When I was about 11, a boy at school told me the following joke:
A man and woman meet in a bar. The man says, “Your place or mine?” The woman says, “Sorry, I’m on my menstrual cycle.” The man says, “That’s ok, I’ll follow on my moped.”
I can’t imagine I understood most of this joke, but people at school laughed and so, when I got home, I told it to my parents. They laughed, gratifyingly. Later, my mum took me to one side and told me I should never talk about periods in front of boys or men.
A friend told me fairly recently that she was buying tampons in a newsagents and the woman serving put a newspaper on top of the packet. When my friend said she didn’t want a newspaper, the woman said, quietly, “There’s a man behind you, love.”
Now, to be delicate, W the actual F? I don’t want to get all Ben Elton about it and say that if men had periods they’d be bragging about their “flow” and the size of the pads rammed in their pants, but do we really need to be so coy about it? In 2012?
Another friend was horrified when I mentioned that my son Harry – who was about 6 at the time – had asked me a question about periods. How and why did he know about periods, she wanted to know. Well, one or both of my boys invariably follows me to the loo. Harry asked what the deal was with tampons and I told him. “Does it hurt?” he asked. “It can do,” I told him. “But it’s not too bad for me.” “Will it happen to me?” he asked. When I told him no, he shrugged and that was that. Even now, he’ll occasionally ask something about it because he sees a packet of tampons (“Are these sweets?” he asked recently. “Very much not,” I told him) or because I can’t go swimming (yes, I know I could go swimming if I wanted to. I don’t want to. Shut up). Apart from that, he remains unfazed. Shouldn’t we expect the same of grown men?
And even if some grown men do have a problem with it, should we really pander to it? Retire to our red tent and never speak of what is, of course, a perfectly natural bodily process? And while that may not seem like a big deal – I know some people will be thinking ‘I’ve no interest in hearing about anyone’s bodily functions, thanks very much’ – it is a big deal when you’ve got people like American Congressman Todd Akin claiming “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Isn’t it just another way of othering women? Of making women’s
sexuality biology something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about? And, if so, shouldn’t we shut that shit down by being open about it? With men, with children, and, yes, even with newsagents.