The Power of The PeriodPosted: September 27, 2013
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.