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Part Six // Menstruation as related to womanhood


Leah and River express to me how they have grappled with their relationship to womanhood through menstruation or lack thereof. From such a young age, women are taught about their period. It is considered the start of womanhood in some ways, so when someone does not get their period, how might that change their relationship to womanhood?  Leah, who has the mirena IUD reported that she does not get her period while using that device. 

“I would say in the long haul, it's really nice that I  haven't had to spend money on tampons and everything. Um, and just like the pain of having your period. I've also struggled with at times with, like, how it feels kind of weird to not get a period as a woman. That's kind of, not for all women, but for a lot of women, that's a pretty like, um, key part of the female experience. And I kind of miss that at times, which is a little weird, but overall I think it's positive.”

River had similar feelings as Leah at first, but has come to terms with her lack of a period and it has helped her better connect with the idea that not all women will need to menstruate. 

“Like there have been times where I've, like, felt like less of a woman because I don't have one. And that's like, sort of ebbed and flowed, and, like, fluctuated. Um, but, and not all women have periods and not all people with periods are women. So like that has been a new thing in my head that has helped me with that, I guess. Um, but yeah, it seems like a right of passage, I was really excited to get my first period. So that was the experience I had and I thought it was super cool. And so not having it has been a little weird.”

It is notable here that the word ‘weird’ reappeared in describing not having a period. As an anthropologist, I want to develop a better understanding of what people are truly feeling when they say something is weird. Unlike River and Leah, Casey reported that not getting her period felt affirming to her experience as a woman and allowed her to feel like a more in control and better version of herself. 

“Um, I went on birth control in high school, like my senior year, because I went to an all girls school and it was like, what all the cool girls were doing. It was like part of, like, the. It's like the liberated woman is on birth control and also I hated having periods. I felt like I had no control over my emotions. And so all of that, like really helped me, you know, I don't feel like I lost any bit of, like, womanhood or femininity by like, not having a period.”

I would be really curious to do a deeper dive into the physiological benefits of menstruation followed by ovulation, but then contrast that with the social and psychological benefits that women experience when they do not bleed. Hill and Hendrickson-Jack both provide a good foundation for this exploration. While they both agree that hormonal contraceptives change the body and brain, Hill discusses at length the possible benefits of that change psychologically and Hendrickson-Jack focuses more on the importance of the physiology cycling naturally. Both authors' perspectives are rooted in the idea that everyone should make a choice that feels good to them with as much information as possible.



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