Whenever I read stories about women having adventures or women living in the wile, I often think about how they manage their periods. They’re often not mentioned.
Or so I thought. In a Ploughshares article on Menstruation in Fiction, Farah Ahamed highlights some passages that examine periods in different ways.
I realised that I’ve read quite a number of those books / stories and never paid attention to the parts about menstruation.
I especially liked Jeanette Winterson’s description of it in Written on the Body. In it, the narrator (not sure if male or female) says about their lover’s period:
“When she bleeds the smells I know change colour. There is iron in her soul on those days. She smells like a gun.”
Iron in her soul. How beautiful, but the gun hints at something dangerous.
In her review of the different mentions of menstruation, Ahamed notices that there’s always a return to smell. And a recurring idea of unfamiliarity and danger, even when women are describing their own periods.
“Fiction illustrating menstruation clearly emphasises the shame, myths and confusion surrounding it.
“But perhaps more, it illuminates, in a way that is uncommon for literature, the fear felt by the menstruating woman about her body, as well as a societal fear that the menstruating woman is a threat,” she writes.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink that notion.