Periods are a hot topic at the moment. There was the recent Instagram furor that saw a photo of a fully-clothed woman in bed with a blood stain on her trackies and sheets banned for violating the social media platform’s guidelines and Rebecca Shaw—also known as the holy saviour of the interwebs, Brocklesnitch—wrote at Kill Your Darlings about the menstruation taboo. Like a period, these both came around the time that I had also been thinking and talking about the bonds of blood that signify womanhood.
A female friend and colleague and I were discussing the ins and outs of periods. Topics on the agenda included trepidation about going back on/discontinuing the pill, men’s fear of anything to do with menstruation, and the miracle of being able to go about our daily lives whilst shedding parts of our internal organs on a monthly basis.
My friend assumed she was the only woman she knew not on the pill, while I increasingly feel I’m alone in my medicated state. I’ve been on the pill continuously for ten years (cue blood clot panic), originally to regulate the intensity of my periods, and now mostly for the convenience of being able to choose when to bleed and the fear of breaking out. (I don’t have unprotected sex regularly enough to use the pill for this purpose.)
On the topic of men, I reminisced about a male former housemate, who couldn’t even speak the name of a pantyliner when I accidentally left one unwrapped in the bathroom. Additionally, such frank period talk in the vicinity of men is usually met with groans and the covering of ears. Sorry (not sorry), but if you’re an adult man and you exist in the world with women, periods are a fact of life. The fact of life, if you will. Deal with it.
Something that becomes so routine as to not even phase you is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. Comedian Cameron Esposito’s routine about periods, above, reiterates my point as she hilariously and disgustingly muses about chunks “the size of strawberr[ies]… coming out of my body” but still endeavours to “have that report for you by tomorrow.” Add it to the checklist of things that many women have to do above and beyond the roles of men.
All of this chatter would indicate that periods also serve as a female bonding ritual. “I wonder if men bond over foreskins the way women bond over periods,” my friend asked. Firstly, eww. Secondly, while there is the brit milah in Jewish culture, nothing comes close to the social and cultural rituals surrounding menstruation.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, asserts that menstruation is a god given process essential to the creation of any human being. In Indian Hinduism menarche is a cause for celebration with the young woman in question receiving gifts, not unlike Judaism’s bat mitzvah celebration which focuses more on physical age than puberty. Similarly, in Native American tradition puberty and first blood are cause for celebration with menstruating women’s power revered. Shaktism has perhaps the most positive attitude towards periods, with the annual fertility festival Ambubachi Mela taking place in June in which the menstruation of goddess Kamakhya is celebrated.
The act of purchasing sanitary products may not be highly anticipated (and don’t even get me started on the added burden this puts on homeless women and women on Nauru, for example), but the sharing of them, whether that be between mothers and daughters or other family members/adults of influence in a young woman’s life at puberty, friends or other women who happen to be using a bathroom in tandem, is a ritual in itself. While Carrie may be a horror story about the denial of womanhood, many other films and TV have a more realistic portrayal of blood bonds: think the power dyanmics at play when Carrie lends “Face Girl” Nina Katz a tampon on Sex & the City; White Chicks’ white friends offering them an assortment of sanitary products; and the “super jumbo tampon” scene in Mean Girls. Lauren Rosewarne even wrote a whole book about the pop cultural representations of periods.
For those who may not have authority figures or friends to teach them about the bloody birds and the bees, teen and women’s magazines such as Dolly and Girlfriend and websites like Birdee come with an abundance of information. This is not to mention the sanitary products bursting from their pages and attached to their covers as free samples.
The ostracision of periods in polite company and the freak outs that men have when confronted with them mean women only have each other to talk about periods with, creating a bond whether we like it or not. That the specifics of who is and isn’t on birth control; who has painful periods that land them in the emergency room; the age of menarche; and, for older women, when their periods stopped are discussed freely amongst friends and even acquaintances is a testament to both the bonding rituals and banality of periods. The very phenomenon of synced cycles for women existing in close quarters is proof enough of the sisterhood of menstruation for better or for worse.