How we perceive menstruation can vary from a deep feeling of belonging within our matrilineal heritage and Mother Earth, to ‘the curse’. We can only wonder what the women of the past were thinking when they left their daughters to discover periods for themselves. Was the taboo so ingrained that even women could not discuss women’s business?
These days the onset of our first period is not beset with fear of dying like Anne of Green Gables’ first ‘womanly flowering time’. Nor is it greeted with the despair of Sansa Stark whose first ‘flowering’ meant she was about to be mated off for political purposes. Neither are we banished to the Red Tent of biblical times (although a few days away from the demands of family, and hanging out with the girls sounds just fine to me).
The word hysteria is derived from ‘wandering womb’ and reinforces the stereotype of menstruating women as incapable of rational thought and better hidden away. Advertising didn’t mention ‘periods’ until 1985, and couldn’t bring itself to show anything red until 2011. Social media still deems actual period blood worse than pretty much anything.
While menstruation is now getting the occasional mention by elite athletes as a normal and obvious part of their experience, there is still a long way to go in honest straightforward communication, like doing a hammy. On the positive side, there are more options for securely catching menstrual blood such as cups and undies, compared to the cumbersome belt contraptions of the past.
Traditionally, the onset of a girl’s menses would involve ritual celebrations; an induction into womanhood and the women’s mysteries of procreation. The dilemma we have is how to retain this sense of sacred connection and bring it with us to inform modern life in practical, grounded ways. World-wide, work is being done by organisations such as Plan International to enable girls to nudge traditional and material barriers, and continue their education once they hit puberty.
Here are a few fun facts on the lighter side of periods:
Don’t make me say it: in Denmark, a commonly used euphemism for having your period is ‘Der er kommunister i lysthuset’, meaning ‘there are communists in the funhouse’. Or in South Africa (weirdly) ‘Granny’s stuck in traffic’
Be nice: Doctors used to believe bad period cramps were symptoms of a woman rejecting her femininity
While prohibitions on exercise and bathing have been thoroughly debunked, traditional advice to avoid cold still holds. ‘Cold uterus’ is one of the biggest causes of menstrual disharmonies in Chinese medicine
Amidst our modern lives, take a moment to befriend your ebb and flow, that finely tuned symphony that enables life. And seek help when it is less than finely tuned.