Monday, 4 February 2008

The Pros and Cons of Menstruation

I tried to post a comment over at The Curvature on this topic, but was banished as spam. In any case, I was hijacking the thread so it was probably for the best that I blog my comment here. Cara was critiquing a discussion of menstruation suppression (in this case caused by the pill) which posited ‘women’ (pro suppression) versus ‘feminists’ (anti suppression and clearly not female it seems) in the debate over whether menstruation is good or bad. Anyway, Cara raises lots of interesting questions about how women actually view menstruation. And always keen to rise to a challenge, I thought I would answer some of those questions, based on my very scientific sample of one.

It is my experience that menstruation is not a love it or hate it dichotomy. It is a phenomenon that I, for one, am very ambivalent about. On the one hand, menstruation can cause relief (no unwanted pregnancy- wipe brow!); it reassures me that my body is working; it suggests fertility. Somewhere, deep down, I think it reassures me that I am a ‘normal’ adult woman (a guilty admission given my distaste for normality). On the other hand, I have suppressed my periods for five years (not by choice per se, but as a side effect of my contraception) and I love not having the inconvenience of needing to use sanitary protection (and carrying it around); I love not having blood soaked underwear and bed sheets; I love being able to have sex whenever I (and my enthusiastically consenting partner) want.

Recently, when I changed contraception, I began to menstruate again and I found it disconcerting, as if I had forgotten what to do. It felt unnatural after all this time.

Yet, my feelings towards menstruation are also made complex by my uncertainty as to what I am meant to think about them. On the one hand, I am fully signed up feminist so I know they are nothing to be ashamed about; I am happy to talk about ‘women’s issues’ to my students when they come up; I hope that if I am ever a parent I will talk openly about this to my children. Yet, my experience of menstruation is not one of shared solidarity amongst female-kind. It is having the women behind the till avoid eye contact and double bag sanitary-ware. It is being nervous of other women in case discussing it makes them uncomfortable. It is being very aware that menstruation is not something that women talk about.

And, this is where my survey of one comes in, I think that part of that uncertainty is caused by a reluctance to acknowledge a physical trait (even if it is one that every women has) that has associations with weakness, nature and incapability (even is this just an assumption that periods mean days off work), when in other aspects of my life I try so hard to be strong and capable and ‘not natural’. I also think that, while it not often acknowledged, menstruation is still seen as ‘unclean’. I think that all these things mean that I don’t want to be associated with that trait and so I don’t want to acknowledge it as something that happens to me.

I think that this is really problematic, because for as long as we are silenced on this issue, we cannot challenge these cultural associations. I think we need to acknowledge what happens to our bodies, but not because that is what defines us, but to allow us to critique what menstruation actually means to us as women. We need to ask what role we want it to play in our identities and to move away from a simple dichotomy where menstruation=good or maybe bad, but certainly not both.

1 comment:

Cara said...

Sorry that your comment didn't get through! I swear that it wasn't me -- if you get a message that says "spam," it's a wordpress error. Usually hitting back and trying again works just fine. I've gotten the message myself when commenting on my own blog, before :)