Big Red Buttons and Little Red Dots: Why It’s Time To Stop Menstrual Shame

{Accessibility caption: graphic explaining the phases of the menstrual cycle based on ovarian histology, body temperature, hormones, and endometrial histology. It’s a shameless tactic by author to make it look science-y, but folks who want more explanation on the graphic can find info on the Wikipedia page}

{Another aside: I use the term woman and some she/her/hers pronouns in this piece for a few examples, but I want to publicly acknowledge that not everyone with a uterus identifies as a woman}

When I was 11 years old, I joined the ranks of reproductive aged female-bodied folks and started bleeding once a month (or in my case because my natural cycle is an ovary-chiever, every 3 weeks for six or seven days, clockwork. Birth control was a nice change for me). I remember wanting to tell everyone about what was going on because I was physically uncomfortable and it was constantly on my mind. The pads felt so big for my barely pubescent body and I was worried that everyone could see them. It generated a lot of stress for me, but I soon learned how to deal with periods like a champion. Or like the vast majority of other female-bodied folks in America.

A thought that I had to myself three days post-menarche has stuck with me for over half of my life now. While I knew about periods from a biological standpoint, and I knew the value that young girls place on menstruation from reading lots of Judy Blume books, nobody talked about it, really. Sure, my mom and older sister answered my questions, but if every reproductive aged female-bodied person in my life were going through this once a month, I figured I would have heard about it more. There was so much shame over something that was, to me, just utterly inconvenient. I wondered if it would be that way if men menstruated, too. We all could sync up and complain together. Misery loves company, and maybe people wouldn’t be so silent.

Sure, there’s plenty of historical context of menstrual shame, but there’s one modern myth keep us silent about when we have our period- the trope of women being moody and unstable while menstruating. Sure, hormones can affect the brain and the annoyance of needing to take care of remembering to deal with tampons (or Softcups, for all you menstruating, non-IUD-having folks) can get obnoxious. But it’s certainly not so consuming that we can’t do our normal, daily functions. We inflate this inconvenience into something it’s not- and gender could not be closer to the core of this issue.

How many times have we all heard the joke that a woman can’t be president because she’d want to nuke random countries with that comically giant red button on her desk every month? When women are upset, “oh she’s just having her period” like that dismisses their concerns as unimportant. When we repeatedly tell women that they can’t express opinions for the 1/4 of their daily life that they are menstruating, we discount their opinions all of the time. It’s our discounting of her emotions as just a side effect of hormones that allow us to dismiss her thoughts. It’s not menstruation that keeps women from being president, it’s our refusal to acknowledge that women can have rational thoughts while simultaneously experiencing a normal bodily function. Men sometimes have erections at inconvenient times, after all.

But periods are such an easy scapegoat at letting us keep women out of power!


PS- For the sake of reducing menstrual shame, I feel like I need to disclose that I started my period in the middle of writing this. My body has a great sense of humor.


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