The main thing we were prepared for in childhood regarding the menstrual cycle was that it is an embarrassing occasion, one that must be hidden from those around us. Very little was spoken about the pain – they said “discomfort,” they said “for some girls.” You didn’t want to be one of those girls. The worst image we were exposed to was of moody girls sitting on the bench while the rest of the class kicks a ball around in phys. ed.
Hints, fragments of information, and expressions that had nothing to do with what happened to you in practice. Menses, period, that time of the month – what does that have to do with blood dripping from your vagina? Why is it so horrifying to speak of vagina? Why call an organ, which at age ten has nothing to do with sex, a “sex organ”?
Everything was confusing and anxiety-inducing, and had more to do with the discomfort of grown-ups than with us. The menstrual blood somehow stood alongside Elijah the Prophet and the tooth fairy – a magical occurrence, somewhere between real and not, and in any event engineered by grown-ups who were hiding reality from us.
And here, in Israel 2022, not much has changed since the 1990s. The cultural pendulum slams rapidly from side to side – on one hand a campaign for period panties (by Modibodi) launched last week shows blood that looks like blood, rather than replacing it with some baby-blue liquid. Everything is open, with no attempt to hide anything, and without the mystification and vagueness meant to keep us women – magical, detached beings that we are – from physicality. Blood flowing from washed panties to the sink, blood flowing down a woman’s legs in the shower. Normal blood, not special, not disgusting, just blood like that which fills any living body.
On the other end of the pendulum’s swing, a campaign to encourage women to keep nida, the Jewish commandments regarding ritual cleanliness, which severely curtail the freedom of women for about half of each month. And as if the whole concept of nida (a word that means “to be banished, set apart”) is not charged with enough shame, concealment and defilement, this entire specific campaign was born in sin. Secular celebrities concealed from their social media followers the fact that their supposedly innocent recommendation to keep nida is in fact a paid gig. This is a new project by businesswoman Ruthi Leviev-Yelizarov titled “She’asani Isha,” which promotes messages supporting the keeping of nida and bathing at a mikveh.
There is nothing wrong with a paid gig. Being paid for work is great. There is also nothing wrong with keeping nida and bathing in the mikveh if that suits you. But spreading conservative-religious messages with no proper disclosure and while concealing interests – by those chosen for the job precisely because they do not appear conservative or religious – is deceitful, dishonest and improper bias. Unlike the period panties campaign that promotes disclosure and openness, here we have concealment, hiding and conniving. Any time you can choose between speech and forced silence, between clarity and opacity, disseminating knowledge or spreading mysticism – one must say things as they are, simply and honestly.
Of course, of the two campaigns, the one that makes the public pulse race is the one designed to normalize the sight of menstrual blood. Complaints received by the Second Broadcast Authority claim these sights to be repulsive, disgusting, exaggerated, offensive and other such descriptions of how awful it is to show a natural, everyday occurrence for over half of humanity.
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Concealing menses is another point on the spectrum of concealing elbows, knees, or hair – the implicit statement here is that female physicality makes men uncomfortable. It is a temptation to sin, be it in thought or in action, and the prime directive of survival for women becomes concealment. It is not at all surprising that many of the complaints received by the Second Authority are worded in the feminine. Self-disgust, self-hate of parts of myself is a way to feel in control in a reality where a woman has no control, not even over her own body.
And to return to the campaign to keep nida, it’s actually not that complicated – if there was nothing to gain by concealment, there would be no need to work so hard to conceal. In the future, when Ruthi Leviev-Yelizarov’s money seeks to buy a place in this or that conservative party – for someone else or for herself – we will be able to draw a direct line between the time Shai Mika and Yael Bar Zohar told us in a campaign how keeping nida improved their marriage, and a new bill to ban abortions in Israel.