So I’ve been thinking about periods – and no, not the punctuation kind.
That’s because I spent some time on the weekend thumbing my way through an interesting little book on menstruation. Called ‘Capitalizing on the Curse: The Business of Menstruation’, the book explores the impact that capitalist forces have had on our monthly periods. It’s by Elizabeth Arveda Kissling, a professor at Eastern Washington University.
I know, I know – I can hear you now: “this is a blog about pubic hair — why the period talk?”
Here’s why: because reading Kissling’s book about periods actually made me think a lot about women and their relationships to their own body hair.
Kissling’s interesting premise is that though it’s a regular phenomenon for half the world’s population, periods are typically seen as icky and gross — a troublesome interruption in the month that must be dealt with (ideally) in secret (god forbid your males friends should catch a glimpse of a tampon in your purse!).
What Kissling argues is that our periods have been sold back to us by corporations who capitalize on those negative attitudes in order to “sell us solutions for nonexistent problems.” She argues that although the hygiene industry has been good for women in some ways (ie. we have readily available, inexpensive and easy-to-use products which allow us to function ‘normally’ even as we’re shedding our uterine lining), the commercialization of an otherwise normal bodily process has also done us a disservice.
That’s because the capitalist agenda has women compelled to be constantly in pursuit of “freshness” — the preferred state, we readily learn, for women to exist in. I’ll quote Kissling here (from her conclusion):
“In the commercial world of so-called feminine hygiene products, menstruation is portrayed as a literal and figurative stain on one’s femininity. Women are urged by advertisements to “stay clean, stay fresh, stay free,” as if their freedom depends upon their freshness. The freedom (if not freshness) in women’s everyday lives enabled by modern menstrual products is truly transformative, but freedom is never really free, at least under consumer capitalism. To enjoy the liberty granted y products that reduce discomfort, relieve pain, and increase freedom of movement, women must participate in the construction of their own Otherness. In using these products, women are compelled to buy into the idea of the menstruating woman as one of tainted femininity.” (p. 124)
Kissling uses existentialist Simone de Beauvoir to investigate this idea of Otherness — something she describes as being an artifact of a male-dominated society wherein women learn to feel “an alienation from their own bodies.” As Kissling writes, “a properly socialized woman develops a sense of herself as object, an Other that is both venerated and feared, as she internalizes her society’s dominant ideologies about women.” (p. 3)
It helps explain why women feel such shame and disgust at the idea of their own periods. Our monthly bleeding is marketed to us as a “hygienic crisis”. Talking about ads for menstrual products, Kissling writes:
“It is a hygiene crisis that one must clean up, in secret, so that one’s public projection of ideal femininity is not damaged or polluted.” (p.12)
Kissling quotes another scholar, Tomi-Ann Roberts, who makes this wise observation:
“One of the obligations that women have in a culture that sexually objectifies their bodies is to conceal the biological functioning of their bodies.” (p.20)
And that’s where we come back to pubic hair.
Women learn early on to treat themselves as objects. And getting rid of body hair, whether it’s on our legs or between them, is just another way of doing that.