Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Menstruation ( hooray! )

I notice a prominent advert for tampax on my Myspace page. 'Discover the Latest Tampax Pearl with the New Pearl Protect System.' I have no idea what this is. But I hope it makes the world a happier place.

It reminds me of something I was thinking about recently, whilst slumped on my couch. I do my finest thinking there. No, that's not true at all. I just lie semi-comatose, watching TV. Often I watch American sit-coms, which I generally like. Or dislike them less than British sitcoms, maybe.

I notice that anytime menstruation is mentioned in an American sitcom, all the men panic. They cover their ears, or even run out the room. It's weird. I've seen this repeated in various programmes. Some woman mentions her period, and the men start panicking, completely unable to cope.

Do men ever really do this? Do any of them really get that upset? Not in my experience. It's difficult to see why anyone would get so upset.

I wonder why this scene is so often repeated? I've never seen it in a British sitcom (On the other hand, I haven't seen anything funny in one either, for about the past twenty years)

I suppose it's just done for comic effect. It seems like a fairly lazy way of raising a laugh, really. And not really liable to make women feel good about themselves if it's implied that something they experience every month is deeply repulsive to the other half of the population. So I was on the brink of becoming self-righteous about this, when I realised that... hmm... that actually, I wrote a scene like that once too. In a Thraxas book.

In Thraxas and the Elvish Isles, at the vital moment in an all-male card game, Makri, female barbarian and waitress, starts talking about her period. The men all become uncomfortable, and indeed, some of them panic completely. Which did lead to a funny scene. My thinking at the time, I suppose, was that in the mediaeval, and quite religious society, in which Thraxas lives, menstruation was a taboo subject, and when the female barbarian blithely starts talking about it, the men can't cope.

It seemed funny at the time. But maybe I shouldn't have written it. I didn't realise I'd be joining in with some global campaign to make menstruation seem like a bad subject. If I had realised, I'd probably have written something different. (It's time for the National Menstruation Festival! Bring party hats!)

Hum. Oh well, in Queen Vex, sequel to Lonely Werewolf Girl, Daniel buys the contents of a shopping list, including tampons, for his female friend Moonglow, and he manages not to panic, or even comment adversely.

I'm currently editing this book. And also trying to think of a new title. It's still on course to come out next year.

Spell-check fact - On spell-checking this blog, I found I spelled 'menstruation' wrongly every time. Ha. Well, it's quite a tricky word.


  1. Bring on the National Menstruation Festival! The only men i know who are embarrassed about such things are old, like my Dad, who would rather we never mentioned "Women's things". Having said that, my male friends are broadminded hippy types, so maybe we're not typical.

  2. Menstruation used to be completely taboo and women locked up during that time, so in medieval context it did make sense. In modern day time and in European or northern America context, not so much.

  3. Anonymous7:00 pm

    Nothing wrong with menstruation, period.

    Har har har....

    Looking forward to the new (period friendly) book!

  4. My favorite line about menstruation was from a South Park episode where one of the characters(a hunter I think)exclaims, "I don't trust nuthin' that bleeds for a week and doesn't die". I thought it was hilarious. I think men are bit scared of it poor wee things. And just out of interest, my father who was of WW2 vintage, was completely cool about 'women's business' so I think it just dpends on the bloke in question.

  5. I (American, yet not willing to be considered even partially responsible for American sitcoms) am afraid I rather enjoy watching male panic about a relatively mundane occurrence. It feels more like power than oppression.

    As well as the bleeding, some men are aware that a certain disregard for human life (or any other kind) creeps in with the other hormones, and so even men who are accustomed to the haemorrhage are often cautious. "How many women with their periods does it take to change a lightbulb? IT DOESN'T MATTER !! (Sweeping arms, sound of breaking glass, optional rant about 'nobody but me ever does anything around here anyway...')"

    I tried (successfully, I think) to make the whole thing neither ewww! nor a mystery when I had small kids. My favorite story on the subject, however, was of a mom trying to toilet-train her son, a time when one often gives up on conventions of privacy in favor of good modelling. After a trying time she needed to pee herself, and, sitting, withdrew a used tampon. Her son clamped his hands over his crotch and ran away, screaming "Booboo! BOOBOO!" (American for an ouchie).

    Thanks for giving a damn, though, really.

  6. I'd've thought it'd be pretty obvious that men who don't freak out about periods make better lovers.

    By rights men should all be falling over themselves to show how cool they are about the whole thing in order to attract mates.

    One of my favourite bits of "Ruby and the Stone Age Diet" has a period in it...

  7. Anonymous2:40 am

    Here in the States almost anything can be discussed on prime time TV as long as it's done with humor and/or animation. This way the easily offended aren't offended enough to complain and the networks get to keep their sponsors.

    My guess is that the jokes about menstruation continue because a small percentage of very vocal people still find the topic offensive.

    Wow, how's that for cynical?

    By the way, "Green Wing" was a fabulous British sitcom. Any show that makes me laugh hysterically and want to vomit at the same time can't be all bad.

  8. Lazy way to raise a laugh, indeed. Lovely insight.
    Cheers from a Soft Skull intern!

  9. Anonymous12:32 am

    hey at least menstruation has the word man in the beggining, so women all over can know that men are apart of their plight.. jk.. whats the content of the book so we can help with the new title to lonely werewolf girl?

  10. Anonymous1:31 am

    i meant to say the word 'men' not maN. YES ITS EARLY IN THE MORNING.

  11. They have scented tampax now. Each to their own, eh?

  12. Anonymous4:10 am

    Martin, You write a new Thraxas book right now or else. Love, Your Mom

  13. Anonymous12:18 am

    Hey - have a look at this site - it may make you laugh - be careful!


    (someone posted it as a link in a thread in the Neil Gaiman World's End) Funny!

  14. Menstruation is bloody and messy and a reminder that women are animals (like men). I suppose that is part of why it is taboo. And taboo subjects sometimes make people laugh. For some reason, your post reminded me of a short piece in one of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing comic books. The piece was about a female werewolf on a rampage. Moore's premise was that the werewolf was a native american from a tribe that banished women to temporary isolation and social shunning during their menses (I understand that this was, in fact, the case for some native american tribes). Menses, traditionally (and mythically), always occurred during the full moon. The character turns into a werewolf and unleashes all her anger and rage (stemming from her mistreatment for being a woman) on all these innocents. In the end though, it ends badly for her - partially because she is still human. Brilliant.

  15. Loved the scene where Makri ruins the card game for Thraxas just as he's holding a winning hand. So funny. Martin, you're brillant.

  16. Anonymous2:01 pm


  17. Seen these?

    Is this better or worse than running away? Heheh!

  18. Eriana Marcus2:01 pm

    first - thankyou Martin for your wonderful writing that is the only thing that saves me from my own brain; what a relief!!!
    In relation to the being in a female body; I tend to think of my self as a car; sometimes i'm a really great '63 silver jag; other times i'm a clunker in need of many things. Personally I think it's funny, being a female to drop the M word is various ways - and I can't wait for the day when menopause finally kicks in for good - and I want to jump for joy on the main drag yelling "yippee, my tranny fell out"
    again - absolutely adore your writing- and I think that one day Vex may make a very funky queen . . more on that to come.
    cheers and the good things to you Martin!
    Eri Marcus