Afternoon Delight

Sanguine Nation

January 27, 2015

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Sanguine Nation

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 “raising 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 “girl things.”

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

“But when it comes to the cost of menstrual taboo,” she somberly informs us, “there is far worse.”

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

“What 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 “had known nothing about periods”—just so they could scoop up an armful of the “free sanitary napkins on offer.”

Of course, women like George disapprove of “primitive” 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.

“Sometimes 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 “Fertility Dress,” a conceptual art thingie that supposedly turns blue when the wearer is ovulating, red during menstruation, and—eww—yellow “to indicate hygiene [sic].”

Tolson’s “work” is an “Atwoodian” satire on the fascist patriarchy or whatever, but Frost simply finds the “dress” appealing in a “Go Away” welcome mat fashion.

Yeah, it’s a stupid idea, but at least this “art” seems to be an advance over the “I paint with my menstrual blood!” school called the “Menstrala” 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 “My Aunt Flo is visiting,” the euphemism of choice is “les Anglais ont débarqué” (“the English have disembarked.”)

The trouble is, menopausal me is old enough to remember all this “stigma 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, “If Men Could Menstruate.”

(Incidentally: because the honorific “Ms,” 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 “India.” 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 “If 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.)