i'm warning you now, i'm going to be talking about menstruation in this post, and i'm NOT going to lj-cut it tastefully, for reasons you'll see in a bit.
today, the lady who cleans our jobsite asked me how i was doing. she's a friendly sort, and we're happily snarky at each other, and so i want you to know that when i said i was a little tired, it was not a surprise that she asked why. i said, 'the same reason i was tired yesterday: hormones!'
which is basically shorthand for 'i'm on my period, and it tends to make me tired if i'm not drinking enough water, which i'm not doing right now, because i'm trying to keep up with christmas stuff, and also, please insert list of hormonal changes that take place during a period here, because they all tend to be distracting and make me cranky.'
cleaning!lady grinned because she knew what i was talking about, and i complained that i really didn't understand why i'm not supposed to talk about periods - or more specifically, their hormonal effects on the body - in polite company, because having a period is a normal experience, and i hate having to skirt a conversation that's relevant to me every day in some manner.
this is one of the more irritating things in life for me, and i related to cleaning!lady that the last time someone brought up the joke about women living together syncing their cycles together, i kind of went off on them about how stupid that joke was.
let's look at the numbers, shall we?
there are roughly 350 million people in the US. half of them (175 million) are female. assume half of those females are of menstruating age - 87.5 million people. there are 30 days in the month. 87,500,000 / 30 = 290,190 females are starting their periods *every day*. That's more than twice as many as the US soldiers killed in action in WW1 (according to this site
i ended my rant at the joker with something along the lines of 'of *course* more than 1 female in your acquaintance is going to be on their period at any one time - you only need contact with 30 women between the ages of 10 and 50 to have a decent chance that someone is starting to bleed, in the middle of bleeding, or ending their period at any one time! Not even 30, since periods are 3-7 days, depending on the person!'
to his credit, said joker gave me the 'that... makes sense' look - you know, the look that you get when you suddenly see something from the other side of the perception spectrum and it *makes sense* what other people are saying. i had to laugh at it - the light bulb over his head was nearly *visible*. it helped that i knew he was joking in a 'positive' sense - that is, not making the punchline a failing of the gender or otherwise stating the joke in a negative manner. i don't think i could have ranted coherently at someone who'd *really* made me angry - i tend to spit and become rather *incoherent* when i'm *really* mad. it helped that my rant was not in an accusatory tone, and that he understood i was just generally irritated at something i perceived to be stupid, and not focusing on him as a bad guy or sexist, because he isn't.
and all this goes back to - why *can't* we talk about menstruation as an artifact of every day life? i don't necessarily mean the gross details, although they would be appropriate in similar forums as poop discussions. and people talk about the quality of poop, never doubt it, if only because waste output can be a signifier of health. quality, length of disposal time, coloration - all things people find appropriate times and places to discuss... granted, not in the office(1), but they can apologize with something general if they're late because of ill gut-health, and they can take a day off and explain that they had really bad diarrhea and nobody really bats an eye.
but you can't explain that you ate too much salt the night before your period started and leave it at that. for one thing, the male half of the population generally has no idea what that actually implies. for another, most men just check out when you mention 'period' or 'menstruation', as if you were starting to talk about the intimate details of your sex life. 3rd, when i have had discussions with men who were politely curious - and wouldn't stop with my 'oh, girl stuff today, so give me time to get through coffee or tea' - the men have had NO IDEA that a) experiences of periods vary from person to person b) the 'symptomology' could be as *wide* as it is or even c) what those symptoms are beyond bleeding and a tendency towards irritability.
in the first world, this is a cultural failing. women and men interact in the job, socially, informally, professionally... we have to work with each other and that entails understanding each other on a basic level. more than that, we have a duty to inform our children, male and female both, about how our bodies work and what the effects can be. most of what men know is hearsay - they're not usually invited to talks on menstruation in sex ed class. i understand why, but there doesn't seem to be an appropriate place for them to ask questions. hence, if the guy doesn't have sisters pushing him around, he's kinda screwed when it comes to learning about these things.
and so are our female children. when i was young, there was this definite feel that 'menstruation happens, and you're a woman, and it's magical!' and don't forget the joyous nature of womanhood... there was no talk about the effects of the hormones that promoted menstruation on a girl's or woman's body. no talk about what it feels like or what's normal. that's a really *big* disservice to our children. when the ads for PMDD medication describe 'heavy menstrual flow' as a reason to start taking pills, i know exactly who they're targeting - everyone who is in the dark about 'normal', and that's *nearly everyone* all by itself.
take the example of my brother: i remember my sister and i educating my brother on why we needed the menstrual supplies we did, and how a flow 'works' over the days. (brother was more questioning quantity of supplies, not requirement of supplies.) i clearly remember him positing 'well, if one pad lasts 8 hrs, then...' 'oh, no - it doesn't work that way *at all*!' we told him, and then explained the fact that one pad has a certain amount of hold capacity, which may not be achieved in 8 hrs, or could be over-run in less than *1* hr, depending on when during the cycle it is, how heavy your flow *normally* is, and your activity at the time of... well... flowing, for lack of a better word. to me, this is very basic knowledge of how a female body works. this is knowledge of menstruation *without* all the details, and yet, an awful lot of the men i've had occasion to discuss this very basic female function with don't even know *this* much?
and frankly, i'm tired of it being a mystery. it's not a one-size-fits-all experience, but explaining that Tina down the street comes from a family who gets light periods with few symptoms, and so has a different experience from myself who has middle-range symptom severity heavily influenced by activity level, salt and water and carb intake, and we both have a different experience that the poor woman across the street who gets migraines and death-by-cramps-even-with-doses-of-
oxycodone-and-yes-she's-on-BC pills, and all of *us* have a different experience than the aboriginal native women in australia who are lucky to reach two hands' worth of periods in their entire life - trying to *explain* that when we have a cultural barrier against it is difficult to insane.
and it's not like it doesn't affect *everyone*, and *all the time*. i don't mean 'normal' is always bleeding, which *would* be a health issue. but rather, planning ahead to get supplies, including the midol which says it's 'good for fatigue' and tends to put you asleep instead because the concurrent effect of relieving the tension headache and back pain allows enough relaxation to finally *get* quality sleep. activities are planned around the period for many women - no swimming if i'm bleeding, because my preferred method of blood catching is a feminine napkin. rough camping with no trashcans or modern facilities can be a pain. sleep schedules can be mildly disturbed a couple days before starting, and i, at least, am usually a little scatter-brained and sluggish while i'm going. this affects work, but not enough to 'be a problem', just enough to be really annoying. in a sense, even during not-bleeding, women are being affected by their periods, because the regularity of it - both bleeding and not bleeding - is a sign of health in and of itself.
and because the male half of the population is dealing with the female half, *they're* affected by periods, too. everyday, because in a locus that has 30+ women in it - ie, everywhere, just about - someone is going through menstrual symptoms pre-, concurrent-, or post-, at any one time.
menstruation? is not, or should not be, a mystery, to either gender. it's a *completely normal* facet of life, and we should be able to discuss it like mature adults. i don't expect to discuss everything at the office in fine detail. but it shouldn't be a shock that the women at the office sometimes need a break because hormones, because that stuff happens. we should be able to discuss how it feels in casual conversation, the way people discuss how it felt to hack up a lung during their recent bout with a cold, or how mothers discuss the joys and pains of epidurals when birthing without wondering how it sounds. or the colors of poo the baby produced yesterday in the diaper. yeah, maybe not *office* material, but a general understanding that the human body is a wonderfully complex machine, and this is one of it's functions. less savory than some, but still.
and because it shouldn't be a mystery to anyone, i'm NOT going to put this behind a cut. because that's a PC move and i'm tired of that shit. and i haven't even gotten to my own experiences, which should be done, to de-mystify 'average' for people. but i do hope this post generates conversation and questions, because that's the only way people learn.
-boogieshoes, in her ranty-hat
(1) except in my industry, where i just had a serious discussion with my male colleague about why the ATA 38
guys might have had a hand in designing our equipments' computer-controller-thing. and even being *very* and *deliberately* vague, it got pretty gross pretty quick...