It's time for “the talk”

Cameron Ridgeway

Let’s talk about menstruation: the monthly (give or take) discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the lining of a person’s uterus that usually starts around their early teenage years and ends during menopause in the late middle-aged years. Historically, women’s menstrual cycles have been the scapegoat for countless natural disasters, and up until the 1930s doctors attempted to prove that menstrual blood was poisonous (the clitoris has equally been vilified). The stigma around periods (which is potentially life-threatening to people in less prosperous countries) even extends to the “developed” world.

Why is this natural process used to discriminate against people who experience it? In a powerful 1978 article published in Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem suggested that if men menstruated, “sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free” and that “TV shows would treat the subject openly.” 

Instead we live in a world where Hillary Clinton is judged not for her ability to run a nation, but for how her body might interfere with her position. The ability of a man who does not menstruate to run our country with the influence of factors such as emotions or ego is never called into question, even though they interfere with anyone’s ability to do their job and have impacted millions of people. For example, George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, putting millions of civilians’ and soldiers’ lives in danger, in order to depose and eventually execute Saddam Hussein for the failed 1993 assassination attempt on his father, George H.W. Bush.

The amount of ignorance concerning menstruation is also not surprising when we consider the blatant ignorance most politicians have when it comes to women’s bodies (prime example: Senator Todd Akin who claimed that legitimate rape victims’ bodies had ways of preventing pregnancy). Last month at the GOP Debate, Donald Trump said of fellow Republican and debate host Megyn Kelly, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

The fact that this man, who describes female reproductive functions in such a negative way and uses them to devalue a woman’s thoughts, comments and intelligence, is seriously being considered for President of the United States is highly representative of the attitude toward menstruation as well as women’s general health in this country.

But those are only the most egregious offenses against menstruation in our privileged country. Women face a variety of daily microaggressions due to their reproductive cycle, from being asked if they’re menstruating when slightly irritated (news flash: menstruating doesn’t change one’s personality), to the refusal of many calling menstruation what it is with countless euphemisms (my current favorite is the Crimson Tide) and to the sanitization of period product advertisement (because every woman has to prove that she’s perfectly clean in a white bathing suit jumping into a pool).

These problems too, only apply to cis, able-bodied women (people who have uteruses and identify as female). Trans men can struggle with a disconnection between their body and gender identity due to the intense feminization of products associated with the monthly cycles of their reproductive organs. In contrast, some trans women face exclusion from otherwise welcoming women’s groups because of their lack of menstruation. This reinforces strict definitions of gender that define womanhood as a person having a uterus.Because some trans women may lack the unifying experience of menstruation, there are multiple forums dedicated to simulating the experience.

Those with disabilities have often faced forced sterilization because their caretakers were not willing or able to cope with the additional care required by menstruation. After cases in the seventies such as Frances Sallmaier, a young woman with a mild intellectual disability “proven” to be incapable of taking care of future children or her own hygienic needs who was forcibly sterilized, new guidelines were released dictating that only the person receiving the often dangerous procedure could make the decision to sterilize. However, even with these guidelines there is too much room for misunderstanding, miscommunication, speech difficulties and other potential gray areas.

There is no reason for any non-menstruating individual to feel disgusted by menstruation or what it entails. Let’s stop making bodily functions something to be vilified and criminalized, and debunk the myths surrounding women’s bodies by showing sympathy rather than thinly-veiled shame toward those menstruating in our lives. Let’s overcome our fear of a little blood. Let’s help women in the rest of the world where 70 percent of reproductive diseases are a result of poor menstrual hygiene, and where girls are deprived of their education because they face even more stigma and lack the resources to be mobile while menstruating. Let’s have a “talk.”

Cameron Ridgeway is a freshman majoring in history and management. She is a member of the UA Feminist Caucus.