As a point of contention and as a reaction to my previous claims that women should more often engage in “menstrual outing,” some critics have responded by saying that disclosing one’s menstrual status is similar to women disclosing that they have just urinated, defecated, or vomited. In my November 2012 column called “Menstrual outing, menstrual panics,” here are some of the responses I got when advocating that women openly discuss menstruation:
- “to announce it to strangers to me, is intrusive toward them on my part, and just seems to lack social grace”
- “But just as I don’t discuss bowel movements in public, or talk about the fight my parents had last night with my co-workers, I have no desire to shove the fact that I’m menstruating in anyone’s face. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also just not interesting to anyone – why should they care? I don’t care to know when they’re sweating, or having urinary incontinence, or struggling with loose bowels, unless of course someone needs my help or sympathy.”
- “Are we going to share bowel movements too? I’m not ashamed of my bowel movements. Doesn’t mean I have to post it all over facebook”
In response to some of these comments, Elizabeth Kissling rightly noted that the difference between menstruation and bowel movements often revolves around the level of shaming. Femcare ads routinely try to sell products based on the shameful qualities of menstruating, while toilet paper ads rarely employ such strategies. Endometriosis diagnoses lag because doctors do not believe women about their symptoms of pain, while problems with digestion and colon issues promptly receive medical attention (unless, of course, you’re poor). And, Kissling added, “people do talk about bowel movements. All the time. They talk about how particular foods affect their digestion. They excuse themselves from meetings and social gatherings to use the bathroom, sometimes saying why in euphemistic terms, sometimes in coarse and graphic language. The older they get, the more they do it.”
Building off of this, I will admit that this discourse of “menstruation = shit” has started to bother me more and more. As Kissling argued, people do talk about using the restroom in graphic language all the time. We consider it adorable and normative for older people (and even some younger people) to talk about eating fiber, “cleaning their drains,” and feeling joyful when they can successfully poop. I could never imagine menstruating women routinely doing the same and discussing their periods in such (joyous, prideful) detail. Admitting that one is menstruating, or needing to take care of changing a tampon/pad or cleaning up after dribbling blood on the floor, is rarely an occurrence that people can or will discuss. As some of our critics noted, it “lacks social grace.” But why it lacks social grace is a far more interesting topic, as the routine construction of women’s bodies as always disgusting, always failing, always excessive, and always subpar deserves more attention.
In stark contrast, however, to these claims of similarity between menstrual blood and other bodily fluids and functions, I have become increasingly curious about the notion of menstrual synchrony and why so many women want to believe in menstrual synchrony despite controversies about its existence. For example, even though menstrual synchrony might not exist, women still want to feel in solidarity with other women via cycling together, a topic my research group and I have recently taken up in a research article. This notion that women want to say, “I menstruate together with my roommates/sister/mother/friends” also contradicts the notion that menstrual blood is just like other bodily fluids. Never do we hear women talking about being in solidarity with other women’s defecation and urination habits. The reason for this, I argue, is that women fundamentally understand the stigma surrounding menstruation; claims of menstrual synchrony might help them to fight back against this stigma and shame, using experiences of menstruation to enact practices of political solidarity, alliance, and resistance. This is something to celebrate indeed!