In ancient times and in Native cultures, as well as modern aboriginal cultures, the feminine menstrual cycle is considered divine. Women gathered in moon lodges in the days of their bleeding, taking time out to rest and rejuvenate their energy. The huts were named to honour the connection between the cycle of the moon and a woman’s menstrual cycle. In the moon lodges, women would reflect and connect with the earth they lived on to discover vital information, for example where to find animals for food in the coming month. Men would bring them their meals to enable the women to truly just be, as they listened to their bodies and took a step back from the demands of daily life. After their time in the moon lodges, they would consult with the men about their findings and the men would hunt the animals, and so everyone would be fed.
In Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Dr. Christiane Northrup writes ‘The menstrual cycle and the female body were seen as sacred until five thousand years ago, when the peaceful matrilineal cultures of Old Europe were overturned.’ In order for Patriarchy to thrive, the belief that women held any kind of power had to be destroyed, along with the moon lodges, the safe space where this power was harnessed and used for the benefit of the whole community.
This calculated overthrowing of women’s connection to the elements and to herself shows how a society ruled by the dominant power of patriarchy was built which, along with capitalism, creates the weak to then exploit them. Unlike matriarchy which supports the weak for the common good of all. The destructive force of patriarchy that long ago took women’s power away is hiding in the shadows behind our culture’s current attitude towards women and menstruation. In 1963 these words came inside boxes of tampons; ‘When you’re a wife…if you neglect the simple rules that make menstruation a normal time of month, and retire for a few days each month, as though you were ill, you’re taking advantage of your husband’s good nature. He married a full-time wife, not a part-time one. So you should be active, peppy and cheerful everyday’1
This is simply shocking, and although it shows extreme sexism from half a century ago, it is this type of thought which runs deep behind attitudes now. We ignore the fact that it goes against a woman’s very nature to be cheerful and active every single day of the month. A woman is expected to keep going regardless, it is unacceptable to call up your boss and say ‘I’m bleeding really heavily, I have crippling backache and awful stomach cramps – I can’t come in today, my body needs to rest.’ She is expected to take a whole heap of painkillers and get on with it. This is tied in with women often having to strive to be treated equally to men in the work place; struggling for equal pay or to be treated with as much respect as her male colleagues. Which begs the question; to be treated equally to men must women of menstruating age become men by pretending to have no periods?
I wonder, how would our lives be different if women were able to retire for a couple of days a month when their body was asking them to? Of course I’m not suggesting that all women should get days off work every period but more so that it should be culturally acceptable to take a step back, for men and women when the body really needs to. It should be customary for women to take time out to focus on herself at ‘that stage in the month’ – even if that means just half an hour to herself somewhere in the day. How would our lives be different if when a young girl menstruates for the first time, her arrival into womanhood is celebrated? Or if women talked about their cycles and the ways in which they are affected by them every day of the month? It seems that in our culture we hush hush periods into the background and try to do everything possible to pretend that there is nothing happening when we are bleeding – “The Monthly Debate” looks at how scented tampons promote this idea.
When I was 13 and started my period for the first time, I had spent a week helping out in the Women’s Dome at a festival, a safe space created that held workshops such as how to chart menstruation and learn about the peaks and dips of mood and energy in relation to your own cycle. The women threw me a Menarche celebration, opening up about their own personal experiences of menstruation and offering me advice on how to deal with any pains that come monthly, and of the importance of being kind to yourself during this time. I was welcomed into womanhood with an awareness of the sacred link between menstruation, self and the natural world around me. However when I got home and friends giggled at my ‘period party’ and I realised there was nowhere to share any of this thought, I quickly became disconnected again, I felt way too self-conscious as a teenager to continue honouring my cycle in this way. Going on the contraceptive pill messed up my cycle completely, leaving me an emotionally unstable wreck and it is only now that I am coming to realise the importance of womb wisdom.
Life is not linear, although Patriarchal Capitalism would have us believe that constant growth will lead us all to some sort of perfected end point. Life is cyclical, especially for women, who go through a cycle every 28 days, with natural highs and lows. Dr. Christiane Northrup argues that when a woman is pre-menstrual, she is connecting to the most hidden part of herself that needs to be nurtured. Patriarchy labels pre-menstrual women as ‘crazy’, ‘irrational’ or ‘out of control’, another attempt to disconnect women from holding any power, particularly in relation to the natural processes of their bodies. Perhaps the modern woman suffers from bad PMS because rather than taking time out to heal and reflect during menstruation, she is pushed to keep going, meaning repressed emotion escapes at this point but is put down to ‘just being pre-menstrual’.
It is a feminist act in itself to reclaim our menstrual cycle, and refuse to have our natural connection to the dark and light phases of the moon, silenced by Patriarchy. They may have destroyed our moon lodges, but they cannot destroy what has always been within us. Imagine a world where rather than constantly striving for 24/7 happiness, we honoured the dark and light of the seasons that our womb goes through every month, the summer of ovulation and the winter of menstruation.
Well I know one thing for sure; I am never again going to feel guilty for resting when I’m on my period. Or for talking about periods, which so often seems to be something we’re supposed to be ashamed of.
I feel like shouting to the world “EVERY MONTH I BLEED AND ITS DIVINE!”
1 Dr Christian Northrope, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, p.107