I think that periods are a hard subject to talk about whether you’re male or female. The subject can’t be brought up in polite conversation without being met with cringes and hurried attempts to hush the speaking party. I’ve often wondered: Why all this secrecy? Menstruation is normal bodily function without which the continuation of life would be impossible. Why is it then, that when “Aunt Flow” comes to visit we insist upon ushering her into a backroom where she must remain silent and out of sight?
I think it has everything to do with how we view ourselves as women; not through our own eyes, but through a cultural lens.
In her article about menarche, Janet Lee focuses heavily upon the sexualization of female bodies after the onset of menstruation. Although it is one of the last stages of development in puberty it becomes the most symbolic because it is a visual cue that a woman is able to bear children. For budding women this should be a time of celebration, even though for most (including those interviewed by Lee) it inspires a deep sense of shame. This happens as a direct result of this very personal biological process, one unique to the female sex, being reduced by the Judeo-Christian patriarchy to nothing more than a physical representation of the unclean and licentious nature of women.
Steeped in biblical tradition and surrounded by a culture that condemns all forms of female sexuality it comes as no surprise that so many of us feel the onset of menstruation as a “curse”! The presence of a monthly cycle indicates to that we can have children and society dictates that we should. Maybe not at such an early age, but nonetheless this omnipresent expectation of motherhood reduces female bodies to vessels instead of individual beings. At the same time that we are charged with the continuation of the male species (Why else would men be so interested in controlling our cycles if not to create more disciplinarians for their cause?) women are also taught that sex is out of the question. Bodies unfairly thrust into premature sexualization and objectification are all taught that although they can be looked upon with desire they can harbor no desires of their own. In these ways the meaning of menstruation has been completely dominated and contextualized by those who will never be able to truly comprehend its actuality.
In short: Women keep quiet about their periods because they must; because they are now the domain of men. As long as the coercive power of patriarchy in Western society holds sway this kind of forced silence and submission will be allowed to continue unchecked.
I think the time has come that we all raise our voices and be heard.