Tuesday, July 11, 2006

In Which I Rant About Periods, Inga Muscio, and Shulamith Firestone for What Won't Be the Last Time

No, I have not fallen off the face of the planet. I have been out of town and working and slowly preparing for my great big move from LA to San Francisco. This "preparation" includes such things as learning to appreciate such verbal modifiers as "hella" and pretending to hate Starbucks and love public transportation. I also have considered rethinking my wardrobe -- more hoodies and tennis shoes, less flip-flops and sunglasses. Yes, it's a process. I'm working on it.

Anyway, so unlike some of you, I have a period. It's a period that comes monthly, like periods often do, and lasts six to eight days on average. It is not a period that comes once every three months for two days. It is not a period that is heavy one month and "spotty" for three months after. My period is so goddamned regular, I figure if I ever miss one, I'm either pregnant or dying. Considering my sexual habits, I would probably be dying. So in that way, my period is a very real reminder that I am healthy enough not to be dying. Therefore, despite having a very regular, heavy period, I don't mind it so much.

That makes sense in my head, so since I'm brilliant, it should make sense in yours.

I know a lot of women hate women who compulsively say negative things about their (or others') periods. These "period police" (I know, I'm sad to be using such lazy phrasing too) spend a lot of energy talking about how woman-empowering and groovy periods are. I think that's a great thing, and honestly, women really SHOULD be taught to think of their periods as something other than automatically awful. But you know what I hate? I hate people who tell women how to feel about their periods, period (nyuk). (Of course, by "people" I mean women, because it goes without question that men should not be commenting on periods, ever.) I don't want to dwell on this really, but if some woman hates her period, instead of condescendingly telling her to "change" her mind, why not consider giving her some medical information that might be useful for her? Like, fuck heat pads. Fuck even birth control pills. Why not give information about endometrium ablations? Huh? Can anyone explain to me why puberty/sex education often includes mention that, oh yeah, birth control pills can totally help you with heavy/painful periods, but no one bothers mentioning the best methods ever? God forbid we fuck with a woman's fertility. Pain, whatever! You might not be able to give birth! THE HORROR!

I know that when I see those birth control commercials for the pill that gives you only four periods (that's its selling point, I believe), I get uncomfortable because, first off, if you're taking a pill in order NOT to get pregnant, wouldn't it be smart to keep your period so you, like, know you're not pregnant? That said, that's where people also add, "Yeah, and it's so NOT NATURAL for a woman to stop her periods!" To which I say, who says? Why not use the medical establishment for what few perks it actually has?

Let's dwell on this some more, actually. I remember when I read Cunt by Inga Muscio, I was conflicted about her arguments against birth control and medical abortions -- basically, she believes that women should not put their own natural selves in the hands of (generally) male doctors and should learn to control their bodies themselves. But does anyone, I wonder, tell MEN that THEY should learn to control their bodies themselves, naturally, and ignore doctors? And exactly why is the medical establishment so de facto bad? Whatever happened to the arguments that Shulamith Firestone puts forth in The Dialectic of Sex, that women basically need to use technology to medicalize their reproduction so that they can disassociate from giving birth as much as men can? Why, in this day and age, should women feel like they have to become their own medical expert when we are privileged not to have to shoulder that burden anymore, and can spend our time doing something else, like learning about things OUTSIDE of our bodies?

I'm not saying, lest you think I am, that we should be ignorant of our own bodies. I'm just saying that it's not a crime if we are not total experts on them to the point where we are able to induce our own abortions. It shouldn't be, like, wow, that poor ignorant fool, she has to go to a DOCTOR for HER abortion. Wow, she goes the unnatural route of getting an ABLATION instead of using meditation to make her pain go away. Let's not get comfortable with that line of thought, okay?

10 Comments:

Blogger ms. jared said...

the wardrobe change is probably a good idea (it's effing cold up here!) but i swear i don't now anyone who uses "hella" anymore. that was like, so '94! OMG!!!

xoxo, jared

5:20 AM  
Blogger spotted elephant said...

(big hug)

Natural = good = bullshit. Suffering is natural, so is death. If there's a technology or medication to reduce suffering, I'm all for it.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Amy's Brain Today said...

Oh dear, I hate to be the voice of dissent here, but there's a whole section on my site of feminist critiques of the medical system. I would definitely recommend your reading more about it before deciding on a personal course of action, particularly with regard to a nonpathological body process like regular menstruation. While I do not EVER fault a woman for choosing to turn to modern medicine for relief of her suffering, it's also important to point out that that's usually the only choice she has--rather than one choice among a range of differently-administered alternatives. Allopathic western medicine has never been a friend to women, and as feminists, I don't think we can settle for that.

Shulamith Firestone was writing before it became clear the uses to which reproductive technologies would be put in a patriarchal society--namely, supporting men's ownership and power over women and children and making even less room for women to refuse motherhood entirely. I can't tell you how many people have said to me, "But just because you're a lesbian doesn't mean you can't have kids!" when PART of my lesbianism is the desire to direct my energies towards adult women. And let's not forget the other harms of modern medicine--side effects, animal testing, pollution, etc. etc. There's not too much good there, folks.

Counting the months 'til menopause,
Amy

1:49 PM  
Blogger Edith said...

Thanks for the hug, Spotted Elephant!

And Amy -- again, I put this under my general heading of, "Why do we critique this thing instead of that thing?" Less vaguely, the reason why I find it more fun to critique, say, sexism in atheism as opposed to sexism in religion is because everyone ALWAYS points out sexism in religion, leaves it at that, which gives everyone a lot of feel-goodness about being an atheist and thinking that their lack of religion, illogically, makes them non-sexist.

It is one of those disconnect things. If we attack Western medicine for sexism, we leave the impression that Eastern medicine and home remedies are "better" or "less" sexist. Generally, it's more like, we can't critique what we don't know. I don't have much evidence of all the crazy shit Eastern medicine has done to women, say, or midwives, or whatever. In a way, it almost seems like an unspoken argument is, well, if home remedies ARE sexist and/or harmful, it doesn't much matter because they aren't as "major" or even "effective" -- which is kind of like saying, in my book, that Western bias is not okay in choosing what belief system we ascribe to, but it IS okay when we choose what we decide to critique and not critique.

I just flat-out refuse to romanticize any ideologically "feminine" or "indie" or "socialist" belief system or pursuit as somehow less sexist or less harmful unless I'm given very good reasons to do so. Does that make any sense? It's not saying that modern, Western medicine isn't fucked up, it's just saying that it isn't a bad choice just because it's big and male and capitalist.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Yawning Lion said...

I think part of the problem is the medical establishment's ongoing refusal to listen to women's experiences of their bodies and to take them seriously. I, too, see my period as an indicator of health, and because mine are irregular, I'm often delighted to greet the first sign of red. Missed periods mean something is out of whack for me, but my doctor insists that I only "need" to have 4 periods per year. This is despite the fact that I explain (calmly, slowly, and in small words) that it is not normal FOR ME, that it is not okay FOR ME, that I do not want to take medication to FORCE menstruation, but that I want to bring my body to a state of health in which menstruation happens of its own accord. You make some really good points in this post, and I do wish that women received full information about available treatments, but I think Amy has a point too. The medical establishment isn't so nice to us - not that we shouldn't get what we can from it when we need to - and it should be an option among many not the ONLY option readily available to most women.

YL

4:45 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Good, thought-provoking post here, Edith.
I've a bit too much to say on this here, so once again I wrote me a post on this subject -- please check it out -- and thanks for the blog fodder :)

4:07 AM  
Blogger Amy's Brain Today said...

Edith, I wasn't saying that other medical systems were better or more feminist or what have you. Partly, I don't critique TCM (for example) because I don't know anything about it, but also there's a problem when white women critique sexism in other cultures. I'm not saying we CAN'T, I'm saying we often DO at the expense of FAILURE TO critique the sexism in "our" culture (witness Dubhe's excellent post on sexism in rock music and the ensuing discussion about hip-hop etc.) This pisses off women of color no end, as it should. So therefore it seems entirely appropriate for white feminists to focus on a critique of the misogyny in modern western medicine. And I actually WOULD say that the bigness and maleness and capitalist-ness of western medicine are important reasons WHY it is bad. I don't really understand your point there--I mean, isn't that kind of the basis of feminism? If a system is bad for women, if it supports male supremacy, then it is BAD?

My critique of western medicine does not imply an endorsement of other systems, even though I choose herbal and homeopathic remedies for myself (in part because I have no health insurance and they're cheaper, and in part because I am fortunate to enjoy fairly good health). I am just as skeptical of the romanticization of plant-based health care, "spiritual" healing, and other "natural" or alternative methods in a lot of feminist and lesbian communities. As in my latest post on my blog, I'm particularly sick and tired of the focus on the INDIVIDUAL and her responsibility for her own health to the point that "unhealthy" behaviors or states are SHOCKING, and lesbians and feminists are just as guilty of this as any MD. But I don't think that means that interfering in functional body processes is automatically a good thing, or a feminist thing, or something feminists should fail to cast our critical eye over.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Vicky Vengeance said...

Lovely, lovely Edith. Of course. I would also like to add that, if we're really going to go ahead and get TECHNICAL about it, it isn't "natural" for women to have as many periods as we do these days anyway. Historically, women got pregnant much more frequently than they do now thanks to feminism and to birth control and thus, they did not have nearly as many periods as some of us child-free, vibrator loving gals do. Further, due to ye olde bovine growth hormones and other such factors, women are starting to menstruate earlier and earlier in their lives. Thus, shortening your period or not having it altogether? Actually not as harmful as you might think.

Second, Inga Muscio is a very interesting read and of course we love her because she at least calls it like she sees it without holding back. And I am all for bleeding all over your kitchen floor and using your menstrual blood to finger paint! However! Do not try to guilt trip me for using a tampon instead of a sea sponge or a keeper or a luna pad or whatever the fuck new age thing they just invented that is like SOOO much better for the environment. If I have to bleed all over the place once a month by God I'll do it how I want to.

Further, I am so fucking tired of listening to a man complain about how he has a headache or a back ache or a cock ache or whatever the hell and THEN when I suggest he take an advil he looks at me all shocked. "Oh I NEVER take pain medication." News flash: That doesn't make you hardcore. It just makes you annoying to my brain.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

"'Oh I NEVER take pain medication.' News flash: That doesn't make you hardcore. It just makes you annoying to my brain."

SNORT! :)
As one who has just consumed 2400mg of ibuprofen in the past 24-hours -- for Part One of 500 upcoming dentals trips -- and as one who was tearfully let my MOM get on the phone to my dentist at 8:30PM last to call in something stronger, let me say pain meds when needed are a lifesaver.

2:09 AM  
Blogger soopermouse said...

periods... aargh

I am one of those "lucky" women who have to deal with the "monthly pain", twice a month- ovulation is for me almost as painful as the period itself. However, hat does make the best contraceptive ever.
From my personal experience with Western alopathic medicine and my eastern european plant based medicine, I think there is good and bad in both. A lot of the mysoginsitic uses of any type of medicine are down to the actual practitioner IMHO, and whilst I do see that there seems to be a hell of a lot of antiwoman attitude in western alopathic medicine, I'm all for using what one can.

I also do believe that the whole evilization of the women's period is to be blamed. I know a lot of men that tremble and give me disgusted looks at the terms "period" and "ovulation"... welll ... another fucking newsflash: these are the things that MAKE a woman's body work.

Yes, it's painful, I retain 10 to 15 pounds of water and I feel like being dead for the course... but this is my body, with its goods and bads. At least it works.

And I am working on putting together a small romanian herbal guide which might be useful. I have an infusion that takes care of fibromatous uteruses and a tea that help relieve ovarian cysts... without getting something else sick in the process like alopathic medicine does.

1:26 PM  

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