Recently a Russian lawmaker asked his Parliament to consider allowing women two days paid leave every month when they menstruate. The said Russian is quoted as saying “during their period of menstruation most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort.” He then went on to say that in some cases women are so discommoded they require an ambulance. This rather over egged the pudding and took from his argument somewhat, I thought.
Needless to say, any comments I saw in response to the Russian lawmaker were entirely dismissive of his suggestion, which was regarded as sexist and silly. I mean to say, women are not in any way put out by the arrival of the monthly bleed. Periods are a breeze. Ever since the invention of tampons, we can even go swimming and horse-riding while bleeding. And sure with a reasonable supply of Solpadeine or Nurofen, you don’t feel a thing. Right? I mean, admitting that periods often make you feel really crappy is letting the sisterhood down, right? That would be a sign of weakness, a sign that we are.... well less macho than the guys. Right?
Have a look at this. This is a video that Bodyform posted on YouTube, addressing a Facebook post by Richard Neil who sought to expose the lies contained in the advertising of feminine hygiene products. On the Bodyform Facebook page Richard wrote the following (reproduced exactly)....
Hi , as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years . As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things ,I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding , rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn't I get to enjoy this time of joy and 'blue water' and wings !! Damn my penis!! Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn't wait for this joyous adventurous time of the month to happen .....you lied !! There was no joy , no extreme sports , no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack oh no no no. Instead I had to fight against every male urge I had to resist screaming wooaaahhhhh bodddyyyyyyfooorrrmmm bodyformed for youuuuuuu as my lady changed from the loving , gentle, normal skin coloured lady to the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin. Thanks for setting me up for a fall bodyform , you crafty bugger
Bodyform apparently thought Richard had a point, and hence the clever video posted on YouTube. In the ad, Caroline Williams, fictional CEO, admits that their ads have lied, but makes the point that their focus groups in the ’80s couldn’t handle the truth of periods, with mood swings, cramps etc. She even makes reference to crimson landslides.
I can understand why Bodyform and other manufacturers of what are euphemistically called ‘feminine hygiene products’ might lie about periods – they have a product to sell. But are we, modern women of the 21st century, living in the so called ‘first’ world also lying – to each other and to our girl children about periods?
A few years ago, BBC2 screened a series of programmes called ‘Tribal Wives’. In each episode, a different British woman went to live for a period of weeks with a so called ‘primitive’ tribe in various parts of the developing world.
There was one particular episode that stands out in my memory because it dealt with what happened when that week’s British woman got her period. In the tribe in which she was living, menstruating women had to go to a special hut on the outskirts of the village. So off our British woman went, somewhat horrified that she was being ‘put out’ of the village as if unclean. But she found the experience very soothing. In the special hut she was minded by other women who braided her hair and she was not expected to do any work. After a few days, she returned to her duties in the village feeling refreshed.
I had forgotten about this programme until I recently read the best book I have read in a long time. ‘The Red Tent’ by Anita Diamant tells the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob, he of the infamous 12 sons, one of whom had a Multicoloured Dreamcoat.
Dinah grew up with many mothers as Jacob had wives. As is generally the case when women live together, their menstrual cycles synchronised, and so the Red Tent was where the women of the extended family went while they bled. For three days and nights, they did no work, no cooking, but spent what sounded like a reasonably relaxing time chilling out together in their own female tent.
As I read the part of the book that described the actual red tent, I found myself being ridiculously envious of these Old Testament women and their special time out place.
I am old enough to remember when sanitary pads and tampons were only ever advertised in women’s magazines. The conspiracy of silence around periods is beginning to be broken. There have been other YouTube ads about periods and tampons that are far more realistic and don’t make mention of wearing white trousers and feature blue water. But the fact is – they are only on YouTube.
As far as I am concerned it’s time we had a far more realistic conversation about periods. As women, we need to stop pretending that we don’t have them or that they are a breeze. Periods are an intrinsic part of being female, but they can make you feel crap. Cramps, sore breasts, feeling bloated, and having to carry a larger handbag and be near enough to a decent loo every couple of hours are just some of the monthly tribulations.
It’s time for a new wave of feminism. The Red Wave of Feminism. This will be the wave that reclaims ALL it means to be female. So sisters, shout it with me: “we are women and we bleed and sometimes that feels crap”. The fact that we don’t let it interfere with our lives to any great extent makes us Superheroes.
But sometimes, just sometimes, like maybe once a month, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a special tent full of comfy sofas and beds and pillows and – for those that wanted them – scented candles and soft lighting and chocolate? Could it be that that Russian lawmaker might have had a point?!
Barbara Scully is a freelance writer, broadcaster and blogger. Her writing has been published in the Irish Examiner, the Irish Times and Sunday Independent. She is a regular panellist on TV3’s Midday programme. She lives with her husband, two daughters, cats and a dog in Dublin. Her eldest daughter now lives in Perth in Western Australia.
She blogs at www.barbarascully.blogspot.com and tweets as @barbarascully
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