The recent media attention over professional tennis player Heather Watson’s “girl things” allusion to the relationship between her recent performance at the Australian Open tennis tournament and having her period has opened up a fascinating and overdue public conversation about how periods and menstrual cycles affect us.
While I share many “pro period” advocates’ disappointment that she used a euphemism rather than “calling a spade a spade”, to dwell on this is to miss the larger point and opportunity to open up the conversation, explore new perspectives and dispel shame and misinformation along the way.
If I can tell you one thing after being in the menstrual product business for over two decades, it’s that our customers have wildly divergent experiences of their cycles and periods, which range from euphoric to awkward and even painful. But does this suggest in the latter case that we are somehow less capable when we menstruate? The recognition that periods aren’t always easy can lead to the facile, inaccurate and even dangerous assumption that they are a universal liability: how to acknowledge the former while avoiding the latter?
Here’s one perspective: menstruators and non-menstruators alike all have different types of days all the time: factors like how much sleep we get, our emotional state, common ailments like colds and headaches and so on, are just part of life. Do we prevent a pilot from working because of having a cold, for example? What about a surgeon who has a headache? A teacher who is emotionally distraught (or alternately, deliriously happy)? All of us have experienced these common conditions, and either kept calm and carried on or been transparent about the fact that they were part of our personal “mix” that day, as did Heather Watson when asked to comment on her less-than-hoped for performance.
Another aspect of this conversation that I want to call out is the conflation of periods and menstrual cycles as a whole. All too often, it’s overlooked that periods are just one phase of the menstrual cycle. When I consider the entire context of my cycle from start to finish, I notice that in the days following the end of my period I feel particularly energetic, creative and open to new ideas, toward mid-cycle more sensually aware, and toward the end more thoughtful and introspective. All of these slight variations and sensitivities in my state of being, depending on what else is occurring in my life, can actually bring meaningful benefit.
Given that menstrual cycles are among the most normal, healthy human physical functions, it makes sense to broaden our perspective to see how we feel when menstruating – or during other phases of our cycles – as simply one aspect or iteration of perfectly normal human experience, rather than anomalous. When viewed this way, we might start noticing how a burst of creativity or an introspective mood might be related to where we are in our cycle, possibly even in a positive way.
To summarize: let’s pay more attention to our cycles as a whole, speak frankly about what’s true for us, and not jump to universalization. And finally: Bravo, Heather!
What’s your experience of yourself as you move through your cycle? What impact does it have for you?