There’s an old cowboy song called “Red River Valley” that includes these lines:
For a long time, my darling, I’ve waited
For the sweet words you never would say
Now at last all my fond hopes have vanished
For they say that you’re going away
Now history tells us the title probably refers to the Red River in Manitoba, but as someone who almost completed a minor in Feminist Literary Criticism, I can tell that this is a lyrical explanation of the mood changes that can be caused by menstruation.
Menstruation. It’s a word we don’t say very much in polite society. Is it because of that weird u that doesn’t really get pronounced even though it seems like it should? Is that why we rarely say it despite close to two billion people on earth spend two months a year doing it?
Of course, that’s not the reason. It’s more likely because it has to do with downstairs lady parts and even though there’s about three and a half billion of us walking around with said parts in our pants, they don’t come up too frequently in conversations, until a scared man gets called one or a strong man feels like pounding one.
Isn’t that lovely?
Anyway, I am going to talk about menstruation for a moment. It’s relatively simple: the uterus has a lining where an egg, if fertilised, hangs out to get nutrients and whatnot. Now uteri like to keep a tidy shop so if there’s no blastocyst in need, it cleans house, abandoning that lining and getting to work on a nicer one with a little more kerb appeal for the next month’s possible buyer. (Please note: this is a metaphor. Do not consider burning candles or baking bread in your uterus to increase the chances of a fertilised egg moving in.)
That’s all menstruation is, the shedding of the uterine lining. Nothing magical or mystical or mysterious about it. Just like we shed thousands of dead skins cells each day, women’s bodies are just eliminating something that is no longer needed.
Except it’s not quite as simple as that, is it? No.
Firstly, because it’s gross. Let’s be fair, it is. The endometrium is a mucous membrane, and when the word mucous makes an appearance, it’s never pleasant. What’s expelled each month is basically blood and tissue, which is, for most people, kind of disgusting. And painful too. Unlike with a nose, a good blow won’t clear this passage. It often takes uterine contractions, and those can hurt.
So what comes out and the process of getting it out aren’t the nicest. Plus the place out of which it comes is generally a private, members-only club, so could that be why people (and when I say people I mean men) struggle to talk about it? No, because those things could describe urine and excrement as well, and god knows, men love talking toilet business.
What makes menstruation different is because men know hormones are involved. Some men get confused by the concept of hormones. They think there are two hormones and each functions only as an excuse: the male hormone makes them think about sex at inappropriate times and the female hormone makes women bitchy once a month (or when moderating presidential candidate debates).
Some men think this because they are idiots.
The human body is pretty fucking complicated. With the greatest respect for and the least amount of interest in the complexity of science, let’s just boil it down to this: the human body is full of chemicals that move around our bloodstream telling different parts to do this or not do that. Essentially, they regulate us — all our systems, our sleep, our growth, our metabolism, our behaviour, and our moods. There’s a whole mess of them in there, and they control a lot.
So yes, sometimes oestrogen can affect a woman’s mood. It’s true; sometimes you’re just going to have to keep waiting for those sweet words I’m not going to say. But guess what, men? You’ve got oestrogen in your body as well. So there. And that testosterone you’re so proud of? It does more than just explain your boner, you know. Just to pick one example purely at random, some studies have shown a connection between testosterone and risky financial decisions. And women have testosterone in them as well, which may explain why I gave Christopher twenty pounds for his taxi ride home even though there’s a chance I’ll never see the change from that. Perhaps it was testosterone what made me do it.
Except probably not. Because even though our hormones do affect the way we act and feel, there are some things that we can control. For example, in stressful situations, our autonomic nervous systems use hormones to prepare a fight-or-flight response, but most of us don’t punch the television or run out of the room and hide just because the news upsets us. We don’t always eat when we’re hungry or leave the Sunday sermon early just because we’ve had a rush of sexual arousal (except that one time, but he was flying back to Uruguay that afternoon so time was of the essence). Even if my oestogen levels are playing havoc with my mood or I’ve got blood coming out of my wherever, I’m still a professional at work, and I will keep signing books until that queue is gone or I’ve at least earned enough to cover the costs of this new dress.
As you all know, I’m no scientist and the few I’ve slept with didn’t do a lot of talking while we were together, so I know my explanation does not reflect the full intricacies of the human body, its processes and their effects. However, I’m hoping I’ve at least made you realise that menstruation, while not the loveliest part of a woman’s experience, is natural and nothing to be afraid of.
Unless you’re a misogynist billionaire racist. But if you are, I imagine you’ve got quite a few items on your list of things to be worried about, like maybe why do I continue to embarrass myself and other Americans on an international stage or if it’s really true that the taller the tower, the smaller the penis. How about you get those other issues sorted before you start sharing your views on menstruation, yeah?