As I write this, I am menstruating. Bleeding. A blessing, a curse, an unavoidable part of being a woman, at least for a while. We all experience this woman’s joy differently. Some of us may never have bled onto something we weren’t supposed to—underwear, pants, skirts, sheets, towels, beds—but many of us (including me)have.
I have a lingering fear that began with my first period at fifteen and has followed me around ever since. The fear of bleeding through my clothes and—worse yet —doing it in public! Maybe if I weren’t a heavy bleeder this wouldn’t be an issue. I wonder how many of us women carry this fear? It’s certainly not the subject of general conversation. Around the water cooler, we’re not saying, “I bled all over my sheets today.” Why not? I wonder what the world would be like if menstruation, sexuality, and all those other taboo subjects weren’t taboo anymore?
Am I afraid of menstrual blood because I’m ashamed of it? Am I ashamed to be a fertile woman and of the fact that I bleed roughly every three weeks?
If someone happens to see blood on my pants in that nether I-can’t-see-myself region of my backside, should I wrap a jacket around my waist as quickly as possible or flaunt it?
How many of us have done that? Are bodily fluids just gross to us? Which is worse: urine, feces, spit, pus, or menstrual blood? I’m ashamed if some blood leaks out. And even as a thirty nine-year-old adult it still happens. Once every three weeks that faucet turns on and stays on for a solid two days or so. Two days of potential “accidents”.
How many times have I woken up to blood on my sheets? How many times while traveling or staying at a friend’s place have I agonized over going to bed? As a middle school teacher, I’m surrounded by girls getting their periods for the first time—but is it something we talk openly about? No. Once, I bled through onto my pants and an eighth grade student pointed it out to me! That was a low point on the menstrual-embarrassment continuum. But why is it so embarrassing? I guess I should just accept that the whole process of bleeding out of our uterus is destined to be shrouded in mystery, shame, and discomfort.
Woman have been bleeding in red tents, separate teepees, a hole in the woods in exile, rags, fibrous plants, tampons, and maxi pads with wings for a long time. As I stand on the subway in the morning on my long commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I wonder how many women on the train are menstruating. You wouldn’t know because we work very hard to hide it. Extra showering, feminine sprays, de-smellifying pads, super tampons clogging up our vaginas. A secret. Unless something leaks out.
What if we spent those three or four days every month at a menstrual lounge, a place that served coffee and tea only for menstruating women? The old red tent, with a new twist. What if we didn’t work those days, and more importantly, what if we didn’t have to worry about getting to the bathroom often enough during the workday? We already earn less on average then our non-menstruating male counterparts. Why not just skip work and go to the menstrual lounge instead?
A male colleague passed on some information he read not too long ago. He told me that according to what he read, woman work less than men on average, with the main reason being the time they take off during their periods. This can be directly linked to their lower earning power than men. So strange, that I learned this information on the very same day I was mulling over the possibility of us all creating the Menstrual Strike.
So whether we are in pain, bloated, sore, depressed, crampy, cranky, powerful, or bleeding HEAVILY and leaking through, here we are. I’m still afraid of bleeding through my clothes, but after writing this I don’t think I care as much. It just makes me realize—what’s a little menstrual blood anyway? Give us a break!