I am back after a short hiatus to talk about blood! One of the many creative choices I admired about the British drama, I May Destroy You, was the menstrual blood scene. If you saw it, then ya already know. Here is a clip that is not that scene, simply because Michaela Coel is so divine.
It does bug me that fictional female characters are so rarely empowered to reference their menstrual cycle. Obviously, I can't speak to every book ever written; I don't read THAT much! And I would truly appreciate a heads up in the comments if there's any famous examples of inclusion that you want to mention. Because in my purview, the ratio is clearly off -- by which I mean that the amount of time women and girls spend dealing with their periods in reality, and the amount of time these efforts are represented in fiction, is clearly not a value of 1.
Sidebar: I'm trying to write a math character in a new project, and I'm all about faking a lot of math talk right now. Math is hard! It's why I haven't been blogging!
For dudes who haven't bailed on this post yet, let me explain a few things. Many women make other humans inside of their bodies. Even when they can't or don't, women with uteri typically spend at least one week of every month of their post-pubescent lives creating a kind of bloody yurt in which a being can theoretically grow. When that doesn't happen, barring certain forms of birth control, the yurt evacuates south. Women who deal with pathologies like endometriosis or fibroids or cysts often spend even more time managing the red tide. Subsidiary nuisances include cramps and moods and headaches and breakouts and stains and laundry and worry.
We don't write every bodily function into stories -- nobody needs to know when you have gas or a festering bug bite, gross --- but periods are as routine for women as sitting. In fact, a woman with her period is probably going to worry about where she sits, if the couch is light colored, so it's all connected. The fictional period absence makes me wonder if our social pressure to hide it and feel ashamed by it correlates to its invisibility in stories. This time of year, the absence seems particularly ironic, because people love talking blood during Halloween season. As long as it's gory and gruesome and all over a dude's face -- but not remotely redolent of women's natural cycle of human creation -- it's all good. Boo!
So we want to represent real women, four weeks of every month. But questions linger for me about how to work it into a story. Recently, I was editing a chapter of my historical novel, in which the British immigrant girl has been traveling for more than ten days. Could she have left Southampton on a steamship on Day 7 of her cycle? Absolutely so. But upon her arrival to Charlotte, I wanted to create a scene that demonstrated how badly she was going to be treated, just following Jesamyn's failed attempt to warn her, both of which are part of Caddie's evolution as a character -- to the point of eventually accepting that whiteness will provide her with some automatic advantages in America, but not the privileges associated wealth and citizenship.
My attitude was: What better way to show Anna's dismissal of her -- not to mention Anna's willing adjacency to white supremacy and patriarchy -- than to create a scene in which Caddie is worried about her period. Here's a look:
“Is it already noon?” Anna fretted. “You’ll get a half day’s work in, if we leave right away. I’ll be taking you out to the mill village myself. Any questions?”
She was meant to begin working right away, of course she was. Caddie’s face burned with private humiliation. Good thing she’d refrained from saying anything out loud about staying here overnight, or how much she admired the home. Anna hadn’t exactly introduced herself to Caddie but now that she realized she’d be traveling again, she did need to ask her a question. She needed to use the loo. It was that time of the month. It had been quite a while, and it wasn’t clear how far away the place was, and she’d better check that her towels were still in place.
“Pardon me, Miss Twelvetrees,” she ventured, “might I use your, er, toilet?”
“That can wait, I’m sure, can’t it?” Anna answered with an overburdened sigh and a patently revolted expression.
I don't make Caddie's feminine troubles quite as explicit later in the story. But most women will know. Curiously, another thing I don't do is give Jesamyn -- the other main protagonist -- any periods. Partly, Jesamyn has enough burdens baked into her daily life as a Black woman in 1906, that adding a feminine cycle almost seemed like too much. Yet in reality, Black women did have to deal with too much! And in reality, Black women are much, much more likely to have problematic fibroids, for example, than white women, let alone girls.
As a white woman who dealt with fibroids for years I know exactly how burdensome it is. So why the choice to spare Jesamyn the menstrual moments? As I reflect on it, I think the difference is that Caddie travels, and Jesamyn -- other than a train trip down to South Carolina -- doesn't. Traveling with your period is the WORST. Worse even than going to middle school with it. This may seem arbitrary, and perhaps it is. I'd like to hear comments on any and all of this. Am I doing Jesamyn dirty? Am I erasing her? Et cetera and so forth.