The Feminist Media Reader #18 - The sheer impossibility of having a 'happy' period

by - Friday, October 02, 2015

Image source: Tumblr

Dear reader, I'm going to level with you. I spent the near entirety of my free time last week curled in a ball on my sofa, watching Nickelodeon with a hot water bottle clamped to my lower abdomen. I snapped at my bemused boyfriend, cried at the mere sniff of an X Factor sob story and couldn't seem to inhale chocolate/apply spot cleanser fast enough. That's right, I was on my period and one big walking (well, shuffling) lady-cliche. For five-eight days every month, I am the embodiment of my worst self and basically incapable of legitimate human function. I'm not ashamed, and you shouldn't be either.

Periods are well, just that. Periods of the month where woman celebrate adulthood and all it's joys by wearing two pairs of pants at all times, shuffling sideways out of romantic encounters and turning down nights out because frankly, they feel a bit bloaty and meh. As someone who struggles quite badly with PMT, I would estimate that I spent at least six months of my year feeling less-than-average because of the impending battle within my uterus. Some people struggle more than others, and whilst the arrival of a period can be a relief (no nursery to paint this month, woo!), I suspect that the amount of women who genuinely enjoy being on their period is fairly low. But not enjoying something and being ashamed of it are two very different things.

Considering that menstruation directly affects half of the world's population, it's still pretty backward how we're talking about it in the media. Or not talking about it, as the case may be. In a world where you can get slasher movies on netflix and hardcore porn on tumblr, the fact that a bit of blood in someone's knickers is still stuff of taboo is frankly laughable. Instagram hit the headlines earlier in the year when they removed an image of a girl with blood stained jogging bottoms on the grounds of it 'violating community standards'. Quite rightfully, the images owner Rupi Kaur responded by ripping Insta a new one:

“I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”

Yeah, what she said. Bodily fluids of any description have always made people a bit squeamish, but with women particularly, Kaur touches on an interesting point: the media hates periods so much because they force us to accept that women are not the immaculate, hairless, non-toilet-using pleasure objects we'd love to believe they are.

It's easy to claim that this perception is the fault of male-led media, but unfortunately, that's not always the case. In an interview that's stuck with me for years, popular TV presenter Caroline Flack causes a royal feminist uproar a few years back when she told Cosmopolitan magazine that she thought it was wrong to discuss periods and toilet habits with a partner, because one should 'keep the mystery';

“It’s so important to have a private life,” she said. “You need to have something to go home to that’s separate. I always say to Jack, ‘We’re lovers, not best friends... We don't talk about intimate problems or periods."

All relationships should be up to the individual and what works for you works, but when I'm bent over the toilet bowl with nausea or stuck in bed with dizziness, the last thing I'm bothered about is mystery. I can't imagine grimacing away at my live-in boyfriend every month, hiding the fact that I feel like I'm about to have an 'Alien' moment. And if you can't talk to your partner, what happens when your PMS stops you from going into work? I'm lucky enough to work from home as part of an all-female company and can retire to bed with my laptop when things get too much, but truly crippling PMS should be treated in the workplace as seriously any other sickness. Perhaps don't fill your boss in on the intricate workings of your vagina like, but women shouldn't be shamed into faking a headache or cold because it isn't 'ladylike' or 'becoming' to admit the truth. The same goes for schools - how can a 'no toilet during lessons' rule apply when you have so many young women who genuinely need the regular breaks to avoid putting themselves at risk of serious illness?

Speaking of illness, the media poses another risk towards all of us period pals. To borrow a Mean Girls quote, it seems there is no form of sanitary towel or pad that will not cause you to get pregnant and die. Week after week we're told that tampons affect fertility, that sanitary towels raise your incidence of thrush and STI's, that period-preventing pills cause cancer. There simply is no way of winning. Unless you opt for a mooncup, but then you're a tree-hugging hippy and need to deal with washing your cup out in public toilets without inciting wierd looks from your fellow facility-users. All of that for making the decision to avoid putting bleached products near your ladygarden! OH, and let's not forget that while you're tackling all of this, some guy is going to come along and assume that your decision making skills and mood are controlled by the speed of your shedding uterary lining - I'm looking at you, Mr Trump.

Oh and while you're exposing yourself to potential death, you're being overcharged for the pleasure. News that women spend up to 18k in a lifetime on buying sanitary products to cope with their periods broke a few weeks ago - for any millenial woman who claims to not be bothered about feminism, this should surely be reason enough to put some pressure on the government to reverse such a ludicrous measure. Meanwhile, the sanitary companies are raking it in, gleefully telling you all about their products that allow you to party till five am in a little white dress while somersaulting over a high-kicking horse to high-five mother nature. Yeah right.

So stick it Always. There's no such thing as a happy period. We've established this. But the only way to make things better is to TALK ABOUT IT. TALK to your best friend or partner - they'll look after you when you're feeling crappy. TALK to your employer - they'll understand when you have to take a work-from-home day. TALK to your GP - they'll be able to tell you if anything untoward is happening with your reproductive health. And KEEP TALKING aloud - on social media, in letters to your government, to the loser in your seminar who goes 'oooh, are you on?' when you dare tell them their Unilad banter isn't funny. Having a period is nothing to be ashamed about. It means health, and the ability to contribute more people to the universe. And what could be more badass than that? 

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