Reading over everyone’s post (everyone who has posted so far), I’m surprised that Gloria Steinem’s article has yet to be mentioned. It doesn’t deal with the coming-of-age event of menarche so much as it deals with the gender politics of menstruation. As Lee and Young’s writings can attests, menstruation is often a topic of embarrassment and even shame (WordPress has even turned a little red as it underlined my typing of ‘menarche’ as a misspelling, clearly a mistake on my part to bring up such a sensitive (forbidden?) topic).
But I think there is something generational that is helping this issue move from private to public discussions. I think in part that can be seen as a success of feminist literature in creating a more open space for discussion to occur (despite of the creation of docile bodies as described by Foucault). At least in some cases, my women friends can feel open enough to talk about it in public in certain situations, like when they are in a group together. They don’t go into detail, but it’s still progress in my mind. I think it’s that kind of movement toward open discussion that leads to Steinem’s pieces which I think it great. I read it as a senior in high school (roughly four years ago), but I find myself comparing and contrasting it with the other reading we had and my larger volume of experience.
I think there are two definitely positive ways to read Steinem’s If Men could Menstruate. On one hand it’s hilarious. The commercialization of ‘masculine products,’ the “I’m on the rag!” comment, the openness of discussion in pop culture. The majority of her article is written in the fictitious world where men can menstruate and women cannot, and it gives her free reign with insightful comments following. Yet as i am reading, the absurdity of the pieces pushed me to at least see the very seriousness also in it. I used absurdity in the previous sentence to describe how Steinem’s hypothetical world clashes with our own, not in the sense that what she’s writing is unreasonable.
But she brings up another theme that we have discussed in class and found in our readings – the idea of what is natural. Previously we had discussed how people saw gender differences in children and projected that to be a fact of nature, when in fact we had discovered that adults were in fact inculcating children into a world of gender norms and expectations through hidden curricula. I think Steinem brings this out even further with statements like “Logic has nothing to do with oppression” and “logic is in the eye of the logician.” She strikes up a very important point by describing the nature of the argument surrounding this topic and others – that there is some scientific or positivist understanding that the social relations we see are that way simply because they are that way. I see Steinem as attacking those statements that are meant to be descriptive (in the sense that they just explain what is), but are normative at heart. I think it’s an important point to note in order to have a public dialogue so you can frame the argument most effectively.
She ends her piece very effectively, drawing a smirk from me every time I read over it, by moving from this imaginary world back into our real one with the statement “If we let them.” Suddenly this thought experiment becomes very real in the power justifications it has used to mirror the many ways our current world does, just in a way to diminish women rather than exult men. I also take the ending to be a rallying call for women to have these types of discussions because there is a sense of solidarity to be gained from sharing experiences that people often characterize as alienating. I think all three texts pointed out how much better women felt after sharing their experiences with menarche and menstruation.
One aspect that I really wished I had time to discuss here, but do not, is this following clip courtesy of Sarah Haskins. She’s wonderfully smart and comical in her approach and brings up salient point after point. Everyone should watch her small (3-4 minute) clips. I wonder if our discussion today will lead at all into birth control, but the marketing of it definitely throws up red flags for me. Also I apologize if someone’s written about Steinem’s piece since the time I started typing and have neglected any insights they have shared.