I can’t remember when exactly I started my period. What I do remember, though, was being excited about it. I wasn’t sure exactly what it involved, and I had nothing except an indistinct conceptual understanding of what ‘a vagina’ was, garnered from awkward sex education lessons, but I was psyched for it to come.
It wasn’t just me who was desperate to menstruate; schoolmates of mine would whisper “have you started yet?” to each other on a regular basis. Necessarily and purposefully vague, it was a secret, coded question to which there were only two answers. One of these answers would transport you into some special club for grownups, somewhere the older, initiated girls could sit, smug with knowledge. I really, really wanted to join that club.
Since then, my opinion on periods have changed quite a bit.
I might be a professional writer, but the only way I can really sum up my ongoing experience with periods is “it’s shit”. I do not have pleasant periods. I have incredibly heavy ones and subsequently have very bad period pain. My menstrual cycle is irregular, too, so I’ve been caught unawares more than once. When I returned to university after dropping out and taking a year off, I was unsurprisingly nervous about making new friends. So, obviously, I started my period unexpectedly while I was wearing a light blue skirt and leaked all over my chair during induction. Obviously.
What’s worse than this, though? What’s worse than cramps and back pain and spending hundreds of pounds a year on tampons and pads, worse than constantly worrying about leaking onto your clothes and worrying if other people can smell your blood, worse than being in constant pain for one week in every month in every year of your fertile life? Being a dude in a relationship with someone who experiences those things, duh.
Now, hear me out guys. Hear me out. Yeah, you might be in pain. Yeah, your menstrual cycle may be absolutely nothing to do with anyone but yourself. But, like, sometimes you get a bit grouchy? What with the pain and the hassle and the discomfort. You sometimes get a little bit annoyed or touchy. And who really suffers? Who really suffers from the visceral horror of an unstoppably bleeding orifice? It’s men, guys. It’s men.
Luckily, there’s an app for that! Yes, dudes, if you’re sick of your girlfriend being a tiny bit irritable before or during her period, there’s an app for that. It’s called Fredrick and, according to its accompanying (and incredibly obnoxious) press release, is “an honest menstrual cycle navigator for men”. It gives you little notifications depending on where your girlfriend’s cycle’s at – if she’s ‘likely to be in a bad mood’, for example, it will tell you “Tomorrow looks a little unsettling. She’s having fantasies. Of you flying a kite. Tethered with wire. In an electrical storm.”. How to unpack this baffling array of terrible ideas? How to critique something so utterly perfect in its abhorrence? It’s like if Dapper Laughs quit comedy and took a diploma in counselling.
Now, I don’t know how other people’s relationships work, but I can’t say I’ve ever been in one in which tracking periods, informally or formally, has been a thing. Even when I’ve been with women, and our periods have occasionally aligned, it has resolutely and absolutely not been a thing. It seems odd, to me; it seems invasive. I don’t like the idea of a boyfriend keeping tabs on the biological necessities of my existence; I wouldn’t download an app to track every shit someone took, for example.
And yes, I know it’s meant to be a joke. It’s meant to be a lighthearted way of making fun of existing gender stereotypes. It’s probably not meant to be an in-depth analysis of the experience of menstruation or an exploration of our cultural attitudes towards womanhood. You’re basically paying £1.49 to say ‘women – what are they like?’. I’m not so caught up in my own feminist ire that I can’t see what they’re trying to do here.
But, beyond the fact that this just isn’t particularly funny, it’s frustrating that it even exists in a world where periods are so often used to put women down. We’re still not at a point where we can talk about them openly, and there’s so much misinformation – there’s always an “eww” from some guy when you mention the words ‘sanitary towel’, or some dumb libertarian bro tweeting about how no woman could ever be an appropriate POTUS because PMT renders them incapable of logical, rational thought.
“Aww, are you on your period?” is something that almost every woman will have heard at least once in her life. It’s a way of silencing women, of telling them that they’re getting too loud or too voracious in their argument or too emotional about things that are often blatantly emotional.
It’s a shorthand way of saying “women are illogical, emotional creatures”. Our sensibilities may not be Victorian anymore, but according to men, menstruation apparently renders women as hysterical as their oft-fainting forebears. Like, how do men think periods work? Do they think it’s like that Snickers advert where the guy transforms into a moody diva when he’s hungry? Do they think we become incapable of conducting our day to day lives successfully when we’re wearing a tampon?
Do I get irritable before my period? Probably, yes. Do you know what else makes me irritable? My bank statement. Writer’s block. An argument with a friend. Someone shoving their smelly armpit in my face on the tube. Being late for work. Being hungry. A shit cup of coffee. In other words? Things that also annoy men. Things that have absolutely no bearing on my gender whatsoever. These are all things I want to come home and complain about to my boyfriend. I want to feel like I’m being supported and listened to, no matter how small the complaint; I don’t want him inputting every external stressor into a wise-cracking app that makes it all about him.
So look, guys. If you’re incapable of supporting your girlfriend without the support of a shitty, antagonistic app? If you’re unable to actually discuss things with her in an adult way? If you’d rather download an app or joke with your bros about periods than listen to women? She probably is in a bad mood. And I don’t even need an app to tell me that.