If Men Could Menstruate
A Political Fantasy by Gloria Steinem
A white minority of the world has spent centuries conning us into thinking
that a white skin makes people superior - even though the only thing it
really does is make the more subject to ultraviolet rays and to wrinkles.
Male human beings have built whole cultures around the idea that penis-envy
is "natural" to women - though having such an unprotected organ might be
said to make men vulnerable, and the power to give birth makes womb-envy at
least as logical.
In short, the characteristics of the powerful, whatever they may be, are
thought to be better than the characteristics of the powerless - and logic
has nothing to do with it.
What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could
menstruate and women could not?
The answer is clear - menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy,
Men would brag about how long and how much.
Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with
religious ritual and stag parties.
Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out
Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. (Of course, some men
would still pay for the prestige of commercial brands such as John Wayne
Tampons, Muhammad Ali's Rope-a-dope Pads, Joe Namath Jock Shields - "For
Those Light Bachelor Days," and Robert "Baretta" Blake Maxi-Pads.)
Military men, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would
cite menstruation ("men-struation") as proof that only men could serve in
the Army ("you have to give blood to take blood"), occupy political office
("can women be aggressive without that steadfast cycle governed by the
planet Mars?"), be priest and ministers ("how could a woman give her blood
for our sins?") or rabbis("without the monthly loss of impurities, women
Male radicals, left-wing politicians, mystics, however, would insist that
women are equal, just different, and that any woman could enter their ranks
if she were willing to self-inflict a major wound every month ("you MUST
give blood for the revolution"), recognize the preeminence of menstrual
issues, or subordinate her selfness to all men in their Cycle of
Street guys would brag ("I'm a three pad man") or answer praise from a
buddy ("Man, you lookin' good!") by giving fives and saying, "Yeah, man,
I'm on the rag!" TV shows would treat the subject at length. ("Happy Days":
Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still "The Fonz,"
though he has missed two periods in a row.) So would newspapers.(SHARK
SCARE THREATENS MENSTRUATING MEN. JUDGE CITES MONTHLY STRESS IN PARDONING
RAPIST.) And movies. (Newman and Redford in "Blood Brothers"!)
Men would convince women that intercourse was more pleasurable at "that
time of the month." Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life
itself - though probably only because they needed a good menstruating man.
Of course, male intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical
arguments. How could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of
time, space, mathematics, or measurement, for instance, without that
in-built gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets - and thus
for measuring anything at all? In the rarefied fields of philosophy and
religion, could women compensate for missing the rhythm of the universe? Or
for their lack of symbolic death-and-resurrection every month?
Liberal males in every field would try to be kind: the fact that "these
people" have no gift for measuring life or connecting to the universe, the
liberals would explain, should be punishment enough.
And how would women be trained to react? One can imagine traditional women
agreeing to all arguments with a staunch and smiling masochism. ("The ERA
would force housewives to wound themselves every month": Phyllis Schlafly.
"Your husband's blood is as sacred as that of Jesus - and so sexy, too!":
Marabel Morgan.) Reformers and Queen Bees would try to imitate men, and
pretend to have a monthly cycle. All feminists would explain endlessly that
men, too, needed to be liberated from the false idea of Martian
aggressiveness, just as women needed to escape the bonds of menses-envy.
Radical feminist would add that the oppression of the nonmenstrual was the
pattern for all other oppressions ("Vampires were our first freedom
fighters!") Cultural feminists would develop a bloodless imagery in art and
literature. Socialist feminists would insist that only under capitalism
would men be able to monopolize menstrual blood...
In fact, if men could menstruate, the power justifications could probably
go on forever.
If we let them.