A friend of mine shared something her mom would say about periods. It was something like: “never let it hold you back. Never let men know that you have it. If you’re in pain, don’t show it. Don’t let the patriarchy win”
I pushed back on her mom’s view. What if hiding our cycles, denying our femininity, forcing ourselves, or being forced to live in pain IS letting the patriarchy win. It's saying that menstruators need to act as though we have the same biology as non-menstruators. It's denying and or hiding a core part of ourselves and puts the message out there that it holds us back. That our cycles make us inferior.
Spoiler alert, they don’t.
It would be disrespectful to not mention that women and menstruators have had to conform to male standards to survive in the patriarchy and make progress in our society. I don’t want their sacrifices, efforts, and progress to be dismissed. Without them, would I be able to talk about my period on the internet? Standing on the shoulders of giants, I am proud to push forward and voice my opinion on menstrual cycles and femininity. I believe that menstrual cycles, the biology of menstruators, etc, are worthy of respect and that we can now demand it, thanks to hard-working people who have gotten us this far.
Khara Tapay Jabola-Carolus wrote in an Instagram post that well-intentioned feminists purposely taught her not to sew because “they wanted something better for their daughters than domestic life under the patriarchy. But boycotting domestic skills won’t make you need them less, and becoming an ‘independent woman’ is code for being like a workaholic man with limited homemaking skills. It's a dead-end and promotes hatred of things associated with women” (see the post from @decolonizefeminism on Instagram from 8/27/2021)
Putting this in the context of menstrual cycles, well-intentioned feminists taught us to disregard our menstrual cycles, never talk about it, or critically analyze our pain to not let the patriarchy win. This has harmed us, our health, and the relationship we have with our bodies. Even modern medicine often fails to understand our menstrual pain and treat it. Our cycles are messengers to us and when we’re in pain, we need to honor what our body is saying.
Slow down, eat more, have alone time, rest, and so on. Dismissing the pain and pushing through anyway, while sometimes is necessary, can put your body into overdrive and lead you to worse health outcomes. Rest is essential for anyone, especially a person who menstruates.
Menstrual cycles are not a curse like many of us have been taught. They are a gift and hold so much power. A person who menstruates goes through four unique phases throughout their entire cycle. You can think of them as seasons, winter (menstrual phase), spring (follicular phase), summer (ovulation), and fall (luteal phase). While the changes between phases are not drastic, the small changes grant us gifts that allow us to contribute to society in the same, and also different ways as non-menstruators do. In some phases, energy is higher and we may be more motivated to have an outward focus on life: public speaking, checking things off to-do lists, and coming up with creative projects. In other phrases, our focus can turn inward and this is where menstruators can efficiently organize, clean, and evaluate areas of work or life, and need more rest. Cyclical living lies within all of us, menstruators just have an extra cycle.
Many negative associations about menstrual cycles, such as PMS, cramps, bloating, mood swings, etc, occur when our bodies are not being cared for in the way that they need because so much of our world demands we ignore our cycles. Systemic injustices and unsupportive public policies and a lack of education on menstrual cycles are major causes.
A way to begin being aware of your cycle is to take note of how you feel each week of the month. Do you notice yourself wanting to go out more the week after your period? Then two weeks later maybe you’re hoping to get a ‘can we cancel’ text from your friend the week before your period. All of the feelings are signs that your cycle is talking to you. You’re not crazy for having different ideas of what a perfect weekend looks like throughout the course of your menstrual cycle. Listen with curiosity and non-judgment when you get insights like this.
There is nothing inherently wrong with menstrual cycles. What is wrong is how unsupportive our world has been to people who menstruate. Our bodies are not meant to be masked, hidden, ashamed of, dismissed, or even hated. Don’t let the patriarchy win. Take a rest day on your next period.
I am speaking from a white woman’s perspective, I want to acknowledge that intersectionality always plays a big role, and I may have privileges on this topic that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color do not.