup to the Keeper; I tried both, and the Diva Cup is more flexible and, I think, more comfortable. It’s made out of silicon, so it doesn’t harbour bacteria, and it light and conforms to your body shape. It has literally changed my periods. Look it up on Google, you can even find out where to buy one close to you. They run about $50, and last for years.
What bugs me about periods under patriarchy is that they are treated as some sort of disability. The androcentric nature of medicine makes research into menstruation and disorders of the female reproductive system very narrow. Most research seems to be done into either cancer or how to stop those pesky periods. I would bet that if men bled from their testicles every month for a week, we would know exactly why, and it would be celebrated – and women’s periods would STILL be considered abnormal.
This said, I’m glad that so many of those who have difficult periods have medical options. I too am skeptical about medical interventions, particularly those on female bodies, and would respectfully suggest exhausting non-medical means to reduce discomfort and pain before moving to medical means. However, once those options are exhausted and there is nothing left to try, if medicine can offer a solution, it would be ludicrous to exclude it from the realm of what is possible for a woman and for a feminist to access. I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that. I think what we are trying to question here is the REASON for the attitudes we women have been taught to have toward our periods. If we can agree that patriarchy is what we say it is, then it does permeate everything our society is built upon- including the ways we are taught to think about our bodies.
I too used to think my period was gross, inconvenient, and it made me want to hide out and at times curl up into a ball because of the discomfort. However, I began to question why I felt this way about my period. Once I eliminated the discomfort (I used Advil to achieve this result for YEARS until discovering the Diva Cup and now I don’t take anything for pain because I don’t have any), I could understand that my period was nothing to really be all that bummed out about. I could still do anything I wanted to do easily. I could see literally what was going on with my menstrual cycle (The Diva Cup allows you to see how much you are bleeding, what it looks like, how much clotting is present, etc.). And I could finally be free of the idea that my period was a “curse” or something that “disabled” me. Once I was off hormonal birth control methods – a move I made 6 years ago – I was no longer cranky, sad, irritable, depressed. I felt just like me, all the time. I have revolutionized the way I feel and think about my period. And all of this had little to do with my beliefs about patriarchy, male supremacy, and feminism. It jsut had to do with finding a comfortable way to have my period and carry about my normal business without medical intervention and without traditional menstrual products. Looking back on how I used to feel about my period is where I am now able to see how patriarchy interfered with my attitude toward my own body, my own period – and I will not allow patriarchy to define how I think about myself and my body anymore. Being a woman and having a period does not mean medical intervention is necessary.
Well, yes, medical intervention to get rid of my period isn’t necessary, but damn would it be nice to get rid of the pointless thing. I don’t mind my leg hair. Underarm hair, no problem. Hair anywhere else, fine. But not one of those things has ever resulted in extra laundry or early-morning trips to the bathroom for yet another cold soak. It has nothing to do with how anyone else views my period; I just don’t see any reason to have it.
I had heavy periods from the time I was a teenager that typically lasted 7 days. I was often too anemic even to be a blood donor, even though I took iron, cooked solely in iron pans, and ate plenty of such things as spinach with oranges as well as red meat. Nothing wrong that the MDs could find; no endometriosis, no fibroids, no PCOS, no nothing. Hormone levels always normal. No other health problems. Never any problem getting pregnant; no problem with pregnancies; I just had very heavy, very long periods.
During the 7 days of my period, I would have to do laundry every day because something had been leaked on (towels and pajamas always), or in some cases (like my sheets) was stiff with dried blood.
Not much of an ick factor, if at all; I certainly never had a problem touching it (only respiratory goo can really gross me out); there was just SO MUCH of it. I never found it off-putting during sex and sometimes it was even a turnon.
I finally had an endometrial ablation (cauterizes the lining to stop the bleeding; much easier and less invasive than a hyst, which was my other option if I wanted treatment).
I’m 49 (I had 34 years of regular periods on a 28 day schedule. When you subtract my pregnancies, at 12 periods per year I had around 400 total periods; 7 days per period is around 2,800 days. That is a big chunk of time – – doesn’t that work out to about 8 years of doing laundry every day? Not to mention the years of being anemic.
Most of my female relatives had periods into their late 50s/early 60s. I am so glad I’m not going to have another 10 years of it.
Put me down as a big HELL YES! for medical interventions. Even though I never took BCPs, for those who can I support their desire to avoid 8 years of menstruation.
I think ledasmom has perfectly expressed my preference to not menstruate as has Amanda. Blood that leaks onto things — sheets, clothes, etc. — is inconvenient. Of course I would want to know the potential long term effects of taking a menstruation suppressent. But if there were a way I could stop menstruating without risk, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Now to really stick my foot in it—open question to all women who do not have painful and/or debilitating periods, yet who find having one inconvenient: why? Why is having a period inconvenient if there isn’t a medical issue? Please do not take this question as an accusation. *****
Because I’m done having children and I just simply have no need to bleed from my vagina once a month for several days. It doesn’t make me feel “more like a woman”, nor does it gross me (or my husband) out either when it comes to sexual intimacy. There’s just no benefit to me, even if it is a relatively minor inconvenience in the scheme of things (and I hardly find changing tampons or pads to be time-consuming or anything). I prefer the pill, which makes said periods incredibly light and trouble-free, I’d much rather continue with that and take it for 3 months on end and only “allow” 4 periods a year, and it’s not due to the patriarchy, it’s MY own preferences. I don’t know what’s simpler than that.
Disclosure: I did consulting work for a company that manufacturers feminine protection, and we found exactly the same segments that are evident here in this discussion. Women with heavily problematic periods that interfere with life who would do anything to get rid of them. Women who see their periods as part of the essential nature of Being A Woman and are skeptical of any attempt to get rid of them (and are skeptical of the pill itself, for that matter). Women who (like myself and Ledasmom) don’t have particularly problematic periods, but who simply don’t see any need for them in their current lifestages. And it seems as though these segments are simply talking AT one another instead of really listening. I’ve never had a truly problematic period, but I am NOT about to doubt the experiences of women who have, or the lengths that they’d go to eliminate that. I’m glad you asked your question, because it sounds like you really are trying to understand why women who don’t have problematic periods may still want to eliminate them.
I’m pretty much with Amanda on this one, if I had to pick a particular way to politicize the period. I don’t like seeing it politicised, though. Its really no-one’s business whether I want to bleed or not, and why.
To answer the question about inconvenience: why would there have to be some sort of medical reason for it to be inconvenient? Do I need to find some other justification besides reducing inconvenience when I buy fast food, or use the remote control? I don’t think so, and I don’t think reducing inconvenience with regard to my own body’s functions as being any different. Simple fact is that having a period wastes my time and my money, and I have every right not to want that. If, in the future, there were some kind of treatment allowing me to grow a larger bladder so I didn’t have to piss relatively more often than the average bloke, I’d probably go for that too. I’m not bothered by urine, either, I just think I’d find my life more fulfilling if I spent less of it on the crapper ;)
Lastly, I have a couple of problems with points in Rachel’s post. Firstly, the pregnancy awareness thing. Its actually pretty much cheaper for one to purchase a test-kit once a month than to purchase tampons and painkillers, do extra washing, and put up with reduced productivity. Its also far more reliable, since it is possible (if rare) for women to continue to bleed while pregnant, especially early on. I’d be interested to find out why this idea meets with the hostility it does – the only reason I could come up with was a stigma against purchasing the things, and it seems to me that that, as a stigma related to control of fertility, would be more of a problem than a stigma against periods.
I also have a problem with the period blood/semen comparison – the two do not strike me as at all analogous. Female lubrication is as close as you get to a semen analogy, and I don’t see anyone thinking of that in a negative light! If you want a comparison that actually works, the closest you’re likely to get is excessive sweat in men, but frankly I don’t think there’s a relevant male analogy anyway. I also think that the “but if meeeeen had it, it’d be totally solved!!!” sentiment is just ridiculously juvenile. Most male reproductive disorders are as poorly understood as female ones, and get even less attention due to the way patriarchy constructs male health problems as weaknesses to be suppressed or ignored.
Also juvenile is the assumption that period control is even “for” men. There’s just a whole bevy of assumptions there about male and female sexuality and female motivations that go completely unquestioned. The sentiment implies that women would resent not being able to avoid sex for a few days, for god’s sake! It has no place in any space that claims to be pro-female.
Finally, the extreme paranoia encapsulated in the claim that in the future, our kids will be teased at school for bleeding makes me want to set fire to the page. Its highly unlikely: So many women either can’t or won’t use HBC for other reasons that I doubt it could even get a foothold. Its on a level with claiming that the existence of breast implants will lead to an epidemic of flatchested teenagers demanding them – that assumes that they have no minds of their own, and that they will all unquestionably absorb this allegedly universal message that there’s something wrong with them. Nonsense, I say! Stop dismissing all teenage girls as idiot automatons just because that group of airheads you saw at the mall annoyed you.
I would bet that if men bled from their testicles every month for a week, we would know exactly why, and it would be celebrated – and women’s periods would STILL be considered abnormal. ******
If men bled from their testicles every month for a week, and there was something invented that could take that away, men wouldn’t be questioning other men as to why they weren’t in touch with their essential masculinity for foregoing this bleeding. It’s just assumed men have More Important Things to Do and it’s commonsense that they want to avoid inconvenience. I don’t know why the same assumption doesn’t hold true for women. It sort of reminds me of that new elimination communication craze for babies whereby women follow the baby around without using diapers on the baby, to watch for signs that baby’s about to make a mess, because after all, they are women so their time has little importance or value.
Also juvenile is the assumption that period control is even “for” men. There’s just a whole bevy of assumptions there about male and female sexuality and female motivations that go completely unquestioned. The sentiment implies that women would resent not being able to avoid sex for a few days, for god’s sake! It has no place in any space that claims to be pro-female.****|
Amen, sister. If *I prefer sex without my period, and *I prefer to forego my period so that *I feel more sexual, that seems pretty darn empowering to ME.
Another vote here for the Diva cup . When I started using one four years ago, I actually sat down and figured out how much money I would have saved if I’d begun using it at age 20, even, instead of 39. It was a good chunk of money.
Now, I haven’t read all the posts referenced in this discussion, but I find it interesting that no one has brought up the fact that the truly “natural” or physiologic state is for a woman to be pregnant most of her childbearing years. That adds up to years when she doesn’t have her period. Most women now don’t have more than three pregnancies at the most, which could be described as an “unnatural” state. Not to say the pill is the perfect answer to this issue. On another note, there was a fantastic article a few years back in the New Yorker called “John Rock’s Error” describing the history of the birth control pill, and why there is a placebo week. Not why you might think.
Hasn’t it occurred to anyone else that the ‘buzz’ about a need for menstrual suppression is being orchestrated by the pharmaceutical industry in the same way the supposed need for hormone replacement therapy was?
With articles supposedly written by ‘sufferers’, and supposedly by objective doctors, and supposedly unbiased researchers, all about what a boon it would be to women.
They were less careful then, and lots of the articles placed in womens’ magazines and newspapers also rather heavy handedly referred to the benefits to men. This current marketing endeavor is being more canny, and approached more cautiously, but it is the same old s*** repackaged. The have lost a huge market for HRT with the facts of its lack of benefits and collection of harms when used indiscriminately. What better way to replace their lost customers than target the women on the other end of the age spectrum who don’t have the years of savvy and self-knowledeg (or education for that matter, when market towards teens).
There is still a bias toward HRT among many doctors–I have a dear friend with ovarian cancer and her gp was putting her on HRT right after her surgeries—-until I mailed her printouts from the American Cancer Society stating that HRT doubled the death rate for ovarian cancer patients. So, perhaps there is a lack of wariness among general physicians (and let’s face it, lots of us can only afford to see a nurse/pa for our annual checkup) about what’s actually involved in taking hormones, even in a small dose.
Of course women with painful menstruation should have care & help, medical if necessary.
Of course women who prefer to use BCP for contraception should continue to have access.
But to create a medicalized problem out of a totally natural process (and that is not a fetishization. Mammalian females have menstrual cycles during a large portion of their lives. It is utterly normal and natural. Changing that with added chemicals is unnatural.)
I’m old enough to remember those magazine articles raving about the wonders of HRT and the revival of femininity it would bring. This has the same smell of changing women for the convenience of men–and the profit of industry. One wonders how many commentors raving about how inconvenient it is to have a period and how they’d love not to ever have one——are shills. It’s been pretty common on lots of sites lately for industry shills to be talking up products for cash–and with the money possible in marketing to half the population, I’d be hard pressed to believe it’s not happening in this situation too.
Most mammalian females don’t menstruate; at least they don’t do so overtly – they reabsorb the unneeded endometrium.
You know, I don’t want to change myself for the convenience of men; I want to change myself for the convenience of me, just as I would if I had my tubes tied, for instance, or my vision surgically corrected, and just as a woman with extra-large sized breasts might get her breasts reduced. Whether any of these things is worth doing isn’t something that can reasonably be determined from outside; what value of inconvenience one assigns to 20-200 vision, or backaches, or bleeding for several days of month varies according to one’s personal feelings and condition. I don’t believe I’ve been raving about how awful periods are, and I deeply resent the implication that I am a shill for anything. Believe me, I could use the money, but I’m not getting it.
The idea that the women posting on here about their painful and debilitating periods must obviously be shills has no place on a feminist blog. I don’t personally have those painful and debilitating periods, but I don’t go silencing the women who do by claiming that it’s all in their head or that they’re actually liars who must be accepting checks from Big Pharma in exchange for making up stories. Amp, what’s your opinion on the appropriateness of this slander on a feminist blog?
Though the suggestion that Ledasmom or anyone else here is a shill is ridiculous, what isn’t ridiculous is the idea that pharmaceutical companies create “needs” that don’t actually exist.
As I said before, women with painful or otherwise incapacitating periods need to be listened to and believed and given options for treatment. However, I think we also need to be looking at what the underlying causes might be. You know, for the general health of these women? Just giving someone a pill and saying, “There! No more period, no more problem!” seems horribly irresponsible and callous to me. It’s like giving someone with depression a load of pills and not bothering with counselling to see if there might be reasons other than chemical imbalance for that depression.
But, for most women, periods really are no big deal. The “inconvenience” of it all comes much more from society’s treatment of women and women’s bodies in general than it does from actual physical discomfort. Hell, let’s be honest, those of us who don’t have problematic periods: most of the time, if you’ve got something to occupy you, it’s no big dea. And I say that as I’m typing in the middle of cramps.
And again, let’s remember that the theory that having lots of periods might be bad for us because in The Olden Days, we were all preggers most of our lives is JUST A THEORY. Not being pregnant all the time is only one way in which our lives have changed, and for most of us on this forum here, better standards of living may far offset any additional stress that more periods have on our bodies. Not to mention that I think being pregnant actually takes more out of your body than 9 months of periods do.
I think the Ick Factor and distaste for our bodies, plus internalising that male ways of living are somehow “better” are contributing to the anti-menstruation feeling for a lot of us. I can only speak for myself of course, but I find it hard to believe that most of us would find our periods inconvenient if during them we were treated like royalty and were able to go off to spas where we were given our favourite foods and allowed to laze around swimming pools and get massaged all day.
IOW, barring an actual physical problem, it’s societal attitudes that create most of the “inconvenience,” not the period itself.
Must I say it again? The inconvenience of a period to me comes from the vaginal bleeding. I’ve been having periods for a cumulative total of twenty-pkus years. I believe I’ve gotten everything out of them that there is to be got at this point.
Being massaged all day, incidentally, is approximately my idea of hell, and I don’t believe that “can be easily put up with if one is allowed to laze around a swimming pool and eat all one’s favorite foods” equates to “not inconvenient as a general rule”. I’m sure I could put up with quite a lot under those circumstances.
Ahh jeez, I was exaggerating for effect, not suggesting we adopt such a programme. god. Feel free to put into place a scenario that you would find pleasing if you’re not into the massage.
Fine, if it bugs you so much, I’ve never said I want to condemn you to it. However, I want to change society’s attitudes so that those us who wish to continue having periods are no longer penalised for them.
And the fact is that if feminist get on board the bandwagon of pathologising women’s bodily functions, including menstruation, that is never going to happen. Like I said near the beginning of this thread: if you don’t want ’em, fine, but still give those of us who do some freaking support and get off the “Periods YUCK!!!!” misogynist bandwagon. And in return I won’t question your choice, even though I personally don’t understand it. Okay?
Geez, how about reading what I actually said? Not wanting a bodily function is not equivalent to pathologizing it. Is it, for instance, pathologizing pregnancy to say that it can be inconvenient, that it can cause problems for the woman undergoing it, that one might not want to undergo it? Is it, to be quite silly about it, pathologizing hair to say that it might be nice if the damn stuff didn’t require cutting so often?
If you’re going to argue with me, argue with what I said, not with what you’re imagining I said.
IOW, barring an actual physical problem, it’s societal attitudes that create most of the “inconvenience,” not the period itself. ***
WADR, I call bullshit. It’s not “society” making me desire not to have bloodstains on my underwear or bedsheets – it’s MY desire not to have bloodstains on my things. It’s not “society” making me desire not to feel bloated – it’s MY desire not to feel bloated.
I do consumer research for a living. I’ve done work among women when it comes to both menstruation and birth control. And when they look in my eyes and tell me that their periods are painful and debilitating, or even that they’re inconvenient and get in the way of things they’d rather be doing, it is incumbent upon me to respect that, not to tell them that they’re wrong and I must know more about how they feel than they themselves do.
Besides, I don’t see why I’d be any less pro-choice about menstrual suppression than I’d be about contraception or abortion.
As I said before, women with painful or otherwise incapacitating periods need to be listened to and believed and given options for treatment. However, I think we also need to be looking at what the underlying causes might be. You know, for the general health of these women? Just giving someone a pill and saying, “There! No more period, no more problem!” seems horribly irresponsible and callous to me. ***
The underlying cause is her painful, incapacitating period. I don’t know how much more clearly you need that spelled out for you.
BTW, what’s the essential difference between giving a woman who has painful periods a pill to take away her period entirely (or more accurately, once every several months) and a pill to lessen her period but that still gives her a faux-period once a month? Philosophically, I mean. If her period is a problematic thing for her in general, I don’t see what’s so “better” about making her undergo a lightened version once a month versus a lightened version once every 3 months.
But, for most women, periods really are no big deal. The “inconvenience” of it all comes much more from society’s treatment of women and women’s bodies in general than it does from actual physical discomfort. ***
For most women, pregnancy really isn’t a big deal. The “inconvenience” of it all comes much more from society’s treatment of mothers and women’s bodies in general than it does from actual physical discomfort. That’s probably a fairly true statement, no? After all, most women do have normal, uncomplicated pregnancies and their bodies are built to handle that. Does that therefore stand to reason that a woman who doesn’t wish to have a pregnancy for whatever reason needs to justify physical discomfort or physical harm in order to get her wish?
Fine, if it bugs you so much, I’ve never said I want to condemn you to it. However, I want to change society’s attitudes so that those us who wish to continue having periods are no longer penalised for them.***
“No longer”? Where are you penalized in the first place for wanting your period? Have at it. No one forces you to take the pill or to be on any birth control for that matter. Never get pregnant either if you like menstruating so much! You’re arguing about an end-state that doesn’t exist!
“And when they look in my eyes and tell me that their periods are painful and debilitating, or even that they’re inconvenient and get in the way of things they’d rather be doing, it is incumbent upon me to respect that, not to tell them that they’re wrong and I must know more about how they feel than they themselves do. ”
Did you miss the bit where I said that of course for some women, periods can be debilitating, and that they should be listened to, respected, and offered options for treatment? That’s funny, I could swear I wrote that. OH YEAH– I DID. You just decided to ignore it.
“Does that therefore stand to reason that a woman who doesn’t wish to have a pregnancy for whatever reason needs to justify physical discomfort or physical harm in order to get her wish?”
Where are you getting this? Did you also not bother reading the bits where I said I support any woman who would choose not to have a period, but that I think we need to look at the reasons behind all this period-hatred?
” Where are you penalized in the first place for wanting your period?”
Oh, are you living in some alternate dimension where periods aren’t considered disgusting? Where “what’s the matter, on the rag?” isn’t used to humiliate and belittle women? Where the prices you have to pay for pads or tampons aren’t extortionate? Where young women are taught that having anyone else know you’re menstruating isn’t mortifying, and that you should–out of “consideration” for others (especially men)–try to hide that fact whenever necessary? Gee, I’d sure like to be where you are, because it sure as fuck isn’t like that in my dimension.
I think we all know damn well that if a pill is widely available that makes your period go away, any woman who *doesn’t* want to take it will be penalised for that choice, because, after all, she has the other option, doesn’t she? You do what the hell you like, but you have to recognise that, for one thing, we don’t really know at this point what the long-term effects of suppressing our periods would be, nor do we know what the effects of such drugs would be. And if the past record of the medical establishment is anything to go by, they will push drugs on us without proper testing if it’s something that’s perceived to make MEN’S lives easier. And of course, not having to deal with all those hysterical pre-menstrual women and those icky, yucky bloody body fluids that come out of their disgusting, slimy, dirty cunts, is something all men will stand behind.
Listen, please don’ t address my posts anymore if you aren’t going to read through them and take on board the things I’ve already said. I’m tired of having to defend myself against crap that is the opposite of what I’ve already written.
Doesn’t sound like you’re listening to or respecting those women who are complaining about inconvenient periods; just the ones whose periods are painful or debilitating.
On checking the bargain box o’ tampons in the bathroom, I find that I am paying less than eight bucks for forty: less than twenty cents per. Forty tampons is enough for three or four periods for me. Assuming thirteen periods a year (I really have no idea how long my cycle is), that’s less than thirty-two bucks for period control for a year. Throw in the occasional pad; call it forty. Less than two hardcover books. Of course, I’d rather have the books, but I wouldn’t exactly call that extortionate; I’d be happy if it were cheaper, but I’d be happier if a lot of things were cheaper.
I admit to being lucky, and never having run into anyone who considered periods disgusting. How about you stop implying that those of us who don’t want our periods are revolted by them? I’m not revolted. I’m very, very tired of them. It’s not “Periods, YUCK!”; it’s “Periods – eh, rather not”.
Oh, are you living in some alternate dimension where periods aren’t considered disgusting? Where “what’s the matter, on the rag?” isn’t used to humiliate and belittle women? Where the prices you have to pay for pads or tampons aren’t extortionate? Where young women are taught that having anyone else know you’re menstruating isn’t mortifying, and that you should–out of “consideration” for others (especially men)–try to hide that fact whenever necessary? Gee, I’d sure like to be where you are, because it sure as fuck isn’t like that in my dimension.***
I’m in the midwest and “society” really doesn’t concern itself with my period one way or the other. I think the price of sanitary protection is reasonable for a consumable paper good. I don’t think society tells me I need to “hide” that I’m menstruating, but I see no good reason that I need to broadcast it to anyone else either, because really, no one cares except potentially my husband (and that’s only in the heads-up sense prior to intimacy – doesn’t stop him one darn bit).
**I think we all know damn well that if a pill is widely available that makes your period go away, any woman who *doesn’t* want to take it will be penalised for that choice, because, after all, she has the other option, doesn’t she? You do what the hell you like, but you have to recognise that, for one thing, we don’t really know at this point what the long-term effects of suppressing our periods would be, nor do we know what the effects of such drugs would be. ***
The pill’s been around for however many years and I don’t see any women who *doesn’t* want to take it being penalized for that choice, so I don’t see why this would make a bit of difference.
And actually, we do know exactly what the LT effects of suppressing periods are. You’re just fetishizing the withdrawal bleeding and thinking that it’s a real period and that the body needs to be cleansed else bad things will happen and all other kinds of sweet sentimentality that just isn’t rooted in science.
***I admit to being lucky, and never having run into anyone who considered periods disgusting. How about you stop implying that those of us who don’t want our periods are revolted by them? I’m not revolted. I’m very, very tired of them. It’s not “Periods, YUCK!”; it’s “Periods – eh, rather not”. ***
Thank you, Ledasmom. I really hope Crys T hears that. Not WANTING something doesn’t mean I’m REVOLTED by it.
What this argument reminds me of is when a woman has an unintended pregnancy and says she doesn’t want to be a mother and someone else says, “Well, that’s because society is so unsupportive of mothers in general, and you’d feel differently if motherhood was celebrated and there was universal free daycare” and so on. Uh – no, she just doesn’t want to be a *mother at that point. And what Society Thinks has nothing to do with that.
Similarly, women such as Ledasmom are saying we just don’t *want our periods anymore. That wouldn’t change even if menstruation was celebrated and there were free tampons and pads on every street corner. And what Society Thinks of my period has nothing to do with that either.
***Did you miss the bit where I said that of course for some women, periods can be debilitating, and that they should be listened to, respected, and offered options for treatment? That’s funny, I could swear I wrote that. OH YEAH– I DID. ***
Great. So what’s your objection if the two options offered Ms. Problematic Period Sufferer for her debilitating period is A) a pill that lessens the flow/duration/side effects but there is still some monthly flow or B) a pill that does the same thing but now the flow is only once every 3 months? And let her choose her own comfort level as to which she prefers? I understand you may have suspicions of the *medical safety of the second route, but if you leave those aside for a moment, what’s your *philosophical objection to the second route? It seems like you have some desire for *her to experience a monthly flow, and that’s what I don’t get.
As someone who has debilitating periods, what I hear people saying as the argument against just prescribing me birth control to stop my debilitating period is that we don’t know what causes my debilitating period, so this is probably just treating the symptom. Taking motrin to stop headaches is fine, but sometimes headaches are symptomatic of some other, more severe problem. Some of the debilitating periods being experienced are probably symptomatic of larger problems. But if it becomes de riguer to dismiss debilitating periods with a symptom-stopper rather than both a symptom stopper and a more rigorous investigation, then that could lead to health problems for women. I don’t think anyone’s saying there’s a moral good to menstruation or that there’s “some desire for [women] to experience their monthly flow.”
I also don’t think anyone’s saying that people can’t bloody well take the pills if they want to. They’re expressing reservations about marketing, society’s current perspectives on menstruation, society’s current treatment of menstruation, society’s current and future treatment of menstruation, the pathologization of female bodies as deviant (which seems to me must be a factor here, even if it yields something good for women), and so on.
Basically – Chrys T makes sense to me, as someone who will probably take the medication. I don’t really understand why you’ve got a problem with her, Shelley.
But, you know, sometimes stopping menstruation is just stopping menstruation.
When the position imputed to one is that one considers menstruation “yucky”, one is likely to become upset if one doesn’t so consider it. I don’t generally consider the effects on society’s attitudes towards children when I use birth control, and I don’t plan to consider the effects on society’s attitudes towards menstruation should I have the opportunity to cease menstruation.
Nor do I think you should, for your personal decision. But when you’re thinking politically and as a member of society, it becomes important to look at attitudes and trends, yes?
I don’t see anything inconsistent in the position that A) I will take this medication, and B) I will remain cognizant of women’s place in society vis a vis menstruation and do what I can to influence ideologies so that women are supported instead of stigmatized for menstruating.
And as much as this is about choice, it’s not like choices aren’t shaped, influenced, and constrainted by society. I just think some of the people questioning the presentation of this medication at this time want to acknowledge that it’s not like women are being given a choice between A and B, two options that are equally supported and devoid of cultural connotations. We’re being given two options in an environment where both options have constructed social meanings. How one opts to navigate that is a personal decision, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t discuss those meanings on a societal level.
***And as much as this is about choice, it’s not like choices aren’t shaped, influenced, and constrainted by society. I just think some of the people questioning the presentation of this medication at this time want to acknowledge that it’s not like women are being given a choice between A and B, two options that are equally supported and devoid of cultural connotations. We’re being given two options in an environment where both options have constructed social meanings. How one opts to navigate that is a personal decision, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t discuss those meanings on a societal level. ***
We’ve already been given the option of stopping a “natural process” of our body (via birth control in general, and abortion if a pregnancy is unwanted), and yet that hasn’t led to women who do want to have children or who don’t want to / can’t use the pill being stigmatized. So I’m not sure why you’re so concerned that the option of stopping this “natural process” by not having periods any more is going to lead to women who do wish to retain their periods (or, take the pill but still have the monthly flow) being stigmatized. Options are just that. Options.
***Taking motrin to stop headaches is fine, but sometimes headaches are symptomatic of some other, more severe problem. Some of the debilitating periods being experienced are probably symptomatic of larger problems. But if it becomes de riguer to dismiss debilitating periods with a symptom-stopper rather than both a symptom stopper and a more rigorous investigation, then that could lead to health problems for women. ***
I don’t think anyone was suggesting that women’s health issues shouldn’t be looked into. But the point remains – let’s leave out the women with the debilitating periods (not that they’re not important, of course, but let’s just put them aside for one moment).
Let’s just look at the women who have normal periods with no undue physical or emotional hardship or health issues. And said woman desires to take the pill for menstrual suppression, with contraception as a bonus. Or maybe it’s the other way around – she decides to take the pill for contraception, and gets menstrual suppression as a bonus.
Try as I might, I can’t see why it’s any different from her choosing a whole host of other contraception options that have benefits or drawbacks from her point of view.
For example, Woman A prefers the pill because she’d rather take the hassle of a daily pill but be protected continuously and not have to wrestle with apparatus “in the moment.” Woman B prefers the diaphragm because she doesn’t want the hassle of taking something daily, and only wants to deal with contraception when she’s sexually active, and she doesn’t mind dealing with contraception in the midst of intimacy. The existence of the pill doesn’t stigmatize Woman B, and the existence of the diaphragm doesn’t stigmatize Woman A.
I said nothing about natural processes. Nor did I say that the existence of options was inherently stigmatizing.
this is the last comment I have about this post. I have found the discussion really interesting, so thanks to all for participating.
I was chatting with a woman I know the other day who has polycystic ovaries. In her teenage years, she was not menstruating regularly as a result of her condition. She was put on birth control pills to stimulate her to have a period. Her doctors told her that not having a period was not a healthy thing, and that it was important to shed the uterine lining every month. This wasn’t that long ago.
So, now what we have is the complete opposite – healthy women wanting to suppress their period. I want to know, which is it? Is it unhealthy to not have a period every month, or is it okay to not have a period every month? Within the past couple of years, pharmaceutical companies have started marketing birth control as a way to suppress menstruation. Before that, it was thought by the medical community at large (not just this one woman’s doctor) that not having a monthly period was a bad thing. What changed? Did anything change? Does anyone know?
Thank you, Mandolin: you’re one of the few who actually read what I wrote!
Of COURSE I’m not about to campaign to stop making available treatment for women who need or even just want it.
My problems are those that Mandolin outlined (re the fact that we need to see if the problems go beyond the symptoms where “difficult” periods are concerned), and also–very importantly–that we don’t know what the effects on our bodies will be long-term if we stop having periods, especially via medication. Doctors in fact do not know all that much about the female body as it is. Why do you suppose it is that those of us who have had period-related problems (mine were very irregular, rather than painful or heavy)? It’s a combination of most of them not being up to speed about how we work and a general indifference to our needs.
Also, my problem is that period-hatred in society at large comes from hatred of cunts and female bodies in general, which is being minimised or ignored in this discussion. And also, that producing pills to “take care of” normal, non-debilitating periods is part of the ongoing tendency of pharmaceutical companies and the medical establishment to “medicalise” the functions of healthy bodies, especially women’s bodies. No matter how much you hate your period, it is NOT a “disease” or “health problem”. You may have another medical problem that is making your period unbearable, but THAT is the problem with your body, NOT the freaking period itself.
Like I said, you don’t wanna have it, fine, I’m not interested in forcing you to. If you want to pop a pill to get rid of it, fine too, but let’s make sure for once that it’s not going to do you serious (or even not-so-serious) damage in the long run. I have memories of the first versions of the Pill (all sorts of horrible side effects, including death for some women) and thalidomide (yeah, THAT was fun, wasn’t it?) and some other similar incidents that make me think we shouldn’t all jump for the latest drug that’s being offered us to “make our lives better” until we know for sure that it’s not going to make our lives a hell of a lot worse.
And this isn’t mandatory by any means, but I really, really wish that we could acknowledge that some of our hatred of periods comes from the fact that we’re beaten over the head with how repulsive they are, and how disgusting we are when we’re having them, and not from really anything to do with them at all. That unless you are a woman with problem periods, for the most part as long as you’re involved in something else, you usually forget you’re having them.
I mean, I’m guessing we all shit and piss and produce snot as well, and–again, unless we have some physical condition that makes these normal bodily functions a problem for us–we’re not nearly as down on them. Because we know they’re universal to all healthy human beings. And it’s interesting that when men do it too, it’s not considered a problem to be “cured” via medical means.
Btw, I’ve been thinking about the whole “natural” thing. Of course, I agree that we shouldn’t fetishise “the natural”, because after all strychnine and cyanide and lots of other substances that will kill you dead are 100% natural. And malignant tumours also occur naturally in the body (however, I do believe that the insane number of chemicals we come into touch with these days is helping to increase the number of cancers). So no, “natural, ” meaning “occuring in nature,” does not always equal “good.” However, there is also another way in which we use the word, which is to mean “the normal function of a healthy body.” Menstruation is natural in that sense, in the same sense that pissing and eating is. It’s not therefore “good,” but neither is it “bad”. It’s neutral.
Once again, before you reply to anything I said, I AM NOT TRYING TO SAY ANY WOMAN WHO DOESN’T WANT HER PERIOD HAS TO HAVE ONE. I’m also not trying to say that no woman ever has problems due to her period. If you do respond implying I’ve said anything like that, I’ll ignore you.
Oh damn: why didn’t I do a preview???? So much for the female’s supposedly superior multi-taking skills.
This incomprehensible bit: “Why do you suppose it is that those of us who have had period-related problems (mine were very irregular, rather than painful or heavy)?” should have included the idea that those of us who do have period-related problems often go undiagnosed. It took me about 5 years of doctor’s appointments to get my diagnose of PCOS, and that is an incredibly common condition. Yet it took that long for it even to cross their minds–and no, my symptoms are not atypical.
And this isn’t mandatory by any means, but I really, really wish that we could acknowledge that some of our hatred of periods comes from the fact that we’re beaten over the head with how repulsive they are, and how disgusting we are when we’re having them, and not from really anything to do with them at all. That unless you are a woman with problem periods, for the most part as long as you’re involved in something else, you usually forget you’re having them.
I mean, I’m guessing we all shit and piss and produce snot as well, and–again, unless we have some physical condition that makes these normal bodily functions a problem for us–we’re not nearly as down on them. **
I think some of us have been saying that we don’t hate our periods. We don’t have hatred of our periods. We’re not repulsed or yuckified by them (and neither are our spouses / sexual partners). We just don’t care for the bleeding any more than we care for the extra snot when we have a cold. I don’t think society is any more down on menstrual blood as it is on boogers, to be really juvenile about it.
So, now what we have is the complete opposite – healthy women wanting to suppress their period. I want to know, which is it? Is it unhealthy to not have a period every month, or is it okay to not have a period every month? Within the past couple of years, pharmaceutical companies have started marketing birth control as a way to suppress menstruation. Before that, it was thought by the medical community at large (not just this one woman’s doctor) that not having a monthly period was a bad thing. What changed? Did anything change? Does anyone know? ***
It was always known that it wasn’t necessary or unhealthy not to have a period every month. It’s just that the makers of the first bcp “designed in” the weekly bleeding out of the belief that women would desire that as final proof that they weren’t pregnant.
I was chatting with a woman I know the other day who has polycystic ovaries. In her teenage years, she was not menstruating regularly as a result of her condition. She was put on birth control pills to stimulate her to have a period. Her doctors told her that not having a period was not a healthy thing, and that it was important to shed the uterine lining every month. This wasn’t that long ago.***
I should add that for a woman with polycystic ovaries, this is absolutely an appropriate treatment, because FOR HER, not having a period is not a healthy thing and she should be shedding the lining. For a woman who doesn’t have polycystic ovaries and who is otherwise “normal”, it’s not necessary to shed the lining. You can’t extrapolate the advice given to a woman with polycystic ovaries to women who don’t have medical issues.
Why do you suppose it is that those of us who have had period-related problems (mine were very irregular, rather than painful or heavy)? It’s a combination of most of them not being up to speed about how we work and a general indifference to our needs.***
I agree that there are too many doctors who aren’t sensitive to women’s needs. However, what do you want from them? If you say “my period is very irregular and it bothers me,” and they give you a solution to make your period regular (here’s the pill, now it will come like clockwork), you accuse them of overmedicating you. What else should they do in that case, IYO?
BTW, why would having an irregular period bother you if it’s just some inconsequential, no-big-deal vaginal bleeding?
I assume the irregular period is a problem due to its unpredictability, since many women keep track of their periods in order to be prepared for them. That’s aside from any underlying medical problems that might be indicated by irregular periods (she mentions a diagnosis of PCOS, which is by no means a benign condition).
It seems to me that, insofar as there’s disgust towards periods at all (it’s not something I’ve ever run into), it’s the same sort of disgust as is directed towards incontinence; that is, when excretion becomes uncontrollable it becomes inconvenient and bothersome and potentially disgusting.
I think what a few of us are objecting to, Crys T, is your use of “period-hatred” without acknowledging that what some of us are having is, instead, period weariness.
I have also been told by physicians that it’s necessary to slough the uterine lining, and that not ot do so on a regular basis can lead to cancer. I do not know how this informaiton lines up with a push toward sanctioning non-menstruation — perhaps 4 times a year is enough.
And I really disagree that there’s nothing in the culture that says ‘periods are gross.’
I wonder if those physicians were referring to actual studies, or whether it was a vague “well, it can’t be good for you” telephoning into “and causes cancer”.
Periods are DEAD TISSUE. They eventually smell, and stain things. Before you say, yes, so do children, periods don’t play, learn, or hug you. They have no balancing redeeming value in my eyes.
Isn’t that enough reason to say, yes, given a safe and effective way to avoid having them, I would like to be able to choose not to have them?
For some of us lucky people who can smell everything, they have an added dimension. When the tissue is just shed the smell is neutral, but if exposed to air for a while, or sitting around in an anaerobic environment for a while, it becomes unpleasant. It is similar to rotting meat or old meat juices.
I also really dislike the smell of a tampon just pulled out — it is worse than a pad, maybe because it’s warmer and so the smell is stronger. Maybe anaerobic bacteria are more unpleasant. Maybe the tampon material itself is part of the problem. I don’t have yeast or any other infection — it’s just a smell I don’t like. Regular non-menstrual vaginal lubrication doesn’t smell bad to me, so it’s not that I “hate my body” or I’m sick.
Love your period? I love it as much as I love my urine and feces, which is more than you might think, but not to the point of trying to convince myself it’s magically delicious when it isn’t. They are all demonstrations that my body is working properly and is disposing of something it doesn’t need any more.
And like farts, even if you like the smell, don’t assume others share your opinion. I beg you.
I don’t shrink from having sex during my period if I have proper “protection” for the bed linens. I may be the exception, but I cannot imagine letting the blood just “go where it will”. It would go into the sheets and from there to the futon cover and from there into the futon. And like any dead tissue it would eventually start to stink.
Is menstrual blood on the sheets somehow unhealthy? I’d say No, it’s not a “biohazard” unless maybe you’re sick already, and most serious pathogens die on exposure to air. But it just isn’t something I like to smell. Or have staining things. It’s a hassle to make sure there’s something to wipe with before I get up and touch anything or drip on anything.
I think it’s interesting that people here talk about using tampons or the Diva Cup. No one’s mentioned pads. Isn’t using internal protection a way of “denying” one’s menstrual nature?
I use pads, so I know exactly how much is coming out and when I need to change it, and I’m not poking around in an area that is often much more sensitive at the particular time I’m doing the poking. I’m not phobic about seeing it or being close to it or touching myself when I’m having my period. I don’t find the pads upsetting or disgusting. It is newly shed and fresh matter. But I change pads carefully because I don’t want the menstrual fluid on my clothing, or hands, to linger and become odorous, or stain something.
When you use a public restroom, you can’t wash your hands before putting on your clothing. You have to struggle with thin, often nonabsorbent, often break-prone toilet paper to try to get everything clean before you put on your clothes and **only then** can you wash your hands. It’s not an ideal environment in which to deal with having a period. It’s a nuisance.
Think about it. If you could avoid peeing or shitting, in some safe and effective way, would you?
“If you could avoid peeing or shitting, in some safe and effective way, would you?”
I don’t know that I would. I guess I don’t share the American horror & disgust of all bodily functions (I know that that sounds like I’m being deliberately provocative, but I’m not. Unless I’m remembering my sociology studies wrongly, it is a pretty well-observed phenomenon that Americans tend to be a lot more squeamish about normal body functions than most Europeans). Also, though I don’t particularly enjoy sweating, especially when I’ve got something to do where I need to look vaguely professional, I don’t think I’d stop doing that, either, even if it were “safe” to do so. I don’t understand the need to deny that we’re actually animals.
And anyway, EVERY method, no matter how theoretically safe, has repercussions and risks. Some people are willing to take them, which is fine, but I wouldn’t be unless we were talking about something that would really mess up my life, for example, if I did have those periods where the pain was incapacitating.
My reason for being amenable to a safe means of doing away with my period is the same as others who have commented with one difference. Not only do I not need my period any more because I have had all the children I want, they are also painful, trigger migraines, and I bleed very, very heavily for seven to fourteen days. There isn’t anything physically wrong with my hormone levels or my ovaries, uterus etc. My periods have always been like this, and since I’m no longer able to concieve (tubal ligation) I would just as soon not have to change my sheets every night for that week or two or do wash twice as often or take more pain killers because of the cramps and migraines.
Yes I agree that our society sees a woman’s period as “icky” and “gross”, however just as I support a woman’s right to choose abortion though I myself probably would not make that choice, I support a woman’s right to not take period suppressive hbc. Conversely, I aslo support a woman’s right to take them if she so chooses.
I’ve tried the Diva Cup and like tampons it caused my cramps to be twice a bad. I’m glad it is out there as another choice/option for women.
Crys T: “I guess I don’t share the American horror & disgust of all bodily functions (I know that that sounds like I’m being deliberately provocative, but I’m not. ”
I don’t think you’re being deliberately provocative. But I think there’s a middle ground here you’re not addressing.
One can feel neutral about the acts of pissing and shitting, but not want to hang around with piss and shit. What if we could get along without excreting, and the concomitant cleaning of the toilet, disposal of the resulting waste, inevitable accidents when a toilet is not available and so on? Choosing to not shit or piss any more is not inevitably based on some rabid horror and disgust with shit and piss. The time, money, and energy spent getting shit and piss out of and off our bodies and away from our air, water and food supply could go into something else.
We have a natural physical dislike of shit, piss, rotten vegetables, bad meat and so on because they are not good for us to consume or hang around. This isn’t some uptight American neurosis. It’s a survival mechanism.
Also, though I don’t particularly enjoy sweating, especially when I’ve got something to do where I need to look vaguely professional, I don’t think I’d stop doing that, either, even if it were “safe” to do so. I don’t understand the need to deny that we’re actually animals.***
Out of curiosity, do you use deodorant or anti-perspirant?
I have also been told by physicians that it’s necessary to slough the uterine lining, and that not ot do so on a regular basis can lead to cancer. I do not know how this informaiton lines up with a push toward sanctioning non-menstruation — perhaps 4 times a year is enough. ***
Because a uterine lining in a woman who is not on the pill isn’t the same thing as the uterine lining in a woman who IS on the pill.