"If Men Could Menstruate"
by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Magazine, October 1978 (EXCERPT)
So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?
Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event:
Men would brag about how long and how much.
Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.
To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps.
Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali's Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields—"For Those Light Bachelor Days."
Statistical surveys would show that men did better in sports and won more Olympic medals during their periods.
Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation ("men-struation") as proof that only men could serve God and country in combat ("You have to give blood to take blood"), occupy high political office ("Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?"), be priests, ministers, God Himself ("He gave this blood for our sins"), or rabbis ("Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean").
Male liberals and radicals, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could join their ranks if only she were willing to recognize the primacy of menstrual rights ("Everything else is a single issue") or self-inflict a major wound every month ("You must give blood for the revolution").
Street guys would invent slang ("He's a three-pad man") and "give fives" on the corner with some exchange like, "Man you lookin' good!"
"Yeah, man, I'm on the rag!"
TV shows would treat the subject openly. (Happy Days: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still "The Fonz," though he has missed two periods in a row. Hill Street Blues: The whole precinct hits the same cycle.) So would newspapers. (Summer Shark Scare Threatens Menstruating Men. Judge Cites Monthlies In Pardoning Rapist.) And so would movies. (Newman and Redford in Blood Brothers!)
Men would convince women that sex was more pleasurable at "that time of the month." Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself, though all they needed was a good menstruating man.
Medical schools would limit women's entry ("they might faint at the sight of blood").
Of course, intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguments. Without the biological gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets, how could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics-- or the ability to measure anything at all? In philosophy and religion, how could women compensate for being disconnected from the rhythm of the universe? Or for their lack of symbolic death and resurrection every month?
Menopause would be celebrated as a positive event, the symbol that men had accumulated enough years of cyclical wisdom to need no more.
Liberal males in every field would try to be kind. The fact that "these people" have no gift for measuring life, the liberals would explain, should be punishment enough.
And how would women be trained to react? One can imagine right-wing women agreeing to all these arguments with a staunch and smiling masochism. ("The ERA would force housewives to wound themselves every month": Phyllis Schlafly)
In short, we would discover, as we should already, that logic is in the eye of the logician. (For instance, here's an idea for theorists and logicians: if women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn't it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long? I leave further improvisation up to you.)
The truth is that, if men could menstruate, the power justifications would go on and on.
If we let them.
Most of us are engaged in this conversation about opinion writing because we care about an issue or idea and we want to communicate it to others. We're moved or shocked by something that fascinates or compels us and we want to change minds, and change the world. We want to make an impact. How do we do that?
By getting read.
The goal of writing an op-ed is to be read and make an impact. The best way to explore how to do this is by example. What are the arguments that have had the greatest influence on you, in your life—and why? What op-eds, or essays, have swayed the world?
Steinem's essay is an example of effective persuasion. Many people made the arguments that Steinem made for women's rights, but very few made those arguments as effectively as she did. Why was she so convincing? What makes her words so powerful?
First, what are the two big stereotypes about feminism? That feminists are humorless and man-hating. Can you see how she debunks them?
Second, what is her evidence, and how does she build it? Note that sometimes making a case for the opposite of the thing you are arguing for—and driving it to its most ridiculous conclusion—can be more effective than making a straightforward case for your cause.
Also, Steinem's taboo subject matter (menstruation) captures our attention; and at the same time, her choice of using menstruation-something that all women do or have done at some point in time—is very inclusive. Back then, people accused feminism of being a movement for white middle and upper class women, so her choice of topic/vehicle was effective in that it addressed and included all women. (How would her piece have been different if she had chosen, say, college admissions, or "work-life balance" as her point of entry into the discussion of patriarchy?)
But what is she really talking about? Her subject is not menstruation, of course; she's merely chosen this as a vehicle for talking about... power and patriarchy.
Sometimes it is more effective to approach big ideas with a small (or seemingly small) topic.