Seeing Red: The Rise of Mensesplaining, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last week, Megan looked at “mensesplaining”—“the dynamics of mansplaining (men explaining things to women, usually extremely unnecessarily), reversed. Women enlightening men about something (most) guys will never experience themselves.” Their periods, that is.

Yesterday, Megan responded to a reader who pushed back on the term “mensesplaining” on the grounds that mansplaining has a negative connotation. This next dissenting reader thinks periods are “objectively gross”:

Even in the absence of a gendered taboo, not wanting to discuss periods is categorically akin to not wanting to discuss diarrhea. Discussing the specific issues surrounding periods like access to tampons and being generally sympathetic is fine, but the graphic details are toilet humor.

What exactly is meant by “normalizing periods”? That you can talk about it any time with no push-back? I’m sorry, but there’s an enormous list of things that don’t make for polite dinner conversation, and periods will virtually always be one of them, at least if you can’t be a little tactful about it. You want to talk about the moods, the pain, the inconvenience, by all means, do so, and I will dutifully extend my condolences. But as soon as you start applying adjectives to your emissions, I’m done. Unless you want to hear about how my semen was runnier today than yesterday, we’ve got to have a detente. The red line is fluids and their descriptors. Let’s keep it civil now.

As a caveat, any person from whom I would tolerate detailed descriptions of their bowel movements is also on the small and privileged list of people whom I would tolerate being explicit about their periods. It will still be gross, and an oblique and humorous spin would be appreciated unless we’re talking medical issues, but there’s some leeway for close relations.

Another reader pushes back on that argument:

Think of all the comedies you’ve ever seen that use farting, urine, feces, and semen as punchlines. It’s a million, right? Why should periods be the only bodily function exempt from that list? I mean, in addition to the real issues involved, periods are funny. Bodily functions are, in general, probably because they make us uncomfortable.

In addition to discussing the real medical issues: The fact it’s only recently that pads and tampons stopped being subject to luxury taxes shows this conversation should have happened a long time ago.