Thursday, 28 May 2015

The curse

I find it extraordinary in this day and age that there are still so many taboos about menstruation. It's just a natural bodily function - so why all the embarrassment and squeamishness?

Women still feel obliged not to mention their periods, in some cases not even to their family or close friends. They have to hide tampons and pant-liners from work colleagues or acquaintances. Any visible sign such as blood on clothing is seen as utterly mortifying. The whole messy business has to be strictly hush-hush, as if it's something to be deeply ashamed of.

Even adverts have to be coy and euphemistic. Blood isn't red, it's blue. Periods are "the time of the month", while menstrual products become "feminine hygiene". In films and books, periods are seldom discussed - people don't want to know about about "that sort of thing".

Religions of course are even more censorious and puritanical. Menstruating women are seen as unclean and impure. They may be forbidden to pray or perform religious rituals. They may be excluded from normal daily life. They may have to refrain from sex. Otherwise they'll contaminate everyone around them.

Sometimes in the supermarket queue, I see women carefully shielding their tampon packets from view. Heaven forbid that a man might be alerted to their disgusting monthly leakage.

And from what I can gather, many men are still too sheepish to buy their girlfriend's tampons. They imagine the cashier will have them down as a screaming weirdo rather than a helpful, considerate bloke.

It's not just painful periods that are "the curse". It's all the prudishness and revulsion that turn them into something hideous.


  1. I must be the odd one out here, I have written about all angles of 'Wimmins troubles' and had it printed in a buke!

  2. Grannymar: Really? Then, yes, it seems like you're an exception to the rule! But then, you're not the squeamish type....

  3. I used to carry tampons in my socks when I was in 6th grade. I was mortified.

  4. Susie: In your socks? I hadn't thought of that. A cunning hiding place. Unless someone notices the strange lump, that is.

  5. I see it as any other bodily function. Personally, I don't want to hear about someone's heavy periods, constipation, bladder leakage or stomach flu. Keep it to yourself!

    And who wants to see blood on clothing from any source?? Not me!

  6. I was never embarrassed that I had periods but I much prefer discretion. I'm with Bijoux on this - I don't want to hear about anyone's bodily functions and I sure don't want to see blood. In fact, I'd be happy if they stopped having ads for tampons, toilet paper, lubricants, erectile dysfunction meds, and so on. What's wrong with a little civility and privacy.

  7. Bijoux: Well, I'm not suggesting anyone should relate every gory detail of their period. I'm just saying that the odd mention of it, or the sight of a tampon, shouldn't cause such squeamishness. But yes, in general I agree with you that I don't want the full run-down on other people's medical issues.

    Agent: Interesting point about all the medical ads. Of course we have a lot fewer such ads in the UK because we have so little private medicine. Tampon ads are really the only frequent ones. And I'm all favour of privacy, but on the other hand I don't see the need for excessive secrecy and embarrassment.

  8. Once more I do battle with myself whether to answer yet another of your so overly dramatic exaggerated views of the world. Where do you find all these people who are so squeamish and what not?

    Let me tell you what I find distasteful: That man (you) even has the nerve to whinge on tampons and sanity pads. Do I really want to go through the check out advertising to anyone in the queue - as if they were even interested - that it's that time of the month?

    As Bijoux and Secret Agent point out: There is no need to let hang it all out. I am not embarrassed by any bodily function but neither do I want people with no business there into my knickers.

    Whatever next, Nick? Questioning why an old lady goes shopping for incontinence bags, wishing to keep her dignity by discretely turning the packets on its side so that no one can see? Is it in your heart to actually let her do what she feels comfortable with? What about the man who has had bladder or colon surgery with a bag on the side? Let him keep some dignity? Anyone for mains? You talk such utter rot at times, Nick. Which, of course is so fascinating, I can't help myself venting my distaste in your comment box. Not that I think you have it in you to ever change your constant gripes with the world.

    Last but not least - no doubt since you and Jenny are devoted to each other and you recently revealed that you don't like sex much anyway - I dare say there is no need to ask you about your choice of condoms and what size you take? Not that I would, because, Nick, there are some things which are private. Mind you, I once had a colleague who thought nothing of sitting on the toilet doing her business whilst her husband was brushing his teeth. Sorry, to me that's just bizarre. Pray, tell: Do you lock the bathroom door?


    PS Let's take this to a much more basic level of aesthetics: Do you pull a plaster off an oozing cut in front of someone, inspect your snot in view of someone, because YOU are SO NOT squeamish? I'll stop before my myriad examples become an avalanche. No, actually, last question: If you are so amazingly comfortable with it all why didn't you become a nurse like our dear sweet John? Which reminds me: He once told me he can't abide other people's vomit. I don't mind other people's vomit but find their poo a challenge which he doesn't. What a great team he and I'd make. Enter Nick ... I'll have some smelling salts ready for you, do not worry.

  9. Ursula: Blimey, that's a pretty OTT reaction, even for you! And whingeing is an odd word to describe what I'm saying. I'm not complaining so much as remarking on the general attitude of shame and revulsion that forces women to be so secretive about a natural bodily function. Of course some women, as Bijoux and Agent pointed out, like to keep it all private anyway and don't see anything wrong with that.

    By all means ask me about my choice of condoms, but of course they're no longer needed after the menopause. And yes, I know several couples who happily use the bathroom together, though I'm not one of them. I do like a bit of privacy in that respect.

    And I don't quite see how not hiding a wrapped tampon is equivalent to publicly inspecting your snot. Ah well, I do like comments that are thought-provoking rather than politely agreeable. So don't stop.

  10. I am in total agreement with your observations.

  11. Ursula, I know, I'm too over-emotional sometimes. So sue me....

  12. Ramana: What, everything, 100 per cent? I imagine the taboo is especially strong among some of the religions common in India.

  13. If you knew how painful periods can be, then you'd know why they're referred to as 'the curse'. I do a lot of cursing every month, that's for sure.
    I don't think tampons and sanitary wear are so taboo any more... things started to change in the UK in the eighties... I've not really been embarrassed since I was at school and that was only because I was at a mixed school.

  14. Scarlet: I do know how painful periods can be - quite excruciating for some women.

    I think you're right that the taboo is gradually disappearing (in some countries at any rate). But personally it's been many years since a woman mentioned her period to me. And it's still the norm to hide the pain and cramps and pretend everything's fine.

  15. Oh dear Nick, you really opened a can of worms with this one.
    I admit the advertising of these products really has got out of hand, as if they're trying to tell women that "Hey, got your period? Use our product and you'll be able to go dancing and roller-blading with all the other hipsters instead of sitting curled up with a hot water bottle and a bar of chocolate!".
    Like most advertising it's all bollocks and the majority of people can see right through it.
    But no matter how right-on ones own views are, there are some things we do like to keep private - even from our other halves. If I used condoms I'd feel funny about having them on display in the shopping basket, just as I would if I was buying athlete's foot cream. I don't think it's anything to do with feeling ashamed, just not wanting to inflict (even in such a small way) our intimate details on the rest of the world. Yes, periods are a normal bodily function but women are hardly likely want to go round advertising that it's 'that time' any more I would go around telling whoever I meet that I just had a really good crap.
    The point is, just because we're better informed and more comfortable with such things doesn't mean we have to bring them out for public consumption.

  16. Dave: Oh, I have a knack of opening cans of worms. This isn't the first time. Perhaps I didn't make my point very well. I wasn't calling for compulsory announcements of menstruation, complete with tampon-waving and blood-smearing. I was only suggesting that women were obliged to be more secretive about it than they need be, because of a general prudishness. I quite understand that many women would rather keep the whole business to themselves anyway and have no desire to let anyone know what's happening. As you say, we all have things we would rather not display to the world. Nothing wrong with that.

  17. Oh, how right you are, Nick. I've often pondered on this one, and though I'm a lot more blasé these days, I am still prey to the old taboos. When I was in my young teens I suffered the stain on my shorts at a youth group. I was so hideously embarrassed that I immediately left without saying a word to anyone and cycled home to change - I nearly didn't go back, but I did manage to brave that one out. Nobody said anything, but they didn't need to because I was torturing myself quite enough as it was. It was something all of the girls dreaded .. except the one girl I was at school with who didn't. I didn't know her socially, but she used a neat little device (for the times) called a Nikini which held sanitary pads and was comfortable enough, but had a terrible habit of showing below the panty line so that everyone knew that you were 'on'. She cared not a bit, and if the Nikini elastic showed (stained with blood or not) she'd just pause, tuck it away and carry on. I did admire her for that. Even though it was an all-girls school, the taboo on sanitary products on display was still very strong.

  18. Having read the other comments, I also agree with the ladies who said it was a question of privacy and discretion. There is absolutely no need to wave the flag, as it were, to let everyone know what's going on and there are those who value their ability to keep their private bodily functions as just that: private. That's fine. It's the taboo I find distasteful, because menstruation is a very natural thing.

    The worst thing about this particular taboo is that it actually threatens the health - and in some cases the lives - of women in third world countries. There are all kinds of rituals, taboos, proscriptions etc associated with it and in various places women are forcibly segregated, not allowed to use the communal food and water, exposed to extremes of weather and complete lack of sanitation and basic care. Until recently, in many countries including India, disposable sanitary pads were unavailable and they used filthy rags, often for the whole period - the same rags. Some really poor women still do. Some use the same, filthy rags for months on end. In some countries, apparently, the taboo means that nobody who is not menstruating is allowed to help them in any way, not even if they become ill from these practices. That makes me angry.

    So whether or not it is a man saying all this, and whether or not you personally feel you need the privacy associated with our pretty feeble taboos, this does need bringing out into the open and dealing with.

  19. Jay: Isn't it strange that a tiny menstrual bloodstain is mortifying, while elderly gents can wander round with soup stains on their shirts and nobody bats an eyelid! I do admire the girl with the Nikini who couldn't care less about other people's reactions! And yes, how ironic that even in an all-girls school, girls still felt the need to be so secretive.

    As you say, in some countries the menstrual taboo is actually life-threatening because of the use of filthy rags and so on. And the segregation and shaming of menstruating women is quite inhuman. Jeez, if men menstruated, attitudes would change pretty damn quickly!

  20. Well, I guess a soup stain is universal to all elderly people whereas menstrual blood is very personal. I suppose you could more easily compare it to urine stains or bogeys!

  21. Jay: Yes, I take your point. That's a more appropriate comparison!