2013-12-01

Going with the Flow

Regarding a Facebook post in which a woman tells of talking to her husband about a menstrual war story....
 
It's annoying how men are held up to blame and ridicule and belittlement because they don't menstruate or bear children, and further ridiculed when they don't stand up to things which would utterly terrify anybody, such as war, facing gunfire, wild animals, etc. with anything other than perfect aplomb. 

It's a crisis of empathy, and it's tragic when this kind of dialogue, i.e., the most basic discussion of the basic day-to-day processes of life, is held up as extraordinary.  A man telling a woman of the horrors he's experienced in war (which none of my WWII vet relatives ever did, apparently -- they just kept it all to themselves except for a little bit told to my Uncle Gerry) would actually be extraordinary, since no human being should have to go through that in a decent society, and so no other human being should ever have to hear it retold, but there it is.

The real problem is not that women bleed all the time, but that it's not accepted as normal, and should need to be hidden with the kind of embarrassment described here.  If men bled less, then perhaps women could bleed without it being a huge, shocking issue.

Whether the repressed, violent, sex-negative horror we live in or some primitive idyll, in any human society women will bleed, even if men don't go to war.

As she rightly, but for the wrong reasons, points out (a reply does), when men and children bleed, it's a big deal, an alarming thing, but when women do, it's humdrum.  I have seen a lot of non-menstrual blood in my time, a lot of it my own, and yes, it wasn't good.  But you get used to that, too.


My problem with menstruation is that it's often used as a tool, club, lever to keep male partners at arm's length.  A lover's "I'm so relieved you're so understanding" turns into a girlfriend or a wife's "it's my lady time, you wouldn't/don't understand, please go away now". It's like not knowing quantum physics, speaking fluent Russian, what it's like to get sunburned easily or being ridiculously tall, disabled, etc. It would be awful not to try to understand, to make an effort to educate, in these cases, but menstruation seems to get special treatment.

Physical discomfort is one thing, but embarrassment (on either side) and the plain fact of some things just being difficult/impossible to wash is another. Without dialogue it all gets lumped together.

I rejoice when female friends say "this is what happens to me all the time, deal with it" and I'm usually fascinated, since it seems a fascinating process. Some other female friends, when asked what girls talk about on their own, said, "mostly menstruation" and I said, "that's about what I figured".   And openness is what paves the way for my friend being able to say things like, "I'm spotting/soaking through pretty badly -- I'm going to need to get to a restroom in 8-10 minutes or less" when we're out walking together. Thanks for not assuming that I'm a complete moron and allowing that maybe I can understand a simple statement like that, even if I don't fully appreciate all the details  Otherwise we could never take that walk together, and of course it sounds like men are excluded from most of what women talk about...unless women decide to include them.

Women seem to think that if they just grab a book on sports, car repair, or computers, they can join in on 99% of what men talk about, and maybe it's true (whole other huge issue), and maybe the men still have to be nice and let the woman into the little club, but men don't own that clubhouse in the same way that women own menstruation.


And yes, I think that boners present similar issues in terms of being unbidden (which many if not most women seem to be in staring incomprehension of, by the way, i.e., that as Simone de Beauvoir termed it, the penis is sexually, in a sense, l'autre, vis-à-vis its male "owner"), and posing problems of socially-embarrassing shock value and so forth.



She makes an intriguing point that it's not so much about the horrible endings of these stories, which might not even be so relevant to our present day and age (but not to be forgotten by any means, I would say) but their beginnings. The desire for love and closeness, and how "putting out" is often seen as the price (?) to be paid for that, and the perhaps uncharitable suggestion that men don't have such feelings, that the "male sex drive" is this base, uncontrollable thing that knows no mercy or pity. Is a man who sleeps with a woman without sharing intercourse with her..."manly"...or did he "fail" in some way? Failed to make it to "home plate" at least. Is there some endearing term for such a man, some title to be aspired to? If so, I don't know it. As I told Gloria Steinem when she came to the U of Idaho some months ago, men need permission, permission from other men, yes, but also from women, to do or not do, to be or not be certain things. To assume that men are always in all things doing exactly what they themselves want to, exactly when and how they want to...is probably wrong. 

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