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Pushback on Period Suppression
Is it a solution for "women's problems" or "women as problem"?
Today marks the end of my maternity leave and my return to work at Braver Angels. I have a better arrangement than most moms, but feeding a baby, doing my job, and running side projects is a lot to pack into a day! (Especially while still getting up multiple times a night).
Running Other Feminisms means saying no to some freelance writing and speaking gigs. The substack is unpaywalled—my favorite part of doing this is reading your thoughtful comments and conversations. I run on a PBS model, supported by readers who choose to support what they can read for free.
For those who are able to be paid subscribers, thank you for helping me pick this project over others when I have a free hour.
I’d like to spend Monday and Thursday this week on your responses to “Is Eliminating Periods the Best We Can Offer?” I was fascinated (and angry!) about the proposal to suppress women’s natural cycles by default, because I see it as of a piece with solving women’s problems by removing what makes us distinctively women.
This is the idea that animates Other Feminisms: Women deserve support as women, and it’s an injustice to expect us to instead fit a narrow male-tailored normal.
I’d like to focus today’s comment round up on the range of pushback some of you offered, especially to this section of my post:
I’m troubled by the drive to eliminate interruptions; to make sure that we can always be going full tilt. I don’t want to help women “catch up” by eliminating the parts of our life that call for a pause. I want to work to build a gentler society that accommodates a range of reasons people can’t (and shouldn’t) go 24/7.
When I had a period, my symptoms were all well within the range of normal and probably on the milder side, but I am still very happy not to have a period now that I have an IUD. It's bad to use birth control to cover up the symptoms of a disorder like PCOS or endometriosis instead of treating it, but it's also important to acknowledge that a typical menstrual cycle entails some amount of suffering which may not be entirely necessary. Framing the alleviation of this suffering as "catching up" to men is rooted in toxicity, but for women like me who have tolerated hormonal birth control very well, it is an alleviation of unnecessary suffering.
“Another Leah” (who is very patient about having to use that handle) added
Having the option of using birth control to stop period or manage symptoms is valuable.
I don't care if I'd get two days off to pause and handle an intense period; I'd rather skip the period and continue on with normal life. It's not about capitalism or profit or going full-tilt 24/7. I just dislike managing heavy periods and the discomforts and anxieties that come with them.
And Leo framed it this way:
I'm also utterly perplexed by why the author wants people who get periods to continually have to have their lives interrupted for the sake of rest. I wouldn't sign up for a service, like a rental car agency, or an internet provider, that said "you can use this anytime, but for a little while each month, often not at a time you can predict, the service would be unavailable" and think, "oh perfect! I'm glad there are times when I can't drive a car, or my internet is down, so I can remember to take a break." If you had a choice between a service that was available 99% of the time and 85% of the time, it's a no brainer for most people.
These are all good points of pushback. As Benedick says in Much Ado About Nothing, “Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.” Periods aren’t a hard part of my life (I have had very few in the last several years!), and I don’t want to minimize how bad a difficult cycle can be.
Migraines can interrupt our lives and our expectations of perpetual availability and productivity, and they are terrible. I’m just hesitant to treat all periods as primarily a problem to be avoided.
To Leo’s point, I don’t think “available 99% of the time” is ever an option for human beings, period or no. So I’m always a bit suspicious of a fix for everything that might require us to take downtime. But I do want more of our downtime to be chosen leisure, not enforced by infirmity.
Courtney (and others) pointed out that we’re far from what might be natural to us, period suppression or no:
One of the most fascinating things i've ever read on the subject is this Malcolm Gladwell piece from 2000 on the development of the pill, the period timeline it gives you, etc.
Prior to industrialization, women would begin menstruating several years later, cycle less often due to less reliable nutrition, and spend much more of their life pregnant, which means the average woman in preindustrial society would menstruate (and ovulate, and etc) on average 100 times in a lifetime and the average woman in industrial society 400—which is one possible reason why things like ovarian cancer, PCOS etc, are on the rise—but what that tells me is that the thing our bodies do under the stimulus of industrial society, reliable nutrition etc, is already an evolutionary aberration—which doesn't necessarily mean we should run out and throw MORE chemicals at the problem, just that normal isn't necessarily the recourse we might think it is?
This is a similar question to the one many environmentalists face. How do you work for restoration when you’ve broken the old equilibrium too badly to be able to bring it back? What do you do when you don’t know for sure what the old equilibrium was, what hidden supports it required, or how it was experienced?