I find it difficult to write or talk much about my ‘moon cycles’. I don’t have a good and positive relationship with them because they are always long periods of pain and considerable bleeding. I suffer significant PMT mood swings, I swell up and it plays havoc with my digestive system. Often I really want to retreat into bed for a few days, and it feels like letting the side down.
Historically, the bleeding and its attendant influences have been used to devalue women. Blood is understood as unclean in numerous cultures. It’s a big part of why we get designated as the weaker sex. It has tended to be understood as just as nasty, embarrassing thing that had to be hidden away – and I knew as a teenager that it would be the worst thing imaginable, socially, if people knew when I was bleeding.
Of course for many women it’s no big deal – two or three days of very light blood that in no way slows them down or troubles them. For many Pagan women, reclaiming blood as sacred, natural, and something to celebrate has become a very important process. I have every respect for this work, but it’s not something I can participate in. I can get six or seven days of being seriously beaten up. Even time spent on the pill didn’t render it tidy and easy. This does not leave me with a lot of options, and I choose to endure my body as it is rather than have my reproductive organs removed – I’ve tried countless suggestions over the years and nothing has ever helped much. It’s womb out, or deal with it. So I deal with it, trying my best to honour nature as I experience it – bloody and painful.
However, talking about it is tough, because my fragility around bleeding is exactly the kind of thing people with a sexist agenda have used to belittle women. For two or more days in a month I am much less tolerant of anything annoying, and for two or three days I get enough pain to mess with my concentration. Mind you, there are plenty of people who achieve much the same effects through the medium of hangovers, so it seems odd to me to pick on this one form of fragility when ailments and the consequences of over indulgence can knock anyone around, and frequently do. Even so, to talk about bleeding as troubling, painful and unhappy feels like letting the side down as a feminist and as a Pagan woman.
This has led me, as I dealt with the pain this week, to really think about what equality means. If equality is treating everyone the same, what it creates is a system that penalises everyone who isn’t able to conform to assumed standards of normality. ‘Equality’ means we have to all default to the same working patterns. It means giving women time off around monthly bleeds would be seen by some as ‘special treatment’ or an unfair advantage, or proof that a woman who bleeds heavily is not as reliable, useful and valuable as part of your workforce. Never mind what happens the rest of the time. Actual equality would treat us as we are, in all the grand diversity human bodies and minds are capable of.
I notice that all too often, when something is done to level the playing field for someone with a disadvantage, those who don’t get the same ‘perks’ will cry foul play. It’s because we collectively think of ‘equality’ as all starting from the same place. We’re competing, we want to come to the same start line and use all the advantages we have to get ahead when the starter’s gun goes off. If someone is reduced to a nervous wreck by the sound of gunfire, or can’t run, there are too many people who consider it ok to leave them where they are. They had an ‘equal’ start, after all.
My reality is that I bleed copiously, and so painfully each month that it impacts on what I can do. For a few days, the level playing fields become steep slopes. And I’m lucky, because it’s just a few days.
You can’t really have equality in a culture underpinned by competition. If everyone is playing to win, those with most advantages will use them to get further ahead. Only in a culture underpinned by a co-operative ethos would meaningful equality be possible.