“Mom, do you know what a period is, other than a punctuation mark?”
I had gathered my courage and spoke from the backseat of the family station wagon, circa 1961. Mom was backing out of the driveway and we were alone.
Today I noticed a tampon package, belonging to my daughter, sitting beside an elaborately decorated Vera Bradley makeup bag, also my daughter’s. The design on the tampon package essentially matched the Vera Bradley design. With a chuckle, I thought about the marketing people who decided to decorate the paper wrapper on each tampon. A far cry from how menstrual supplies were hidden back when I began to bleed, which was shortly after asking my mom to share a little information with me.
What she shared with me, or actually, bought for me, was my very own sanitary napkin belt. If you ‘became a woman’ after the 1970’s, these little belts probably never crossed your path, or your hips. There is a sassy article on the web written by a woman who experimented with using a belt – she bought one on eBay as vintage item. Her post is a little raunchy, not PG, but I give her credit for being curious enough to try the contraption. These dainty belts were our only option when I came of age and I have to say, they were quite awkward and uncomfortable. They certainly helped to maintain the shame factor related to menstruation.
I once tried to explain a garter belt to my daughter, a relic from life before pantyhose. She could not imagine having to use such a device, and that went over your underwear. I know there were days when I wore both contraptions at once. Oh the glory days of adolescence. And now the tampon wrappers are designed like fancy accessories. What a world. What a wonderful world.
‘My period’, ‘My friend’, ‘That time of the month’ or ‘The Curse’ were a few of the expressions used back in the day, at least the ones that I heard. Pretty tame compared with some of the choice words and expressions today. I wondered how it came to be called ‘a period’. Obviously it refers to a period of time, but this note about the origins of the word seems to point to the unhealthy aura associated with menses.
Late Middle English (denoting the time during which something, esp. a disease, runs its course): from Old French periode, via Latin from Greek periodos ‘orbit, recurrence, course,’ from peri- ‘around’ + hodos ‘way, course.’ The sense [portion of time] dates from the early 17th cent.
Many excellent writers have published feminist analysis of the historical misogyny related to menstruation over the centuries. No need for me to go there. And I have no conclusion for you either, dear reader, except to say that menopause has been good for and to me. My wishes for you are: light periods, no cramps, pregnancy when and if you want it, an easy time during peri-menopause and kind, skillful Ob-Gyns wherever you go.
Period. Full stop.