What Donald Trump’s ‘period pains’ say about society

By Joshua Piercey

Image source: Molly Riley/Polaris/Newscom

Image source: Molly Riley/Polaris/Newscom

As a man who thrives off controversy, it’s tough to imagine how Donald Trump would interpret the public outrage following his recent Fox News comments. In case you missed it, the Republican candidate didn’t take too kindly to news anchor Megyn Kelly grilling him for misogynistic jibes during a live TV debate, so he decided to put her tough questioning down to ‘blood coming out of her… everywhere.’

The motivation for his comments is clear, but one wonders if the scale of the backlash was expected even by Trump, who courts publicity on a daily basis.

Megyn Kelly was doing her job: taking a poorly informed hypocrite to task about his attitude to women. By insinuating that Kelly was on her period – and that this was the reason she was challenging him – Trump was doing what he always does: reaching for low hanging fruit while attempting to deflect attention from his own failings.

His recent stunt has highlighted his weaknesses (hypocrisy, lack of coherent policies and sketchy knowledge on politics), and emphasised his reliance on a pantomime combination of bombast and candour to get attention.

It was a cheap shot and one that has been made millions of times by men and women. But it’s a cheap shot that got Trump banned from a RedState conservative gathering, attracting thousands of Republican supporters in key states. Organiser – political blogger Erick Erickson, admitted: “There are lines even blunt talkers and unprofessional politicians should not cross. Decency is one of those lines.”

The reaction to Trump’s comments is justified… but is perhaps motivated by more than the disapproval of a hugely disrespectful remark. Trump crossed a line as soon as he mentioned periods.

Crossing the Line

It’s important to bear in mind that this is a man who within the last few weeks, implied Mexicans crossing the border into the United States are all rapists and that ex-presidential candidate and former POW, John McCain, was only a war hero because “he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” Trump is an unwavering jerk about many things, so it’s strange to find him pilloried because he implied a woman was menstruating. It’s rude and fundamentally patronising… but why is it wrong to talk about periods?

The feeling that Trump crossed a line indicates how conflicted we are in our attitude towards menstruation. It’s undeniable that Trump’s remark was insulting and condescending, but at least he had the dubious honour of being obviously bogus (and stupid). Erickson told the Guardian: “I don’t think I should have anyone on stage who would say that to a female journalist while my wife and daughter are watching.”

Women using the hashtag #periodsarenotaninsult have parodied Trump’s remarks

Erikson; this case’s defender of decency has himself, faced criticism for calling Texas politician Wendy Davis an ‘abortion Barbie’ and labelling Michelle Obama a ‘marxist harpy’ who would go ‘Lorena Bobbitt’ on her husband (referring to a Virginia woman who cut her husband’s penis off for cheating in 1993.) It could be forgiven for deducing Erikson’s number one priority may not be to uphold decency, but rather to shield his wife and daughter from the mention of periods. Because periods are gross, right? And mentioning them is indecent.

Periods have been labelled as disgusting, sinful and – somehow – unnatural for millennia. That something which happens to 50% of the population once a month could be seen as indecent, requires a dollop of cognitive dissonance, and that cognitive dissonance is sustained in part by the taboo around periods – a self-fulfilling, self-sustaining cycle of irrationality which keeps menstruation, or the acknowledgement thereof, as an insult.

If Donald Trump had implied that Kelly’s tough questioning came from another biologically inconvenient condition – indigestion, say – he would have been ridiculed, rather than condemned. But despite the fact that periods are an unavoidable fact of life (like indigestion), our attitudes continue to label them as something more.

The Lamest Taboo

We live in a world where menstrual hygiene is seen as a luxury. Literally – in the UK there’s a 5% luxury item tax paid on tampons and sanitary towels, something that essential items like helicopters and crocodile meat avoid. While that 5% tax might not lead to huge expenditures, the attitude behind it – that menstrual care is not health care – means that huge numbers of women worldwide, lack access to something as basic as sanitary products to use when they are bleeding from their vaginas.

Teacakes are one of the many items deemed an everyday necessity, unlike sanitary products that are taxed with a 5% VAT rate. Image source: The Independent

Teacakes are one of the many items deemed an everyday necessity, unlike sanitary products that are taxed with a 5% VAT rate. Image source: The Independent

Part of the reason behind the almost universal condemnation of Trump’s remark is that periods – and the stupid social stigma that surrounds them – have been brought to light. Donald chose a poor time to make his comment, but then the man lacks awareness to an almost parodic degree.

Turns out you can combat social stigma, inherent prejudice and Donald Trump, all in the same way. As women like Rupi Kaur and Kiran Gandhi and Heather Watson are doing – simply talking about periods and refusing to shy away from it. Transparency is the best disinfectant, and familiarity breeds eventual contempt. I would love to live in a world where using a woman’s menstruation as an insult met scorn and mockery, rather than disgust.

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