Out of so many bodily fluids that we are embarrassed about – why is it especially important to start talking more openly about menstruation?
Firstly, because the taboo has major consequences, which I make clear in other posts like this. And apart from that, because menstruation in terms of shame, disgust and social rejection cannot be equated with the classic disgusting products of Homo Sapiens.
All right then. Let’s go through this step by step.
(At this point, your sense of morbid curiousity should be fighting an exciting battle against your personal sense of disgust. It is enlightening, I promise.)
- Snot and nosebleed
Imagine this situation: You are in the bakery with a package of handkerchiefs and need a free hand in order to pay. Of course you put the package onto the bakery counter, without hesitation. Now substitute it with a large box „Super Plus Comfort“ or extra thick pads. That would probably put any baker suddenly in the state of shock.
When not only snot, but actual blood comes out of the nose, everyone gets super worried, rushes forward with a cooling pad or tissue. In fact, nosebleeds often mean that something is wrong (either you have done too much cocaine or possibly are suffering from an initial illness). Menstruation however, is a natural bodily function – a sign of one’s own fertility and an indicator of health.
2. Blood in general
Blood stands for physical effort, fighting spirit and strength. In almost every action movie, you see blood on the bad guy, blood on the good guy and blood and the girl who gets rescued by the good guy covered in blood. (Since you obviously have more sensationalism than disgust, you probably know exactly what I mean). There seems to be one clear, unwritten rule: the more blood, the better.
Not so with menstruation. In the advertising for pads you only get to see a strangely sterile, blue liquid from a small test tube. In comparison, a grazed knee used for advertising bandages does not seem to be a problem. Therefor we notice: blood is not blood. Regardless of the fact that one does not circulate in the body and consists to a great extent of rejected uterine lining, the difference in respect to our disgust sensation seems to be mainly due to where it comes from: everywhere, but not from the vagina.
An important feature of menstruation: It cannot be controlled. (Except if you take hormonal birth prevention or get the uterus removed).
Another body fluid that smells unpleasant and also can’t really be prevented from appearing, is sweat. But when we think of phrases like „by the sweat of my brow“ or „working up quite a sweat“ we notice: sweat is socially accepted, gyms and hardware stores advertise, it is a sign of physical effort, (sexual) activity and physical creativity.
Let’s come to a slightly trickier candidate. (You’re still here, you pig!)
Even though the German writer Guilia Enders has brought us the charm of the intestine in an astonishingly palatable way (her book “intestine with charme” was a bestseller in Germany): Pooping, or the product of this often perceived as embarrassing activity, does not have the most appetizing reputation. I can see that.
However, in contrast to menstruation, shitting is not a transient condition that people are relentlessly subjected to, for between three and five days (except for gastrointestinal infections – but then we have come back to illness). In addition, many people perceive shit (legitimately) as a daily experience of success and some don’t hesitate to comment on that – from my own experience, I claim that this is seen in male toilet users. While some men proudly boast that they just had flawless „diamond“ or „gold shit“ and with childish, Freudian enthusiasm, play the „shit quartet“(no joke, this is a trading card game that really exists in Germany. If you don’t believe me click here); being a woman means that although you have identical bodily functions, this should not, even under pain of death, ever be admitted. Women only shit rose petals. Fact.
That the culturally branded embarrassment factor of shit does not come close to the one of menstruation, can be proven with another study. According to surveys by SCA only one out of ten people feel uncomfortable buying toilet paper. Purchasing tampons or pads, however, makes every fifth woman and almost every third man feel ashamed. I’m really wondering what’s going on in the minds of those 29 percent of males who feel uncomfortable helping their girlfriend, sister, or mother in a menstrual emergency. Are they scared that somebody might think that their girlfriend is naturally fertile?
What about bodily fluids that only men produce? How embarrassing is sperm?
Regardless of the fact that in nearly all porn movies this male product is actually staged on the physiological presentation plate (as for example in the face of a woman, which I can’t explain from a biological point of view. And pornography with period can only be found under niche fetish subcategories):
The ejaculation is a product of orgasm, which is the physical sensation with probably the best reputation ever. In comparison, menstruation is often associated with migraines and abdominal pain, nausea or depression. Besides the fact that menstruation per se has nothing to do with intercourse nor prevention of pregnancy (as believed by more than half of students aged 13 to 17 years old in Austria), it’s worth noting that 30 percent of women can actually ejaculate.
Conclusion: There is no male body fluid equivalent to menstruation.
Why do we hide menstruation?
Menstruation only happens to people with a uterus, about 50 percent of the world’s population. It is no coincidence that there is an especially negative view on something that affects only women – that half of humanity that has been dismissed for thousands of years as a „weaker gender“ or „failed version of men“.
Saint Hildegard of Bingen (Roman Catholic Church) describes menstruation as a punishment for the misconduct of Eve – thanks to her bad behavior in paradise in combination with the system of original sin, all women bleed once in a month over a period of about 40 years. Great.
But not only the church, also great personalities of philosophy and medicine, have not placed menstruation in the sunniest light since the beginning of the natural sciences. Already, Pliny the Elder (about 50 AD), saw in the menstruation the triggers for the withering of flowers and even bees dying. In addition, to the curse described by Old mate Pliny, the assumption that menstrual blood is toxic was a widespread thought in the Middle Ages, and prevailed until the 20thcentury.
Even today, menstruation is thought to be a disease in some parts of the world. In some parts of Europe, there are women who still think that food goes bad when it is prepared during menstruation. Some believe that they should not get a perm when they are on their period. As if they were possessed by the devil!
In addition to the discomfort that many menstruating people feel, the social compulsion of secrecy and psychological stress to not be noticed – especially in front of men – goes back to the deep fear of being seen as dirty.
The sense of shame that affects more than half of women worldwide (Germany not excluded) when they menstruate and that inhibits them in social situations is not comparable to the embarrassment that other bodily functions (and fluids) could bring. In retrospect, we can see, this shame was used throughout history to symbolize and justify ideas of female inferiority or defectiveness. Even if these ideas are kept only subconscious. We have learned to pretend that they do not exist. That’s the problem.
„The deep fear of being impure and being seen as impure by others cannot be explained solely by our ideas of hygiene and personal care. Menstruation acts as a symbol of the woman’s allegedly inherent inferiority over the Man, he is today the measure of physical and social purity as he has been for millennia, and it is therefore only correct that a woman brings her rule – at least externally – to disappear. “
-Blume/ Schneider (1984) in „Die Regel: Eine herbeigeredete Krankheit“
I do not suggest to menstruating people to hang their blood-soaked pad framed in gold above the TV or to decorate the Christmas tree at the shopping mall with used tampons (even though this would work well thanks to the cord – I personally would not mind it).
I just want to say: Please start to treat menstruation more normally, do not limit yourself further and do not let yourself be stigmatized. And please banish such sayings as „She has her days“ forever out of your cerebral cortex. Do it for gender equality.