Naturally embarrassing?

Last night, I listened to a talk at church on the subject of Mark 5 – specifically Jairus’ daughter (who was raised from the dead) and the healing of a sick woman. The sick woman in question, we’re told, had been subjected to bleeding for 12 years. The Bible doesn’t go into the medical symptoms in detail, but we’re led to believe it was of a gynaecological nature.

The person speaking (who is a great speaker/leader and I’m not criticising at all!) mentioned that it was basically as though “she’d been menstruating for 12 years” and then continued to use the term throughout the talk. Now, I’m all for correct medical terminology, but the audience was a load of students and it the number of times the word was stumbled over (it’s long and multi-syllabled, so fair enough) made me wonder if he couldn’t have just said “period” at some point and be done with it.

I appear to have a little bit of a bee in my bonnet on this subject, having mentioned it a few times before. Why do we still exist in a culture of embarrassment over something so natural and essential?

Here’s something of a personal example (don’t worry, I’m not about to go into medical detail…). I had a bad day on Monday. It all started out a big wrong; was compounded by multiple Jubilee Line issues; a long day and not enough sleep the night before. On top of those already irritating factors, I had terrible period pain. This meant that pilates wasn’t the haven of peace, tranquillity and stretching that it usually is – it’s hard work strengthening your core when the same part of your body is twisting itself in knots. But I don’t like to mention it because who would want to know – apart from the odd female friend who might sympathise?

Similarly, unlike days when I’m under the weather with a cold or similar, I’m unlikely to tweet for sympathy, or hash tag ‘periodpain’ the way certain friends throw around ‘manflu’. The closest I got to mentioning it was a coded “[Liz]would quite like her body to end its apparent vendetta against her”. So instead we suffer in silence and eat cream doughnuts. It’s funny that in a world that can be as crass as it likes about sex and apparently adores TV shows about ’embarrassing’ illnesses, this is still such a touchy subject.

One location which has had to confront the issue head on is New Zealand, where just last week a debate broke out over the banning of pregnant or menstruating women from a tour at Te Papa – the national museum in Wellington. The tour includes the Taonga Maori collection, which contains items used in battle and to kill people, and because the Maori regard women in these categories as sacred they should not come into contact with them. There has been an outcry – on both sides, as this editorial from the New Zealand Herald outlines. On the one hand, we shouldn’t discriminate based on something that only affects one gender and can’t be helped, but at the same time I quite like the idea of being regarded as sacred. It’s going to be a difficult policy to enforce, but I hope the Pakeha (Europeans) who visit actually take the time to respect another culture’s beliefs.

Hmmm, Bible references, cultural anthropology and a bit of a whinge about a rubbish start to the week – this blog post is almost educational. That’s worrying.


  1. What got me was “suffering from menstruation” – HA!

  2. Katie G pulled him up on that & a reference to “the problem of menstruation”. Bless him…

  3. It is odd, isn’t it? We make up half the population, we know men know about it, and yet we don’t mention it to anyone who’s not a close friend. And how many women hide their tampons/towels away rather than keep them handy in the bathroom for fear of embarrassing the men of the house? The idea of being considering sacred almost a quarter of the time is growing on me!

  4. Yes, it’s only a problem to men, right?

    Have you read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent? It’s one of my favourite books. It was someone’s book club choice and I groaned but then fell in love.

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