One of the popular reasons, historical and contemporary for trying to keep women out of positions of power, is that our cycles of bleeding and pregnancy make us crazy. One of the ongoing consequences is that most women will do everything they can to hide the fact that they menstruate so that no one thinks less of them. Of course some cultures have had different attitudes, treating it as unclean, maybe even segregating women for the duration. Now, for some of us, going off to the red tent for a while may be appealing, but for women who have brief, light periods, that can seem a pointless infringement of liberty.
My fantasy is to live in a world where it is normal to respect the cycles of the seasons and the natural cycles of our own bodies. A world in which needing to work from home for a couple of days because you’re cramping a lot would be fine. A world in which there is no shame in saying that you are bleeding and need some space, quiet, chocolate or whatever. And to have that be true for everyone else too, for the challenges of teenage growing to be better accepted, where we are more open to the trials of menopause, aging and whatever it is that blokes do and I don’t know about…
I’m back to the issue of the ways in which to be socially acceptable, we are expected to hide our animal selves.
Bleeding is messy, however you deal with it. Often it hurts, for me. My breasts swell up, as does my stomach. My back aches, and it usually last about five days. For several days before I bleed, I am usually maudlin. I don’t get the angry effects some women experience, but that may be because my bloke is respectful and supportive, so I have less to get mad about. When it isn’t ok to be, or feel any of the things your body is doing, the rage can come more readily. When I bleed, my emotions are closer to the surface and I find it harder to convince myself not to take seriously things that I feel strongly. Problems in my life become more visible, and I’ve learned to take the blood-wisdom seriously rather than try to tune it out.
I am a mammal, and once a month, the inherent naturalness of my body becomes visible to me. But bleeding, and talking about bleeding are still social taboos. But here’s a curious thing, because what else do we currently, and historically tend to find distasteful, or obscene? Urination and defecation are right at the top of the list. There are so many social complexities around eating, too – especially for women. How much should you eat, and of what? Gluttony is an old sin, being overweight is a modern one. Appetite is so often offensive. We’ve got fewer taboos around sex and the discussion of it than we used to, but that doesn’t say much. It’s still really hard to talk about rape and abuse or to talk about kink, polyamoury, or anything else much outside the het-romance standard. Breathing is ok. Nothing obscene about breathing. Birth and death we try and keep away from other people. Natural body smells have to be masked with weird chemical ones. I could go on…
The more I think about this, the more it troubles me. Our most basic and natural functions are the ones we are under most social pressure to disguise and deny. We are animals. We have animal bodies that do all the things other animal bodies do. Pretending they don’t is just silly. Pretending that we don’t have urges and appetites, pushing them under so they come at us in sudden lunges, does not make us better human beings, only more confused ones.
There are few things I find more attractive than the scent of my bloke’s sweat. Chemical smells make me feel queasy. I love body hair. I have always loved the feeling of tiredness that comes after physical exertion, be that work, or sex. I bleed. I also cry, sometimes so much that snot leaks out of my nose. I am a creature. I shit, and eat, but not usually at the same time. I need fresh air and exercise on a daily basis. I need to roll in the grass and rub against trees and have my feet bare. We write ourselves manuals for looking after other creatures who live in our houses (or boats), reminding ourselves what sort of habitats they need. I need epic views, or I get miserable. We don’t pay much attention to the habitats and natures of our own animal selves. Most of what we do to ourselves is entirely about suppressing what is animal, what is natural and wants to run wild. But then, you can’t work in an office all day or stack shelves for hours at a time if you are wild. I know, I’ve done enough of this kind of thing along the way.
But if we did allow ourselves to be natural, perhaps we’d see those little office cubicles as being as cruel, and undesirable as battery farms. Perhaps we’d look at people with long, miserable working days and find this as vile as making wild animals perform in circuses. If we took human nature seriously, we’d want to do some pretty radical things as a consequence. I want to break into offices, like animal rights activists of old, and let all the people out. But, like anything that has grown used to a cage, most of them would probably be too confused and alarmed to run for it. Still, I like the image.