Monday, June 26, 2006

More on Menstruation and Menopause

I finished The Woman in the Body last week. It was due back to the library, so I don't have it to refer to or quote from. This means I am forgetting much of what it said and can't share the photos.

Nonetheless, let me recommend it if you enjoy questions of culture, gender and identity. Even if you don't you're likely to get something out of the chapters on Cultural Images in Menstruation and Menopause, and Cultural Images in Birth (Not the exact titles, but close enough). The author argues that metaphors of women's reproductive functions are linked to her role in the workplace and societal views of work overall.

Thus, in ancient Greece, menstruation was viewed positively, as a means to unify and balance the bodily energies. With the rise of industrial production, women's bodies were subjected to hierarchical production metaphors. Hence, menopause is when the ovaries fail to respond to hormonal signals originating in the brain's control centers in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Labor is the work of the body to produce a baby; it often malfunctions (e.g. fails to produce the baby in a predetermined amount of time), requiring the skill of doctors and their tools to fix it.

Seemingly objective descriptions of body functions are framed in negative terms, rather than affirming ones. For example, most of us, when asked, describe menstruation as the sloughing off of the uterine lining when an unfertilized egg reaches the uterus or a fertilized egg fails to implant. This presumes the purpose of women's uteruses is reproduction. The author argues that the same process could be described as a cleansing of the uterus that signals the body's preparation for a fertility cycle. OR, if you want to be liberated from the procreation paradigm altogether, menstruation is confirmation that women's hormones are functioning well (or that she has successfully avoided pregnancy).

Similarly, menopause is not necessarily the "loss" of reproductive capacity. It is the refocusing of women's energy from reproductive areas to other areas.

Then there is the dissociation of women from their bodies. In other words, the notion that we talk about "what our body does" when we menstruate or give birth belies a possible separation of "self" from the physical body. Women do not usually say, "When I bleed." We say, "when I get my period." We do not say, "I contracted stronger as time went on," we say, "the contractions got stronger." Indeed, examination of medical texts discusses labor as involuntary -- the actions of the uterus in a vacuum -- and leaves the individual woman out of the process (except when she fails to dilate or she has to have a surgical delivery -- then it's the woman's fault, not that of the innocent uterus).

I only touched on a few of the ideas introduced in this short book (about 1/3 of which is references and research methodology; skip those parts if you're not interested). It's certainly worth the read.


Anonymous Julie said...

This sounds kind of like the book you and I were going to write! I'd like to read this one.

9:09 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Kind of like, but not really. So when we next find ourselves with time, I still think we should write the book.

12:39 PM  
Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

As soon as I can read for "fun"...!


3:08 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

yeah, there's that.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous robin d gill said...

i like finding the positive way to describe what the body does -- though it is good to think of the breaking-down and building-up as one entity, if only one side has been stressed previously . . .

if you are curious about japanese mense metaphor, you may find 24 pp in my recent book, "The Woman Without a Hole"

10:28 AM  

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