We’ve all felt like our bodies are against us. Ever snorted while laughing at your crush’s joke? Gained 2 pounds after a week of exercising? Burped during an interview?
Or maybe you are halfway through high school, still waiting for your first period. When it finally comes you find yourself….
In a bathroom with faulty plumbing…
Without any of your family or friends nearby…
In a Honduran orphanage…
At the ripe-old age of 16 —
You can trust me on this one.
Sometimes the only proper response is to laugh. (If you burp during an interview, you should probably say “excuse me” as well. Just for the record.) Laughter is relaxing, humbling, and shows resilience. But jokes about our bodies can go too far. I’ve wanted to write an article about menstruation-based humor for several weeks now, ever since my husband and I met an awesome woman named Samantha. (Her name is not actually Samantha, but I’m going to call her Samantha in this article to respect her privacy.)
Samantha is a powerhouse—good at her job, funny, interesting, and beautiful. I had a great time getting to know her. When she found out that I write and speak about women’s health, she simply burst. She had just experienced an incredibly difficult time at work and wanted to tell me about it. I wasn’t sure how to present her story, because, as Samantha explained, “this is the age of everyone being offended by everything. It seems like everyone demands an apology for anything said and done.” Samantha and I want to share her story without joining the “all-too-easily-offended” culture. That is why I opened this article with a funny story about my first period; laughing is important! Laughing is important — but context is crucial.
Samantha is a hardworking and successful employee of a large company. One morning, an email from a coworker caught her off-guard. He’d replaced the word “frustrated” with a photograph of tampons. While others dismissed the email as a harmless joke, Samantha described the email as “flirting with the line of joking and blatant disregard to sensitivity.” Her disappointment with the email was compounded by the fact that when she shared her objections, her colleagues appeared more concerned she’d quit her job or sue them than they were energized to rectify the situation…
Do you agree that Samantha was right to share her concerns about the email?
I do. Reducing tampons to a symbol of frustration disregards the reason why women use tampons in the first place. We don’t use tampons because we are frustrated; we use them because we are capable of bringing life into the world. (Side note: I’ve been reading a lot about the carcinogens in tampons and am newly intrigued by menstrual cups…)
Yes, sometimes our changing hormones cause us to feel frustrated. But equating our reproductive health to the negative emotions we may experience is nothing short of fatal.
You see, if tampons only symbolize frustration, we should devote all of our energy to figuring out how to separate ourselves from our reproductive health.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Tampons represent some of the most gorgeous, intimate, and fundamental parts of womanhood. We need to respect, protect, and celebrate our femininity, not use it to bring ourselves down.
Samantha admits that the people she works with think about her differently now, but she doesn’t regret standing up for herself and for women’s bodies. She remarked, “I will take the bruises and blemishes on my reputation [for speaking up about the tampon email], but what I won’t tolerate is close-minded men who refuse to make an effort to empathize with the daily struggles of being a woman.” I respect Samantha’s comments, but I’ll make one addition: sometimes women are even more guilty of doing this this than men are. Ladies, please remember: you don’t get a “free pass” for spreading negativity about women’s bodies just because you are women. We can (and do) feed into the problem the same way some men do.
There is simply no place for “jokes” that insinuate that our fertility renders us incapable, dirty, or unattractive. When we joke about women’s bodies in a harmful way, we only add fuel to the fire of misogyny—a fire that already burns so strongly. Although your body may give you some reasons to laugh (and even cry), your body isn’t to be mocked or fought.
Your body isn’t against you. Your body is an inseparable part of you—beautiful, invaluable, mysterious you. And that’s no laughing matter.