Menstruation: The Bloody Reality
Why did I include this rather messy subject that is usually kept out of polite conversation as well as public discourse in my novel?
After all, there’s something unsavory about bodily fluids, and do we really need to know what goes on in our heroine’s bathroom, not to mention underwear?
Perhaps this discussion makes the reader feel a bit uneasy — ready to switch to a more pleasant subject such as the history of fur muffs. This wouldn’t be surprising, considering how taboo the subject has been for centuries.
But it can’t be denied that menstrual blood has an incredibly prominent presence in every woman’s life.
When I say this, I’m not referring to mood swings or PMS. I’m not even talking about motherhood and fertility. After all, not every woman becomes pregnant or has a child.
Every female who reaches puberty will, however, have her period year after year after year. So when I say “prominent presence,” I’m talking about the mundane, practical experience of having blood seeping out of one’s vagina for around five days, every month, for years. That’s a lot of dripping.
Historically, this constant “visitor” to the female side of the population has been kept remarkably under wraps, leading to what I think of as a communal act of subterfuge.
If martians came to earth and read every novel and diary written before Harriet the Spy came out in 1964, it’s possible they’d have no idea that menstruation was a regular part of a woman’s daily life.
If menstruation did come up, it would most likely be referred to indirectly as something that has stopped happening because a woman got pregnant.
Even the non-fiction realm provides scant written evidence of women dealing with their periods. The subject does come up regularly in medical textbooks of centuries past, but it’s generally discussed in the context of illness — both physical and mental — and is saturated (sorry, couldn’t resist) with misinformation.
This state of affairs changed very gradually as the 20th century progressed — mostly thanks to the marketing campaigns of sanitary napkin and tampon companies. These businesses overcame a lot of resistance from the public to any kind of public acknowledgment that women everywhere were “on the rag.”
Still, the act of menstruation remains a covert one and has not shed (sorry, couldn’t resist) long held associations with dirtiness and shame.
My heart goes out to all the women who’ve had to struggle to get information about their bodies that would’ve made their lives easier.
Today, women are much more open about everything having to do with their bodies than previous generations, and I’m all for encouraging that. Which is part of the reason why I felt compelled to include this aspect of a woman’s experience in my novel.
Well, now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about the history of feminine hygiene products while researching my novel Astor Place Vintage. To continue on to Part 2 of my history of feminine hygiene products click HERE.