We recently put out the call for people to contribute their candid thoughts on menstruation with the purpose of raising awareness and positivity – even if their story isn’t so positive. The idea was to give them room to take it wherever they wanted, to share whatever they liked. The results are letters, all different and unique, all offering us some perspective, some personal reflections and revelations, and in a few cases, some hilarious levity. The letters series coincides with our current campaign to help us continue to build this site and community. Please view our campaign here – there are some amazing perks!
Cycledork Letters: #3
by James Taylor
In a brilliant piece for the Guardian Sandi Toksvig related the following story, “When I was a student at Cambridge I remember an anthropology professor holding up a picture of a bone with 28 incisions carved in it. ‘This is often considered to be man’s first attempt at a calendar’ she explained. She paused as we dutifully wrote this down. ‘My question to you is this – what man needs to mark 28 days? I would suggest to you that this is woman’s first attempt at a calendar.”
As a young undergrad debating the birth of civilization with my friends I still remember the mind blowing point my friend Charlie raised. He said “women invented civilization, not men.” Of course the logic of his claim escapes me now but the idea stuck with me over the years.
When I read Sandi Toksvig’s piece it got me thinking about the meaning of time and the measurement of it. Now let me begin by explaining that man and woman are complex terms determined as much by social gender roles as they are by biological organs. That being said, those humans who menstruate were the inventors of time.
I say this not as a scientific or even anthropological fact, but rather as a philosophical interpretation. Time is not the movement of planets, sun, or moon, although these can be indicators of time. Time is not the marking of events on calendars or in history books, although these are great ways of keeping track of time. Time is not the calendar or the clock, although these are the devices we have invented to control it.
Rather, time is a bodily experience. It is the feeling of being connected with the world and the events around you. It is not some distant and abstract measurement, but instead it is familiar and near. Infants understand time before they understand night and day. Children understand time before they can even begin to learn where the big and little hands on the clock are pointing. We know time because we are connected to our experience of the cycles of our own bodies. However, our immediate physical cycles are all relatively short. The short term feedback loops of our sleep cycles, our respiratory cycles, and our digestive cycles keep us grounded in the present. Yet in order to build a world where we have agriculture or can understand the seasons we need to be able to tell a longer period of time than a day.
The architects of human civilization were people who could menstruate because those people were able to measure an incredibly long stretch of time, a stretch we now refer to as the period. That period later came be to known as the month. Eventually we were able to link the experience of our bodily cycles to the cycles of the natural world by measuring the changing seasons according to the consistency that women experience over the course of their periods. Every other invention we depend on ultimately derives from the idea that our experience of the world takes place in and over time.
We have women to thank for this.