Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Penelope Trunk: Telling the truth about women’s lives

September 24th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

I adore Penelope Trunk. I may not always agree with her, but I always read her column, and I’m glad she exists. Today, she wrote about the backlash she received for this recent tweet:

Twitter _ Penelope Trunk_ I_m in a board meeting. Ha ...-2

She is a little stunned that there was such an uproar about her tweet: other bloggers wrote posts about the “disgustingness” of it all, and 70 people stopped following her on Twitter (at this moment, she has more than 18,000 followers, so it’s not a huge uproar). She writes,

Most miscarriages happen at work. Twenty-five percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Seventy-five percent of women who are of child-bearing age are working. Most miscarriages run their course over weeks. Even if you are someone who wanted the baby and are devastated by the loss, you’re not going to sit in bed for weeks. You are going to pick up your life and get back to it, which includes going back to work.

This means that there are thousands of miscarriages in progress, at work, on any given day. That we don’t acknowledge this is absurd. That it is such a common occurrence and no one thinks it’s okay to talk about is terrible for women.

Throughout history, the way women have gained control of the female experience is to talk about what is happening, and what it’s like. We see that women’s lives are more enjoyable, more full, and women are more able to summon resilience when women talk openly about their lives. [Emphasis mine]

I practically stood up and cheered. This is exactly why we started our little blog (I say ‘little’ because I know we don’t have 18,000 followers). We want to talk openly about women’s lives, and invite others to join the conversation. Although there are many times it is inconvenient, messy, sometimes even painful, menstruation, like miscarriage, is part of (most) women’s lives.

And like miscarriage, menstruation happens at work, too. From the factory floor to the board room, women are bleeding on the job. And sometimes, women need or want to talk about it. Maybe to seek support. Maybe to request a bathroom break to change her pad or tampon. Maybe to lie down for an hour until the cramps subside. Maybe just to know she’s normal. What’s “disgusting” isn’t the menstruating or the miscarrying, or even the talking about it, but the shaming of women for doing so. (Read the whole thing – the quote above is just an excerpt.)

And one more thing: Penelope Trunk is absolutely right – it is fucked up to have to wait three weeks for an abortion.

2 responses to “Penelope Trunk: Telling the truth about women’s lives”

  1. Debbie says:

    I appreciate Penelope’s ‘talking’ about it. I had 4 miscarriages before I had my son, two of which began at work. Both times, my body went into labor; I could count the minutes between contractions.
    When a woman births a live child, it is a time of celebration that everyone wants to talk about, that is, when she returns to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave. When a fetus/child dies and a woman miscarries, everyone avoids her and she is left to mourn in silence as she returns to work the very next day. Even though the physical process is the same and there has been a death in the family, no mourning or physical recovery time is allowed.

  2. Heather Dillaway says:

    It’s so interesting to me how all of our reproductive events and processes take place around others, yet we’re not supposed to share them or acknowledge to others that we’re experiencing them, and I think this goes for both the negative and positive experiences actually. For most women miscarriage is negative and therefore Debbie’s right that women are mourning but not allowed to acknowledge it. We’re not supposed to mourn ANYTHING publicly, even deaths of loved ones. But heaven forbid you actually feel positively about miscarriage — you definitely shouldn’t share that! I think the positive attitude towards miscarriage in Penelope Trunk’s original post is part of the reason why so many people reacted to it. I’m also amazed how many menopausal women tell me about how they can’t share their symptoms with anyone at work, and I’ve gotten my fair share of comments myself about being pregnant at work too (not to mention the fact that my teaching evaluations went way down while I was pregnant). Just the idea that all of this happens around others is so important and interesting and perhaps SMCR researchers really needs to look into this a bit more…

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