A few years ago BBC2 screened a documentary series called ‘Tribal Wives’. In each episode a different British woman went to live for a period of weeks with a so called ‘primitive’ tribe in various parts of the developing world.
There was one particular episode that stands out in my memory because it dealt with what happened when that week’s British woman got her period. In the tribe she was living with menstruating women had to go to a special hut on the outskirts of the village. So off our British woman went, somewhat horrified that she was being ‘put out’ of the village as if unclean. But she found the experience very soothing. In the special hut she was minded by other women who braided her hair and she was not expected to do any work. After a few days she returned to her duties in the village feeling refreshed.
I had forgotten about this until recently when I read a wonderful book by Anita Diamant called The Red Tent. This book tells the story of Dinah who is the daughter of Jacob, he of the infamous 12 sons, one of whom had a Multicoloured Dreamcoat. But what I found so engrossing about this book was the actual Red Tent.
Dinah grew up with many mothers as Jacob had many wives. As is generally the case when women live together, their menstrual cycles synchronised and so the Red Tent was where the women of the extended family went while they bled. For three days and nights, they did no work, no cooking but spent what sounded like a reasonably relaxing time chilling out together in their own female tent.
I just love this idea of retreat for a few days once a month. Imagine if instead of living in a world that has evolved from a patriarchal society we actually had come from a matriarchial system. How would our world differ? Well for one I doubt we women would have gotten to the 21st century pretending we don’t actually have periods.
This pretence is beginning to change. We now have ads for tampons and towels with their cute little wings on the TV but the ads are largely a bit weird and full of blue liquid.
Last year Bodyform posted a brilliant ad on YouTube addressing a Facebook post by ‘Richard’ who sought to expose the lies contained in the advertising of feminine hygiene products. In this ad, Caroline Williams, fictional CEO of Bodyform, admits that their ads have lied but makes the point that their focus groups in the ‘80s couldn’t handle the truth of periods with mood swings and cramps etc. She even makes reference to crimson landslides.
Lately another period ad has been causing a sensation online. This one features a young girl who is the first in her group to get her period and becomes (for a while) a kind of period superhero distributing tampons all around her.
And that, right there, is the point. Women are superheroes. Once a month we manage to carry on for a couple of days through cramps, headaches, mad appetite surges, sore breasts and the need to be reasonably near a loo every couple of hours. Do we complain? Not if we know what’s good for us we don’t? Do we look for some time out? Oh no, because then we mightn’t be equal to the guys. So instead we dose up on painkillers and we try not to give the game away by putting a comforting hand on our sore abdomens as we carry on with business as usual.
It’s the same way we pretend we don’t miss our kids when we are in work. It’s why we are afraid to be seen crying. We are hyper aware of doing or saying anything that might make us seem less, well, less macho than the guys. We deny a lot of what being a woman is about.
It’s time for a new wave of feminism. It’s time we looked at how our world is organised and made some enlightened changes. We need better work life balance, better maternity (and paternity) leave, we need to be proud of our emotions and we need better and affordable childcare. But most of all... we need to shout loud that WE ARE WOMEN AND WE BLEED... and sometimes that feels crap. Actually perhaps this wave could be called the Red Wave of Feminism.
It’s time that we took a lesson from our ancestors and our sisters in supposedly ‘less developed’ countries. I am not suggesting a row of red tents on the outskirts of our cities, town and villages... although if they came with a spa attached.. well maybe. Could you imagine the networking possibilities of powerful women spending some quality time together once a month doing nothing but planning and dreaming and thinking? It would be better than the golf club has ever been.
But we need to stop pretending that being a woman is very similar to being a man. Because it’s not. And no, I haven’t written this while suffering PMT... I’m menopausal!