Discussing your menstrual cycle is usually off limits in most social situations, and as someone who has had to deal with periods for over two thirds of my life by fact of being born a woman, I have an issue with that. I don’t write this as some sort of man-hating rant, although my feminist proclivities are particularly heightened and distorted during the time of the month. Rather, I want to have a candid discussion about something that affects billions of women every day, and the men around them.
I have a particularly hard time with my period, mostly the days preceding it. Close friends and family will attest to this, as they certainly get to hear about it being that I am the loquacious, non-socially conforming type. The symptoms vary, as it would seem menstrual cycles are affected by numerous factors, such as stress levels, diet, other women close to you and their cycles and the amount of exercise you have been doing.
Being that it’s impossible for men to be able to relate, the best analogy I can give is this: remember when you were a teenager and felt uncomfortable in your own skin, hormones raging? Well, it’s a little like that, only every month until you meet the glory of menopause.
This month I am several days late, and for a week now I have felt pretty useless. I am tired, moody, sensitive, anti-social, unable to articulate sentences clearly and have totally lost all sense of perspective. I have been advised by my acupuncturist, who I have been seeing for some time now to help me regulate my periods, to rest as much as possible. And this is what is so difficult. Last weekend I attended a family occasion with people I hadn’t seen for an eternity. In an ideal world, if I could have been entirely honest with myself and put my needs first, I would not have gone at all. Rather, I would have hibernated in my room, keeping myself to myself and resting. Of course I didn’t do that as I put the happiness of others in front of my own needs and although I had a great time and don’t regret going for a minute, I was exhausted, lacked confidence and wanted to lie down somewhere and hide.
Like many women, I have a job. Sometimes my period is so debilitating that I would like to cancel my entire schedule. But how would people react if I said it was because of my period? Instead, if I’m in a particularly bad way, I say I am ill, in effect, l am lying, which is something I deplore doing.
Ideally, I would like to be able to be much more honest. For example, tomorrow morning I have an interview, which will require me demonstrating enthusiasm and energy, amongst other characteristics. I am dreading it! If I could perhaps say: by the way, I’m not my usual self today because I am suffering from premenstrual tension, so please don’t judge my performance then that would be one way of alleviating the stress. Clearly I won’t say that, and the façade continues.
I wonder if some men, and I say some as my family and close male friends are all very progressive and understanding, think of discussing periods as a sign of weakness. In a society where feminism has resulted in women fitting roles that were typically ascribed to men, I often wonder whether highlighting our identities as women is frowned upon. The fact is though that some women have a really hard time once a month and it can affect everything. Would it not be better if periods were less taboo, not seen as a weakness so we could express why we might seem a bit off, a bit moody, sensitive or like me right now, incoherent and lacking perspective?
How would more candidness benefit us all? Well, for a start, I imagine it must be tough for people in relationships at certain times of the month. Men must find women really hard to deal with, and strains might be felt and arguments potentially had. If there were more of a general understanding by everyone that every day life can be impeded by menstruating, and that rather than this being a sign of weakness, it being a mere fact of life, then channels of communication might be clearer and women might feel more understood. In the workplace or whilst studying, if there were more clarity on the symptoms of periods, it might be forgiven if performances were affected, grades lower and attitudes discordant with the norm. I spent several years studying as a mature student and dreaded having my period when an essay had to be submitted or exams had to be taken. Can you imagine if I’d asked for mitigating circumstances due to having my period? I most likely would have been laughed at.
What I would hope to see more of is men accepting that some women have a very hard time once a month and to allow that temporary shift in behaviour without judging it as merely a woman’s issue. We don’t all live in separate spheres, so it would be hugely beneficial if we could be sensitive to each other. I would also like women to feel confident enough to be more outspoken about how their periods affect them. I’m not talking excessively, like dropping at a board meeting in the middle of someone’s presentation that their period sucks and is affecting their ability to concentrate. I mean that when necessary, contextualising how they are feeling without thinking that they are being pathetic. If we were all to be a bit more honest and a lot more understanding, communication would be clearer and as a woman, I’d feel like I could express myself more honestly without being judged.
I just saw this article and it made me think of you… I miss your posts on facebook but also glad for you that you had the strength to escape the rabbithole
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Morning Kate. I’ve had a few people contact me with that article now and I think the plan to allow some space for women’s cycle at work is amazing! I’m in the middle of writing another post so will share it soon. Hope you’re well and have a beautiful day. X
I just saw this article https://earthmedicine2015.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/the-ceremony-of-bleeding/ it made me think of your post
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Thanks so much for this Kate. I shall give it a read. x
Good blog post, and well done for putting this issue out there. I do however wonder whether what you’re talking about doesn’t just relate to women, but to everyone in terms of talking about their emotional difficulties. It’s equally hard to say you’re feeling depressed in the workplace for instance. In many situations outside one’s immediate social circle, societal norms apparently suggest that it is unacceptable to show vulnerability in one form or another. The time of menstruation is obviously a classic example of this, but I do think you’re pointing to a wider issue of how we respond to negative emotions generally. The physical aspect of menstruation and menopause meanwhile of course remain the most taboo subjects, and for sure that discussion remains pretty much off the table, even for a lot of women.
I totally agree! Being emotional seems to equate to weakness and if we could all trust each other to not be judgmental when we express ourselves then I think life would be filled with much more understanding and compassion. I tried being honest when doing a Masters in Human Rights by speaking to other students and faculty about how distressing I found some of the subjects we were studying. I was usually met with silences, or “well I’ve learnt how to cope with it” or “lawyers see things differently as we have a different understanding to suffering”. I hope I never become indifferent to suffering because I have been exposed to it and feel it, for myself and others.
From a male perspective then – it seems to me obvious that having a period is going to affect how you feel physically and psychologically. Most people I know would make allowance for that, the same as if you’ve got a really bad cold or headaches i.e. it’s not going to make you bedridden (I know some periods CAN be this bad), and the expectation would not be that it should stop everything you’re doing, but surely some allowance can be made. Even if only by people being a bit nicer to you for a few days. Most men I think would have no problem with that.
HOWEVER, if we ever intimate such a thing we get totally slated for suggesting a period might be affecting your mood etc. (as you outline above). So we don’t/can’t bring it up. I think both sexes should be more honest and straightforward about it… but then you could say that for pretty much everything 😉
Thanks for your input Dave. Do you think then that in most work-type situations that women could say that they weren’t feeling good because of menstruation and not be judged for it? Or do you think that you have been fortunate to work with more progressive types? Personally, I haven’t really worked in many situations where I have felt confident enough to express what I am experiencing, for fear of being judged as weak. Is that my problem?
And yes, men do often get slated at the time of the month, and I for one apologise as it must be really hard, especially in relationships. It’s a sensitive time!!
Great article..discussion of periods should be less taboo..they have such a massive effect on us…way more than just the bleeding days… and yet they are treated with dismissive, put-down humour or outright disdain. I’m sure these prevailing attitudes prevent young women from having more courage to learn about their cycles, and how best to navigate the turbulent hormonal tides and thus be empowered in their own bodies. I hope this is changing.
My cycle is finally levelling out..near to menopause and I can look back and see what a huge effect hormones had on me through my whole adult life… I can recognise different stages of the cycle in other women…but I’m me, and now that I’m older I mostly do that with no judgement. I’m sure I was more judgemental when I was younger. How many times have we heard comments such as ‘Oooh, are you on your period or what?’ said in a derogatory manner to negate the value of anger justifiably expressed…
You’re right…to try and explain why it’s a bad time is seen as a weakness and yet having a cold or flu would not. There must be cultures where the woman’s body is NOT taboo..surely?
Thanks for your insightful response. I definitely think even we as women put ourselves and others down for being hormonal when actually it can be quite testing continuing our normal lives during menstruation. There are cultures in the world where I heard women go to designated huts when they are bleeding. They sit and chill and relax until it’s over, the go back and join their families. I love that idea! All I can hope is that people brave chatting about how their period affects the, without shame so that people can be educated as to the shifts they can bring on. I wonder if that’s too much to ask?