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.