Found Festival Presentation: If Men Could Menstruate

Hi. My name is Steph. I’m an editor at the Lifted Brow and a writer. I’m also an over sharer.

Last year I told a room full of serious literary peers that I wasn’t wearing any underwear on stage. Soon after that I told a crowd at ACMI about the time I unexpectedly pissed out a condom in the toilets at a Smith Street bar ala Abby from Broad City.

In the same vein, I tend to tell people when I’ve got my period. And not just people who know me but like shop assistants if they ask why I didn’t decide to buy the bra (it’s hard to tell what my cup size actually is while menstruating). Or sometimes telemarketers: “Can’t talk, cramping.”

I detail things like the day I started: “the second day is my worst, I feel like my uterus is falling out with the lining”. How much my boobs hurt (which is a lot). And the reason I look tired is because I was kept up with cramps and needed to change my bed sheets at 3am.

It’s lucky I work from home because, for some dumb fucking reason, “I’ve got my period. I feel very unwell” isn’t an “excuse” for getting out of things, like work. Well, at least the excuse hasn’t worked for me since it’s liberal application on male PE teachers who’d respond so awkwardly they’d prefer to sideline you than realize that teenage girls become teenage women which means their bodies bleed once a month.

I wonder now how much of my informing people around me — no matter how much they’d prefer otherwise — is really “over” sharing? I’m starting to err on the side of *deal with it* and imagine a pair of sunglasses falling from the ceiling onto my face.

Blood, bleeding, is such a human, animalistic thing. But when it comes to women it tends to be equated with shame – constantly check your skirts ladies, you don’t want to sit in tomato sauce cos god knows what people will think.

The more masculine approach to blood is aligned with heroism and wars won and lost. A quote attributed to Roman Poet Horace reads: “It is courage, courage, courage that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. Live bravely and present a brave front to adversity.” I’d argue that this idea of courage and “crimson splendor”, about presenting a brave front to adversity is more applicable to the lives of women generally as well as those who free bleed every month, dying a small death for the possibility of continuing life.

I applaud Czech tennis player Petra Kvitova who, earlier this year after losing a game at Wimbledon, admitted that it’s hard for sportswomen to compete when they have their period. The narrative around this story was that it was an incredibly “courageous move” on her part, that she was tackling the last taboo. And yes, within the mainstream patriarchal world in which we reside, this is true. It’s that version of “courageousness” that seems somewhat problematic to me. Why are our cycles such an unspoken, unclean, unnatural event not openly acknowledged. Sorry, it is acknowledged – but only when applying tax to “feminine hygiene products” stocked at Woolies etc. And if we break that down, the true absurdity of the inequitable silence is so obvious – it’s as translucent as the blue liquid spilt on sanitary pads to show how absorbent they are.

But fuck that. Fuck all of that. For some women it’s a physical reality; we literally bleed every month for humanity so why is it such an unknown quantity in our lives. Even medically it feels like our holes and what comes out of them is so often a mystery.

When you go to the doctors for things related to your menstrual cycle: no period for months, a period for two months straight, extremely painful periods where you end up lying on the bathroom floor (all of which has happened to me) it seems the solution is to take some kind of pill — The Pill, A Pill, Blue Pill, Red Pill — that’ll help start it again or stop it for a while but not demystify it or anything that’s happening to your body.

If you say that doesn’t work, or even if it does, so often it’ll just come down to that medical deus ex machina: stress. And what better way to combat that stress than being shipped to a rapid fire ultrasound where a nurse will thrust a sonogram stick so far up you, you won’t be able to make eye contact with them for the rest of the session (which will only be a quickie anyway). Then come results time, you’ll find out that experience tells them nothing about why our bodies do these things. Only stress – a label applied so judgmentally and liberally that it could be considered the popular science cousin to hysteria.

To be clear, I’m not up here ranting in to participate in the idea that stand up routines are all “Men are from Mars and Women Get Periods”. Quite the contrary. I think that’s absolute bullshit. If women want to talk about their cycles, go for it: it is a fucked up thing that should be celebrated and commiserated or even laughed about by those who understand it. And, above all, should not be taxed.

At the same time as I started menstruating — around 13-years-old — I hated men with a passion I can only compare to how much I now love Netflix. I was living a bitter existence as an uneducated working class feminist not that I knew that label yet, embarrassingly. At this age I would spit at boys (literally and figuratively) and tell them they have no idea how little they are compared to girls and women: if they bled out of their dicks or butts or any crevice once every month, how different the world would be.

Well I wasn’t that eloquent: it definitely involved more profanity and less sentence structure. When I discovered Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Bleed” I remembered my teenage self and wished, so hard, that I’d grown up in an environment where I could have accessed such literature and periods weren’t a hush hush event that you have to hide from your dad and brother. But I’ve got another few years of cramps and cycles and over sharing in me. I can also catch up on all I’ve missed. So for those of you who haven’t read it, and those of you who want to hear it again, I’m going to read Steinem’s glorious short essay now.


Response to If Men Could Menstruate, originally published in 1986 by Gloria Steinem  presented at Found Festival.