whoever you want to be…

What’s so scary about Special Lady Time?

A menstrual cycle. Probably.

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.

Image courtesy of John Kasawa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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About K

YA writer. Voracious reader. Feminist. Home educator. Addicted to tea and Twitter.

18 comments on “What’s so scary about Special Lady Time?

  1. ethelthedean
    October 15, 2012

    I would have burst out laughing at that sales clerk.

    The crazy thing is, this isn’t about a woman’s sexuality, it is about her biology – the fact that people try to link to our sexuality is perverse.

    • Keris
      October 15, 2012

      You’re right, of course. I did start to write about that too, but that’s a whole other blog post (that I didn’t have time for!).

  2. L
    October 16, 2012

    I can’t believe that sales woman! Like somehow men would be offended/scared by our amazing ability to produce ? Wait a minute…

    • Keris
      October 16, 2012

      Ha, I know. But why do women pander to it?

  3. A couple of times I have had to nip to the Co-op just for sanitary towels, and I always make sure I don’t act like I’m embarrassed about it. I don’t ask for a carrier bag to hide them in (like I might have done when I was younger), because I wouldn’t do that for a pint of milk so why for this? It would be like hiding your toilet roll because you don’t want people to know you use the loo. I didn’t choose to have a period, and I won’t panda to people who act like it’s something dirty or naughty.

    • Keris
      October 16, 2012

      I’m the same, Cariad (although I do know people who would be embarrassed to be seen with loo roll!), but I do have to remind myself, my instinct is still to hide it.

  4. Alex
    October 16, 2012

    It took me until I was well into my late 20s to get over paying for sanitary protection when there was a man behind the till – actually, it was after observing that both my dad and my husband had, over the years, been happy to go and pick this stuff up for me, so maybe I should grow a spine cos men with any sense don’t suffer the vapours over this stuff.

    I still can’t quite go proudly toting them about without a bag, though, which I then feel guilty about because I don’t think they’re disgusting or weird, so why am I letting the possibility that someone else – someone I’d likely consider a bit ignorant – might think so worry me?

    Excellent post.

    • Keris
      October 16, 2012

      Thank you! It’s just years of conditioning, Alex. I’ve been meaning to write about how when I hurt my leg and I hadn’t shaved, I kept apologising to people. For the hair. On my own legs. Even as I was doing it, I was yelling at myself in my head.

  5. Haha, I think my toting them around without a bag is actually quite an aggressive act, and it certainly is still a conscious decision I’m making. It’s like I’m daring someone to look at me funny, so I can shout “What? I didn’t CHOOSE to have a period, you know!”

    Ref: the leg hair, I’m having the same thing about my eyebrows. I lost my tweezers for a while, and I haven’t quite gotten around to taming them yet, even though I found them. My own opinion is that as long as I have two eyebrows instead of one long one, it’s no big deal, but I do feel like I need to apologise to people, or excuse my eyebrows somehow. Excuse my eyebrows? What world are we living in.

    • Keris
      October 16, 2012

      It’s awful, isn’t it? I wrote about this elsewhere, but I was having a massage once and was wondering if she was going to ask if I wanted my stomach done (I’d had a massage before where they’d asked, saying that some women were funny about it). And I caught myself thinking “If she asks, I’ll say ‘Fine with me, if you can stand it'” and then I thought “WTAF?!”

      Incidentally, I’d go insane if I lost my tweezers. I’m engaged in a running battle with one brutal lip whisker. I was just thinking about how much more I’d get done if I wasn’t constantly picking at my face…

  6. diane
    October 16, 2012

    Oh, I love this post. There was a debate posted online a couple of years ago, I think, where these feminists from different generations were talking, and Emily Gould said something about her period or PMS, and an older feminist told her she shouldn’t talk about that stuff publicly because it plays into sexist expectations (‘those crazy hormonal ladies!’ etc.)

    I can see her point of view, and think a lot of women consciously avoid the topic with men because it’s such an obvious reminder than we’re different (and seem weaker?). I also think a lot of women have been brought up to feel ashamed of their bodies.

    It’s obvs best that modern feminists try to overthrow such stale, ridiculous ideas, but it’s hard to overcome social conditioning. I would feel embarrassed to mention my period to a man (one I wasn’t in a relationship with, at least), perhaps because I don’t think I know one who’d be cool with it. (And I’ve been chastised by male relatives for doing so!)

    • Keris
      October 16, 2012

      Well you *can* talk about periods without talking about PMS/reinforcing the bullshit, but I do wish women would stop doing the ‘must be the time of the month’ thing. Sali Hughes used it after she told someone off on the train and I noticed Lauren Laverne did it the other day (also on Twitter). But then I quite often tweet about how ‘special lady time’ makes me cry at stupid songs and also makes me shout ‘Oh cock off!’ at Twitter a lot, so I probably shouldn’t talk… (not to mention the piece I wrote for that, um, newspaper – gah).

      I still hesitate to talk about it in front of men – except for the ones in my house. (I do think it’s really important that Harry and Joe grow up with a healthy attitude towards it all.) And I said ‘nipple’ in front of my father-in-law recently and went bright red. I’ve a long way to go. Sigh.

      • diane
        October 16, 2012

        Yes, I think by raising your kids not to think it’s a big deal you’re shaping the next generation to not react with such disgust. Thank goodness! I still remember when we were talking about feminism at school and this (otherwise intelligent) boy said something about women’s issues just being talking about “Tampax and stuff”. Gah. I have mixed feelings about talking about PMS — I think assuming a woman in a bad mood has it is horribly sexist, but on the other hand, I do want to be able to talk about my own (horrendous) experiences of it without people thinking less of me. And you know, it is true that if it was happening to men, it would be something we talked about much more freely.

      • Erin Le Clerc
        October 23, 2012

        I think that *I* don’t mind acknowledging when I’m feeling murderous with PMT symptoms, but I don’t particularly like other people suggesting that as a cause if I’m cross about something. I am allowed to be cross, after all! At whatever time of the month I please, too! 🙂

      • Keris
        October 23, 2012

        Ha! Yes, that’s very true.

  7. Kate
    October 16, 2012

    Oh wow, the nerve of that shop assistant! Ridiculous.

  8. Pingback: Bears, Sharks and Vodka Tampons, Oh My! « Confessions of a Latte Liberal

  9. Mathilda
    October 5, 2013

    Yes, I agree. Why should this be such a big deal? It’s just a natural cycle that happens!

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2012 by in Bea Feminist and tagged , , .
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