“Anything you can do I can do bleeding” is a hoorah of some feminist movements. When I first heard it I felt my fist involuntarily pumping in the air in deep agreement. How many times have I had to sit through school, work, or a grueling gym class while menstruating just to prove that I am equal to a man? Not only equal but capable of showing up amidst deep physical pain. Of course, I’m drawn to sing along to this narrative, but here's the thing, equal doesn’t mean “same”.
My body operates on a 28-day hormonal cycle that informs my whole being, and, 11 years into this cycle, I’ve gone from freaked out by my monthly shedding, to deep awe. Growing up, I embodied all of the typical narratives. Mostly, that I shouldn’t talk about my period, and if I do talk about it, I should feel ashamed. It was something to be hidden, whispered about, and covered up with perfumed tampons.
Cut to 7th grade, I’m one of the first girls in my small parochial school class to start my cycle. Even then, I was mystified at how I shared this connection with other girls with my class, soon to be more. Though I was excited about my period, that excitement was covered by the fear that one of the boys in the class would figure out my secret. My strongest memories of menstruation at that time are ones of embarrassment.
Keen on keeping my period to myself, one afternoon at school I stalled going to lunch so I could be the last person to leave the classroom. I waited until my teacher turned all of the lights out, then snuck over to my backpack, where my pads were stashed safely. I dug my hand into my backpack, not able to see, waited until I felt the plastic wrapper, and pulled one out. I dashed to the door of the classroom as my professor ran back in, almost colliding in the door, as I dropped my pad between our feet. I swiftly stepped on it, panicked, covering it from his view. He smiled and stepped into the classroom, I quickly picked up my pad, put it into my pocket and ran. My teacher never mentioned this awkward encounter, but it haunted me for years. The idea in my 7th-grade mind that my male teacher might know I had my period was too much for me to cope with.
Fast forward 10 years and I’m working at a progressive university in the Registrar's office. I’m on an all-female team of 10, divided by cubicles. Though we were an all-woman team, there were men just a couple of cubicles down, one of whom I am close friends with and know to be an awesome ally for gender equity. Still, when my cycle started each month I would trudge through the pain with coffee and Advil, and shove my pads up my sweater sleeve as I marched to the bathroom, determined that no one would see me walking with a pad. What would be so bad about it if they knew I was menstruating? I don’t know. Maybe they’d know how tired I was. How hard it was to show up that day. How I didn’t want to eat for fear of debilitating cramps but was starving and ready to faint. These are the effects of internalized patriarchy: shame, stigma, fear, and pain.
As I work to dismantle patriarchal values in my business and my life, I have to acknowledge that yes, anything men can do I can do bleeding, but, I don’t have to. In fact, trudging through pain to prove myself is a patriarchal value. Here’s why:
I know I can accomplish anything I want while menstruating, but understanding that and not making myself do that is a very different feeling. Productivity for productivity's sake, infinite growth, and a mockery of “weakness” are all narratives of a culture steeped in patriarchy. These are the same narratives that would force me to “toughen up” when my cycle took over my body with exhaustion and pain. In this case, rest and slowing down becomes a tool for fighting for social equity. The simple act of making a cup of tea and going back to bed, acknowledging that I need rest, space, or time is also a part of the revolution. To quote the brilliant Audre Lorde:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Because I am trying to create a better world than the one I found, I choose myself, and I choose to rest.
Recently while talking with Adreanna I tapped back into my deep well of excitement about all things menstruation. This well has always been there, but it is now allowed to come out and play without fear of stigma, or should I say, without fear of making the stigma personal. My body’s inherent cycles are pretty spectacular. Also, when I listen to and acknowledge these cycles, my life improves. When I step out of the narrative that I have to go at the same fast pace all month every month, my body can help inform my life, instead of the other way around.
Warning: stepping out of patriarchal values and choosing something different will change your whole life, please consult your friends, your journal, your heart and/or your therapist along the way for support, also, you’re awesome and you’ve got this.
This wouldn’t be a complete article without me using this platform to acknowledge: Not all bodies that menstruate are female, and not all women menstruate. Experiencing or not experiencing a period does not make you more or less of a woman. I have the immense privilege of agreeing with the biological sex I was assigned at birth (also known as cisgender) Transgender women are no less women if they don’t menstruate. Some trans men man menstruate, making them no less of a man. Some gender queer bodies may menstruate, and this does not make them women. There is no wrong way to be in a body, I celebrate you and your expression.