to Humor, Words and
menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
PERIODS: At the end of my sentence, and the end of my youth
By Sarah A. Bryant
Remember that monthly gift every female inevitably gets? Remember that thing that guys never want to talk about? The purpose of this article is to uncover some of the mystical wonders and mythical assumptions of female menstruation, also known as "the period". Female empowerment will be explored through research on girls' perspectives and perceptions of periods and how to find the positivity in an arguably negative situation. The social norm is to dislike that looming week every month when a period is bound to happen during a time a female wants to go swimming, have sex, or just wear sexy underwear without a pad.
It is necessary to rejoice in menstruation. There are both negatives and positives associated with menstruation, but the positives are barely ever addressed.
Here are some misconceptions and socially accepted beliefs surrounding menstruation:
Periods are a girl's problem
So there is this recent commercial about Kotex tampons that sees a woman asking men to go into the pharmacy to buy her tampons because she forgot her bike lock. All of the men are reluctant to do it. One man even says "can I get you toilet paper?" (TresSugar, 2010). No, you cannot just get toilet paper! The reactions from the men are typically that of embarrassment or nervousness. I bet the reaction would be different if she was asking him to buy condoms. When it comes to educating oneself about sexuality and issues surrounding puberty and growth, all people, males and females alike, should be informed. Especially if a male is going to be sexually active, he should be familiar with a girl's period, in my opinion. What about pregnancy and educating about a woman's hormonal cycles? Men should know this if they plan on being involved in a woman's life intimately and sexually. The commercial illustrates one of the common perceptions about men and periods. Periods are not a "problem" and they are most definitely not a "girl's" problem.
Periods are scary
Don't be afraid of your period. It's nature's way of reminding you that your vagina works, your body's way of thanking you for using a condom, and also a celebratory sign that you are not pregnant. Menstruation is necessary in order to cleanse the female body. One's period is thus like internal yoga... for the vagina.
There are countless myths depicting fear and discomfort with the period. As if a girl can control whether or not she gets one, the period is frowned upon, not talked about over breakfast, nor is it in any way a 'happy occurrence'. Yes, cramps suck, and bleeding is never fun; but it's only once a month and hey, what would you prefer: bleeding every so often or getting a visible reminder of when you're turned on? Erections. They seem like they'd be annoying. Girls: enjoy your vagina. Period and all.
My period means I am no longer innocent
Jessica Valenti's (2010) The Purity Myth is a novel about America's obsession with virginity and some of the misconceptions of purity. In her novel, she talks about innocence and how some restrictive abstinence-only educators couple it with menstruation:
In a 2008 MSNBC medical article ... doctor/reporter Billy Goldberg bemoaned how girls are beginning to menstruate at younger and younger ages. 'What happened to the innocence of youth?' he asked. He also wrote, 'Earlier onset of puberty is associated with health concerns beyond the loss of youthful innocence'(Valenti, 2010, p. 71-72).
What is implied here? Girls should remain youthful? Periods are the negative consequence of growing up? Menstruation is inevitable in all young women, and so, should we not be embracing this 'step' in the growth process? This quote implies loss of youthful innocence is a societal worry and equates it with health concerns related to abnormal menstruation. Not every woman is the same, and thus, irregular periods are very common at least once in a woman's life. Also, there is no escaping menstruation, so regardless of potential health concerns, women are going to bleed. A psychological source confirms the possibility of health concerns related to early menstruation, but there are no concerns in terms of youthful innocence: "Age of menarche [first menstrual period] is related to a number of health problems. Girls who menstruate at very young ages are at greater risk for such problems as breast and endometrial cancer...girls who have a higher intake of dietary fibre or a lower intake of monounsaturated fat begin menstruating later" (Rathus et al., 2010, p. 76). Maintaining a healthy diet decreases the risk of health concerns in women, among other positives. Eat fibre! Cleanse your body.
Laura Fingerson (2006) writes about menstruation and empowerment in her novel Girls in Power. Similar to Valenti (2010) who argues that menstruation is a positive experience in a girl's life and by no means extinguishes a girl's innocence, Fingerson (2006) pairs interviews with young adolescent girls with research on socially accepted constructions on how Western society views menstruation. Based on the claims made in these two texts, both authors would argue menstruation has nothing to do with a 'loss of innocence' because "for women, menstruation is ordinary. Women menstruate on average just under one week per month; thus, approximately one-quarter of all fertile women are menstruating at any given moment" (Fingerson, 2006, p. 15). Girls become women whether they like it or not, and so this is a reality for all females.
Periods are dirty
EW, periods are dirty! How may I ask? Quite the contrary. Periods are a body's way of telling a female that she is functioning healthily. Periods are like a monthly pat on the back. In Fingerson's (2006) text, many girls stated that one of the only positives they could find in getting their period was that it is a way to cleanse the body. Keeping this in mind, girls found their periods more empowering and less 'dirty' and 'shameful'.
Periods and social norms
Fingerson (2006) interviews girls and women with different views on menstruation in her novel Girls in power. The consensus is that girls are afraid to talk about their periods outside of an intimate group of girls. For the most part, "girls are menstruating but they work to conceal this and act as if they are not since they do not want to be different from those around them" (Fingerson, 2006, p.16). Again, in Western society, there is a "cultural emphasis on concealment" (17), meaning that girls are expected to feel as if they should hide their inevitable menstruation. Fingerson (2006) argues that girls should embrace this time in their lives and acknowledge their new found womanhood and their maturing bodies. If it is okay for a male's voice to drop and him to grow facial hair, I think it should be okay for a woman's breasts to grow and her monthly gift to flow.
Sarah Bryant is a graduate student and writes about sexual health.
Fingerson, L. (2006). Girls in power. Albany, NY: State of University New York Press.
Rathus, S. A., Nevid, J. S., Fichner-Rathus, L., & Herold, E.S. (2010). Human sexuality in a world of diversity. (3rd ed.). Toronto: Pearson Education Canada.
TresSugar (2010). Social experiment meets tampon ads in Kotex campaign. TresSugar.com. Retrieved on January 24, 2011 from HYPERLINK "http://www.tressugar.com/Kotex-Ad-Features-Woman-Asking-Men-Buy-Her-Tampons-8186439" http://www.tressugar.com/ Kotex-Ad-Features-Woman-Asking-Men-Buy-Her-Tampons-8186439
Valenti, J. (2010). The purity myth: How America's obsession with virginity is hurting young women. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.