ovary punch! cramp! blood!
April 7, 2015 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Rainbo: First Blood. Dawn of the Red. Wonder Womban. What do these puns have in common? Well, they're all monikers for different styles of Period Panties, humorously allusive undergarments intended to be donned during the wearer's menstrual cycle.

But is the stereotype of premenstrual aggression empowering or invalidating of female emotion? And why on earth are we still afraid of periods?

Sisters Rupi and Prabh Kaur recently shot and published a photo series titled Period.

One of the images from the series features Rupi, curled up on a bed and facing away from the camera, menstrual blood having leaked through her clothing and onto the sheet. After Instagram twice deleted the photo for failing to "follow Community Guidelines," Kaur issued a response:
Some women aren't allowed in their religious place of worship. Out of their homes. To do certain things. And are told they are sick. As if the period is a common cold. Yes. This is here in North America. I have been hospitalized many times because of issues associated with my period. I have been suffering from a sickness related to my period. And ever since I have been working so hard to love it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Even thought it's given me so much pain in the past few years. and they want to tell me I should be quiet about this. That all of this we experience collectively does not need to be seen. Just felt secretly behind closed doors. That's why this is important. Because when I first got my period my mother was sad and worried. And they want to censor all that pain. Experience. Learning. No.

Their patriarchy is leaking.

Their misogyny is leaking.

We will not be censored.
(Instagram later apologized and reinstated the photo.)

Meanwhile, in many parts of the world, menstrual shaming, taboos, bullying, and a lack of vital supplies (including safe, clean washrooms) continue to wreak havoc on the lives of girls and women. To address the challenges and hardships faced during menstruation, and to highlight the positive and innovative solutions being taken to address these challenges, sanitation and hygiene activists WASH United have created Menstrual Hygiene Day, to be held each year on May 28.

On a local level, you can help homeless and indigent women maintain much-needed self-care routines by donating unopened packages of tampons and pads (or ca$h money) to shelters, food pantries, and organizations like Distributing Dignity and We Care.
posted by divined by radio (41 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
"Premenstrual aggression" is such a crock of bullshit. You know who starts the vast majority of aggressively harmful incidents, up to and including war? Not the people who have periods.
posted by desjardins at 11:39 AM on April 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

awwww hell I'll wear these any day of the month!!!
posted by supermedusa at 11:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

what the fuck is this shit. (Period underwear is bizarre)
posted by agregoli at 11:44 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh wow, this is a fantastic post! Marking May 28 on my calendar. Thanks for posting those links at the end, too. For some reason it never occurred to me to donate tampons and pads to shelters. I've always heard that food banks/shelters prefer cash donations because they can get discounted merchandise. Does anyone happen to know if this is true with menstrual hygiene products as well?
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:44 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have Period Underwear. It's regular underwear that's black. End of story.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [14 favorites]

after last year's menstrupocalypse all my underwear is period underwear, everything else was defeated by the unstoppable fucking crimson tide of doom. my entire life was that elevator from the shining.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:54 AM on April 7, 2015 [20 favorites]

meanwhile i know grown adult men who will shriek like frightened toddlers if you so much as brush their clothed forearm with a sealed box of unused tampons, such is their period fear.

so naturally i do this as often as possible
posted by poffin boffin at 11:56 AM on April 7, 2015 [34 favorites]

Their patriarchy is leaking.

Their misogyny is leaking.

I fucking love this.
posted by billiebee at 11:58 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

meanwhile i know grown adult men who will shriek like frightened toddlers if you so much as brush their clothed forearm with a sealed box of unused tampons, such is their period fear.

so naturally i do this as often as possible

Forcing the squeamish men I know to acknowledge the details of menstruation is basically my only hobby, now that Walking Dead is over for the year.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:03 PM on April 7, 2015 [33 favorites]

It's not just women who are squeamish about talking about periods. I sent my husband to the store for tampons and he got a new-to-me brand (not his fault, they're all named similarly). The wrappings of these new periods had weirdly cheery slogans on them ("You go girl!" and "Be satisfied with your best" and "Get ready to take on the world!") and I wrote about their absurdity on Facebook. My real life aunt, my sister's mom, emailed me and told me to take it down because "people will negatively judge you for talking about your period. That is something you should hide." So glad my friends are hippies who can handle talking about menstrual products.
posted by holyrood at 12:29 PM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

I shouldn't laugh, but I've always wondered why so many men fret about masculinity and appearing masculine but freak out about periods and menstrual blood. They make fart jokes, poop jokes, think zombies are cool, etc, but menstruation...wahwahwah.

I don't think we study menstration or women's health as much as we should in my doctorate program in the health sciences.

And I read there are full grown men who think having your period is like peeing---like you can hold it or you just do it a couple times a day. Women's dads! and boyfriends!

But these are often the guys who are dismissive of the physical burden and risks of pregnancy*. Ridiculous.

So much willful ignorance. Effing crazy.

*Though, I am always learning about the crazy stuff that can happen to women in pregnancy. And I blame the general disinterest men have in women's health. Like I just heard about placenta accreta, not from school, no, but from a clip of Kim Kardashian discussing her condition and how it may result in her having to have a hysterectomy should she have another baby. (And, to his credit, she openly discussed it with her husband who loves, cares, wants to know.)

I don't know if the previous generations of women who made it something to not talk about because they thought men were actually too childish and the women's burden is to constantly humor them and their egos. Is that why men are portrayed as idiots on TV?
posted by discopolo at 12:36 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Wonder Womban

Hm, I might've gone with Womber Woman.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:40 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just don't like any blood.
Blood, please stay inside.

I think if I was a woman I might be less of a wuss about it.

In the meantime, I don't eww at anyone's periods or retract in horror from tampons. But really any amount of blood coming out of a person for any reason makes me pretty uncomfortable.
posted by unknownmosquito at 12:40 PM on April 7, 2015

It's just so weird that this is something that almost half of humanity does on a very regular basis, and yet it's like this Weird Secret Thing.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:47 PM on April 7, 2015 [20 favorites]

discopolo, I learned sometime last year that women still die in childbirth. I was completely floored that it was still something that happened. I thought with all our medical technology and advanced understanding of how the body works that we'd have overcome those kinds of complications.
posted by royalsong at 12:51 PM on April 7, 2015

the perfect time to share my favorite big brother clip! here is penny from big brother australia talking about how her ovaries are on fire.
posted by nadawi at 1:27 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

i've been recently ruminating on the fact that my house was a menstruation free zone from the time i was born until i started in the 5th grade. my mom had a couple years of periods - but she started a little late and got pregnant at 16, then she stayed pregnant until she was 21 and had a hysterectomy after she had me. my dad had sisters, but he moved out when he was 16 and it a very big "we don't talk about that sort of thing!" family. i used to get so pissed off at my family for lacking in empathy, because my periods have always been very affecting in just about every way, but it only dawned on me recently that unlike a lot of homes, i was alone in my suffering.

all the same, i'm 33 years old and my dad still flinches and looks for a place to hide if i so much as mention a cramp. which is why i'm so thankful for my husband who isn't the least bit weird or squeamish about any of it and doesn't ever diminish what i'm feeling emotionally or physically.
posted by nadawi at 1:32 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I could never bleed on such awesome underwear. Old, dark-colored, cheap: these are the panties you wear when Aunt Flo visits.

Although I support this young woman and her fight against censorship, and period-shaming in general, I still don't want to see blood. Because it's blood.

We need to find an attitude towards periods that is not shame/fear, but also acknowledges that they are a giant PITA.
posted by emjaybee at 1:35 PM on April 7, 2015

In the meantime, I don't eww at anyone's periods or retract in horror from tampons. But really any amount of blood coming out of a person for any reason makes me pretty uncomfortable.

Hand on my heart, I found out that periods exist when someone uttered the punchline, "I don't trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn't die" in front of me as a kid. I used to ask people about it because I figured it must have something to do with some kind of biological incongruity or wrongness, possibly zombies, not remotely understanding that a) said 'punchline' is actually wildly misogynistic, and that's why no one wanted to explain the 'joke' to me and b) I was going to get my period someday, too. But I'm still kind of blown away by the notion that so many people are flummoxed by and even downright fearful of the biological process that expressly enables humankind to be fruitful and multiply as evolution intended.

Like OK, I get it, it's blood, there's probably a good chunk of the human brain that's hardwired to be majorly squicked out by blood. Lots of blood generally means that something terrible has happened. But this particular kind of blood is something that many, many girls and women have absolutely no control over whatsoever, unless they're very lucky -- lucky to have a safe washroom with clean water, pads, cloth, cups, and/or tampons, lucky to be on birth control that minimizes or eliminates their cycles, lucky to belong to a religion that ignores Leviticus, lucky to live in a society that does not literally exile them for daring to be alive as post-pubescent, pre-menopausal female-bodied humans unclean.

As a kid, I didn't understand what the purpose of all the blood and suffering could possibly be -- I knew it had something to do with pregnancy, but I've never wanted kids. As an adult, my cycle makes me feel all kinds of things (mostly overwhelming nausea and blinding, involuntary shiver-inducing pain) but when I concentrate on it, it reminds me to be momentarily but completely fascinated by the basic capacities of my body as I continue to age and live in it. The simple observation of my corporeal self during my cycle reminds me that I'm nothing more than a bipedal female animal, which makes me feel very small, very grateful, and very, very attached to and made from the earth.

Once my nine (!) days of penance are done, I can forget that I'm just a dumb animal and go back to living in my head instead, but I've come to realize that it's incredibly healthy for me to be reminded of my inescapable mammal-ness on a regular basis. That said, I would get a radical hysterectomy in a heartbeat, because fuck this shit.

(In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have led with the Period Panties links; it's a much more fascinating topic than that, Cunthulhu notwithstanding. Mea culpa!)
posted by divined by radio at 1:43 PM on April 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

Postpartum hemorrhage and the massive transfusion protocol. Not related to menstruation or period panties, but interesting. It's part of the reason I give blood every 8 weeks.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:00 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

@nadawi: me too; my mum died and so it was me, my brother and my dad with no female figure at all to tell me they were going to happen or what they'd be like or how to cope with what they were like. It was a profoundly alienating experience and it was made even harder by how nobody ever talks about periods.

I remember joining a feminist group at uni and being on a stall when one of the other women very matter of factly said something like, 'ugh, I feel terrible because I'm on my period' and I think it was genuinely the first time in my life I'd heard a woman talk about her period as opposed to reading about them in teen magazines but never discussing them out loud. I was 20 and I'd been menstruating for 7 years.

Still utterly baffled the Apple health app doesn't include period tracking too; have they fixed that in an update yet or not?
posted by theseldomseenkid at 2:05 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

i'm 33 years old and my dad still flinches and looks for a place to hide if i so much as mention a cramp. which is why i'm so thankful for my husband who isn't the least bit weird or squeamish about any of it

If I mentioned anything period-related to my Dad he would spontaneously combust, and he has 6 sisters and 2 daughters. My ex was also really squeamish about periods, so when I got with my current partner and his daughter would ring him to tell him about how crippling her cramps were (or on one memorable occasion, text him to say "period came early, woke up covered in blood") I was blown away that he would have conversations with her about it rather than have to retreat to his happy place. I knew it was love the day his hand moved south and I said "It's my time of the month" and he looked up and said "So?"

I think men in general would be less freaked out by the whole thing if women talked about it more, but from my own experience it was actually women who enforced the silence about it - like holyrood mentions - rather than men.
posted by billiebee at 2:18 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just don't like any blood.
Blood, please stay inside.

I think if I was a woman I might be less of a wuss about it.

I'm a wuss about wound-related blood, but like most people with a uterus, I am not a wuss about period blood because what choice do I have?

I shocked other students at my all-girls high school by asking at normal volume in front of other classmates (not even a teacher!) if anyone had a tampon. We were 16-17, we spent all day with other girls, everyone had their periods, it was weird that they were awkward about it.
posted by jeather at 2:53 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I started wearing black undies during my period because of a tip in Cosmo, of all things. Lifechanging, man, and possibly the only usable tip ever published in that magazine.

When I was in my 20s, I had an idea for a photo project where I would take a picture of what I saw every time I went to the bathroom for a year. Not the toilet contents, but a picture of my legs, shoes, underwear (and arms, if I could figure that out). More of a snapshot of my experience in that private moment. I thought you'd be able to tell a lot about my life, but I was most interested in hearing how people would react to seeing period messes (and non-period vagina messes), because it is so utterly normal, but you never show that to anyone, even people with whom you're intimate. (This was before I had a digital camera, so I never did it, because I didn't want to haul my big film camera everywhere for a year.)
posted by MsDaniB at 3:03 PM on April 7, 2015

Back when I was in Oregon, I went to a sweat lodge ceremony with my friend, who wasn't allowed to participate because she had her period. She tried to get in by saying that it was almost done, that it was "you know, the dark stuff" and the sweat lodge ceremony man said, "Oh, but that is the most powerful."

I was maybe eighteen when I heard this, and have been sort of waiting for the day when I come across the recipe so I can harass the power of the Dark Period Ending blood. Like, I could put it in somebody's drink and control them completely, maybe achieving the upper levels of power and wealth this way.

Alas, this day has not come.
posted by angrycat at 3:47 PM on April 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

It occurred to me a while ago that there's no menstruation porn. Oh, I'm sure there is, but in an online world where there is lots and lots and lots of really quite abstruse, outre and plain "you WHAT?" stuff involving just about every combination of fluids/bodies/genderbits/fantasies... I've never encountered it.

People do have sex during menstruation, even "came up looking like a vampire" cunnilingus, so that in itself is not a universal taboo. But a thing? If it is out there - and yes, again, I'm sure it is - it's so far beneath the radar that it's a much more minority interest than some of the stuff a chap might randomly encounter and find mind-bogglingly unlikely.

And that really is something, for anything so intimately connected with the whole business of sex.
posted by Devonian at 5:00 PM on April 7, 2015

you generally can't get payment processing for porn that involves menstruation. many actresses have fought to have it included, especially in feminist porn, but they can't get through the barrier. if you do come across it it's generally not paid content. if you're interested in that topic it come up in this fisting day post.
posted by nadawi at 5:25 PM on April 7, 2015

"Oh, but that is the most powerful."

posted by poffin boffin at 5:27 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Normal menstruation is way less bloody than normal childbirth. Average menstrual fluid loss is 30-40 mL, over the course of a few days. Only about half of that fluid is blood. Menorrhagia - heavy menstrual bleeding - is defined as 80 mL of fluid or more. Average blood loss with singleton vaginal birth is 500mL, most of which is lost at delivery itself, although lochia (vaginal discharge) continues bloody for the next few days. Average blood loss with singleton Cesarean birth is 1L (because it involves cutting into the extremely vascularized peripartum uterus, plus the same blood loss that arises from placental detachment during vaginal birth.)

Pregnant people have a higher blood volume (and higher circulatory fluid volume) to start with, of course, so it's not as wildly bad as losing a half-pint from injury. Still, though, when people start talking about how gross and bloody normal periods are, I am unhappy, because the (inherently misogynist) societal exaggeration of the gore of normal menstruation is part of the reason it's hard to get appropriate treatment for the genuine health problems that manifest as sustained or heavy vaginal bleeding during or between periods. And don't even get me started on narratives around menstrual pain, and how they interfere with appropriate care.
posted by gingerest at 8:32 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Appropriate care for menstrual pain or for uterine/vaginal/whathaveyou pain at other times?
posted by maryr at 8:50 PM on April 7, 2015

I like the puns in the period panties, though I suspect that if I bought them for my SO she would hang them up as artwork rather than wear them.

In retrospect, I feel lucky to have been raised with a feminist mother who didn't talk about periods a lot, but they weren't hidden and shameful either. And it was the same with my first girlfriends who treated periods as just a fact of life and something that could be talked about.

But I had a coworker who told me that he had asked his wife to "not even tell me when it was happening," which hurt my brain in about three different ways. Lots of people have big issues around this, and they aren't shy about sharing those issues loudly.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:12 PM on April 7, 2015

And don't even get me started on narratives around menstrual pain, and how they interfere with appropriate care.

FOR REALS. Women themselves are conditioned to pretend the pain isn't so bad, that their heavy bleeding isn't really all that terrible, that other women have it worse, whatever. And then of course women's pain is constantly dismissed by medical professionals even when those medical professionals are themselves women, everything from excessive menstrual pain to constant agony from endometriosis to painful penetrative sex. Literally every single injury or ailment I have ever had in my entire life has initially been dismissed entirely by every doctor I went to, and when it's finally accepted as An Actual Bad Thing that had been clearly happening for a long while I get scolded because "why didn't you say something sooner about how bad it was?!"

really i don't get enough recognition or applause for having not ever fatally stabbed anyone
posted by poffin boffin at 9:38 PM on April 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

I once invented a comic book wherein a gang of ladyvillains defeated Superman by throwing used menstruation-related items at him, because you KNOW he could not even handle that. He just crumples in fear and disgust.

Batman, though. He's freaky. He'd probably be into it.

My husband the comic-drawer has not yet drawn this for me and I am very sad.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:28 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maryr: let's go with both - ultimately, the belief that normal menstrual function should include excruciating pain pretty much devalues all pelvic pain. Heck, I'll go whole hog and say it devalues women's pain generally. "Normal" menstruation should be broadly defined as low-volume (<60 mL) bleeding, for a few days (<7), every 21-35 days, with a little low back or abdominal cramping that's easily controlled with hot pads and maybe an ibuprofen or two. It is the year of our Ford 2015 - we should know, and be able and willing to effectively treat likely reasons for any deviation from that normal function (and we so aren't there yet).
I grant that the devaluation of women's pain probably arises less from the menstruation thing and more from the notion that a wrathful God gave women the pain of childbirth because feeemales are sinful fruit-pickers from the moment of conception, but I am still indignant about the way menstruation is misunderstood, abnormalities are underinvestigated, and normal function is stigmatized.
posted by gingerest at 11:56 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have been repeatedly shocked at the attitudes of medical professionals regarding extreme menstrual pain--that a female is deficient for being unable to function while doubled over in agony, since that's the lot of women. I found attitudes regarding discomfort during pregnancy very similar--so you're vomiting uncontrollably, can't eat or sleep? Stop bitching, eat these saltines. If you complain it must be that you don't really, really want this baby, because if you did you'd bear it all cheerfully. Yep, you must just not be woman enough.

Somewhat related: my OB-GYN was just convicted of murdering his wife.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:28 AM on April 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

But I had a coworker who told me that he had asked his wife to "not even tell me when it was happening," which hurt my brain in about three different ways.

So, what is she supposed to say when he wants to mess around? Lie and say she has a headache?

Jeez, dude, grow up. She's probably had to walk into the bathroom after you dropped a stink bomb. She's dealt with your BO and beard clippings in the sink and seeing you clip your giant nasty toenails. You can deal with knowing she gets a period.
posted by emjaybee at 6:55 AM on April 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

i read that as the husband unknowingly admitting that they have a dead bedroom...
posted by nadawi at 7:00 AM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

My mother explained to my sister and me that PMS and cramping was made up by women who were drama queens. Thanks mom.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:20 AM on April 8, 2015

My mother explained to my sister and me that PMS and cramping was made up by women who were drama queens.

I once actually passed out from period cramps in gym class, I had been begging my gym teacher (long may she roast in hell) to go to the nurse, she ignored me, next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor. From age 12-18, those things were just murder. Thankfully (for me though not for her) my mom had had terrible problems with hers, so she believed me when I said I was hurting and brought me Midol and heating pads. She ended up getting a hysterectomy when I was 10 because she had fibroids and pain so much, and so did my sister when she got to that age. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I don't have to.
posted by emjaybee at 8:47 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

My mother explained to my sister and me that PMS and cramping was made up by women who were drama queens.

I've fortunately only run into a few people who've voiced that. Oddly enough, they've generally been drama lovers themselves (both the men and women). Even more fortunate no one said that to me until after I'd had a parent and doctor confirm that yes, this sucks, no you're not imaging it, here are some management techniques. I can't imagine having a parent tell me it was all in my head after being physically ill/ passing out.
In highschool/undergrad, I generally found a dry breakdown of the physical process would cause some uncomfortable squirming(sloughing seemed great at provoking that) and they'd never bring it up around me again. At the time, I measured that as a success, but now I wonder if I should have pushed for a little more empathy, so they'd think twice before spouting off on it again, around someone with a less supportive background.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:55 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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