Over the past two weeks it’s been brought back to me the things that we just don’t talk about, and this is mostly women stuff, I’m not sure about the man stuff, because I’m not a man. But anyway, a couple of weeks ago, my new coworker confided in me that she had just started her period, via our work IM system, and that she was feeling rather cruddy. She then asked me if that was too much information – to which I replied, “If women can’t talk about periods, what else can we talk about?”
She then told me that she sent that message through IM rather than just telling me (we sit next to each other) because she didn’t want to freak the men out (we’re surrounded by male colleagues) and although I understand this, I also find it puzzling. Surely these men have sisters, wives, girlfriends, female friends, and/or mothers who have at some point in their lives had a period. Surely the fact that women have periods is not shocking news.
But then again it is because of the whole lady-business taboo of which we cannot speak – for no real good reason. The taboo of sharing personal information – which generally has anything to do with stuff under your skin – is exacerbated for women when existing as female brings along a whole range of health issues (hello period pain to say the least), and these health issues (be they minor or major) cannot be spoken freely about in public for fear of… something (which I never quite get).
Which means that support that might otherwise be given, may not be as some people may be ashamed to talk about some health issues because of social taboos, and these social taboos are taught young. I remember when I first was told about getting periods as a 10 year old or so. It was something that my mother was clearly uncomfortable in telling me, so I understood that it was a shameful thing. I also understood that it was not something that you spoke about with people, so when I got my period one Christmas day (I was 10!), I told my mother… who then told my father. I was outraged – how could she tell him after basically telling me that you didn’t talk about it with people? One of my many introductions to double standards – and an indication that some social taboos weren’t real.
So I get to go back to work tomorrow, after having a cyst removed and I have to figure out how much information is going to be TMI for some people. My manager knows I had an operation to remove an infected cyst, but he doesn’t know where it was – and do I feel comfortable and safe enough to tell him? One of the other flip sides of these taboos is that even though I don’t necessarily think that they’re worthwhile, not keeping them may not be safe.
I’m generally an honest person and will answer pretty much any question asked of me honestly, provided it isn’t an effort to shame me – and then I’ll deflect the question. The need to abide by social taboos about what I can and cannot talk about in relation to myself is frustrating to me.
And because I’ve now run out of brain I’ll close this with part of a piece attributed to Gloria Steinem:
Since history was recorded, male human beings have built whole cultures around the idea that penis-envy is “natural” to women – though having such an unprotected organ might be said to make men more vulnerable, and the power to give birth makes womb-envy at least logical. In short, logic has nothing to do with it. What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? The answer is clear – menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event:
- Military men, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“MENstruation”) as proof that only men could serve in the army (“You have to give blood to take blood”), occupy political office (“Can women be aggresive without that steadfast cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priests and ministers (“how could a woman give her blood for our sins”), or rabbis (“Without the monthly loss of impurities, women remain unclean”).
- Male radicals, left-wing politicians, and mystics, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could enter their ranks if only she were willing to self-inflict a major wound every month (“You must give blood for the revolution”), recognize the preeminence of menstrual issues, or subordinate her selfness to all men in their Cycle of Enlightenment.