January 27, 2015

Source: Shutterstock

Menstruation is having a moment.

I don”€™t mean the fleshly, goopy one that vexes roughly half the human race. Periods, while remaining annoyingly corporeal, are once again oozing into the conceptual realm too, thanks to a new wave of feminist writers and artists.

Why, yes, this IS more of that “€œraising awareness“€ (about something everyone’s already quite aware of) hoo-ha.

So: Rose George at the Guardian (where else?) wrote last week:

My period may hurt, but not as much as not talking about menstruation does.

Her cri de sein was prompted by British tennis champ Heather Watson, who”€™d demurely pinned her recent Australian Open shellacking on “€œgirl things.”€

Why, you”€™d think Mary Richardson had just slashed the Rokeby Venus. George tells us she “€œcheered”€ Watson’s stigma-shattering alibi, “€œcheered”€ again when other women athletes stuck up for her”€”and then “€œwinced in sympathy”€ (naturally) at the very thought of “€œfemale tennis players who have their periods during Wimbledon, when they must wear white and are allowed one toilet break per set. That’s awful.”€

“€œBut when it comes to the cost of menstrual taboo,”€ she somberly informs us, “€œthere is far worse.”€

George knows whereof she speaks, you see, because not three years ago, she “€œtravelled across India with a sanitation carnival.”€ As you do.

“€œWhat is it with these peripatetic white broads and their third world period safaris?”€

I detected a faint whiff of Mead’s Samoans at this juncture, imagining local ladies trying not to smirk as they told Lady Bountiful what she wanted to hear”€”that they “€œhad known nothing about periods”€”€”just so they could scoop up an armful of the “€œfree sanitary napkins on offer.”€

Of course, women like George disapprove of “€œprimitive”€ practices like the menstrual hut and the mikveh, but others kind of like the idea of getting a little retreat/spa day on the regular.

“€œSometimes a quiet space away from men is exactly what you want for a couple days out of the month,”€ muses Amber Frost at too-cool-for-you website Dangerous Minds.

That said, Frost’s not totally sold on artist Elizabeth Tolson’s new “€œFertility Dress,”€ a conceptual art thingie that supposedly turns blue when the wearer is ovulating, red during menstruation, and”€”eww”€”yellow “€œto indicate hygiene [sic].”€

Tolson’s “€œwork”€ is an “€œAtwoodian”€ satire on the fascist patriarchy or whatever, but Frost simply finds the “€œdress”€ appealing in a “€œGo Away”€ welcome mat fashion.

Yeah, it’s a stupid idea, but at least this “€œart”€ seems to be an advance over the “€œI paint with my menstrual blood!”€ school called the “€œMenstrala”€ movement.

(Kudos to this female photographer for trying to inject a modicum of wit and technical prowess into this sort of thing, and for teaching me that in France, instead of saying “€œMy Aunt Flo is visiting,”€ the euphemism of choice is “€œles Anglais ont débarqué“€ (“€œthe English have disembarked.”€)

The trouble is, menopausal me is old enough to remember all this “€œstigma smashing”€ nonsense, not just the second time around (during feminism’s third wave), but the first.

Exhibit A: Gloria Steinem’s widely anthologized Ms. Magazine column circa 1978, “€œIf Men Could Menstruate.”€

(Incidentally: because the honorific “€œMs,”€ at least in its late 20th century iteration, is a neologism rather than an abbreviation of an existing word, it was never supposed to include that … period.)

(And somewhat incredibly, the third word in Steinem’s first sentence is “€œIndia.”€ What is it with these peripatetic white broads and their third world period safaris?)

Anyhow, most readers fondly recall her then-timely jokes about John Wayne and Robert Blake doing maxi pad commercials in her Bizarro World alt-universe. It’s satire in the “€œIf men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”€ vein that characterized second wave feminist humor. (Yes, it exists. While the other girls treasured their copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves, I wore out Pulling Our Own Strings.)


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