British tennis player Heather Watson, in a post-game interview at the Australian Open, blamed her loss last week on "girl things." She said she felt dizzy and nauseous and consulted a doctor as an explanation for her poor performance.

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Opinion

British tennis player Heather Watson, in a post-game interview at the Australian Open, blamed her loss last week on "girl things." She said she felt dizzy and nauseous and consulted a doctor as an explanation for her poor performance.

And one more taboo got busted.

Half of the population does it at some point in their lives. We menstruate. Or have a girl thing, a lady's day, a visit from our aunt, the red-dot special, that time of the month or as my mom would whisper, "your periods."

For years, women's periods have been used against them as an excuse to keep women from rising to positions of power. As researchers Chrisler et al write, a menstruating woman "is portrayed in popular culture as a frenzied, raging beast, a menstrual monster, prone to rapid mood swings and crying spells, bloated and swollen from water retention, out of control, craving chocolate and likely at any moment to turn violent."

Let's face it, you wouldn't want some irrational, hysterical woman in charge, pushing the big button and propelling the free world into a nuclear exchange with North Korea, would you?

So, was Vladamir Putin having his period when he invaded Ukraine? Just saying.

It's fascinating women's biological destinies are viewed so negatively and so stereotypically. As Gloria Steinham gleefully wrote in 1978, what would happen if men menstruated?

"Generals, right-wing politicians and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation ('men-struation') as proof only men could serve God and country in combat ('You have to give blood to take blood'), occupy high political office ('Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?'), be priests, ministers, God himself ('He gave this blood for our sins'), or rabbis ('Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean')."

When Watson made her remarks, many women felt conflicted. On one hand, we applauded her for being so frank about the topic, but we also worried about the backlash her frankness could cause.

Karen Houppert, who wrote The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo, said Watson's comment "is a double-edged sword. It's good that she spoke frankly about what was going on -- though I wish she'd been truly frank and referred to it more forthrightly as her 'period' or 'menstruation' rather than euphemistically as 'girl things.' On the other hand, women's periods have been used against them for centuries. As long ago as the 1880s, when folks were debating higher education for women, there was a rash of studies 'proving' menstruation made them unfit for the rigours of college. Fast-forward to the present, and women's periods are still used to dismiss the validity of what they're saying: 'Oh, don't mind her, she's on the rag.' "

It's interesting men's biological imperative can be spun in a way that is positive. Men's infidelity, for example, has been deemed a man's biological destiny to ensure his seed is spread as a continuation of his genetic lineage. In other words, you can't help yourself, you poor thing; you have to cheat to make sure your DNA survives the apocalypse. And a man's mid-life crisis? Gets him a red sports car and a 25-year old blond.

For women? Well, in popular culture, our biological functions make us irrational and unworthy, suspect and alien; our mid-life crisis leads to depictions of chin hair and comfortable shoes. It hardly seems fair.

But it doesn't have to be like this. Female athletes shouldn't have to worry their performance will be viewed in terms of where they are in the menstrual cycle. Let this sink in: Paula Radcliffe in 2002 busted the Chicago marathon record while suffering period cramps in the last third of the race.

Female leaders shouldn't have to worry about responding in a way that makes someone wonder if it's their time of the month. They can act decisively without having it marginalized as dysmenorrhea hysteria.

We're starting to see an evolution in the topic of menstruation. In small-town Alberta when I was growing up, store owners would cover the Kotex boxes in brown paper, supposedly so no man would have to face the unpleasant realization women everywhere are randomly bleeding.

Now tampons and pads are advertised on prime-time television -- often ridiculously -- replete with somersaults, riding ponies and blue dye. But the premise it's still a dirty secret remains, underscored by the move by tampon manufacturers to market silent tampon wrappers, useful in public bathrooms. Because as one cheeky website put it "it sounds like I'm opening a bag of Sun Chips in here."

And one day, both Houppert and I hope periods will come out of the closet completely and take the stage like every other normal bodily function. For Houppert, it will all "be as ordinary and casual and boring to talk about menstrual products with our colleagues as it is to listen to them yammer on about what cold medicine they find most effective."

There will be a tampon ad in the middle of the Super Bowl. And no one will care.


Shannon Sampert is the perspectives and politics editor.

shannon.sampert@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulySigh