I am thirteen and bleeding all over the floor of Renee’s bathroom. It is the middle of the night. I thought I had to pee, but it’s just that my period has started. I can’t predict these unpredictable occurrences. My stomach hurts. I feel queasy. But my flow is so heavy it’s running down my leg and making a mess on the floor. I mop up what I can. I swallow my pride and wake my friend to wake her mother. We need assistance. Thankfully, in an act of female teenage solidarity, no one ever hears of this story. Until now.
I am fifteen, crawling on my hands and knees through the halls of my high school. I have cramps so severe I cannot walk. I am pale and my English teacher is concerned that I might be passing out at my desk. Thankfully, most everyone is in class, so few people have to see my humiliation. But humiliation is the least of my concerns right now. Basic bodily functioning is my only priority at this moment. No one ever mentions seeing me do this.
I am nineteen and even being on the pill can’t cure me of cramps so bad that once again I cannot walk. I am slumped on the tile floor of the university dining hall bathroom. I might be passing out. A male friend is brought in to find me and carry me back to my dorm room. He never mentions this again.
In each of these moments what isn’t mentioned is that these moments aren’t mentioned. Women are supposed to be quiet about something that our bodies do every single month for thirty or forty years. Don’t make a big deal of your experience. Don’t gross anyone out. This is shameful and people will mock you. Or they willfully ignore it.
Don’t smell of flesh and blood. Don’t leak or leave a bloody stain. Stuff your cunt up. Eat ungodly amounts of pain-killers. Alter your hormones with birth control pills, regardless of the sex you may or may not be having. Don’t let cramps get you down; girl, let’s see that smile! Don’t rest; taking a day off work just proves women are weak and unreliable.
Patriarchy and Capitalism are cozy bedfellows. They are happy to convince women that their bodies are disgusting, so they can sell us one more product to make us more “productive”, to make my vagina smell like candy or flowers, anything that will stop these cunts from bleeding.
HARDER FASTER STRONGER MORE
Anti-Capitalist efforts have always maintained the dignity of the human person, that our dignity is inherent in our being, and is not more nor less dignified according to our material wealth. Our bodies are not machines, and therefore we cannot work 12, 16, 18 hours a day. Thanks to the Socialists of the past, we now have an 8 hour work day.
Except, we don’t really. Our paid work may only be 8 hours a day, but there is no room for rest in our society. In 1974 Silvia Federici tackled the issue of the unpaid work of housework, done almost exclusively by women. She says “the unwaged condition of housework has been the most powerful weapon in reinforcing the common assumption that housework is not work, thus preventing women from struggling against it”. By denying that housework is work, that raising children is work, Capitalism can ignore women’s needs for equality of time, reimbursement, and support. If it’s not work, we can continue to underpay house cleaners, nannies, preschool teachers, (some) cooks, and so on.
We are encouraged to work ever longer hours. We are isolated in our nuclear families, not sharing the collective labor our lives require. Our communities are designed for long commutes. You can sleep when you’re dead. Play hard. Never give up. Always improving, never just being. There is no room for pain, or rest, or love, but our bodies are not machines.
“Women’s work,” women’s bodies, women’s embodied experience, in fact, all human embodied experiences, are inconvenient for the Capitalist enterprise. Because our bodies are not machines.
EMBRACING MY BLOODY BODY
In my late 20s, when I was in graduate school, I decided to try an experiment, because I could, because I had the flexibility to do so. I decided to give myself a 48 hour menstrual holiday. I was on the pill and could ensure that my period always started on a Friday. I would not make any plans. No studying if I could help it. I hung out in my pajamas, eating cheese burgers, napping, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And bleeding onto cloth. No pushing myself to look good (when I was bloated and heavily bleeding). No trying to socialize (when I was spacey and queasy). No needing to be ON. No bleached cotton and chemicals blocking me up.
It transformed the way I felt about my period and my body. I stopped hurting as much. I stopped experiencing PMS symptoms as strongly. I started looking forward to my body releasing and resting. I started wondering how many other people, particularly women, were pushing through pain and discomfort, ignoring their bodies, menstruating or not.
It changed the way I understood bodies, period. My compassion for others’ bodies increased.
BY BEING SOFT I WILL RESIST
These days I don’t have “days off.” I have small children, born of a body so used to pain that labor was not that much worse than my cramps. When I am menstruating, I continue to observe my monthly holidays. I try not to schedule anything. We eat leftovers. I put my feet up. I embrace the blood that keeps my womb clean and healthy. I settle into a space, mentally, physically, and spiritually, that feels liminal and helps me wander between the realms of life and death, of this world and Other worlds.
By resting and embracing my bleeding I resist the fetishization of my female body. I don’t have to smell like a prepubescent female. I can smell like the animal I am, iron and flesh, pheromones and earth. I listen to the completely natural urges of my body. Sometimes the slickness and warmth sing a song of sex, needing salt and a firm hand. Other times I want not a single touch, as if every inch of my flesh has gone on strike.
Instead of purchasing conventional period products, I have acquired, over time, cloth products, made by women who work out of their home. They are more environmentally sustainable, easily washable, more comfortable, and supporting, not some corporation, but a family and/or independent craftsperson*. I step outside the conventional model and resist – economically, environmentally, bodily. One act of resistance leads to another.
BLOODY WILL BE THE WAY
I resist Capitalism by not being “productive.” I resist by refusing to accept that my body or your body is a machine. Our bodies need to rest. Our bodies need time and space to heal, to purge, to grow, to be. Honoring my body shows my kids that the female body is not disgusting, but a cause for celebration.
Blood is life. The blood that pumps in my body and your body every moment of every day is life. Your heart’s blood and my cunt’s blood. A bleeding woman is a powerful woman. A bleeding woman can grow a life in the hidden spaces of her body. A woman who resists hiding her power, in her sex, in her blood, lays bare her connection to the sacrality of life, of our flesh.
Who better to understand this than Pagans? We understand the balance on the knife’s edge between life and death. We understand that life is sacred, that blood and sex are sacred. The Capitalist system denies this sacredness and tries to shame us, male and female alike, by insisting that we soldier on, cover up, and purchase more goods to Get Through.
The body is a site of resistance. Resistance to Capitalism and Patriarchy may begin with a glimmer of a theoretical idea, realization, or hope. But those ideas must flower in relation to our lived, embodied experience. Resistance begins in these personal moments, in the ways we love, the ways we bleed, the ways we live and die.
I saw the tentacles of control between the two-headed hydra of Patriarchy and Capitalism, passing our bodies around. I cut one tentacle, only to see that we are tangled in others. But the confidence to cut one tentacle leads to cutting more. Resist once and you can resist again.
Resist beautifully. Bleed.
Niki Whiting is a mother and a student of theology. She was born and raised in Alaska and currently lives in Olympia.
Gods&Radicals is a non-profit Pagan Anti-Capitalist publisher. Find out more about our books here.