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Men and Menstruation

A Social Transaction


David Linton

What’s with the men in menstruation? This is the question Men in Menstruation: A Social Transaction sets out to answer. From earliest times men have been puzzled and perplexed by the menstrual cycle and have constructed elaborate taboos, superstitions, and practices attempting to explain why women have a periodical emission of a fluid that resembles blood but is not the result of an injury or affliction. In other words, men want to know why it is possible to bleed and not die. In order to understand what goes on between men and women in the presence of menstruation,  this book examines a variety of encounters, referred to as "menstrual transactions." From the three women in the Bible who are identified as menstruating to contemporary films, advertising, TV programs and literature, the book explores a wide range of transactions, even including Prince Charles’s close encounter of a menstrual kind. The book will appeal to anyone interested in gaining insights into the mystery of menstruation as well as students of gender and women’s studies or media theory and history.

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Chapter One: The Menstrual Transaction


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The Menstrual Transaction


“If you be not mad, begone; if you have reason, be brief. ’Tis not that time of moon with me to make one in so skipping a dialogue.”

Olivia to Viola/Cesario Twelfth Night—Act I, Scene 5 William Shakespeare

The encounter cited above suggests that 16th-century Elizabethans had their own issues around occasional menstrual discomfort and that Shakespeare knew he could get a laugh out of alluding to the matter. The subject is given an additional spin by the fact that Olivia’s brazen mention of her menstrual cycle to a person she believed to be a young man named Cesario (though actually a woman in disguise named Viola, one of Shakespeare’s many forays into gender bending flirtations; today the play stands as a disquisition on the politics of passing, identity and gender fluidity) is used as a means of demonstrating her hauteur as well as her superior social status. The playwright’s full intention behind this piece of dialogue cannot be known, but the idea that Elizabethan women might have had periods that impacted their moods is clear, and the notion must have been common enough for its mention to be acceptable in a theatrical production, though it might have raised some hackles. This brief jape (to stay with Elizabethan style for a moment) encapsulates the impact that menstrually provoked ← 17 | 18 → mood changes are thought to have on the ways people,...

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