How far has society moved on from degrading menstruation by calling it ‘the curse’? It’s not an expression that many of my contemporaries would use, thank goodness, even if they don’t love their menstrual cycle as much as I do mine. I don’t remember my mother ever talking about ‘the curse’ although I can’t actually recall her ever giving me any vocabulary to equip me for talking about my menses. I was given a children’s biology book and a box of slender tampax. Conversation over.
The terms ‘feminine hygiene products’ and ‘sanitary protection’ are still considered everyday parlance and are accepted as the norm in our society. Supermarkets use these words to signpost us to the relevant aisle. Subliminally we are absorbing them and their associations every time we pop out for some cornflakes. ‘Feminine hygiene’ tells us that our womb-blood is dirty and unhygienic; that we need the aid of magical ultra-white products which will whisk the offending secretions discreetly away. ‘Sanitary protection’ affirms that our menstrual blood is dangerous, something we need shielding from. (This is so insidious – I was so surprised to see the term ‘san pro’ used on an eco menstrual wear Facebook page I have just joined.) Why is no-one questioning the normalisation of this language? The constant drip, drip, drip of negative language feeds our collective female shame. We then are embarrassed in case we leak or anyone guesses we are menstruating. We are even too self-conscious to bin disposable menstrual wear round at a friend’s house in case they see (or worse, smell) our blood. Better to stash it in a handbag till we get home and we can bury it at the bottom of our own bin. It doesn’t look blue like in the adverts and how are we to know whether ours is ‘normal’ or not as we never see anyone else’s?
Obviously it’s in the interests of the ‘san-pro’ companies to keep women feeling ashamed and dirty, so that we keep buying disposable products which can help us be good hygienic women. Shame is good for business. Heaven forbid that we use reusable pads that we chuck in the washing machine along with our pants (which do, may I point out, come into contact with urine and faeces daily and yet are not deemed to be too unhygienic to be washed and reused).
Menstrual blood is not inherently dirty. It is made up of the blood which lines our endometrium, the lining of our womb. This blood is essential for a foetus to grow and develop, should fertilisation occur. It will nourish it and enable a healthy pregnancy. How can a substance which allows the continuation of the human species be viewed as unclean? It is full of nutrients and the trees and plants in my garden are thriving upon mine. I have heard that stem cells from menstrual blood have even been used to help develop regenerative therapies for diseases. In everyday life we don’t view our blood as unhygienic when we accidentally nick our finger whilst chopping onions. We are not ashamed if our work colleagues see our finger is bleeding. Why should menstrual blood be viewed differently just because it flows from our wombs and out of our yonis?
Things are improving a little with regard to vocabulary. With feminists now reclaiming the word ‘cunt’ and teaching their daughters they have vulvas and vaginas rather than a ‘front bottom’, there is hope. Thanks to the red tent movement, we do have some menstrual-positive terms to use for our bleeding times and menstrual wear including ‘moon-pads’, ‘yoni-cushions’ and my personal favourite ‘glad-rags’ (even if they can be a bit euphemistic). Let us be creative and fashion more vocabulary for honouring our blood-cave times and for menstrual wear.
Language is so important when it comes to shaping attitudes. It also has the power to reinforce them for generations as I have explored in this blog. If we want our daughters to have a positive experience of menstruation and our sons to view it as a natural and health-giving occurrence, then we need to take responsibility and change the language we use. We do have a choice. No-body is twisting our arm and making us use this shaming language. Bring on the menstrual-positive language!
What do you think?