We need to de-stigmatise menstruation, period

It’s time to normalise the most normal of normals by simply talking about it, writes Mila de Villiers

30 August 2020 - 00:02 By Mila de Villiers
Adverts for tampons and pads shy away from showing blood - why? It is only blood, says the writer.
Adverts for tampons and pads shy away from showing blood - why? It is only blood, says the writer.
Image: 123RF/andriano

23 August 1813

My dearest Jane,

Thank you for your letter. Fitzwilliam and I cordially accept the invitation to your daughter's birthday celebrations. I am keeping well, although I have just returned from my fourth consultation in the past four months with Dr Barnaby Codsworth, as I am yet again experiencing the most capricious aches and temperament during my menses. Dr Codsworth was quite unsympathetic to my plight, merely relaying that I am suffering from "hysterics" and suggesting I abstain from physical activity and recline on the chaise lounge for the next few days. Pooh! As if the fellow is not aware of the joy I derive from my daily meanderings. I do not intend to pay heed to his advice.

Your sister,
Elizabeth Bennet-Darcy

Ah yes, Periods and Prejudice — the Victorian novel which never was.

Yet, if Ms Austen were to have penned a title mentioning an on-the-blob Bennet lass, signs of PMS and the likes would unanimously be met with a single diagnosis formulated by the male characters: mania.

The monthly biological process during which non-pregnant women shed a part of the endometrium, resulting in blood and tissue flowing through the cervix and exiting via the vagina, was deemed so mystifying and alarming by paternalistic physicians and common me(h)n alike, that they settled on the cop-out response of "it's vile ... unnatural ... she's overreacting ... shun, shun, shun!"

Misconceptions about menstruation pre-date Lizzy and co by centuries, with the Roman historian Pliny the Elder taking an exceptionally literal attitude to the adage "cursed be thy wom(b)an", as seen in the following passage from Natural History: A Selection:

"In the approach of a woman in this state, must will become sour, seeds which are touched by her become sterile, grafts wither away, garden plants are parched up, and the fruit will fall from the tree beneath which she sits. Her very look, even, will dim the brightness of mirrors, blunt the edge of steel, and take away the polish from ivory.
A swarm of bees, if looked upon by her, will die immediately; brass and iron will instantly become rusty ... while dogs which may have tasted of the matter so discharged are seized with madness, and their bite is venomous and incurable."

Oh, if only this patriarchal geezer were around to read Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, in which she encourages tasting "the matter so discharged" — a culinary experience which isn't solely reserved for canines: "If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood — if it makes you sick, you've a long way to go, baby."

And what a long way we've come.

From the Good Book condemning ("now, no sniggering, class") period sex, as per Leviticus 20:18 which states that "[i]f there is a man who lies with a menstruous woman and uncovers her nakedness ... both of them shall be cut off from among their people", to a commended 2019 TV advert normalising menstruation in all its bloody glory.

Aussie pad brand Libra deserve a standing ovulation for the latter, as the commercial —watch it below — depicts both blood-stained undies and sanguine fluid running down a woman's leg, reiterating the fact that period blood *deep breath* Is. Only. Blood.

As in the flowing red substance that delivers nutrients and oxygen to the body's cells, containing — "now, pay attention, class" — the protein hemoglobin, which we have to thank for its crimson colouring.

Neither a blue liquid resembling the hue of toilet cleaner, nor an aqueous material which won't make its presence known if you unexpectedly start your period without having any blood-staunching products on your person. Or happen to be experiencing a particularly enthusiastic cycle.

WATCH | Libra's Blood Normal advert that encourages normalising periods.

Praise be to Tina Fey for including the relatable reality of The Heavy Flow in the screenplay for the 2004 coming-of-age classic Mean Girls. ("Somebody wrote in that book that I'm lying about being a virgin 'cause I use super-jumbo tampons. But I can't help it if I have a heavy flow and a wide-set vagina!" an impassioned Bethany Bird exclaims during a scene where the female pupils are assembled together to discuss The Burn Book — an account of rumours and remarks, compiled by the eponymous "mean girls".)

Super-jumbo tampons, pads, and moon cups aside, absorbing menstrual blood can also be achieved by donning a pair of porous drawers — that of the free-bleeding friendly period panties. PSA: these knickers aren't only available in black. US fashion label Cute Fruit Undies designed pairs inviting womxn to discharge on the face of none other than Donald Trump. (The opportunity to shed uterine lining on a chauvinist? Count me in.)

If you prefer your menses served with a sartorial side dish of pithy sayings, Australian artist Joanna Thangiah's apparel bearing the aphorism "Anything you can do, I can do bleeding" pretty much says it all. Period.

Let's be honest: period-speak is a far more entertaining topic of conversation than complaining about ill-fitting masks

Feminist texts, commercials, quotable flicks and clothing are four factors that have contributed to the discourse surrounding the de-stigmatisation of menstruation, but we have once more to raise a glass of vino tinto to: the simple act of talking about it.

Let's be honest: period-speak is a far more entertaining topic of conversation than complaining about ill-fitting masks.

Exhibit the following scene: millennials are enjoying their first (legal) beers since lockdown. "I have to change my tampon A$AP Rocky, please order me another drink," one says as she leaves for the loo. Nary an eyebrow is raised, and the only other woman present defiantly slams the sticky table with a resounding "Yes, girl! Normalise!"

The bleeder-in-speaking, smiles, and post-tug-and-flush, rejoins the squad, eager to share the period-inspired pun she came up with in the lav: "Hey guys, have any of you read Madame Ovary by Gustave Heavy Flaubert?

"It's bloody brilliant."