Period drama

"If men got their periods they’d broadcast it in some show of bravado." Photo: Emma Arvida Bystrom, via Vice.com

"If men got their periods they’d broadcast it in some show of bravado." Photo: Emma Arvida Bystrom, via Vice.com

There isn’t a woman out there who doesn’t remember the first time she got her period. Usually the event can be remembered with such clarity it has the power to transport them right back to that moment in time – the awkwardness, the sickness, the grossness, the sudden flush of hormones surging through your body, the realisation that things will never be the same.


My first time occurred in the middle of the night. I woke up to go pee. I was in a hazy half-awake mode when suddenly Slam! There.Was.Blood.In.My.Underwear. All my internal alarms started to go off, something was wrong, but at the same time I was incapacitated. Unable to move. If I went to get mum, dad would want to know what’s wrong. Plus my youngest brother was still a baby. It would wake him too. But...There.Was.Blood.In.My.Underwear.


I imagine 12-year-old girls today are so savvy that when they get their first period, they might actually laugh if their mum attempts to explain to them the changes that were happening in their body. “Yeah mum,” they might say. “I saw it on the internet when I was 8. There was like an interactive guide and everything.”


But when I was 12 more than 20 years ago, 12 year-old-girls were for the most part, well, like 12-year-olds. We didn’t have the internet. Our bodies were still giant mysteries whose secrets we were yet to unearth.  That night when I crept into my parent’s bedroom and whispered to my mum “there is blood down there,” I really thought she would whisk me off to the emergency room. She didn’t. She woke up with a groan. My dad asked what was going on and she plainly stated, “I think she’s got her period. Go back to sleep.” And I believe he did.

My younger self could not have known that one night she would fall asleep a girl, and the next morning wake up a woman. That’s how massive an event it was. And the funny thing? I wasn’t the only one this happened to. Yeah, get this, periods happen to Every Woman. Really. They do. I’m sure there are rare exceptions, but really they happen to Every Woman.


I know this doesn’t need telling. This doesn’t need to be broadcast in any way or form. But I believe the memo has been missed by most producers and retailers of sanitary products. All women live with the constant sense of inadequacy based on the knowledge that they produce red blood down there. As much as we try, every month all over the world, women of child-bearing age cannot seem to produce the much more appealing blue liquid that saturate sanitary napkins on TV.

And it’s not just TV. The fact that there is something not quite “sanitary” about having periods is all pervasive. History and religion has not been on the side of menstruating women. This sense that the blood we bleed is somehow not quite right has filtered down through the ages and resides deep within our consciousness. We conceal our sanitary products in our bag, or in our pockets as we scuttle off to the bathroom. We whisper apologetically to each other if we’re caught without. In general, it is a topic we feel uncomfortable discussing in mixed company. We may not consciously be aware of this sense of shame when it comes to our period, but we still feel obliged to obey societal norms. It seems our periods for the most part need to be concealed and tolerated month in, month out.

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I imagine if men got their periods they’d broadcast it in some show of bravado. There’d be high-fives around the office when John in Accounting declares “Aunt Flo” had come to visit him. Except he wouldn’t call it Aunt Flo. He’d call it Gi Joe. He’d call it a big Fuck Yeah. 


Then he’d take the afternoon off, buy a beer and stuff a free tampon down his penis. And you know tampons will be free if men had periods. Bu they don’t have them, so it’s a woman thing. A woman thing that men are generally too uncomfortable to talk about.

This sense of embarrassment is not reserved just for men. Ask a woman what’s possibly the most embarrassing thing that can happen or has happened to her, she might say, amongst other things, being caught with period stains on your clothes. That stuff is mortifying. And yes, it’s happened to me. The odds are, it’s happened to most women.


So when you see these images on Vice.com of women with period stains on their clothing, how do you feel? Do you feel grossed out? Do you find it confronting? Do you find it harder to look at than perhaps a body covered in blood? Interesting that, isn’t it?

35 comments

  • I remember my first period as it was exactly one month before my 13th birthday. I was actually pretty nonchalant about it, even though there was blood.in.my.pants. It was when I told mum what had happened that all of a sudden she became a flurry of activity, running around, banging cupboards while the rest of the family stood around big-eyed wondering what the hell was going on. Good one, mum. Draw attention to ME.

    There was even less information back in the very early 80's and they used to show us these videos in grades 5 and 6 about some girl who had an older sister and something about having salad instead of cheesecake and her sister showing her different products including the belt. We were given a booklet that talked about the 28 day cycle and the 'shedding'. I actually had no idea that I was going to bleed for 6-7 days. Better than my mum who got her period at church camp and had no idea what was happening and thought she was going to die.

    I don't think sanitary products would be free for men but they certainly wouldn't have to pay GST. And you could work from home when having a heavy day and half-doubled over with cramps. Yeah!

    Commenter
    Ripley
    Location
    Hunting Aliens
    Date and time
    May 22, 2012, 9:12AM
    • "All women live with the constant sense of inadequacy based on the knowledge that they produce red blood down there." - are you serious?? Or is this a weak attempt at sarcasm? Nope... seems like you are serious.

      Firstly, you don't speak for every woman on the globe. Not me. Not most of the women I know. I am really sorry for you if you feel the need to hide, to "scuttle around", to feel ashamed and apologetic. But don't for a second think that YOUR experience is that of all women.

      Secondly, there is a difference between a sense of shame and a sense of privacy. Despite what popular culture tells us I don't want to parade around half naked. I don't want to flaunt my breasts, my periods, or any other celebration of my womanhood at the world. Not because I am ashamed of them but because they are mine, they are fine, and I can do what I like with them.

      Thirdly, while what you say of cultural views of menstruation through the ages is broadly true it lacks nuance, and a deeper understanding of all the ways that it has been viewd. It is a hamfisted attempt at some sort of social commentary which falls completely flat.

      Lastly, the major problem I have with this piece is that you are both buying into and reinforcing the very concepts you are apparently attempting to critique.

      Commenter
      Anya
      Date and time
      May 22, 2012, 9:35AM
      • I think that the sarcasm of that part of the article is pretty clear when she goes on to suggest that we should all produce the blue liquid, as the commercials show.

        Commenter
        Naomi
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 22, 2012, 1:40PM
      • @Anya - Um, I think she was joking about the 'inadequate' thing - she was saying that women feel inadequate because they can't produce the blue liquid shown on tampon ads on TV. She seems to be just poking fun at the stupidity of the ads - like anything resembling period blood is apparently too gross to be shown to the public.

        I loved this article. Particularly this bit: "I imagine if men got their periods they’d broadcast it in some show of bravado. There’d be high-fives around the office when John in Accounting declares Aunt Flo had come to visit him. Except he wouldn’t call it Aunt Flo. He’d call it Gi Joe. He’d call it a big Fuck Yeah."
        Fuck yeah!

        Commenter
        Claire
        Date and time
        May 22, 2012, 1:46PM
      • Saman may be capable of some form of sarcasm, but the opening sentence isn't well thought out:

        'There isn’t a woman out there who doesn’t remember the first time she got her period.'

        Well, what about women who have never had a period? There are such persons, you know.

        Commenter
        Mart
        Location
        a
        Date and time
        May 22, 2012, 9:37PM
      • At least someone is making sense - good on you Anya!
        There is a difference between personal and public.

        Men don't go bragging around the office about whether they have had a good "man poo" or a super "man piss". What makes the author (and others for that matter) think that if men had periods they would be something to brag about? Most men have facial hair - how many times around the office do you hear men bragging about how they need a quad-blade razor with diamond cut edges to shave?? Hopefully never.

        If women so badly want to envy men and not have periods, take Implanon or book in for gender realignment surgery. Hysterectomies also work wonders I am told.

        By all means moan about your bodies all that you like - but PLEASE do not speak on behalf of "men" when you have no idea what it is like to be one.

        Personally I am glad that women don't go around the office bragging about their periods just as much I am pleased the MD doesn't announce via broadcast email when he has a major dump!!

        Commenter
        GrumpyYoungMan
        Date and time
        May 23, 2012, 8:36AM
    • Very interesting article. I personally find the photo confronting but honest. Its still such a taboo area. The adverstising of all sanitary products has at least moved on from girls running on beaches but it now is about empowerment and wearing high heels and short skirts and idiot boyfriends. There is never, and there will not be for a LONG TIME, any image of blood. It still amazes me how concerned women are about keeping a period secret. On the odd occasion I have requested a tampon from a friend or work collegue (I have certainly handed them out myself) I have been amazed at how secretitive its been. The tampon hidden in a little bag or the hand over into my hand like its an illegal substance and we might get caught out.
      Every woman in the world has experienced blood stains or accidents in their life. One friend of mine, on stage wearing white on a white set. Yes, you heard me. Its almost never represented in film at all. I can only think of An Angel At My Table and Me Myself I where Rachel Griffiths character has to talk her daughter through using a tampon. They were both real, moving depictions and not surprisingly directed by women. It all plays such a huge role in the lives of women - adolescence, pregnancy and menopause all being such massive milestones - yet it is never really represented or discussed in film, tv or, frankly, literature. Open it up! These photos are a good talking point.

      Commenter
      Lu
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 22, 2012, 10:14AM
      • I've been trying to accept it all lately - I've invested in a mooncup and I'm looking forward to trying it. Particularly since my (female) housemates recently told me that they're disgusted by periods and don't want any pads or tampons in the bathroom bin because they were taught to hide their shame. Hmm, I guess I'm still a little enraged about that.

        Commenter
        persnickety
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        May 22, 2012, 10:28AM
        • I'd be outraged too. How extraordinary. If we cut ourselves and cleaned out finger with a tissue and threw it neatly in the bin no one what bat an eyelid. Its the bizarre notion that is comparable to vomit or poo. Its not. Its clean. Its safe. Its sanity. And it doesnt have to be sneaked out of the house when no one is looking. Heavens, find new flatmates!

          Commenter
          Lu
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          May 22, 2012, 11:52AM
      • You're right - if men had periods, they'd be competitive about how much, how bad it was etc. There'd be charts up at the office and game shows based on it. Tampon companies would sponsor football teams and car matches. Tampons would be cooler than cigarettes, cooler than cigars, and men would have gold cases to carry them around in, and pay a fortune for hand woven ones from Peru like they do for Cuban cigars.

        Are you glad men don't have periods yet ?

        Commenter
        JustSomeGuy
        Location
        Hiding
        Date and time
        May 22, 2012, 10:59AM

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