Another Bloody Woman Moaning

I hate my periods. I hate having no control over when they start. I hate washing bloodstains out of my clothes and bedding. I hate pain. I hate that I have decades to go before they stop. I hate that I have to put up with them even though I don’t want children anyway.

If your periods make you feel connected to your mother and grandmother and women all around the world throughout time and space, I feel happy for you. If your periods make you feel fertile and womanly, I’m glad. If you accept and celebrate periods as part of the cycle of life and nature, then great.

I do not feel this way. My periods make me unhappy and that isn’t going to change. As a woman, it needs to be OK for me to not like periods. I don’t need to be cheered up or convinced that they’re actually fun and awesome. Herbal medicine and mooncups will not make me feel better, because my feelings are so much deeper than that. I know that as a woman, I am not allowed to be unhappy as my purpose is to service the emotional needs of men and children, not to have any myself. I know that it is unacceptably selfish for any woman to be cross when it is so much more pleasant for those around us when we are happy and smiley. I know, but I don’t care.

Tampon advert showing Serena Williams on a tennis court punching the air in triumph, while in the background 2 stewards drag away a woman labelled 'Mother Nature'. The slogan says 'Game, Set and Match Serena'

You may not show or express pain or discomfort while menstruating. You can even win tennis tournaments when on your period through a combination of will power and expensive branded sanitary products.

I first found out that periods existed when I was 10 and we had The Period Talk at school. I knew it was going to be something pretty important, because the school had sent a special letter home to my mum to make sure they had her permission to impart this top secret information to me. We were going to be told something mysterious and amazing that only Year 6 girls were allowed to know. This was going to set us apart from the boys, and all the younger girls, and set us on the path to becoming Proper Grown-Ups, which was definitely a good thing.

The one male teacher in the primary school stayed in the classroom with the Year 6 boys to talk about boring boy things (wet dreams, erections and shaving, my male friends reported back to me later) while the girls went to sit in a small squashed room where the school’s three computers and one TV lived. There were 2 teachers giving the Talk, one of whom spent the session in complete silence turning slowly more and more pink and shuffling further and further backwards on her chair. Clearly periods must be pretty disgusting, if even teachers thought they were embarrassing.

It was the other teacher who broke the horrible news. She explained, very calmly, that at some point in the next few years blood was going to start seeping out of a hole we all had between our legs that we didn’t need to know any more about just yet. It was going to be painful, we would have no control over it, it would happen every single month for several decades and this was a blessing and part of the miracle of new life.

The rest of the session passed in a blur. We were told we were going to watch a video, which was usually pretty exciting for small children in the 90s, but I was still in shock. The video was older than we were. It was in colour, but only just, had lots of flickery bits where the tape had worn thin, and had been produced by a sanitary product manufacturer named Dr White’s to explain how Dr White’s sanitary towels would solve all our feminine hygiene problems (cue smiley woman holding box of Dr White’s sanitary towels) and we could even go swimming on our periods thanks to Dr White’s tampons (cue smiley lady in swimming costume holding box of Dr White’s tampons). As a grand finale, our teacher then produced a tampon and dropped it into a glass of water so we could watch it expand. Then the bell rang and we were somehow supposed to go and have lunch as if nothing had happened.

I spent the next few months dreading the inevitable. I was alone in this. All the other girls were eager to start their periods and wanted to be the first to get to use the funny grey bin in the girls’ toilets which no-one had known the purpose of before. They all wanted to be grown up and started doing what I considered to be pretty stupid things like having shrines to Ryan Giggs in their bedrooms and getting their ears pierced and spending break time watching the boys playing football and giggling at them in a silly way instead of doing fun stuff like running around shrieking. We couldn’t play any more now we were proper grown ups, because we would get dirty and smelly, so we had to stand around talking and watching boys do things. Being a woman essentially seemed to involve being clean and stationary. This went for periods too – we had to control the dirty smelly stuff oozing out of us and make sure we were nice and clean and fragrant Down There. Being on a period was also a special way of getting out of PE only available to girls.

1973 tampon advert showing three white women sitting on a beach wearing bikinis. Two of the women are playing the flute, while a man plays guitar in the background.

Good news, girls! Now your period doesn’t need to stop you from sitting on a beach in a bikini playing the flute. I know that was worrying you.

Three years later came periods, and PAIN. No-one seems to know what to do with a woman with period pains. Men stare in helpless terror and try to fetch you things, or explain to you that they have it worse because they have to shave. Women who have pain-free periods seem to think it’s appropriate to inform you of this fact, and are then puzzled and offended when you try to rip their heads off. Many women who suffer from period pains have taken on board the message from society that the correct thing to do is suffer in silence, and will get cross with you and tell you to pull yourself together and stop whining. The Suffering of Women in the Third World/19th Century may be invoked. It is important not to get angry with these women, but rather with the patriarchy for teaching them from a young age that neither they nor any other woman may express pain or anger, ever.

There is a sisterhood between women who experience terrible period pains. There’s such a relief when you find another woman who will listen with understanding to your period pain horror stories, and other women have confided in me their experiences of being paralysed with pain for hours, of fainting and vomiting and praying for mercy and going through all this surrounded by loved ones who treat you as a self-indulgent attention-seeker. My mum, not usually a poetic woman, described her period pains as “like having a knife stabbing you in the stomach and twisting and twisting for days.”

After nearly 12 years of painful periods every 25 days (my menstrual cycle is 3 days shorter than average, just for added shittiness) I have recently realised that I have been taken my prescribed medication wrong. I would wait until things got really painful and I had to go home and curl up with a hot water bottle, and then I would take the tablet, and would then go through another half hour of pain before it worked.

Then I had a bright idea. As every period, without exception, was painful, why didn’t I just take the tablet the moment my period started, before the pain began? Then 8 hours later when the medication would be due to wear off, I could take another one, and keep doing this the whole way through. I tried this for the first time last month, and had my first pain-free period for over 10 years.

Now the relief has worn off, I am very, very pissed off. Why the hell had I never thought of this before? Why had no-one suggested it to me? The time I spent Christmas Day writhing in pain, throwing up everywhere and eventually passing out on the bathroom floor. The time I fainted in the street in March and thankfully a kind woman took me into her house and looked after me. The mundane stuff like the days off work on unpaid sick leave and missing my first Reclaim the Night march because I was on a period and all the other things I’ve missed or cancelled over the years. All of it completely unnecessary.

The reason I never took my tablets properly? Partly male GPs too embarrassed to have a proper conversation with me about periods. But mostly me, the patriarchal crap in my own head. That tablets costs money (current NHS prescription charge – £7.65), and I shouldn’t use them unless I really, really need them. That to be a woman is to be a martyr. That I should be like those other women, the ones with herbal remedies and mooncups who keep trying to cheer me up. That my pain is a personal moral failing, a sign of weakness. Ultimately, that because I am a woman I deserve to suffer. I am unworthy, I am tainted, I am Eve, and my prescription pain medication – 28 soluble tablets for £7.65 – is a luxury to be earned, not an entitlement.

1550 Titian painting of Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden

Artists throughout Western history have often depicted Adam and Eve, this is definitely an expression of religious devotion and not just an excuse to paint naked people.

I hope that this is just me. I hope other women read One To Be Taken Three Times A Day and think ‘OK, I’ll take one tablet three times a day’ rather than ‘I am not worthy, I must be in unspeakable torment before I even contemplate taking one of these’. I hope other primary schools spend less time talking about Eve and more time on periods than one hour in a squashed little room, and I hope ALL the children get to hear it, not just the vagina-owning ones.

This is my experience. I would really love to know how other women feel. I know that things will be different for women from countries or cultures other than mine, or who went to different schools or are from different generations, and I know some women don’t have periods, or used to but don’t now. Please share your thoughts in the comments. But whatever you do, don’t tell me to cheer up or buy a bloody mooncup.

4 Comments on “Another Bloody Woman Moaning”

  1. Alexa says:

    ew i cant believe they told you it was a ‘special blessing’ and ‘part of the miracle of new life’ when you were like 10. Its like HAVE BABIES.

    • RomseyGirl says:

      See, this is why it’s important that women talk to each other and share our experiences – I assumed all young girls were told that at school!

  2. idletaught says:

    Thanks for all the work you put into this really great article and for spreading the word about the possibility of living a less painful life!

    The obsession with Adam and Eve in religious art is a curious thing. It is like christianity can not deny its own fascination with sex and the body; the myth of the natural and the innocent preserved in counterpoint to the weight of all that cultural tradition and sin shaming.

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