Mother’s Day is around the corner. Soon we’ll all be out buying flowers and chocolates for our moms and trying to make up for the way we talked to her in our teens (or is that just me?). If we aren’t already out buying something for mom, then a whole bunch of really emotional commercials are going to try to guilt us into doing so.
While we often see mothers celebrated in media, usually for their hard work and dedication in the home, these ads tend to avoid any of the messy biological stuff that tends to go hand and hand with motherhood. You want examples? Well how about breastfeeding and periods?
I realize some mothers can’t or don’t breastfeed, but there is still a pretty big chunk of women who do. I remember it being a very sneaky affair when I was a kid, most women I knew would sling a large cloth over their shoulder or retreat to the bathroom or bedroom. Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more about moms who refuse to hide when their child is needing some nourishment. Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t seem to respond well to public breastfeeding. One Minnesota mom was kicked out of a restaurant for nursing. Another Michigan mom was almost arrested for nursing in a Target. A group of moms from Chicago were even threatened by strangers while doing a public “nurse-in” protest.
I touched on the West’s cultural shame around breastfeeding (all while featuring sexualized breasts in the vast majority of advertisements) in my previous post on female nudity. In case I wasn’t successful in pointing out our ridiculous double standard, perhaps Sparrow Folk can help with their song “Ruin Your Day”.
I realize with the beautiful gift of adoption that menstruation is not necessary in order to become a mom. That being said, menstruation is a pivotal part of the birth process. Unfortunately, periods are still the epitome of gross in most cultures. In Western media, even poop jokes are more acceptable.
I get why menstruation has such a bad rap. I get that it’s a pain, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
In a hilarious way, it is also kind of an awesome way to be part of the female community. That whole thing about syncing onto the same cycle as other women? Yeah, that is definitely true. Suffering from your period can feel like some sort of secret club, especially when you know your roommate/sister/best friend is suffering too.
So is there really any problem with the way people are grossed out by the monthly flow? Or the way all feminine hygiene commercials feature that inoffensive blue liquid? Or that those commercials aren’t allowed to ever refer to “down there”, much less say the dreaded V word on TV?
Yes. It matters. Because in an unconscious way it affects the way society see women. Most religions in the world still hold to the idea that a woman is unclean during her monthly cycle, which affects her ability to participate in spiritual activities. Even those without any religious history quickly learn to hide the monthly event from male family members and friends. While a girl is told that menstruation is her first step into womanhood, she is also often told it is a dirty secret. In many countries this means young girls will drop out of school when they get their first period, because they can’t care for their personal hygiene discreetly while at school.
According to UNICEF, “one in ten schoolgirls in Africa miss classes or drop out completely due to their period, and substitute pads or tampons for less safe and less absorbent materials such as rags, newspaper or bark”. This has led some people, like the media-dubbed “Menstrual Man”, to fight for a way to overcome this bizarre taboo and provide better products for these women.
Personally, I want female body processes to become less taboo. Breastfeeding and menstruation are both bizarre and amazing processes that only the female body can accomplish. They are also both deeply intwined with the female side of reproduction.
Doesn’t that make them at least somewhat worthy of respect?