The Messed Up History of Menstruation & How We Can Reclaim It

Brazen History of Menstruation 20200303

This month, our founder Kirsten is visiting a handful of startup offices to talk about the history of menstruation, how it holds us back, and what we can do to reclaim it. Since we’ve got a remote team, a global community, and a real sense of FOMO, we asked her to share the key parts of her talk with us. For a little lesson on the absurd history of period talk and some let’s-shake-things-up motivation, watch the video below and/or read the expanded text version beneath it.

March is Women's History Month and one thing I think we should be talking about is the history of the menstrual cycle, how it's holding us back, and what we should be doing to reclaim it.

Let me tell you a little bit about what's been going on. During the first 1,500 years of written language, there was radio silence. Nobody was talking about periods. The first mention of menstruation in text (or at least the earliest mention we can find) is in the book of Leviticus where it said, "That thing is so vile, it's as vile as a menstruating woman." Literally, that is the first recorded thing that anybody ever wrote about us people with periods; that we are vile. And then, in the third century, Aristotle wrote, "Women are the inferior species because they menstruate."

Can you believe this? Women are the inferior species because they menstruate? We are feeble because our bodies perform the biological function necessary to create life and keep our species going?

I believe that the way that we talked about women and menstruation informed how women related to who they were, how valuable they were, and how powerful they were. It stuck to us like glue and even today, the history of menstruation’s negative framing continues to stick to us. It’s at the root of the shame we were conditioned to feel about it and, by extension, the culture of hiding our periods. (Why do you think we whisper when we ask for a tampon? Why do you think we hide it in our sleeves or pockets en route to the school/office/restaurant bathroom?)

And it’s not just the messaging from a bygone era. Even now, when we walk down the aisle at the pharmacy, we’re bombarded with products for “sanitization” and “deodorization.” We’re told because we menstruate, somehow we're dirty or filthy and we need to be cleaned up, shut up, and sanitized.

This has to stop.

One way you can help put an end to it is by talking about periods more often and more openly. Talk about it with your friends, your mother, your grandmothers, your daughters, your partners, and even with the non-menstruating humans in your life. It’s only a taboo as long as we keep quiet about it.

If silence, discretion, and complacency are our M.O., we’ll never change anything. We will still be at home, curled up with our hot water bottles.

Did you know, in the US alone, 80 million of us suffer from period problems every single month? If we don’t normalize period talk, only a select few of us will get the information needed to DO something about it. But if we open up and talk about it, we can spread the message that cramps and PMS are not “normal” (common yes, normal no), not healthy, and not necessary. Imagine how much more we could achieve, as individuals and as a group, if 80 million of us were freed from cyclical suffering.

A future where people feel GREAT while on their periods is what drives me. But, let’s get back to the history of menstruation because there’s one more important thing to know: From the third century through to the eighth century, people were seriously afraid of menstrual blood. Not exaggerating, it was one of the things people feared the most.

The myths about all the things that period blood could supposedly do are ridiculous: It could melt a penis. It contained gonorrhea. Women who were menstruating were considered dark gods by some cultures. If it got on food, it would poison the food. It could kill crops. It turned wine to vinegar. It was some serious powerful shit.

I like to think about what would have happened if women had decided to use this to their advantage. Imagine a fourth century man messing with a woman… what if she just put her hands in her pants, grabbed some menstrual blood and said, "Back off, pal, because this is going in your eyes if you get any closer to me." He would have thought she was mad, but he probably would have also feared her. I think that if that would've happened back in the third or fourth century, the power dynamic would have been totally different; women could have ruled the world.

We can’t travel back in time, but as far as ruling the world goes, better late than never. We don’t need to threaten people with our blood, but let’s own our periods and embrace our power. Let’s talk about periods and heal the period problems that keep us from operating at full force.

Share this video (and post) so we can start spreading the world about how the history of the menstrual cycle is holding us back and what we can do to reclaim it.