Are We Stuck In Antiquity? A Call For Sovereignty In Menstrual Health

Cnidus-Aphrodite-bust

by Lana Friesen
Founder, Blood Cycle Conference

In 350 BC, Aristotle wrote of woman as a deformed male:

“…the female is as it were a deformed male.”—Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals.

Now here’s my bold claim:

This view of anatomy persists today, whether unconsciously or consciously, and it underwrites menstrual taboo.

Let’s look at the life of a female-bodied person as they reach the age of menstruation. They tell their parent who likely warns their child of the cramps, the pain, the shame, and the embarrassment that can come from the period – perhaps even the unholiness and uncleanliness of it.

After a few irregular periods, the menstruator is recommended by their doctor to go on hormonal birth control to “regulate” the period.

Before much time passes for the menstruator to navigate this new phase of their life, before enough time for the menstruator’s body to adjust and define its own rhythm, it’s assumed that it’s best to take the “efficient” route of prescribing synthetic chemicals which suppress the menstruator’s hormone production. It’s assumed that the autonomous production of hormones by this person’s ovaries is not preferable, and it’s much more straightforward to prescribe a drug that will “replace” the function of the ovaries.

smash-patriarchy
Blood Cycle Conference Keynote Speaker, Lara Briden, has written about how damaging this is for the body. I make the case that it is also oppressive and damaging for the psyche.

On a subconscious level, when a young menstruator is prescribed medication to regulate their period, there is a subtle, unconscious message being sent that “your ovaries can’t be trusted to do their job properly or in a way that will suit the needs of contemporary society.” It is assumed that while we would never consider suppressing the hormone producing organs of male-bodied people, we should accept this solution for female-bodied people without question, and in fact prescribe it en masse. Lara Briden likens the pill to chemical castration.

And it is precisely in this disparate attitude towards sex organs that the [conscious or unconscious] view of females as “deformed males” rears its ugly Aristotelian head. In her book The Second Sex, French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir writes of women as “the Other”: an alternative to the “default form” of humans which is to be a man. When we treat the female anatomy as something that can be toyed with, not attributing sufficient resources for research into different solutions, and we assume synthetic chemicals which replace the female’s own hormones are preferable, we are indeed considering their body to be an “other”—we are treating it as if its natural state is one of “deformity” that somehow warrants external chemical meddling.

Is that an overly strong statement? I don’t think so. By normalizing medicating the menstrual cycle, there is an implicit message pathologizing this natural bodily process.

Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles (c.350 BC) - the first monumental female nude in classical sculpture | image via wikipedia

Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles (c.350 BC) – the first monumental female nude in classical sculpture | image via wikipedia

Just as Simone de Beauvoir focuses on the sovereignty of the Self for women, I  argue that we must reclaim our female bodies, our biology, our organs, and our hormones. We must regain sovereignty over our bodies by increasing our body literacy. By understanding the female anatomy ourselves, we are more equipped and empowered to explore different options, and make an informed decision that is best for our body and our needs.

knowledge-is-power

I understand that there are extenuating circumstances in which a menstruator might prefer a pill bleed to a period. However, it is NOT okay that we are suppressing our ovaries without being sufficiently informed about this “medication,” and without exploring less risky options, like addressing adverse symptoms through diet & lifestyle changes.

de Beauvoir wrote, “Let us live before asking us to justify our existence.” And in the same spirit we make our request:

Let us live before insisting on medicalizing our natural processes. Let us live before insisting that our natural processes need external help in “regulating.” Let us allow our body the sovereignty to find its own rhythm, without chemical interference.

“Just as we shake our heads now when we look on the barbaric medical procedures of previous centuries, the day will come when we look back and see the pill for the crude instrument it was.” – Lara Briden, ND

Important note: Please investigate your options and consult with a professional if going off hormonal birth control. Adverse symptoms can worsen at first, and it’s important that you pick up an effective alternative contraceptive method (and be wary of perfect usage stats versus typical usage stats).

This post originally appeared on the Blood Cycle Conference blog.
Lana Friesen is founder of the Blood Cycle Conference. During Lana’s studies at Simon Fraser University, she started her own company which involved teaching dance throughout the Lower Mainland and producing shows of varying sizes. Lana’s professional interests shifted from theatre arts to a focus on health and wellness, and after a diagnosis of PCOS she became interested in healing herself and sharing the resources she’s discovered with as many others as possible!

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