Whether yours was harrowing or joyful or both, unless you’re a guy who missed the fun, you probably remember your first period. I’m excited to read “My Little Red Book,” a new collection of 92 anecdotes from women of all ages about their first encounter with Aunt Flo, edited by 18-year-old Rachel Kauder Nalebuff.
A New York Times review says of the book’s juicy collection of stories, “it is hard to imagine any woman, from the most straitlaced and body-denying to the most uninhibited and body-embracing, who will not read right through it with pure enjoyment, small flashes of recognition and the urge to buy it for every female preteen in sight.”
Menstruation is the ultimate open secret of women–most of us do it, we often complain about it, but very few of us talk about what it’s really like, what happened when it first started, and how, for those of us who have lost it at some point (temporarily or permanently) feel about that loss. Our red/brown frenemy.
As someone who got it early (age 10), lost it early (age 31, to chemo), and got it back (age 33), I’m particularly fascinated with menstruation. But then again I was a Women’s Studies minor who lived at my alma mater’s Womyn’s Center for a while and met my science requirement with a class I created called “The Biology and Culture of Menstruation and Menopause.” I made a curriculum around books with names like “Dragontime,” “Period,” and “Her Blood Is Gold.” Not to mention “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” (which actually touched me more for its depiction of divorce than belted maxipads).
Because of that, I was really irked by a different Times article from last week that said of this new book, “But . . . periods? Really? What’s next, a collection of ruminative essays about bowel movements?” Arg. I find it utterly offensive to compare menstruation with more mundane, gender-shared bodily functions. Mainly because although it’s bodily, for me it’s also spiritual. As many cultures have appreciated–both to the gain and detriment of women–menstruation is a powerful, mysterious thing. Some religions consider women too powerful to touch because of it–during or ever. And other traditions see it as a time when women are more receptive and sensitive to our intuition and the divine.
It’s different for every woman, but for me it makes me slow down, throw my legs up a wall while I lie on my back and breathe. It causes me to cry about the things I’ve needed to cry about all month and couldn’t quite. It’s a little aching womb-secret that does feel powerful and mysterious and full of potential. When I lost this monthly visitor for a while I missed it, like a difficult, needy friend who suddenly stops calling.
What’s your relationship to this monthly reminder of womanhood, whether she still visits or not?