MEGAN NICOL REED EMRE OGAN… feeling fat, unloved and – after eating 12 Hokey Pokey Squiggles, two Almond Magnums, 47 Cheezels, screaming at your children, swearing at your partner and sulking at your friend – you probably are.
It’s more of a curse than we like to admit.
It’s a bloody bitch of a thing. Madly, I once wished it upon myself. Awaited its unheralded arrival with a great impatience. and when it came, shortly after my 13th birthday, roughly on schedule, my mother baked me a cake. we were, she told me, celebrating. A rite of passage. She was lying, of course. there is nothing joyous about menstruation. it can be painful (like a dry stone waller is hard at work in your gut), costly (tampons and pads, packets of Ponstan, bottles of bleach, natural remedies of evening primrose oil, Vitex agnus-castus, organic magnesium and vitamin B6), and a huge waster of time (the average cycle lasts 28 days, PMS symptoms typically begin anywhere between five to 11 days before menstruation, and menstruation itself lasts for anywhere up to a week). Immense swathes of life given over every month to feeling fat and unloved, and – after eating 12 Hokey Pokey Squiggles, two Almond Magnums, 47 Cheezels, screaming at your children, swearing at your partner and sulking at your best friend – you probably are.
Periods can give you pimples, cause poor spatial awareness and prohibit all randiness, and last week it was reported in this paper that female athletes are using the contraceptive pill to avoid them altogether. Apparently menstruating women are more prone to severe knee injuries, can be less co-ordinated and have lower performance levels. Former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew said, “Certainly it is well-recognised that women are at greater risk for a number of things in their menstrual week.”
All of which got me thinking that Alasdair Thompson, the head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, who was fired earlier this year after saying on radio that women’s “monthly sick problem” meant they should be paid less than men, wasn’t quite the ignoramus he appeared to be. not that he didn’t behave like an utter clod when he then failed to back up his claim with anything harder than that his teenage daughter suffers from bad PMS, nor that he wasn’t a blustering bully when further probed as to what he meant in an interview with Campbell Live reporter Mihingarangi Forbes. and not because I agree men should be paid more because they don’t use tampons – pay inequality is alive and well without bringing periods into it. he deserved to be fired for what he said. it was a dumb thing to say.
however, I do think modern women, in a bid to prove themselves capable of doing anything, have glossed over the fact that menstruation is a bloody pain. and when you’re “on the rag” you’re likely to be below par, a paler version of your non-menstruating self. That’s perhaps because – and here I venture into Thompson-territory with no rigorous research to base my theory on and only personal experience and anecdote to back it up – none of the women I know who have broken through the glass ceiling or climbed the corporate ladder, are particularly controlled by their hormones. their period comes, their period goes, a mere inconvenience with a small string attached.
MEN HAVE always been scared of a menstruating woman. That great Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder was evidently so grossed out by the thought that some time before he died in 75AD he wrote: “Contact with it turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seeds in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees falls off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air, to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.”
Primitive societies isolated women at certain times of the month, convinced that while they bled they were capable of the devil’s work. The anthropologist Margaret Mead observed that the Arapesh women of Papua New Guinea didn’t seem to suffer from menstrual pain. “Possibly,” she wryly noted, “because the extreme discomfort of sitting on a thin piece of bark on the damp, cold ground in a leaky leaf-hut on the side of a mountain, rubbing one’s body with stinging nettles, obscures any awareness.”
In the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century when sex was considered sinful, the obvious physical manifestations of a woman’s sexuality – she bled every month, she had sex, she got pregnant, she stopped bleeding, she gave birth, she started bleeding again – fed the reigning fear of women as malevolent temptresses filled with evil intent.
two hundred years later and the Victorians relegated women to a new role: angels incapable of violence. thus, when one did commit a heinous act an explanation was required. Aha, that was it! She was merely a victim of her own reproductive system.
By the middle of last century PMS as a mitigating factor was no stranger to a courthouse. United Kingdom, 1980: barmaid Sandie Craddock, with 30 prior sentences for theft, arson and assault, gets off killing her co-worker because PMS “turned her into a raging animal each month and forced her to act out of character”.
But PMS as a defence in a court of law presents a dilemma for feminists. The extreme behaviour of a few could stigmatise all; a woman’s power once again diluted by the machinations of her own body. There’s now a shift away from any talk of periods before a judge. I’m not so sure. Perhaps men are right to be scared. last week I certainly felt capable of anything – fat, unloved and murderous.
Kay writes: “I know so well your angst in regards to children’s birthday parties. having just arranged a double celebration for my own children and fretting about who would say yes, who would say no and who just wouldn’t bother to say anything, we ended up with even more children than we’d invited. (Did my children even give this invite anxiety a moment’s thought? of course not!) The parent of one of the guests, a quiet but lovely little girl who had recently joined my youngest’s class, thanked us afterwards for inviting her. `It’s the first invitation to a birthday party she’s had,’ he told us quietly, and I understood completely why this meant so much.”
Elizabeth is sorry that 27 years ago I wasn’t invited to a friend’s party. She says she won’t express her “opinion on the huge expense of parties”, instead describing how they celebrate birthdays in her family. “For the last few years my nearly 13-year-old son has been happy with a bunch of mates at the local pool ($6 a head with access to zoom tube etc) followed by fish and chips and a Viennetta with candles in it doing double duty as a birthday cake and dessert, back at home. Throw in a bit of tree climbing/trampoline jumping before the pool, and Xbox or a DVD after the food, and they’re all happy.” But what she really wants to address, she writes, is my “bit about who to invite”. “When a child gets invited to a party, they reciprocate the gesture by giving a present. it shouldn’t automatically mean they will get a return invitation because, as you say, other factors feed into the amount of guests a child can have.”
– Sunday Star Times