At nearly 59 years old (tomorrow is my birthday), I have long since ceased counting the days on the calendar that marked my menstrual cycle. If memory serves, it has been more than five years since a box of tampons came home with me. I have gladly traded what I call ‘power surges,’ and some memory blips for the monthly ritual that began when I was 12.
Rolling back the clock, I recall the initial conversation with my mother, who likely prepared herself well before presenting me with ‘the talk’ about my period. I was 11 years old. Being a curious kid, I had some, but not all of the information I needed to understand what would be happening in my blossoming adolescent body. I knew that it had something to do with bleeding and that my breasts would grow, so I was a bit trepiditious since I thought my breasts would bleed. YIKES! When my mother handed me the book written by the Modess sanitary product company, and asked me to read it and come back to her with any questions, I was relieved to discover that there was no mention of bleeding breasts. WHEW! I was glad to be ready for what it really would mean and that my mother had gotten me a box of pads and the weird belt to which the little flaps would be attached in advance of need. Fast forward and my sister, my mom and I are at a local pizza shop after school when I was 12 years old. A new sensation coursed through my body and I got my mom’s attention and told her that I needed to go home since I thought my period had started. I felt elated. In my family, it was celebrated since I had entered the realm of womanhood.
In other homes and other cultures, not so. I cringe when I think about the ways that menstruating girls and women are viewed and treated. From isolation during their active bleeding time to being told they and their blood are unclean and even dangerous. From being slapped across the face at the first sight of menstrual blood to embarrassment and fear that they might have leakage. There are both positive and negative reactions to this natural occurrence that are both honored and frowned up.
There is a movement afoot related to the concept of The Red Tent, which was brought to the fore by the Anita Diament book by the same name. ALisa Starkweather, has created the Red Tent Temple Movement which encourages safe spaces for women of all ages and stages of life; whether maiden, mother or crone to celebrate their bodies, their blood, their wisdom and love. I proudly count myself in the third stage. In my area, I have attended Red Tent events at the home of my friend, Karen DeHaven who co-creates with Rebekah Grasso Barnes. There, we sit in circle, light candles, honor our female lineage, drum, dance, and create ritual that are for the healing of each of us and the planet.
A few days ago, I was listening to an NPR broadcast epsiode called Why Periods Are Political:The Fight For Menstrual Equity. It began with the idea that this is a ‘sensitive’ subject that is often whispered about and not considered an open topic for public discussion that might make some people squeamish and that some parents might not want children in the room or make it a family talk afterward. The last part I agree with, the others, not so much. How can we be at ease letting our kids watch violent shows and movies, and live in cultures that encourage violence and not talk about a natural occurrence? One answer is the shame based mentality when it comes to women’s bodies and sexuality. If we viewed our bodies as sacred and sex as a natural act, this would likely not be so.
We are often so ill at ease with the process that we come up with euphemisms for it. When I was young, I heard it called “the Curse” but never felt that way about it. My mother would encourage me to exercise when cramps came to visit, rather than curl up in bed as many of my friends did. I was fortunate not have severe symptoms and never had PMS.
Once the caveats were out of the way, the host and guests dove right in and spoke about the importance of education and the need for affordable products for women around the world and that they be made available to incarcerated women and those in shelters. Makes sense to me. I took for granted that I would always have products at the ready throughout my teens and adulthood, varying from pads to tampons, to menstrual cups and sponges. Other issues related to menstruation, include hygiene, since there is not always clean water for women to use to bathe, and isolation/shunning/sequestering. There was a story about a young girl in Nepal who was forced to sleep in a cow shed and died when bitten by a snake.
The consensus was that menstruation is a life and death issue and needs to be taken that seriously. Period.