May 24, 2007
Thoughts from the Ladies' Section
Posted by Christine Hurt

Eugene Volokh has issued a blogospheric dare for bloggers who actually menstruate to comment on the new birth control pill that eliminates menstruation.  I can't believe that I'm falling for this; Gordon will surely kick me off the blog.

Specifically, Eugene wonders if there is any credibility to the argument that menstruation bonds women together, similarly to the way in which pregnancy and childbirth bond women together.  Hmmm.  Here are all my thoughts on this off-topic topic.  I'll put them below the fold so that corporate law wonks will be spared -- menstruation has been a below the fold kind of topic until recent years, so consider it an homage.

1.  Yes, pregnancy and childbirth make women part of a very large club whose members have something very important in common.  Consider it like sports for men, or Dungeons and Dragons.  Female culture doesn't have a common theme that most girls' youth revolves around that joins generations of women together other than fertility and childbirth.  I remember finally having something in common with my grandma when I got pregnant.  Menstruation is similar.  When girls begin to menstruate, they do join sort of a club, but it's much more underground.  Once girls begin to menstruate at school, their other friends want to also.  No one wants to be left out of this growing up thing, obviously. 

2.  Menstruation might be more of a bonding thing in this country if the culture were different.  In the U.S., our culture is one of sanitizing and deodorizing must bodily functions.  We shave a lot, bathe a lot, shampoo a lot, powder and perfume a lot, etc.  Menstruation runs against that.  So to some extent, especially among young girls, menstruation is embarrassing.  The onset of menses also comes when girls are the most self-conscious they will ever be, adding to the secrecy and embarrassment.  I'm not sure it has to be that way, though. 

3.  Hasn't any one ever read the Red Tent?

4.  I do think that the natural end of menstruation usually comes with some sadness.  It is an end of an era.  Some women may be liberated by the end of that era.  However, I think in today's age when many women have pushed their childbearing years much closer to their menopausal years, the end of fertility seems to be fairly salient.  When women had their children by 25 or at least 30, menopause 20 or 30 years later may have seemed like a tardy visitor they had been expecting for a long time.  (There was actually a Sex and the City episode about this when three of the four women were menstruating at the same time, but Samantha wasn't, making her fear that she was menopausal.)  Obviously, it's hard to separate the end of menses with thoughts on the aging process generally.

5.  Much conversation has asked "why not" eliminate menstruation, but I'm not sure I've heard a great reason for "why."  Although some women have very painful periods and would have a medical reason for eliminating menstruation, I'm not sure why the average woman would.  Breakthroughs in menstruation products have substantially decreased the muss and fuss of menstruation.  I would suspect that for most American women, their cycles come and go without much thought.

6.   I don't think this pill is really about discomfort, hygiene or convenience.  I think it's about casual sex.  There, I said it.  My co-bloggers can kick me off, and I guess my tenure clock is stalled now.  Menstruation doesn't get in the way of many daily activities any more, like sports or swimming, but it may get in the way of casual sex with people you don't know well.  Who will benefit from this pill?  Not the eighth grade girls of the world who suffer supreme embarrassment by Aunt Flo coming on the days they wear white capri pants, but the grown men and women of the world who may meet each other later that night.  So let's quit couching this pill as "unchaining women from the bathroom."

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