Guys, imagine this: Blood is streaming out of your dick, your stomach feels like it’s being ripped out from the inside and your hormones are such a mess you just cried at a video of a kitten being bathed. Now, picture your partner walking into the room, scrunching up their face in disgust and saying they’re too scared to hug you in case “blood squirts out like a ketchup bottle.” (A genuine comment, sent to my Twitter DMs.) When you tell them to fuck off, they roll their eyes and say you’re “always crazy this time of the month.”
Men, however, have been saying dumb shit like this to people on their periods for centuries. In Victorian Britain, doctors defined menstruation as a “recurrent illness” and a “persistent drain on the physical and mental energies of women,” with some even going so far as to call it a “disability.” In fact, an early shit-talker, John Elliotson, described in a Victorian Studies journal article as an “early authority” on reproductive health, went beyond medical language to straight-up argue that women on their period should be viewed as “unclean,” and that “it is firmly believed by many that meat will not take salt if the process is conducted by a menstruating woman.” That’s right — apparently your blood-soaked downstairs is enough to make a pork chop recoil in horror.
In A Curious History of Sex, historian Kate Lister writes a brief timeline of menstruation, which describes how periods have been weaponized against women. Vehement anti-feminist James McGrigor Allan even used them as justification for continuing to bar women in the U.K. from voting back in 1869, claiming periods cause “langor and depression which disqualify [women] from thought or action.”
In 1873, physician Edward H. Clarke released a new, in-depth addition to the timeline of truly wild period discourse — in A Fair Chance for the Girls, he argued periods cause reproductive damage, therefore girls need to conserve “vital energy” for developing healthy reproductive organs as opposed to expending it on their studies. In a nutshell, he argued girls should receive subpar education purely because they menstruate.
Even now, menstrual pain is commonly under-diagnosed and overlooked by doctors worldwide — especially over the last few years, sufferers of endometriosis, which can make periods particularly painful, have come forward with horror stories. One woman who sought help for her endometriosis-related menstrual pain was told by doctors to “stop practicing Google medicine” and that the excruciating sensations she was feeling were merely a result of the small amount of weight she’d recently gained.
The internet is filled with stories like these. Stephanie Barnes, a U.K.-based lifestyle PR strategist, tells me she’s tired of “gaslight-y” dudes calling her “crazy” when she’s on her period. “It would be good for men to know that asking, ‘What’s wrong?’ when we’re crying doesn’t help. Nine times out of 10, we have no idea!” Although obviously not every guy is a dick when it comes to menstruation — she shouts out an ex-housemate who fed her biscuits and made her cups of tea when she was on her period — Barnes says there’s still a lack of understanding when it comes to the logistics of menstruation. “I had a guy think it all came streaming out like a fountain,” she jokes.
In subreddits like TwoXChromosomes, there are wildly frustrating tales of doctors telling women period pain is “all in your head” and guys dismissing women as “overdramatic,” as well as old dudes playing the “over-emotional” card to downplay pretty much everything. There are far dumber things to marvel at, too — in 2017, one woman told BuzzFeed her boyfriend asked her to “turn it off,” thinking women could “turn off their periods like a tap.” Another was told by a doctor that her heavy periods would disappear when she got married, and a third had to explain to her gobstruck boyfriend that not all women menstruate at once.
Meanwhile, in a 2019 article, one woman offered her boyfriend Advil for a headache, to which he replied: “Will the medicine know where to go? You know, because I don’t have girl parts.” Another said her dad told her not to wear a tampon because it would “take her virginity.”
That said, for U.K.-based academic Sara, guys have given her less shit as she’s gotten older. “For my last few boyfriends, it’s been a total non-issue,” Sara, a pseudonym, says. Still, she’s in a Facebook group for a “totally unrelated health issue” where she occasionally sees other women sharing horror stories of how “their husbands make them sleep in the spare bedroom or won’t touch them when they’re on their period.”
And yet, period pain is still often not seen as a legitimate reason for a sick day. Perhaps it’s a framing issue — as Michelle Wolf has joked, “Maybe we should stop calling it a period and instead call it ‘bloody tissue coming out of a hole’ — employers would be like, ‘Here, take the whole week!’”
Until our collective understanding of periods shifts in such a manner, though, try not to be an ignorant dick about it — after all, push things too far, and the only blood being spilled will be yours.