A friend posted an article recently about talking to girls about, ahem, menstruation. The author described how she imagined the conversation might go. She hoped it would be empowering, maybe even magical. And featured prominently in the article was a picture of a uterus-shaped pillow, in fleshy pink, embroidered and embellished to represent the ovaries and Fallopian tubes and I don’t know what else. Polyps, perhaps? I shuddered.
It wasn’t just the pillow. (Incidentally, you can also buy penis pillows complete with testicles – but the pictures are censored by the vendor site as “mature.” That’s worth another blog post.) And it wasn’t just that the author opened by describing the young lady with whom she would soon be sharing this mystical moment as “the girl in my life,” either. (Another shudder.)
It was because the message seemed to me to be, “This – your magical menstrual cycle – is what makes you a woman.” And, you know what? I call bullshit.
I wasn’t the first or the last to get my period – but there was a lot of nail-biting going on in my junior high as we waited for that magical day when we would become women. Before it became the hot topic of conversation, a girl whose mother had not told her about her cycle started. She spent a few days thinking she was dying before sobbing out the story to a friend. Another friend got hers on the first day of seventh grade! And her mother had to bring her a change of pants!!! Oh, the agony! One of my closest friends also started before I did and I was so ugly with jealousy that the day ended with her smashing a Twinkie on the end of my nose. One friend listened in dismay as reports came in of other newly-minted women among us. “Don’t worry. It will happen…someday,” I said gently, patting her on the back. And when I finally got my period? Oh, the joy! The rapture! The delight! I was…still in junior high and not a woman at all. Bummer, that.
There’s a reason they sell Motrin and heat patches. And there’s a reason there are PMS jokes – and herbs and vitamins and diets promising to end PMS. And there’s a reason they sell forty-seven varieties of feminine napkins and sixty-four of tampons. Marketers of feminine hygiene products know we will keep trying new products, searching in vain for something that doesn’t bunch, leak or adhere to our lady parts, all the way until that brief break called menopause when we switch to adult diapers.
Yes, I know, I know. The menstrual cycle can have beautiful results. I have had two breathtakingly gorgeous children because of menstruation – and I conceived them exactly when I wanted to because I knew all about my stupendous cycle.
But, I also have beloved friends whose parts don’t function as nature intended. Their uterus and ovaries and Fallopian tubes seem to be on the fritz – so their lady parts aren’t doing all of those magical, mystical, womanly things.
And I have other friends who have chosen to let their lady parts live a life of leisure. These are the women who joyfully hold my children – and then hand them back just as joyfully when playtime is over.
And both of these groups – childless by choice or circumstance – are women just like me. They are. Complete and magical and mystical in every way.
So, I get it. I do. Menstruation is a rite of passage and it should be handled with sensitivity and respect. If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t want her to be that little girl crying in the bathroom because she thought she was dying or the little girl who felt left behind because hers hadn’t happened yet. And I certainly wouldn’t want her to be the little girl with the Twinkie on her schnoz. We are amazing – the potential power to create and nurture life inside us is awesome – and girls should know how to care for and listen to their bodies.
But, I also think putting so much emphasis on the menstrual cycle sends a harmful and unintended message. We are more than our ability to conceive. We are more than our ability to birth. And isn’t that what we’ve been struggling for through millennia? To be seen as something other than vessels? We are so much more than the sum of our lady parts – more than a pillow can ever convey.