Does menstruation really matter?
The very fact you are here indicates that something in you is curious to find out more about this intricate part of your being. However, you might still find yourself wondering, just why does the menstrual cycle matter?
In many cultures, the menstrual cycle has been viewed as sacred. From Native Americans who considered menstruation to be the most powerful time for a woman, to the West African Dagara tribe who believe that menstruating women carry enough healing energy to heal themselves and their community, it is only in the relatively recent rise of power of patriarchal religions that the menstrual cycle - and indeed our entire view of the body - began to change.
The switch from Goddess focused religion to God focused religions began around 5000 years ago. During this time the position of women in society began to fall, just as the idea of God became a ‘He’ (and a He that was up in the sky, not part of this earth, as pagan communities believed). When Industrialisation came along, working class women began to experience menstruation as a “nuisance that cut down on her productivity.” (Lara Owens) - probably a sentiment many of us relate to today! If you can’t work because your period pain is severe, this can affect your pay and possibly your status at work. Industrialisation and its needs for us to fit into an automated pre-determined work pattern took women further away from their own natural rhythms, away from the rhythms of the moon and sun and towards the rhythm of the clock and machines.
Pushing through the pain
Fast forward to this moment when modern day women are expected to put on a brave face, pop a few painkillers and push through as best as they can. One of the problems with this strategy, is that it doesn’t work forever. Perhaps it carried you through your teens and 20s, but many women find as they get older, the cycle starts to fight back. Perhaps pain and symptoms get worse, maybe diagnosis of PCOS and endometriosis are made (or worse, not made, meaning women can spend years not getting diagnosis or treatment) or conception becomes difficult. Or maybe none of those happens, but we gradually start to wake up to the injustice of having to pay VAT on ‘luxury’ sanitary items, or to the outrageous fact that so many young women are given the Pill as a daily injection of hormones which they might take for years, even decades, without any proper explanation of alternative solutions. Not only this but the long term impact of the pill is still not fully known. Can you think of any other time you would take such risky medication in this way, unless it was a promise for a life-threatening illness?
The tide turns
The tide is turning, within and without. As more and more women wake up to the idea of the menstrual cycle as being something more than a monthly pain in the ass, we also wake up to the impact that ignoring our cycle has, on our health and on our environment (see my blog on charting your cycle here).
Our menstrual cycle is a reminder that what we experience within our bodies is not so dissimilar to the cycles of the earth. Just like the tides ebb and flow, so does the release of our menstrual blood. Just like the changes of the seasons affect the food we eat, the activities that we do, and the way that we feel, so does the menstrual cycle.
The menstrual cycle contain four seasons, with menstruation being our ‘inner winter’. This inner winter is where we start our journey, and the first day of bleeding is referred to as day 1. Referring to the time you start bleeding until the time you end, this is menstruation, the most noticeable part of the menstrual cycle, and for many, the most messy, awkward, painful and frustrating part of the cycle. With greater understanding of menstruation, with the tools to better take care of ourselves, and by connecting and sharing with other women, we can change our feelings towards menstruation and at the same time change our feelings towards ourselves.
Are you on your period now? How does it feel to be bleeding? Do you know when your period is due? How do you greet the arrival of the menstruation? What do you make to everything I have just shared? Share your thoughts and comments below.