The Power of The PeriodPosted: September 27, 2013 Filed under: Body, Feminism, Woman | Tags: Body, Feminism, Memoir, Menstruation, Period, Woman 33 Comments
What is it about talking about my period that can relegate me, a grown woman, to a whisper?
I was at a freelance job the other day when I remembered I had to cancel a facial because I had just started to menstruate. My entire body is more sensitive when I bleed, which can turn a pampering experience into an uncomfortable one.
I called the receptionist. Just as I was about to tell her why I needed to reschedule at the last minute, a coworker came back to her desk right next to me and sat down.
Worried she might hear me, I found myself lowering my voice to a whisper. “Yes, I have to cancel because I’m on my period” I said, the last word practically inaudible—as if this woman, who has given birth to three children, might be offended by me saying the word out loud.
Just writing about my menstrual cycle makes me want to stop and change topics—as if I’m committing some offensive act, discussing a subject that is not appropriate for public consumption—even though menstruation is a healthy, natural part of being female, and none of us would be here if women didn’t bleed.
I was one of the women who celebrated when The Camp Gyno, an ad for a tampon delivery service that sells period starter kits for girls called Hello Flo, went viral a couple of months ago.
This is a definite departure from the usual advertisements that talk around why women even need to buy these products every month. I, for one, felt liberated to hear this young voice shamelessly saying the words “period,” “menstruation,” and “vagina” out loud in a commercial.
I didn’t have a “camp gyno” to initiate me into this female mystery. Instead I had Margaret, the titular character in Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. She and her friends eagerly anticipated their first periods, even buying pads to practice with beforehand so they’d be ready—and their enthusiasm made me look forward to my own first time. I even used my allowance money to order my own starter kit, which was sold via a coupon on the back of a teen magazine. When I finally had my period, I got teary-eyed when I told my mom the big news.
Eventually, however, my elation over my period turned into exasperation. Bleeding on a day when I wanted to swim, worrying that I might stain my clothes during a school dance, and later, when I started having sex, stressing out that I might “not” get my period, turned menstruating into a hassle—something to control with the pill. I also wasn’t going around talking about my period, unless to complain about “that time of the month,” and then only to my closest girl friends.
But all that changed several years ago when I was invited to take part in a Moon Lodge, a practice that harkens back to a Native American tradition when menstruating females in a tribe gathered together to rest and tell stories during their bleeding times. (I first heard about this type of practice when reading the The Red Tent, a bestselling novel by Anita Diamant. In it, women and girls from biblical times came together in a tent for a few days every month to bleed together. I remember wishing I could menstruate with other women in a red tent, too. It turns out I wasn’t alone.)
Every month for nearly a year I joined several women—artists, teachers, healers, mothers, and daughters—in these Moon Lodges. We weren’t all on our periods during these gatherings, yet there was something very powerful about coming together to celebrate this “red thread” that connected us as women and sharing our personal experiences out loud with each other.
We would sit together in a candlelit room and rest—sipping teas to relax the body, writing in our journals, exchanging information about the period that isn’t usually taught elsewhere. At some gatherings, we would take time to nap.
One time, we exchanged stories about the first time each of us bled. For some, the experience was marred by embarrassment, confusion, or even humiliation—sometimes because the grown-ups around them had passed down their own shame and secrecy surrounding periods.
In these Moon Lodges, I learned to celebrate my period rather than gripe about it. I began to pay more attention to my dreams, taking time to slow down and listen to my feelings rather than just chalking them up to me being overly emotional or a “bitch on the rag.” I discovered that there isn’t a more truthful woman than a menstruating female who lets herself say what she really means and act upon impulses and desires that she might otherwise suppress. Because of this, my bleeding time is now one of my most powerful times of the month.
So why, then, is it still hard for me to talk about my period out loud (in front of another woman, no less)? Because when I’m out in the world and not in a Moon Lodge, it still feels like I’m breaking some taboo when I do—and it shouldn’t.
Which is why I am writing about my period, right here, right now. When what feels unspeakable is spoken, the spell of silence gets broken.
This is something I would have never blogged about! Good for you!
Thank you, Beth! I am still jittery about having done so, so thank you so much for your supportive response.
This is such a great topic, and of course you approached it with that wonderful brave, raw, writing. I remember being very young and reading an article in Ms. Magazine about having our period was not a curse, but the most creative times in our bodies. It altered my entire perception and approach to “That time of the month” Thanks Diahann, and I think I’ll get that book for my granddaughter.
Thanks you, Diane! And thanks for sharing your experience- I loved hearing about it (and would love to hear what your granddaughter thinks of the book :))
Thanks Diane! Very important subject for teenagers. Good idea about positive approach.
I love it and I MISS YOU!!!!
Thanks for reading, Elena! Yes, for the girls of the world it is definitely important that they get to experience their cycle in an empowering way. Me too! Been a long time…
I really enjoyed the post and your approach to the topic, it’s really not easy- even once you think you’ve overcome the years of period-hating, it’s still hard to talk about (if not hard at the very least uncomfortable, or daring). So, congrats! Reading this actually made me think of Cliteracy by Sophia Wallace. I think you might enjoy her work, in case you’re not familiar with it here’s a link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/cliteracy_n_3823983.html
Thanks, Alexandra! And I am glad you enjoyed my post. I am not familiar with Cliteracy but I will definitely check this out.
Thanks for your support and for the recommendation. I still can’t believe I wrote about my period- and i’m just thrilled that I did :). I definitely will check out Cliteracy. A friend recently suggested I check out Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina as well-not sure if you’ve read it. (Apologies for the delay in response, I was away on retreat).
Double-like. I enjoyed reading about the shift in your thinking and feeling. You brought to mind something I wrote on cycles in an old post:
“The bodily vicissitudes are not random but often follow cycles. Of time, weather, season. For the person is a microcosmic embodiment of the universe. There is the planetary orbit. The revolutions. And we are governed by a circadian rhythm. Whether or not we choose to rise and set with the sun, our organ systems each heed their own clock of peak functioning in keeping with the tide of day and night. The woman’s body is a candid avatar of the Cycle.”
Thx for staying with me and for the recent tap of support. I do appeciate it, D. Keep up the thoughtful writing.
Thanks so much for the double like and for sharing what you wrote on cycles. And I totally agree with you that the woman’s body is an “avatar of the Cycle.” Beautifully said. (Sorry for the delay in response- I was away on retreat.) It really is amazing how so much that is wondrous about the female body gets overlooked! Looked forward to further exchanges with you.
-) Glad you got away and spent time so richly.
Great article. May women wouldn’t even dare to talk about their period and what more….blog about it ! Thumbs up!
Thank you, Kaye! 🙂 It definitely felt liberating to write about it and then press the publish button. Thanks for reading.
This post had me alternately laughing and furrowing my brow in thought. Thanks for a good read, and thanks for checking out my blog, Write Like Rowling. Best of luck on your book – that’s exciting!
I’m glad you liked it, Carolyn! It makes me feel great to know you enjoyed the post. And thanks for the well wishes on my memoir. I’m excited to give birth to it when it’s finally ready. I look forward to reading more from you on your blog.
Thanks for visiting my blog dear
be in touch
My pleasure. Look forward to your posts!
thank you dear 🙂
Loved this post, thanks for having the courage to share it! I’m 48 and my periods have become few and far between. For many years I’ve hated having my period, but now that this part of me is dwindling I’m sad. Having a period, despite it’s inconveniences, means that you are young and in the prime of your life. Celebrate every single one of those annoying bleeding days – they won’t last forever! Celeste 🙂
Thank you, Celeste! I hear that as the blood dwindles a woman enters her most powerful years yet- so I am guessing the best is yet to come. Thanks for the reminder to honor what’s here because it won’t always be. Look forward to reading more of your posts.
What a great post! Thank you for opening up the discussion of this powerful part of a woman’s life. Like many women, I had “inherited” a lot of negative and disempowering attitudes about menstruation and being female in general, and I remember crying with shame and disappointment when I had my first period. I felt as if my body had betrayed me.
I think that this pain may have been part of what drew me to Wicca as a teenager. Although I don’t follow that path or consider myself a Wiccan, the reverence that Wiccans have for the female body started to open my mind to the fact that this may be a sacred, rather than shameful, part of my life.
I think for my seventeenth birthday, a girlfriend gave me a book called “The Genie Within” by Alexandra Pope. This further revolutionised the way that I saw my periods, and prompted me to think about how much of the negativity we feel towards ourselves as women is the result of the fear of men regarding this aspect of life which they don’t get to experience. Being exposed to the animist beliefs of certain South-East Asian cultures also helped me to see my periods and womanhood in a different way – in these (and, I assume, many other) cultures, women are seen as possessing superior spiritual strength to men, and menstrual blood itself is believed to have magickal powers.
I suppose that the combination of all of these influences means that I now definitely perceive my menstrual cycles as a power, rather than as a hindrance or a shameful secret. I enjoy the changes in my libido that occur at different stages of the cycle, the courage and honesty of the pre-menstrual phase, the heightened intuition of menstruation, and the feeling of cleansing and physical and emotional recovery that follows. If I have to make an important decision, or if there is an issue that’s bothering me and I need answers, I’ll “cycle” on it to get the benefits of different insights at all parts of the cycle.
Anyway, sorry for the rant. But as you noted the forums for empowered discussion about this issue are few and far between. I’m sure that you’re positive perspective on this issue will help more women to see their bodies as sacred and beautiful every day of the month!
Mae-Lin I loved your “rant.” I think that the way you came to be empowered about your menstrual cycle, discovering Wicca and the Animist cultures and your own experience of your blood, is really fascinating.
I love how you “cycle” through your cycle to get the full benefit of your body, and the wisdom it can provide through its different phases, before making important decisions. I’ve never heard that before and I am going to start exploring that for myself!
It’s interesting that in early societies that were more like matriarchies, women’s menstruation was considered powerful. In some societies you weren’t supposed to touch a woman during menstruation because she was so powerful that she might hurt you. Under patriarchy things changed: don’t touch a woman because she’s polluted. These days we’re moving away from that, little by little.
Agreed, Georgia! I used to feel a little odd- talking about my period outside of my circle of friends that felt the same- but it feels like there is a bigger yearning to come back to the old ways and hopefully it will become the norm again… to the benefit of all!
Definitely all of my YES. I have always wanted to join a Red Tent event here in Australia, but unfortunately I live to remotely. I can only ensure my daughter grows up aware of the power inherent in her bleeding times. Thank you for this post.
You are welcome, Miika. Yes- the Red Tent experience is amazing. Your daughter is lucky that you are so in tune with the power of female blood that she will know that from the start. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Another post from you with so much intensity that, once again, it triggers me. I approached the descent into menstruation much the same way I treated burgeoning breasts. Denial. Oy, and burgeoning is putting it mildly. Anyhow, both were beyond my control and as one commenter said above, both events of “change” felt like my body was betraying me. Physically extricating me from the safety of girlhood before I was emotionally ready to depart. Sort of a “You’re coming with me!” feeling right before you get cuffed, I imagine. My mother got this stupid little pamphlet//booklet from the library to read to me and I still remember the yellow flower on the pale blue front, “You’re Blossoming,” it proclaimed in muted orange script letters. And yes, she too, lowered her voice when she read it aloud to me, her shoulders hunched over the cover, her hands obscuring the pages. It was as if she was covering up the very book that reveals the female body with her own (VERY) female body. The irony was not lost on me – – This was shameful stuff! Then I had to go to a school assembly to watch a film on the same topic? You gotta be kidding me! The school nurse even showed us how to hand wash our undies out so we wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by putting them in the laundry if there had been an accident. Seriously? The boys were hooting and hollering when the girls filed shyly back into the classroom an hour later. Within a week, the middle school gym teacher gave us each a dime, “just in case!” (The dispenser hadn’t graduated to eating quarters in those days) Wait a second — Was the whole school in on this conspiracy?? Was there going to be a Period Drill like a Fire Drill?
But the worst was yet to come. The day I got my period was the day my father stopped hugging me. More than anything, I think that is the reason I wanted the breast reduction surgery. I wasn’t ready to give up being daddy’s girl. I saved up all my allowance and on my 18th birthday announced my plan for the operation. The funny thing was my father slammed his fist down on the kitchen table and said, “Under no circumstances will any doctor be taking a knife to any daughter of mine.” But Dad, I’m doing this for you. So you’ll love me again. I wanted to say this. But I never did. And he never went back to hugging me. Ever again.
Thanks for letting me journal about that time in my life right here. It was extraordinarily cathartic. And the strength and potency of your writing is what catapulted me back there.
Stephanie, I feel like your experiences reveal so much about why the way both men and women in general relate to the female body needs to change… and then of course for young girls, who get so much unspoken messages of shame and embarrassment and fear thrust at them that they don’t know what to do and respond/act how best they think they can to cope. Thanks for sharing. What you said about how my story brought up for you your story- It just goes to show that we need to be telling our stories.
[…] The Power of the Period […]
[…] Fonda, I published to a slightly bigger list on Facebook. When I published my third post, about my period, I secretly hoped no one would see it. Instead, not only did readers find me, but many of them […]
[…] The Power of The Period. […]
[…] I would go on to explore and deepen my connection to my own period when I joined a Moon Lodge in Venice, Ca. Gathering once a month for a year with the same group of women, together we honored the female bleeding time. (See my post, The Power of the Period). […]