If we’re talking in strictly evolutionary, survival of the fittest gene pool, continuation of the species terms here, I’m pissed. I am convinced that women are getting the short, slimy, splintery end of the stick. First of all, we get menstruation. Sure, we are the sole gender blessed with the ability to get pregnant and nurse our young, but there are some not-so-great physical symptoms that are bundled up with that package, too.
I “came of age” in the 80s with a stepmother who not only survived, but fully embraced the sixties. You may not be surprised to hear that the speech I received when I first started my period was that it was a fantastic, magical, female-power affirming, life force continuing ritual that I should celebrate. Forgive me for my confusion – you mean this smelly, bloody, messy, crampy, emotional phase that occurs every freaking month? We can’t possibly be talking about the same thing here.
Incredibly, we were. Now, I was twelve years old: interested in horses and kickball and how soon I would be allowed to wear makeup. Makeup – now there’s a womanly, grown up rite of passage! It’s pretty, there are a range of choices to fit your individual personality, most of it smells good, and it’s something people can see on the outside. That would surely signal how grown up I am. Screw this menstruation thing! It’s messy, turns me into a neurotic blubbering idiot, and is not something I particularly want to crow about. According to my mother and my stepmother, I was apparently old enough to begin my life as a woman in biological terms but not necessarily in social terms. Nix on the makeup until I was fourteen. Crap!
Now, biologically speaking, when a girl begins menstruating, it means she is physically capable of doing her part for the continuation of the species. Whoa, nelly! I realize that as a purely social construct, this is out of the question – most normal people shudder at the thought. Thank God I reached this critical time in my life during the 1980s in America! At the age of twelve, the only time I critically assessed any males my own age was when I was captain of the kickball team and then only in the interest of choosing the ones who could kick the crap out of the ball.
In my personal experience, the onset of menstruation was a hormonal tsunami assaulting my brain. By design, these hormones are charged with attracting us to the male of the species in order to procreate. So, for lack of a gentler term, we get horny. Now, I wouldn’t say these pre-adolescent girls automatically turn into raving nymphomaniacs, but even for me, a self-professed tomboy, it was odd to suddenly begin thinking of boys as cute and patently horrifying to feel embarrassed and giggly around them. I certainly did not entertain notions of jumping into bed with any of them (I’m not even sure I understood what that would entail), but had I, Mother Nature was primed and ready to do her part.
I had been raised by a father who was a Marine, so to say the least, logic and reason were strongly emphasized in my family. This coupled with the fact that I was not possessed of any of the things that would have made having sex at this age likely (overly lenient parents, my own transportation, an overwhelming desire to HAVE A BABY!) helped to restrain me from pursuing any of my primal urges.
I never did embrace my stepmother’s view of menstruation. Indeed, I have spent most of my life dreading it and calling it such things as “the curse”, “my evil Auntie M”, “Aunt Flo”, etc. But I did come to accept it as inevitable and just deal with it the best I could. I also learned fairly early on to anticipate the changes in my personality that came with this dreaded monthly event. Without fail, I would become more likely to cry at small things, grow increasingly neurotic and require constant reassurance of my worthiness and lovability.
Could it be that this is a biochemical trick that is played on women when they get their period? Think about it, when you get your period it means that you are not pregnant. Now, the teenage girl, and many adult women, may find themselves occasionally rejoicing at this particular bit of news. If, however, you are primarily concerned with continuation of the species, this is a sad day, and the hormones that are your brain is soaking in are desperate to help you realize that you are not fulfilling your biological imperative. Get pregnant, dammit! Are you worthless? Can’t you even do something as simple as getting knocked up? Women have been doing it for thousands of years. Think about someone other than yourself for once, huh? That’s a pretty tough barrage to sustain month after month – I’m not terribly surprised that I found myself getting emotionally labile during my period.
On the flip side, suppose you actually do decide to produce offspring. One possibility is that you try and succeed at getting pregnant – yippee! That brings an entire new recipe for hormone soup in your brain. For now, let’s consider the opposite scenario: for some reason (or perhaps a myriad of reasons), you find yourself unable to get pregnant. Well, this sucks, because now you’re feeling anxious about getting your period because you don’t want it which can itself delay it by a couple of days, artificially inflating your mood so that you have actually fall even farther emotionally when it eventually does arrive. At this point, the hormonal mocking seems even more cruel – you can’t procreate, what kind of a woman are you? Can’t even manage the most fundamental thing common to all living beings? Even lizards can procreate! Yeah, sure, I am woman, hear me roar – in anguish! Suffer through a few months (or years) of this and you will realize just how strong a role biology plays in your life.