If men had pe­ri­ods, they’d em­brace PMT, telling war sto­ries about their most epic Rages

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS - JEN­NIFER O’CON­NELL jo­con­nell@irish­times.com

I recko n I’m at my san­est, most in­tu­itive and most in­vin­ci­ble for that one week a month

Fair warn­ing to those of you of a squea­mish dis­po­si­tion, but I’m go­ing to talk about pe­ri­ods. That’s right. Men­stru­a­tion. That time of the month, if you in­sist. The curse, if you re­ally must. ( Not Aunty Flo, though, I be­seech you.) Still here? Still stand­ing? No pal­pi­ta­tions? Okay, let’s crack on. Ac­cord­ing to one re­cent study of 90,000 peo­ple in 190 coun­tries, there are more than 5,000 dif­fer­ent eu­phemisms en­abling us to cir­cum­vent the hor­ror of ever hav­ing to say the word “pe­riod”.

Oddly, in both lib­eral Den­mark and France, they talk about pe­ri­ods al­most ex­clu­sively in code. Der Er Kom­mu­nis­ter i Lys­thuset, say the Danes grimly. There are com­mu­nists in the fun­house. Les Anglais ont de­bar­qué is one French ver­sion: the English have landed. Full credit for man­ag­ing to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously prud­ish and xeno­pho­bic, but there will be no eu­phemisms here. I think it’s time we stopped be­ing so bloody coy. And there are promis­ing signs I’m not alone.

There was the singer Mary Cough­lan on RTÉ’s Cut­ting Edge a cou­ple of weeks ago, talk­ing about men­stru­a­tion as though – imag­ine! – it was a nor­mal phe­nom­e­non: a re­cur­ring monthly event for half the pop­u­la­tion, for half their lives.

Then along came the new Body­form ad, which has ditched the blue liq­uid beloved of gen­er­a­tions of tam­pon ped­dlers, in favour of a brazen shade of crim­son red – be­cause as Body­form pointed out in a re­cent tweet, “Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, women don’t bleed blue liq­uid, they bleed blood. Pe­ri­ods are nor­mal. Show­ing them should be too. # blood­nor­mal”. In one brief scene, a wa­tery trickle of what looks like ac­tual human blood runs down the in­side of a woman’s leg, or maybe it’s her armpit, in the shower. It is, de­spite how it sounds, strangely beau­ti­ful.

I grew up in a house where, de­spite there be­ing a ra­tio of two fe­males to four males, men­stru­a­tion was not treated like a shame­ful se­cret. No one ever had “the curse”. When tam­pons were re­quired, they were bought and left on the table with the rest of the shop­ping. There were no snarky re­marks about moody women: in­stead there was kind­ness and cups of tea and lee­way made for hor­monal storms. I was led to be­lieve that pe­ri­ods were nor­mal, noth­ing to be em­bar­rassed about.

I only dis­cov­ered how wildly out of tune we were with the rest of the world when I emerged into the world, a liv­ing, breath­ing, mess­ily men­stru­at­ing woman.

“Are you on your pe­riod?” boys would ask sneer­ingly, Don­ald Trump- style, once they dis­cov­ered it was an ef­fec­tive way to si­lence a girl who was best­ing them in an ar­gu­ment. As teenagers, we talked only in eu­phemisms. We slipped tam­pons to one an­other like they were pack­ages of co­caine. At work, I once made the dire mis­take of us­ing the word “pe­riod” aloud in a meet­ing and watched as the older men in the room turned green.

After years and years of hor­mones dulled by the con­tra­cep­tive pill, I like how I feel when I’m “on my pe­riod”. Apart from the cramps, the headaches, the sleep­less­ness, the spots and in­creas­ingly, as I inch in­ex­orably to­wards my mid 40s, the nau­sea, I en­joy the brief re­prieve I get from wor­ry­ing about what peo­ple think. I rel­ish the surge of cold, clin­i­cal fury I feel when some­one cuts me off in traf­fic or tweets some­thing nasty at me. I reckon I’m at my san­est, most in­tu­itive and most in­vin­ci­ble for that one week a month. If I’m ever be­fud­dled by hor­mones, it’s the rest of the time, when I’m ty­ing my­self in knots with the fear of of­fend­ing peo­ple.

If men had pe­ri­ods, my friend, a wise yoga teacher, and I de­cided a while ago, they wouldn’t see PMT as a prob­lem to be fixed, a mad­ness to be glossed over or apol­o­gised for. They’d em­brace it. They’d re­name it The Rage. Don’t mess with me, I’ve got The Rage, they’d say. They’d de­lay all im­por­tant ne­go­ti­a­tions un­til they were filled with The Rage. They’d tell war sto­ries about their most epic Rages. Yes, they’d say on the phone, I’d love to come on telly and de­bate Ge­orge Hook, but can we wait til next week when I’ll have my pe­riod?

Oh su­per, the re­searcher would re­ply. You’ll have The Rage. I’ll pen­cil you in.

If men had pe­ri­ods, we agreed sadly, tam­pons would be given out free.

The yoga teacher later sent me a chart re­brand­ing PMT as “pos­i­tive men­strual time”. The chart in­cludes a quote from the psy­chother­a­pist and men­strual health ed­u­ca­tor, Alexan­dra Pope, which sug­gests that, by treat­ing men­stru­a­tion as some­thing to be hid­den and ashamed of, we’re de­priv­ing girls and women of a source of wis­dom and “an ally for ne­go­ti­at­ing life”.

That’s why I don’t think we should stop at tack­ling the pe­riod taboo. We need to go fur­ther, and em­brace it as what it is: a monthly re­minder of how pow­er­ful women can be when we’re not al­low­ing our­selves to be shamed. Don’t mess with me. I’ve got The Rage.

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