If Stags Could Menstruate
“Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much. Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood… Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, [and] John Wayne Maxi Pads.”
— AN EXCERPT FROM "IF MEN COULD MENSTRUATE" BY GLORIA STEINEM
Why is it that even at our elite liberal arts college, we’re unable to say, “I’m having debilitating period cramps and cannot make it to class?”
It is not news that CMC was a men’s college. How different would our campus and country look if men were the ones menstruating?
If Robert Day menstruated, Roberts Pavilion would have sanitary napkins and tampons available in every restroom. We would have ‘period friendly’ workout classes. If stags menstruated, we would have TNCs celebrating their synced menstruation cycles (themed cocktails would be Bloody Mary, of course). The Hub and Huntley would sell tampons, duh. RAs would keep tampons outside their rooms, in addition to condoms and candy.
For decades, women have popped painkillers and gone to work without missing a beat. We’ve whispered in hushed tones to ask for tampons. Our society rewards women for ‘being like men’, expecting menstruating people to ‘just deal with it’ and suffer through cramps, fatigue, headaches, and mood swings — all with a smile on our face. We make up excuses such as, “I’m sick/I have the flu/I have a headache” instead of simply saying, “I have terrible cramps.”
Conversations around periods are taboo. They are avoided to not make others (usually men) feel uncomfortable. Would you feel uncomfortable if a colleague said, “We’re going to have to postpone because I’m having debilitating period cramps”? Would you, then, think they just need to toughen up? Take a painkiller and get going?
Many in our community may suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or dysmenorrhea (painful cramps). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, More than half of the people who menstruate have some pain for 1-2 days each month. According to research by John Guillebaud, a professor of reproductive health at University College London, severe pain during periods can be equal to that of a heart attack. Additionally, these statistics and conversations around menstruation are largely exclusionary, failing to include transgender, gender non-binary and genderqueer folks.
We cannot claim to be a forward-thinking institution and not talk about menstruation. Granted, there are people who have higher pain thresholds or do not get excruciating period cramps, but to be truly inclusive, we must acknowledge that our bodies are built differently. Those who menstruate (women, transgender and gender non-binary folks) have a set of extra challenges than those who don’t. It is a matter of equity.
I am not only advocating for students, but for the college’s staff and faculty members as well. This pandemic has pushed us to work from home and use various asynchronous methods of instruction and learning – many of which can be included to accommodate period leaves.
However, this still would not be enough. The option to work from home is a privilege. We need to find better solutions for our building attendants and dining hall staff – many of whom are women of color. Many faculty and staff also might be going through menopause, which causes hot flashes, headaches. This is something we neither account for nor talk about at all.
We should have sanitary napkins and tampons available in the restrooms. We should have more conversations, surveying students, faculty and staff on how to address their needs. We should consider it normal and acceptable when someone needs to be excused from class or postpone a meeting because they have terrible cramps and cannot get out of bed. Maybe next year, we can have period pain simulator machines along with the massage tables on campus!
We should be talking about periods, and we must begin now.