The XX Factor

Do We Really Have to Be Proud of Our Periods?

Hear me roar

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Menstruation—a topic long confined to girls’ locker rooms and ladies’ bathrooms—is having a media moment. In an ad that went viral for mail-order tampon service Hello Flo, a young girl diabolically rises through her summer camp’s social ranks when she becomes the first camper to receive her “red badge of courage.” CNN correspondent Kelly Wallace—who admits that at age 46, she still lowers her voice to a whisper when asking for “feminine products” at the drugstore—recently took to Times Square to publicly interview women about their periods. And in Russia, lawmakers are openly debating whether it’s paternalistic or practical to allow women a couple of monthly menstruation days off of work to help deal with the “psychological and physiological discomfort.” As Tracy Moore writes on Jezebel, these new developments have shown us that “direct, even crass discussions of the realities of periods are possible! And funny! And enjoyable!”

For some women, it’s not just talking about periods that makes them feel good—menstruation itself is empowering. “Do you feel embarrassed, slightly ashamed, slightly awkward? Or is it ‘I am woman, hear me roar?’ ” CNN’s Wallace asked one woman about her emotional relationship to her period. “It’s ‘I am woman,’ ” she replied. Girls, mother and blogger Shannon Bradley-Colleary says, should be instructed to see their periods as “a source of pride and power.”

Do we really have to be proud of our periods? Women shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed or awkward about experiencing a normal biological function, but it’s not like having a period constitutes a triumph of the human spirit. For a lot of us—sorry, menstruation lobbyists—the experience can sometimes be painful, annoying, and expensive. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my uterine lining feels like it’s punching its way out of my vagina every month, but I’m not eager to ground my entire personal identity in the experience. And some women—post-menopausal women, trans women, breastfeeding women, women on hormonal contraception—just don’t menstruate. That’s cool, because there’s no mysterious feminine energy in period blood that magically turns us into real girls. (On a related matter, it’s not actually a feminist act for your daughter to announce the size of her “accomplishment” every time she takes a shit. Everybody poops.)

I get it. Menstruation has been stigmatized as gross and embarrassing for so long that it’s only natural to want to fight back with roaring pride. But trumping up the act of menstruating as a “source of power” only gives fuel to the detractors who hope to define us by our bodies. It’s just blood (and some mucosal tissue), y’all. It’s starting to look like we’re overcompensating.