Don’t you pronounce the m-word...

16 septembre 2005 par  Szabina

"One day, a man walks into a bar and sees a sexy woman who interests him. He goes over to her and says, "Hey baby, I love you ! Let’s start fooling around." The woman says "I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m on my menstrual cycle." So the man then says, "Well, don’t worry, I have a Honda - I’ll follow you."

Menstruation is word that in itself often results confusion, immature giggles or at least some embarrassment. The topic frequently appears in silly jokes or is referred to in various situations already from early childhood ; it is a matter of discussion - besides hair and hair-removal - at intimate female talks, but still, are we able to talk about it as something completely normal, as part of the everyday life (as it is), in completely average, everyday situations ? The answer is mostly a sharp no.
Can you imagine starting a lecture or a speech with the following sentence : “Excuse me if I’m a bit inconsistent, I just got my period this morning.” Or sharing with your colleagues that you are quite nervous due to your PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). Similarly, if you run out of a pads/ tampons, would you consider borrowing a piece addressing a whole group of people from both sexes or would you instead ask unnoticeably the women only, one by one, whispering your problem into their ears ? If your answers to these questions are yes-yes-yes-no, in this order, you are a relaxed, confident woman, or happen to live in an exceptionally emancipated environment - for most of us, this is not the case.
The problem stems from a complexity of factors - first of all, menstruation, in its physical appearance is connected to two taboo-zones : blood and genitals. Blood is usually associated to something unhealthy - as it is a fluid closed into your veins and arteries and capillars, seeing it out on fresh air is a clear sign of disease or injury. Nevertheless, while you could easily announce that your nose has been bleeding, it is rather inappropriate to talk about your menstruation. The genitals are an even more difficult issue, since you often can’t even name them - in most languages there are plenty of synonyms for genitals, however they fall into three categories : medical terms, child vocabulary or vulgarities (the richest of all).
The other factor behind the social disability to handle menstruation lies in traditions. The basic biological function of a period is cleansing, but the most known of its aspects is being the “fertility-clock” (and how to avoid it) of female body. In traditional societies a menstruating woman is a taboo - she shall not be touched, she is forbidden to do certain household-works, which is explained by two, at first sight contradicting reasons - her being “impure” (therefore she should avoid preparing food, washing clothes, etc.), and at the same time “sacred” (check out the anthropologist Mary Douglas). This second value is obviously connected to the mystery of fertility, and contributes to the image of the woman being “mystical”, “irrational”, “impossible”, and different, inhuman, permanently oscillating between goddess and beast.
This picture of the woman goes back far in the history of human civilisation, when medicine knew very little about the structure and functioning of human body. Nevertheless today, when these mechanisms (organs, functions, puberty, fertility, etc.) are more or less described, menstruation still remains in dark obscurity in a corner of social life, where tradition and superstition prevail. What we can do however is to apply a shock-therapy - just mention your menstruation in whatever situation it occurs to you - it is not something disgusting, stop whispering in the shop when buying tampons - it is not something you should feel ashamed of, and don’t feel frustrated to share with your friends when you going through hard times - just as you would complain about your migraine. They have to get used to it.