Well, here’s something you don’t see very often: One man, hosting a panel with three women about periods, on television, without a hint of discomfort among them.
Wednesday night, comedian Susie Essman, “Madame President” author Nicole Wallace, and “Nightly Show” writer Holly Walker joined host Larry Wilmore in a chat on the topic.
At one point in the discussion, Wallace, who served as George W. Bush’s communications director, turned to Wilmore and uttered, “Yes, I worked in the White House, and yes, every 28 days I bled, but the country went on. Plenty of women in the White House — I mean, we have had women as national security advisers — listen, Larry this was your topic.”
“Tell me about the bleeding every 28 days,” Wilmore gamely replied.
Technically, we have psychiatrist Dr. Julie Holland to thank for this exchange, because she wrote an op-ed for Time suggesting that Hillary Clinton was an appropriate age to run for president because she is post-menopausal:
Estrogen is a stress hormone that helps a woman be resilient during her fertile years. Its levels rise and fall to help her meet her biological demands, which are often about giving to others: attracting a mate, bearing children and nurturing a family. When estrogen levels drop after menopause, the cyclical forces that dominated the first half of our lives have been replaced with something more consistent. Our lives revolve less around others and become more about finally taking our turn.
A reminder: You must be at least 35 years old to hold the office of the presidency, an age when the majority of women, yes, still get their periods. And Essman, who interjected that she was “proudly post-menopausal” thank you very much, did not take kindly to the suggestion that Clinton was more qualified because of her hormone levels.
“I think as you get older you are more equipped to handle stress, but something like that to me is akin to saying if we have a male president he has to be a eunuch or a castrati,” Essman said, ever-so-lightly tapping into that Susie Greene rage that made her so appealing on “Curb Your Enthusiasm. “… That’s like saying you can’t have a man who has a sex drive be president. You can’t have a woman who’s menstruating — it’s stupid!”
“Here’s the thing: when I was pre-menopausal and had my period once a month, I ran a career, I brought up children, I ran a household,” Essman continued. “I did all these things, plus bleeding every month. How could I possibly have done all that?”
In another universe, maybe this would be mundane. But here, frank discussion of menstruating, even use of the word “bleeding,” is quietly revolutionary.
Consider the furor that erupted when Instagram censored a photograph of a fully clothed woman laying down, with a small amount of blood having seeped through her pants and onto her sheets. Why did the photo app remove the image when it didn’t actual violate any community guidelines? Instagram has gotten flack for its terms of service and the haphazard way they’re applied, specifically in relation to women’s bodies– butt selfies are fine, a line-drawing of a topless Grace Coddington is not. The network had to be cajoled into allowing users to post breastfeeding photographs.
But all of it comes back to what’s considered “appropriate” for public consumption of women’s bodies — sexualized imagery: fine. Run-of-the-mill pictures that suggest everything’s in working order? Not so much.
Last year the Upright Citizens Brigade performed a sketch that asked, “What if Maxi Pad Ads Used Red Instead of Blue?”
It prompted another discussion of the kid-glove treatment that’s demanded of periods or feminine care products. Lots of flowery euphemisms and white pants, and very little straight talk.
Apparently maxi-pad makers aren’t allowed to say “vagina” or “down there” on broadcast television, something that has zilch to do with FCC regulations.
“Fem-care advertising is so sterilized and so removed from what a period is,” Elissa Stein, co-author of “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation” said in a 2010 interview with the New York Times. “You never see a bathroom, you never see a woman using a product. They never show someone having cramps or her face breaking out or tearful — it’s always happy, playful, sporty women.”
Homeless shelters and charities experience a chronic shortage of said products, in part because no one wants to think about, much less speak about women’s periods. It’s a taboo that has meaningful and real implications beyond just the presence or absence of a woman bleeding through her sweatpants on Instagram.
“To me, it’s like we’re acting like women are some creature we’ve never met before,” Wilmore said “What is this biology we are not familiar with?”
Last night, Essman, Wallace and Walker had had enough, especially of the implication that a woman who’s still fertile isn’t capable of handling the responsibility of the nuclear football.
“Larry, I’m bleeding right now,” Walker deadpanned. “Everything is f—ed.”
“We’re not Victorian women where we’re having fainting spells,” Essman added.
Wallace also made a point, using Brad Garrett’s recently published book, “When the Balls Drop,” that if column inches dedicated to the hormonal status of female candidates were fair game, so too should be the prostates of the male candidates.
“How can you stare down Putin if you’ve got to pee?” Walker asked. “… If menopause is on the table, so are [testicular] aches.”