Because sometimes one cannot be bothered to blog on a Monday.
On this, the weekend of the 2018 Women's March, I want to start this edition of my periodic menstrual series by saying a few things:
- Not all women menstruate.
- Not all menstruators are women.
- The fact that a person sometimes menstruates tells you nothing about their gender.
- Not all menstruators experience menstruation in the same way
Menstruation, for me, is a powerful and revealing lens through which to discuss a wide variety of issues facing women, trans men, and nonbinary folks, including reproductive rights, sexual shaming, body positivity, medical discourses, representation and the media, third-wave feminism, postfeminism, the intersections of race, class, and disability with gender, and global capitalism—among many, many others. I try to be careful about the language I use when discussing these topics, although I know that I make mistakes. What I am most wary of is the way that talking about periods, sexual organs, and lived experiences around menstruation can very quickly slip into biological essentialism, making the assumption that menstruating is mutually constitutive with being a woman. Because it's just not. That's not up for discussion here at my blog, and I'll fight as many pussy hats as I have to in order to keep it that way.
Anyway, let's talk about periods some more!
This week I've not only had my period but also gotten about four violent nosebleeds. Everyone has told me it's because of the dry winter air (I've been advised to put Vaseline *up my nose* which sorry but No Thank You), but I've gotten these ever since I was a small child so I'm not sure that's the real root cause. Of course there's some part of me that wants to see a correlation between one type of bleeding and the other but I'm not sure there's a biologically defensible connection. Either way, all this exsanguination makes me feel a little like a character in a Victorian short story with lots of heavy-handed symbolism and multiple fainting couches, or maybe like a hemophilic Russian royal child who is very pale indeed against the Siberian wastelands as we flee into the hinterlands. Or maybe I just need to up my iron supplements.
- My first news item for this month comes from friend-of-the-blog Jenny. It has a fun local Boston connection and also gets at something I think about a lot, which is how little we actually know about our own bodies, especially when it comes to fertility. There's a cultural assumption that we're all completely fertile/virile until proven otherwise; and goodness help you if you are proven otherwise—the process of investigating and treating low fertility is so prohibitively expensive as to be a complete privilege and luxury. Science seems to have put relatively little effort into finding ways to establish an individuals baseline fertility in order to predict whether people will have trouble becoming pregnant when the want to. It strikes me that so many bro dudes have turned the idea of self-optimization through obsessive bodily tracking into a business model but women are frequently entirely left out of this field, as when the first version of the Apple Health app completely omitted period tracking. Obviously people like Ridhi Tariyal are doing the work to change this, but it will also take a culture shift in academia and in science; as Tariyal says in the Forbes piece, tampons are "a highly underutilized, underexplored specimen that could really break open women's reproductive health. But to date everyone has thought it's too gross to engage in.” (I know, there's a LOT to unpack here.) Think how much more informed you could be about your OWN BODY if there were simple tools out there to give you the metrics and you weren't limited by the fact that the scientific and medical profession apparently think menstrual blood is icky! Think how we could recalibrate "normal" and "natural"! Also, while we're at it, think of all the incredible work that could happen if we GIVE MORE STARTUP FUNDING TO PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT CIS WHITE MEN.
- On a slightly lighter yet also very revealing note, I love this discussion of the design conversation surrounding the decision to change the protected/unprotected sex icons in the period tracker app Clue. I feel like there's a fascinating larger conversation about cultural symbols for period-related things that this is a part of, and I also feel like I want to hear the 99% Invisible episode about designing period-tracker apps ASAP.
- A reminder that periods can be way more than a slight inconvenience; this piece on menstruation as a refugee and this one on menstruation and homelessness came out in the same week last month and both emphasize how this thing that many of us view as an annoyance can be shifted and recontextualized in situations of extremity. There's no easy fix to these problems but it did remind me set up a recurring donation with a local organization that helps with these issues. Periods are recurring so the aid needs to be, too. I'm doing some research but if anyone has a suggestion for a good place to donate in the Boston area, please drop me a note.
- Finally, if you're looking for a way to low-key declare your fascination with menstruation, may I recommend this limited-edition tote bag from Clue ("only comes in red," lollllzz). I LOVE a good tote bag (I think my collection is well over two dozen at this point) so I tweeted about this one a while ago and my mom saw it (HI MOM). She told my sister, who gamely got it for me as a Christmas gift, despite being completely nonplussed by a) the existence of a period euphemism tote bag and b) her sister's desire to own said tote bag and carry it out in the world. I like it because it's also about language and it's a great shade of red (it's even on sale right now). If you see someone carrying this around Cambridge, MA, it's probably me, so feel free to say hi or ask me if I have an extra tampon.