Can we have a "happy period?"
Critical Feminist Studies
Web Paper #2
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.