I’m way past the age when worrying about menstruation is a big part of life. But I’ll never be too old to be outraged by the way men have—for millennia—cursed, shunned, denigrated and mocked women regarding the female, monthly reproductive cycle. So, while Donald Trump’s attack on Megyn Kelly is despicable, it’s not that unexpected or uncommon.
And, though I have aged out of the tampon era, I still vividly recall the anxiety that my period sparked every month: Did I have a tampon in my purse, just in case? Would I have an unusually heavy flow that might leak out and stain my clothes? At the time, I didn’t understand that those fears were part of the societal shame attached to menstruation. But they were.
Years after I reached puberty and was already fully immersed in my monthly, shame-tinged routine, I learned about the Orthodox Jewish practice of “family purity,” which dictated that a married Orthodox couple could not have sexual relations during the woman’s menstrual period. Among religious Jews, that dictum was taken as a matter of course, and because it was so far removed from my way of life, I didn’t think much about its implications. Even later, I learned about the many other religions and societies that had similar practices—all of which characterized women, because they bled monthly, as “unclean.”
I heard the “riding the rag” jokes. I joined in with the other girls who used code terms, like “the curse,” and “my little red friend” rather than call menstruation by its real name. I worried, like others back in the day when we wore “sanitary belts” and pads, that someone might notice the extra bulge created by a Kotex pad and figure out my embarrassing personal secret—that I was having my period.
It was only in the consciousness-raising 1970s that it began to dawn on me that it was absurd to allow myself to feel embarrassed by the natural rhythm of my reproductive cycle. And since then, my outrage has only grown.
Today, I can’t help but wonder how so-called “pro-life” Republicans can claim to value the lives of fetuses, while mocking the reproductive cycle itself. How can you be “pro-life” but anti-uterus and vagina?
So, I take great pleasure when I read that, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s disgusting remarks, women have been live-tweeting their periods to him using the hashtag #periodsarenotaninsult.
@realDonaldTrump — on the third day of my period AND still a functioning member of society! Who knew?!”
@realDonaldTrump Just finished menstruating. I still don’t like you. Guess it had nothing to do w/ my period,”
@realDonaldTrump I’m getting my period this week. I’ll make sure to keep you updated,
@realDonaldTrump Its called a vagina and you came out of one, thanks to her period! #periodsarenotaninsult oops!
And I find it very heartening to read that, as a protest against period shaming, Kiran Gandhi ran the London marathon without a tampon, allowing herself to finish the race with menstrual blood staining her running pants.
It’s also encouraging to see that Rupi Kaur managed to shame Instagram for deleting her photo depicting a situation that many women experience during their menstrual cycles—blood-stained pants. She reposted it on Facebook, and it went viral. I applaud Kaur’s effort to take these images, which she says, “are natural to women, but taboo to society, and make them normal again.”
Several teenaged girls I know have recently begun their periods. I wish that they could celebrate their entrance into womanhood—as girls in some societies do, with “moon ceremonies.” But I know that, instead, they are already feeling the embarrassment that our society still attaches to this critical—if, admittedly, inconvenient—aspect of being a woman. I can only hope that, during their reproductive years, American society will grow up a bit, too, and let women be women without shame.