My youngest child is about to turn two. I have found that the longer my baby continues to breastfeed during the night, the later my period returns; my littlest is my most dedicated night boober and my cycles have not yet started up again. I haven’t had a period since January 2016! For me this is motivation enough to allow her to continue the night feeds – whenever I exhaustedly consider weaning, it’s no small factor in my decision that once my period starts again, that’s it until menopause.
Like many women, childbearing has had a significant impact on both my menstrual cycle and my pelvic floor. Before having kids, I was comfortable alternating between tampons, pads, and a cup. But after my 3rd, I found that I could no longer use tampons or cups. The whole landscape has been rearranged and, after some sessions with a women’s health physio and some very messy trial and error, I’ve stuck with pads. I’ve invested in a set of good cloth ones, but they have downsides – they move about more than the stick on variety, I find them hot and uncomfortable in warmer weather, and swimming is definitely out. Quite frankly, it sucks arse. And so I’ve been super excited over the past couple of years to see the rise of period underwear.
Period underwear seem to be a game changer. Special absorbent knickers might not seem like much of an innovation (and so obvious… how has it possibly taken until now?) but they are a significant revolution in period ‘technology’. Eco friendly and low fuss, they seem to be the best of both worlds in terms of enabling women and girls to stay comfortable and get on with our everyday lives while getting to know our body and its unique rhythm.
Which is incredibly important, because that rhythm changes throughout our lives. Sometimes, bleeding is mundane, sometimes it is significant. Bleeding is not just menstruation – it is part of childbirth and postpartum healing, it can bring sorrow or relief by revealing that we are not pregnant (or no longer pregnant). We might bleed when we lose our virginity*, or from internal trauma sustained during sexual assault. Bleeding can be a sign that our body is working just fine, or a symptom of serious illness. Bleeding, or the absence of blood, accompanies some of the most significant moments in the lives of most women – but it does not define us.
Until now, apparently.
The indomitable Meghan Murphy recently tweeted an image from uber-woke Canadian company lunapads advertising ‘Period underwear for all bleeders’. Lunapads, who sell cloth pads, menstrual cups, and period underwear, are the latest in an ever growing line of people and organisations jumping through hoops to avoid having to use the word woman:
Bleeders. Menstruators. Uterus-bearers. Period-havers. Is it possible to be so angry about something that you go blind? Because I’m beginning to think that would be preferable to having to read one more of these weasely dehumanising non-words.
What is it that makes the team at Lunapads look at themselves and other women and think ‘bleeder’ is not just acceptable, but preferable? What does it take for Thinx to look at a line up of photos of female bodies, and caption them ‘menstruators’?
Of course… this is all about inclusivity. Because, we are sat down and told, not all people who have periods identify as women, and not all women have periods. Get over it. And so if we talk about periods and women at the same time, it could be hurtful or confusing. So we need to mind our language and check our cis privilege and do whatever it takes to make period products accessible for all people.
But do you know what actually puts ‘people with periods’ at risk? Pretending that periods are something that happen to ‘people’ instead of something unique to female people. Defeminising menstruation and
front hole vaginal bleeding to the extent that we are expected to define women in terms of their reproductive cycle instead of respect them as human beings in possession of one. Just stop for a moment and consider what staggering levels of misogyny are required in order to precede an article containing information about reducing period pain, with a content warning because that article uses female terminology:
Can these people really not see that they are literally weaponising femaleness against women? That when they go out of their way to erase or apologise for words which accurately describe the existence and bodies of women and girls – they are saying that the existence and bodies of women and girls, is triggering, offensive, and dangerous? That they are taking away our ability to describe our lives? Do they not realise that when they call us bleeders and uterus owners that they are not being cute or funny or inclusive, but literally robbing us of our humanity?
Of course they don’t. Just as they don’t see that designing stereotypically male underwear “specifically for trans men/trans masculine/nonbinary & gender nonconforming folks” and promoting them as “patriarchy free” is a complete contradiction in terms. There is nothing gender nonconforming or patriarchy-free about creating comfortable period underwear with excellent bum coverage and then marketing them separately for ‘masculine’ people.
And about ‘the period space’. No, they’re not talking about whether or not you should type the space bar once or twice after a full stop. What lunapads are doing here, is to construct an idea of menstruation as a special feminine zone where naughty exclusionary types act as gatekeepers to keep out the gender nonconforming period-havers. This is some top shelf narcissism here. Because you know whose needs are actually ignored in ‘the period space’? Girls and women. In the UK alone, in 2017, more than 137,700 girls missed school because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. One in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school due to menstruation. The organisation Days for Girls, which provides reusable cloth pads to girls in low-income settings, was started after the founder realised that girls in the orphanage where she was working were staying in their rooms for their entire period, sitting on cardboard for days each month, even going without food unless someone brought it to them.
I dare you to tell me that any single one of those girls experienced those things because they are a ‘bleeder’ or ‘in the period space’ or were assigned female at birth. Go on. I bloody dare you.
Thanks to social media and the increased availability of options such as modern cloth pads, menstrual cups, and period undies, this generation of teenage girls (in WEIRD countries, at least) are standing on the cusp of a revolution. These young women are dismantling the blue-liquid days of euphemism and hushed tones with instagrammed shots of their period blood stained fingers. They are calling out the rank sexism of ‘tampon taxes’ and threatening the industrial dollar by embracing reusable sanitary items.
And so we must be crystal clear: it is absolutely no coincidence that as girls and women have become more comfortable in our bleeding bodies, and more confident in taking control of them, the ground has been shifted beneath our feet in order to frame us as problematic. Throughout history, women have been othered for our capacity to bleed, and kept in a box (sometimes literally) where the immutable signifier of our reproductive power poses no threat to the patriarchal status quo. Now that we are breaking out of that box, we are immediately being locked up in another one, where we must sit and repent of attempting to be human while female.
I bleed, but I am not a bleeder. And in any case – this was never about blood.
*I realise that ‘virginity’ is quite a loaded term, I’ve used it here because ‘when we first have consensual penetrative sex’ is clunky, and I’m sure we all get the point here