Can we have a "happy period?"

ndegeorge's picture

Critical Feminist Studies

Web Paper #2

10/19/07

Can We "Have A Happy Period"?

For my final project I think I would like to tackle the stigma surrounding menstruation. I find it interesting that it is still a subject that is often taboo, when it is something that happens to every woman (of the appropriate age of course) every single month. It's something that women have to hide, even though it's a completely natural process. In my project I hope to do some historical research on how attitudes towards menstruation have changed over the years, as well as evaluate the current situation, specifically by looking at advertisements. I will also bring in several of the feminist perspectives on the subject, including the debate about stopping periods altogether. Recently I've come to realize that what still makes the discussion of menstruation uncomfortable is the dual nature of the process. The cycle is representative of the creation of new life, but at the same time it's messy, painful, and inconvenient. And because it is routine, it is often dismissed as insignificant, which it is not.

My thoughts on the matter were triggered several years ago when I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I was fascinated by the community created by the women, and the reverence with which they treated the cycles of a woman's body. I loved that they simply took the time out of every month to let the body do what it needed. That attitude is so different from what we do today. We simply sigh and load up our purse with the appropriate "feminine products." Products these days are designed to let you continue as if it were just another day. We usually don't let it hold us back, but maybe we should. I wonder if we are giving our bodies the respect they deserve?

I ask is it better to just put the discomforts aside? I would admit that I usually do; pop a few ibuprofen and be on my way. However the cramps and moods can get really bad. At what point is it permissible to excuse oneself from the daily activities? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that the discomfort can extend far beyond cramps. Some women experience migraines, full-body aches, and even severe depression. Obviously there are medications that can alleviate these symptoms, but they are still a burden to bare. I wonder, do we give ourselves enough credit for what we experience every month?

I know additionally that men especially, do no want to hear about "lady issues" and we may be tempted to hide them because of that. I personally think we should not waste the energy trying to shield them from the reality. But I think we do anyway.

For example, look at advertising for tampons. In the past several years the emphasis has been on making products smaller and smaller, small enough to hide in the palm of your hand! My question is why do we, as women, feel the need to hide the fact that we menstruate? Plain and simple, it's a fact of life, and none of us would be here without it. Of course I realize that it is a personal process, especially for young girls, it can be a delicate issue. But for me, I know that as I got older I no longer wanted to bother with carefully hiding a tampon or pad on the way to the bathroom. It's just one more inconvenience on top of another.

I'm not advocating the return of the red tent. In today's world it would be totally impractical for women to seclude themselves for five days every month. However, part of me thinks that would be nice. I wish that there could be a middle ground between that and what we do these days. Because sometimes I don't want to suck it up. Especially when I realize that every month my body is preparing itself to support another life, which is an amazing concept. I don't think it matters if a woman ever follows through on that; her body still holds that enormous possibility.

Advertisers want us to "Have a happy period, always!" They show us lovely, radiant women swimming or dancing freely. But I think we know the reality is different; what then is the purpose of those ads? I might venture to ask, are we shielding others (men?) from the truth? Some ads for birth control even offer the elimination of menstruation altogether. I don't know the science behind that but I find it suspect, potentially unhealthy. Of course the prospect is tempting, to avoid the whole bloody mess, but is it good for women? I plan to get some facts on that as I continue with research.

I will end with several questions that I will use to guide the direction of my project. I plan to look up the history of attitudes towards menstruation, as I'm sure that they have changed many times over the years. I've found a great website called "The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health" that I plan to explore in depth. It has input from hundreds of women about their experiences with menstruation. There is also a collection of vintage advertisements for feminine products. I will definitely look over those, as well as do my own analysis on current advertisements. The ultimate goal will be to discover why exactly there is a stigma; why menstruation is a "delicate" issue. I hope to do that by contrasting the personal and public experience. What does the mark of blood represent other than the possibilty of new life? I'm not sure of the answer. I have the feeling that it is a multitude of things, some positive, many negative.

Finally, if I get that far, I may propose some changes to the way we as a society deal with menstruation. This may include the option for every woman to avoid having periods if she so desired and the provision of feminine products (I don't like that term but I have yet to find a better blanket term) for free. I think there are several directions I could go with this and I plan to narrow mine as I get farther with research.

Comments

gail's picture

Mother Earth

Dear Nora,

I originally created this sculpture as a "River Goddess".  I live by the Mississippi.  I created a cowl, like a priest wears draped around the neck. There were rust and stainless strips curved to represent water.  I added the red menstural symbol strip to the cowl.  Perhaps having it only on one side was confusing. Anyway, I was trying to represent Mother Earth flow as water and our blood.  I left it that way.

If you have any questions or comments on any of the New Sculpture, just let me know.  Also, please feel free to ignore any/all.

Gail

ndegeorge's picture

oh and one question. I was

oh and one question. I was looking at the sculpture you have in the leaves and see that you have the red strip kind of descending from the neck of the figure? any particular reason you did that?
ndegeorge's picture

Gail, Your sculptures are

Gail,

Your sculptures are beautiful! I'm touched by your enthusiasm.

Your pictures bring several thoughts to mind: Your attitude toward menstruation (as I can gather from your art) is rather celebratory, reflective of ancient ideologies and acknowledging the kind of "power" there is in being a woman. I'm curious to know how you've formed this notion... As I said in my proposal I started to think about all this when I read The Red Tent. The attitudes toward menstruation are so much more positive than they are today. There is so much effort to hide the blood, keep it out of our daily lives. Do you feel those pressures? and if not what frees you up to celebrate the process instead? I think I wish that menstruation could shed the negativity but I don't know how to start such a process. I think you are one step ahead...

those are just some musings.

gail's picture

Respose to questions

Dear Nora,

I have copied your post and my answers are just after your questions.

Your pictures bring several thoughts to mind: Your attitude toward menstruation (as I can gather from your art) is rather celebratory, reflective of ancient ideologies and acknowledging the kind of "power" there is in being a woman. I'm curious to know how you've formed this notion... As I said in my proposal I started to think about all this when I read The Red Tent. The attitudes toward menstruation are so much more positive than they are today. There is so much effort to hide the blood, keep it out of our daily lives. Do you feel those pressures?

I wanted to share with you how much I felt the pressures to hide our blood. We were to "hide" the tampons/napkins in the very back of a cabinet where my father would not see.  I was instructed to wrap my used and bloodied napkins in toilet paper and hide them under trash in the basket.

I was horrified when someone suggested tasting my own menstural blood.  At the time, the thought was repugnant.  How I was taught to dislike my body. I now feel tasting my menstruation blood sounds reasonable and intimate.

Unfortunately, I am too old and no longer flow. 

 and if not what frees you up to celebrate the process instead? I think I wish that menstruation could shed the negativity but I don't know how to start such a process. I think you are one step ahead...

Your proposal started my metal representation and thinking about menstruation.  The Tent was revolutionary for me too. As I explored menstruation  through my metal symbols- I created images of power.

I tried to make some ugly images ( hidden) but all  mystically turned out powerful. I was surprised. The sculptures and photos just turned out that way. You were the "start of my process".  I looked back on what I had created in response to your proposal .  They were indeed power images.  As I look at them, I feel perhaps they are telling me something.  I am beginning to accept ourselves- even baggy old or discarded in a rusted metal pile.

Please relink to www.chavenellstudio.com/client/feminism

I have added new sculpture.   These sculpture was created specifically for a response to your proposal on menstruation.

Perhaps we and our monthly blood is, as the ancients felt, beautiful and powerful.

 

gail's picture

Project Partner?

Dear Nora,

I would love to be your project partner!

After I read your proposal,  I have been creating metal menstruation sculptures in my head.  Some bold, some hidden and ugly, some beautiful ( or as beautiful as I can ).  Perhaps I could add a completely new element to your project.

  I would love to read the  poetry suggestions Anne made in her reply to the proposal.


Maybe this does not help with your direction, but I am sure overflowing with sculptural ideas.

Do tell me how you feel about our partnership and how you would like it directed.  It is, after all, your project.  Just let me know your direction.

 

Thank you for considering me.

Gail

Phone 563.583.2218

 

Anne Dalke's picture

Purity and pollution

Well, Nora--
you surprised me! The last time we talked you wanted to consider beauty... and now you have turned to blood, with a series of interesting questions about how "we" handle menstruation, both publicly and privately.

I'm anxious to know more about what sources you will use for researching your various linked questions. You mention one website, which seems to be a rich resource for individual testimonies, and you mention advertisements several times. I think you need to look also @ the biology of menstruation. One place to start would be with a series of student webpapers on Serendip, each of which has a bibliography for further study. See, for instance,

I think you might also look at some of the literature (I literally mean "literature," here, shaped works of art) about menstruation; just off the top of my head, I think of Gloria Steinam's Oct. 1978 piece in Ms. magazine, "If men could menstruate." Then there are Sharon Olds' poems, “Eggs" and “35/10,” in The Dead and the Living (1984), and Anne Sexton's “Menstruation at Forty” in The Complete Poems (1981).

And finally, I think you're going to need to do some cross-cultural work, in order to get a handle on some of the deep concepts of purity and pollution that inform our thinking and feeling about our periods. There's lots of this material in anthropology; I know, for starters, of

  • Marla Powers, "Menstruation and Reproduction: An Oglala Case,"Signs, Vol. 6, No. 1, Women: Sex and Sexuality, Part 2

     

  • Alma Gottlieb, "Sex, Fertility and Menstruation among the Beng of the Ivory Coast: A Symbolic Analysis," , Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 52, No. 4 (1982), pp. 34-47+66
Also, two of the theorists we've already encountered this semester--Sherry Ortner and paula Gunn Allen-- write about this; check out their work, too.

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