If Men Could Menstruate …

The Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) current exhibit, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects, in New York, concerns itself with the communication between people and things, featuring objects that have a “direct interaction” with their users.

One object with a very direct interaction should be particularly intriguing to feminists: the Menstruation Machine.

The aluminum/acrylic/electrical device, created by British/Japanese artist Sputniko! (Hiromi Ozaki), includes a blood-dispensing mechanism and electrodes that stimulate the lower abdomen, simulating the pain and bleeding women experience with their period. “It is designed to be worn by men, children, postmenopausal women or whoever else wants to experience menstruation,” reads the online description.

A music video accompanying the machine shows an androgynous young man named Takashi putting on makeup, a wig and the chastity belt-like device before going to a mall with a girlfriend.

So is the machine just a way for men to experience menstruation? Actually, no, it’s also a way to address the question of why, given all sorts of hormonal advances, women are still menstruating. Sputniko! elaborates on her website, arguing that menstruation is now unnecessary and pointing out that the original birth control pill did not do away with it completely only because its absence might have worried potential consumers. New Continuous Birth Control pills such as Seasonale, Seasonique, and Yaz reduce the number of periods a year to just four. Lybrel suppresses menstruation altogether.

Is menstruation still a necessary part of identifying as a woman? Should it be? Are we afraid that if we decide not to menstruate we will be looked on as lesser women by society? Do we, like Takashi, consider menstruation to be a “female experience,” and as such, one that we should go through every month?

Or is menstruation punishing and restricting women by telling biological females that it is our duty to menstruate to prove our femininity–but then ostracizing from the sisterhood transwomen, post-menopausal women and other women who are unable or unwilling to menstruate?

Please, tell us what you think–is menstruation a necessary or unnecessary part of femalehood?

Photo of empty pill packet by flickr user M.Markus under Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. The hormonal coil sorts out menstruation. I’ve had one for nearly a year and my periods have almost completely gone. I can’t believe I didn’t get one earlier and that more women don’t have one.

    • Does it have any noticeable side effects or any side affects mentioned by the maker of this product? I am a teenager from a South Asian family…and every time I mention Period eliminating birth control my mother freaks out and says oh no! they all have bad side effects. To that particular concern I give her credit…but some of the objection also I am sure has to do with some sort of cultural inhibition she has as a result of different culture she grew up in. But personally, every time I have period and cramps in accompaniment, I vow to remove my uterus from me. But in general I think that when one has no intention of conceiving, there should be no need to suffer the pain and inconvenience of a period.

    • Is that the Mirena? I have it too. My periods have also stopped. I still get monthly symptoms though. The benefit is 5 years ‘set and forget’.

  2. I don’t see how “menstruation” itself can be blamed for oppressing women; it is, after all, a physiological process, not an evil plot. I think it’s *attitudes and beliefs* about menstruation that are responsible for any stigma that menstruating women experience. The menstruation machine project is a very interesting and creative way to stimulate a discussion about these attitudes and beliefs.

  3. Menstruation is great. It is the fountain of youth and I dread the day it will come to an end.

  4. Vegan Power says:

    i have medical condition that prevents me from menstrating, being fertile and being able to produce a child. at 31yrs old being told that i may or may not be able to have a child an would only be able to if i used medical intervention was very devasting. the possiblity of not being able to have children does seriously depress me and make me feel like less than a woman. part of being a woman is having the monthly cycle, and producing babies. having the CHOICE to stop the cycle is fine, and should be accepted and so should the choice to have the cycle naturally. however in a society that labels our periods as medical problems and being a woman a medical condition i wonder if stopping our cycles is really the best idea. i mean changing the natural flow of things so that we can better operate in a world designed w men’s bodies in mind. again WE are asked to CHANGE to fit into the man’s world rather than the world changing so that it suits us. not having my cycle for over a year now i have realised it is cheaper because i dont have to buy all the products to keep myself ‘clean.’ i dont have to buy new underwear to hide the ‘nasty stains’ left by my monthly cycle. but maybe because i CANT have my period i often miss it and do feel like im alone in the world of women. i dont get to join in with the women who are complaining about PMS ect. i feel left out. and not being able to have a baby also makes me feel like an empty womb. we should have a choice to not have or have but we should also wonder WHY we are choosing to NOT have something that is a natural and once celebrated part of being a woman that is now considered a nasty smell that should be hidden, medicated and shamed.

    thats my menstral rant :)

    • I don’t understand why some people make such a big deal as if bleeding is such a negative thing. I personally cherish my period. I feel powerful and connected to the world. It works beautifully in enhancing my practice of Wicca. Menstrual blood has a rich and useful history among pagan folk. The transitions between maiden, mother and crone status are marked by beautiful rites of passage. Not to mention the uses of menstrual blood–and no, I’m not joking.

  5. i for one could not take the pill-ever. so the period was and is a part of my life even into my mid fifties. it does not seem safe to just do away with a natural part of a biological function. period. what are the health risks, and does reprogramming your body not cause serious problems down the road? having a period is not a choice-it is a biological function that for better or usually for worse-we endure. no pill is going to make me more or less of a woman just because i forgo what happens naturally to me. when it all stops, that too is a natural chain of events. my body is beautifully and wonderfully made to do what it does. deal with it.

  6. Before I got married I would have never gone with a pill-pack where I didn’t menstruate- I would have been too worried that that would mean I was pregnant! Btw, I think this would be a good idea for men to get the idea of what it’s like to have a period!

  7. Menstruation is a necessary, natural biological function. It has nothing to do with “proving femininity”. If someone wants to take pills (risks and all) to stop theirs, then that’s a personal choice.

  8. “Is menstruating punishing and restricting women by telling biological females that it is our duty to menstruate…” Ok, I find this a little alarming since I’ve had a hard time to identify positively with menstruation. Especially because this statement personifies the act of menstruating…IT thinks.

    I am sent messages through the media that I should buy this or that product, I should be perky and happy with just the right tampon. Pretend that it doesn’t exist. I am told by my peers that menstruation is dirty and gross and undesirable because it has been just as reinforced in their mind as it was in mine. So is it really the act of menstruating that ostracises women, or is it just plain society that defines menstruation as dirty and undesirable?

    Now this isn’t to say that women should have to be frowned upon for choosing the other option, which are those types of pills. The more feminine agency, in my view, the better.

    Where I’m coming from is that in one of my cultures (mixed decent, yo!), menstruation was highly regarded, and a source of power (in a sense).It was also a means of cleansing the body. And of course rest was a big part of the experience. So I can’t see menstruation as a biological punishment. I have already received that message before.

    Even so, I still find it interesting that men out there want to experience menstruation. I still hesitate to say that menstruation is a useless function for women. For example, one time tonsils were thought to be useless, when in fact it served a function. Menstruation, in my view must have an important function if it is included in female biology. Let’s give female bodies that much.

  9. I always hated getting my period. I’ve been on bc since I was 17 that stopped mine. First depo provera then an iud. People always told me I was weird and asked why I hated my period so much. Glad it turns out that I’m not the weird one! if I never have another one I won’t be sad!

    • That is exactly what I believe. Why can’t we ‘defy’ nature? Medicine defies it all the time. Choosing to have an abortion ‘defies’ nature. Women are not defined by nature. We are not defined by our ovaries, vagina, breasts or uterus.

  10. Menstruation is natural. We shouldn’t blame or try to defy nature because of the way women are sometimes used for their bodies. If we want our bodies to be respected, we should respect them ourselves. The pill is directly related to hormone imbalances that can have serious adverse effects on our health. It’s also a huge contributor to water pollution. Menstruation doesn’t make or break a woman, but it seems a violation of the female body to try to chemically change it. Why should we even need to or want to change our bodies? The entire notion seems counterproductive to the feminist movement. We’re born the way we’re born, and that means menstruating. If we don’t want the menstrual cycle to be held against us, we should embrace it and let it empower us, not hide it as though ashamed of showing signs of being female. Doing so just implies that it’s better to be male, which simply enables sexism and misogynistic ideals. Periods aren’t dirty.

    • Jasmine, my thoughts exactly. Having a menstruation is not an illness. It is natural. Part of us. Our bodies. Why deny that?

  11. I hate my period because it’s painful, messy, and inconvenient. But I’m not sure eliminating it is wise. Call me a luddite, a technophobe, or whatever, but when we start suppressing normal biological functions that profound, I’m not totally on board. Our conventional medicine is still in it’s infancy in many ways. Pharmacology most definitely. This is a “time will tell” thing, I realise, but I’m prone to err on the side of caution. What I’d really like to see is less fear of blood, and perhaps an investigation into why westerners have such terrible symptoms associated with menstruation.

    I’m not poo-pooing the pill. It gave women some control over their reproductive lives, and that’s great. But there’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me about how the onus is on the woman to spend money, take hormones, and increase her risk of clots, weight gain, etc. Limited liberation brought to you by big pharma.

  12. Menstruation is natural. We shouldn’t blame or try to reverse nature for the way women are sometimes used for their bodies. If we really want society to respects us and our bodies, we should respect ourselves and bodies first. The pill is directly related to hormone imbalances that can have serious adverse effects on our health. Also, it’s a major contributor to water pollution, which screws the entire world living population–women, men, children, animals, plants, everything. The fact of the matter is that many women take the pill completely unnecessarily, such as for acne or cramps. Unless someone has a medical condition, when we take care of our bodies and we’re nutritionally aligned (and I mean legitimately nutritionally aligned, not aligned in the way food corporations want you to be), such “ailments” are either barely noticeable or eliminated entirely. Women are obviously still women if they can’t menstruate, but it’s a violation of the female body to chemically change it. We’re born the way we’re born, and for most of us, that means we menstruate. We can’t punish our bodies for the way society likes to label our periods. We’re supposed to change society, not ourselves. The menstrual cycle is distinctly female, and when we try to suppress it, we inadvertently imply that it’s better to be male, which enables sexism and misogynistic ideals. Periods are neither dirty nor a curse–to argue otherwise is to argue that nature simply had it in for women–so don’t treat them as such.

  13. We shouldn’t blame or try to coerce women into respecting the way their bodies are used by nature. How can we respect our bodies if we can’t respect ourselves, freely?

  14. Jo Sanderson says:

    I couldn’t care less if I menstruate, I’d much rather not needlessly stuff my body with hormones.

  15. Debra Seldner says:

    I’m definitely in the “periods are a natural part of life & no big deal” school of thought, with hefty side helpings of distrust where Big Pharma is concerned,especially as a DES daughter, along with resentment of old folkloric negatives about menstruation (perpetrated primarily by men), especially cultures that consider menstruating women “unclean” & capable of contaminating everything around them. To an extent, & no matter what we 2nd wave feminists propounded in the ’70s, biology IS destiny — even one of the authors of that seminal ’70s publication “Our Bodies, Our Selves,” did a 180 on that recently. We are women & we need to embrace who we are & live our lives fully & joyfully as such. I totally cannot embrace those who only seem to think menstruation is painful, messy disgusting, men should “suffer” it, too, etc., therefore I don’t love the artist’s POV. (Also, honestly, I’ve never cared about whether men can experience what makes us special or not — they have their own makeup & destinies to fulfill.) You’ve helped open my eyes, though, to how women who were not born as such feel about it, or biological women who feel they should have been born male, but I will do some reading & try to expand my thinking horizons.

  16. I, personally, kind of like having my period. It makes me feel like my body is functioning normally. that said, I can see how not having a week-long blood-and-cramp fest would also be nice. I think there’s nothing wrong with people who want to have a period and there’s nothing wrong with people who don’t. the technology is out there, so if you want it, use it and if you don’t, don’t. I think the real problems arise when people start judging others for their choices. It doesn’t matter to me what you do, and it shouldn’t, because it’s your body, not mine.

  17. I was on bc for 6 years, since I was 16. I stopped taking them a few months ago and was shocked how much my body changed for the better after that. It was a real eye opener and I don’t want to be on hormonal bc ever again. Menstruating is a natural part of being a woman. Men should simply stfu about it.

  18. Having a period was part of being a female. Perimenopause is part of maturity and menopause as well. Periods could be difficult, but there is nothing like the empowerment of wisdom and maturity. I’m more alive now than I’ve ever been, achieving more now than I ever could, more creative as an artist, get more done in a day than I could in my youth. Young ones, don’t fear what is inevitable, embrace it. We do get better as we age. We really do.

  19. Why has no one said that some men DO IN FACT menstruate. Stop erasing trans men. MOST PEOPLE WITH OVARIES MENSTRUATE. WOMEN DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE OVARIES. SOME MEN HAVE OVARIES.

  20. Andi Bleeds says:

    My family has a long history of medical problems on both sides of the family, including a genetic disposition to rapidly growing large, painful cysts and tumors within our ovaries and uterus as we near menopause. Because of this, I made the conscious decision as a CHILD to never have my own children. I would prefer to have my ovaries, if not my entire uterus, removed before it causes a significant health risk later in life.

    I am 23 years old. Every doctor I have spoken with since I became an adult has refused to assist me, saying I am “too young” to make such an important decision. Most even refused to give me an IUD, even though it’s completely reversible and 99% effective. I FINALLY found a doctor who would at least help me obtain a copper IUD, but even she said it would be impossible for me to look into other options until I was at least 35.

    I feel trapped in my own body, trapped by the monthly intense, painful, and heavy periods I get. They only serve as reminders that doctors believe I’m meant to bear children, even if the children will also suffer through life as I and my family members have. It is cruel and inhumane.

    • Andi Bleeds says:

      (I should mention that, as further insult, I am unable to take hormonal birth control as I have reacted negatively to every form I have tried. Hooray! Ugh.)

  21. As it currently stands I feel no desire to give birth to my own children. If I choose to parent a child in the future, I intend to either foster parent or to adopt. Therefore I often feel that it is frustrating that I must continue to have my period. Once I am old enough I have every intention of taking hormonal birth control that will suppress my period.

    I think the association between “becoming a woman” and starting your period is ridiculous and archaic. I started my period when I was 12 but some of my friends did not start it until they were 16 or older. As much as I and other friends tried to assure them that they were not missing out on anything they always felt left out and less mature. I feel that our connection between periods and womenhood is simply a way of making women feel guilty for lamenting a physical process that can be downright painful and troublesome. For many women periods can be incredibly painful and debilitating. Therefore it is also a way of ostracizing trans women and women who cannot menstruate. Periods can also be troublesome for trans men as they can contribute to a feeling of being less of a man. I think we’d be better off without periods at all.

  22. While I agree that rejection of this basic function in most healthy mostly young feminine bodies could very well look and feel like more misogyny, I also think the the author points towards an evolutionary reality in the future of it being unnecessary unless you plan to reproduce (and there may be ways around that as well). Unlike what has been held for so long, we do have some say in evolutionary changes. A lot more research re amenorrhea increasing cardiovascular risks and certain predisposition to some cancers would need to be balanced. While I suffered quite a bit through tough periods, I was quite happy whilst pregnant- and pretty happy with the results as well as parenting a child- which did not come from my own pregnancy. Interesting question.

  23. I think it’s really important to note that the period you get on the pill is not a “real” period, it’s withdrawal bleeding–you can’t menstruate without ovulating. Therefore, continuous birth control is no more risky or less “natural” than traditional hormonal birth control.

    It should be up to everyone what to do with their own bodies, including whether or not they want to menstruate. There is nothing to be accomplished by making menstruation shameful. There is also nothing to be accomplished by shaming those who, for whatever reason, decide they would rather not menstruate.

  24. I don´t like pills, don´t like taking something that would upset my metabolism and the way things naturally works in my body. Fortunately for me, me periods almost never hurt. But when I was a teenager I did not want my first period to come. I felt it was something degrading and disgusting..Which, is actually a social issue. That´s why we are discussing why menstruation is still tabu.

    You can´t say it´s a comfortable thing, it´s incovinient for any kind of sport and outside activity, you have to go to the toilet, change, etc, etc…But, as I said before, I don´t like pills. If it wasn´t for that, I would not mind not to have it, quite te opposite.

  25. For further discussion on this subject, I refer you to the science-fiction short story “Even the Queen” by Connie Willis. It’s very funny.

    By the way, natural does not equate with good. Typhus and arsenic are both natural as well. We also suspend menstruation naturally during nursing and some studies show that has health benefits down the line.

  26. Nicola Smith says:

    After we get rid of periods, which I don’t think are necessary, can we please get rid of the hymen. Without that, we would have huge changes in society. I would like as much knowledge of a woman being a virgin or not as we do men.

  27. Hey, I’m all for it. It’s actually NOT “natural” to have periods every goddamn month for so many years. Before contraception, women didn’t have that many periods during their lifetime, because they got pregnant a lot more and then also breastfed after giving birth. And while you’re doing all that you don’t get your period. This is still normal in some societies, actually. So, I have personally thought for awhile now that having only four periods a year, for birth-control reasons or not, is a very healthy idea. I’m not ashamed of menstruating, but I do think it’s as annoying as hell lol. I wouldn’t mind it so much, if I WANTED to get pregnant, but I certainly don’t want any kids right now, so what’s the point of going through all the inconvenience of it if I had an option not to?

  28. I find it a little insulting to imply that choosing to lessen or eliminate one’s period is an anti-feminist action. Haven’t we all fought to be in full control of our own bodies? What I want to do with my period is my business, isn’t it? I never tried to hide my period in shame (ok, not since 5th grade when I was the only girl I knew who had gotten hers), I didn’t get rid of it out of shame. I don’t want to deal with it and now I don’t have to. Simple as that. I don’t think it makes me more or less of a woman in any way.

  29. This is a wonderful blog! I am going to be presenting a paper on moral panic surrounding menstrual suppression at a conference tomorrow, and this is one of the few truly thoughtful feminist arguments in support of menstruation being a choice that I’ve found. Bravo!

  30. Menstruation is a womens issue… for each individual woman. That’s it. No point arguing about it, it’s for each woman to decide what they want to do with their bodies. I take the pill to not have a period because the pain I experieced was to much to bear, and interfered with my schooling. Also, I’m pretty sure that someone’s womanhood does not rely on what happens in their pants, it’s more about what happens in their own mind.

  31. Ok, I have nothing against women who choose to take the pill in order to minimize the annoying side of menstruating or even supressing it – as with everything in life, each of us reacts very differently to the hormonal swings, some having a pretty tough time and others barely noticing it – but I do see some issues here:

    1. Why is menstruation still taboo? Why does the idea of a woman’s body as “unclean” persists so strongly in our subconscious, so that it won’t even let us talk about it openly? Why do we have to whisper and hide, deny it all the time, medicalize it? A year ago I bought a menstrual cup and wanted to talk about it with my women friends since I find it simply great, but guess what? They ALL look at me as if I suddenly had two noses or three eyes on my face and change subject nervously.

    2. We definitely should consider the economic aspect of the pill: getting to sell it to half of the population for their entire reproductive lifespan must be a *huge* business, and I believe that’s why it has been heavily encouraged by doctors over other contraceptive methods. I honestly don’t see many doctors around recommending a 18 or 20 year old woman to use say, an IUD (which lasts 5 years and you can get it hormone-free too) over the pill. That would be the perfect time for this kind of contraception as she’s mostly studying and starting a carrier, and would probably have children later on. But no, they keep stuffing all of us with hormones.

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