Is Menstruation A Girls-Only Gift Or A Modern Inconvenience?

Menstruation usually sucks, except when you think you might be accidentally up the stick. But take the annoying physicality of expelling uterine tissue out of your vagina, add in cramps, bloating, headaches, mood swings, ruined underwear and the occasional odor and you've got a recipe for a major monthly headache. But would you ever want to eliminate your periods entirely? Salon is just the latest media outlet to pose that question, motivated by the sales pitches accompanying Lybrel, a pharmaceutical intended to allow women to avoid menstruating altogether. (Seasonale, a birth-control pill that reduces a woman's periods to 4 times a year, became available to American women in 2003...with Sex And The City writer Candace Bushnell as spokeswoman).

Although the marketing behind both Lybrel and Seasonale suggests that, without her period, a woman can be more productive, "in control" or desirable, the question, of course, is whether exerting (pharmaceutical) control over our reproductive systems is the ultimate expression of feminism or the ultimate betrayal of it. Salon's Tracy Clark-Fiory describes the shilling behind Seasonale thusly: "The pink pill, tag-lined 'Fewer Periods. More Possibilities,' was promoted as a lifestyle choice. The drug's current Web site offers a period planner allowing women to schedule their cycle around 'vacations, business travel, romantic encounters, and family reunions.' In other words, there is no need for public premenstrual breakdowns, missing a meeting because of debilitating cramps or dampening a sexual flame by having to bashfully explain it's 'that time of the month' The take-away marketing message: A woman in control has menstruation under control."

Clark-Fiory also quotes Mary Vavrus of the University of Minnesota, who likens menstruation-suppression to cosmetic, "objectifying" procedures such as breast implant surgery and describes it as a step backwards for post-pubescent women: "It's infantilizing, [the message that] you don't have to go to that next stage of maturation, you can hover in this liminal state between childhood and mature adulthood." Adds Karen Houppert, author of The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation: "The problem is the 'welcome to womanhood' idea is not such a welcome thought to [young girls]. It's viewed as a restrictive role. It means girls who are 12 and 13 are leaving their childhood aside for other concerns that have to do with appearance, boys and weight."

The End Of Menstruation [Salon]

[Illustration by Cristy Road]