In case you haven’t heard, I’m one of those lucky guys who has a wife and 6 daughters. I am, as many, many, many people have reminded me for the last 17 years (ever since our eldest was born), in the minority in my family.
I am the only male.
That is, unless you count the male dog we’ve had for a little over a year, who expresses the quality of our relationship by furiously barking at me anytime I am within 25 feet of him. Since we are far from a unified team (it’s not like we can give each other high fives/paws as I can’t get near him), not to linger on the fact that we are different species, making swapping stories of woe nearly impossible – though, to be fair, I’ve heard his gripes multiple times a day for the last year+ (“You still live here? No! No! No No NO! Go away!” repeated ad nauseam.) – he doesn’t really count.
In terms of a show of human hands, I am the only male in a house of 8 people, and countless caring individuals have felt sorry for me through the years for a variety of reasons related to that fact. I’ll save compiling the long list of reasons for another day, but I’m happy to share my reaction to them here and now:
I hate that people assume that I am a miserable man because I live with female humans, and/or because I am the only male in the family. And, for the record, the number of children I have hasn’t mattered – I heard about how miserable I must be with our very first.
I hate it, because I am extremely happy with my wife and 6 daughters and I don’t ever feel suffocated, outnumbered, ganged up on, outvoted, lonely, ignored, or incomplete with them, nor by the obvious lack of male representation in my family.
From the beginning, we have fostered a culture of complete acceptance for each individual in our family, focusing on what we all have in common while valuing the things that make us different.
We’re all human after all, and so far I haven’t noticed anything major from any of the human beings in my family who happen to be female that I can’t relate to as a human being who happens to be male.
“Sure, sure,” some will say, “but what about those things that only the females of our species can experience? Like periods. How do you cope being around all those menstruating females every month? I mean, wow. The hormones, the emotions, the gore and mess of it all. How do you survive?”
Basically they’re asking if I’m drowning in estrogen and my balls have turned into ovaries yet – sometimes in not-so-veiled terms.
I’m glad you asked, because that mystery is exactly what I aim to answer today (not so much the sex change as much as how I preserve my sanity as I am in constant danger of being carried away by a flash flood of menstrual blood).
So I offer you 7 truths I have learned as a man living with 4 active uteruses (or uteri):
1. There are boxes of tampons and pads in my house and I’m not ashamed of it.
I understand why guys are so fearful and weirded out by period stuff – or at least why I used to be, eons ago now. At about the same age when I should have had the sex talk with my parents (which, I didn’t – until I was 17 and it was far from helpful at that point), my sisters actually had a conversation about sex with my mom. Or, if not about sex per se, definitely a conversation about the imminent arrival of their menstrual cycle. They needed to know stuff. But I didn’t face the imminent threat of blood suddenly seeping out of my body; so I remained clueless. And because of the shame associated with anything related to our privates, to this day I’m still not sure that my mom or sisters ever actually had a period. They hid it well, and we never talked about it.
It’s no wonder that boys who grew up in that type of culture think that periods (or girl-stuff in general) are weird and freaky. It’s because we have no clue what they are, and humans are by nature suspicious of, if not terrified by, what they’re not familiar with. It also seems natural, but by no means justifiable, that humans poke fun at what they know nothing about, to hide their own ignorance. Hence, boys/men mock girls/women for the ways that they are uniquely female.
And all it would take is a little education, and a lot of cracking down on shaming in favor of acceptance, to fix it. Once a guy gets there, he realizes that women can’t help having a period, that it’s the biological norm for them, therefore a good thing, and so is managing the natural flow of menstrual blood. Pads and tampons become no big deal because they have been demystified.
So, yes, there are plenty of feminine products in my house today; of course there are. And yes, sometimes I even see used ones. But facing them is no worse than changing a poopie diaper, which is actual human waste, unlike menstrual blood. But most of the time I don’t see used products because girls tend to start using them at a time in their life when they really start caring about hygiene. They don’t want a used tampon lying around the house any more than I do.
2. Planets Align. Periods synch up.
Just as surely as planets align, periods will synch up. Ok, periods have a stronger association with the moon than the planets, but my point is that, for reasons that are more anecdotal than fact-based over this debatable concept, the women I live with often observe that they are cycling together (and I mean menstruation, not stationary bikes – though that’s ok too). I think the menstruation party lasts for 8-10 days out of the month, and then it’s over. Do they align perfectly? No, but there is enough overlap to be noticed, and often. Maybe misery likes company?
3. Yet it’s not the crazy monthly mood-storm you might imagine
“So for 8-10 days each month, they’re all super-moody at the same time?” Well, yes. And no. Your mental image of psych-ward level hysterics is insulting – and wrong.
My understanding is that for the majority of women, real pain is a part of their period. Calling them cramps sounds a little uncomfortable and basically no big deal to me, until I remember the times I’ve had full-blown muscle cramps. They are horribly painful! Now imagine that happening in your gut area. And getting them every single month. I would be grumpy. I’d probably be mad-as-hell. I would likely get moody even before they started, just knowing they’re coming.
Does this justify women being grumpy or moody? Well, yes, actually. But it does not justify women taking out their frustration and pain on others. We believe, and teach, that emotions and responses can and should be managed. And we further believe that those not experiencing the pain and frustration can learn compassion, patience, and forgiveness, and apply them to people having periods just like they would for any other one-time or chronic ailment – male or female. If someone in the family was a grump because they had chronic back problems, or simply stubbed their toe, of course we would understand and be patient with them, and also hold that person accountable for their treatment of others. It should be the same with periods.
4. I am present with them and I am here to tell you that it is safe.
Sitcoms and other forms of media encourage men to run away rather than face women having their periods as an acceptable course of action, such as locking themselves up in their man-cave for a week, or going out to guzzle beer with sane people, aka other men. Basically, instead of supporting women through their pain, it’s ok for men to leave them alone with their misery.
The message is clear: periods make women irrational, over-emotional, difficult, and dangerous and men don’t have to put up with that. The subtext is that men are never irrational, over-emotional, difficult, or dangerous to be around (yeah, right) and that women don’t deserve men’s attention unless they are happy and uncomplicated – oh, and pretty, of course (basically like a paid escort without having to pay her). Which reminds me: it seems logical to me that women turn to comfortable clothing to cope with physical discomfort. Bring on the ugly sweat pants and oversize shirts! I find them comfortable too.
Women can’t run away from their periods, and a little solidarity from men goes a long way. As an added bonus, periods and sickness are a clear opportunity for men to demonstrate to women that they are still worth their time and attention even when they’re a mess and don’t have the energy to try to impress anyone. But guys, don’t expect a pat on the back for being so amazing. It’s not amazing to act like a decent human being. If that’s what you’re after, then stay in your man-cave with your beer buddies.
5. No monthly gifts laid at the blood altar to appease the menstrual goddesses/demons and spare my soul. But I do acknowledge food cravings.
Another acceptable reaction to women having their periods that we can thank sitcoms and other media for is for men to drop off gifts of chocolate and/or flowers for their menstruating friends before bolting to hide in their man-cave. I guess the idea is that maybe you won’t come across as a complete jerk who abandons their friends while they cope with pain, shame, and feelings of abandonment and unworthiness, if you give them a thoughtful traditional token of love before fleeing the bloody scene.
First, it’s not thoughtful if it’s done to cover up cowardice or jerk-ness. Second, if it’s really more of a pitying gesture, then it’s not loving. Third, if you’re that kind of person, then no amount of gifts could ever save your soul. Fourth, women don’t need gifts to cope with their periods.
In my house, our first line of
defense support is compassion. Food cravings are respected and met when possible, but often not. Periods are neither deserving of pity, nor are they to be used for manipulation or excuses. That being said, when someone is hurting, a thoughtful token of love can be very comforting, but a back rub, a heating pad, a comfy spot on the couch, a cup of tea, or homemade cookies (or steak, or nachos, or really anything that sounds good to them), goes way farther than a box of chocolates or flowers ever could, because your presence accompanies them.
6. Yes, I regularly buy pads and tampons – and it’s no big deal.
Because I understand that periods are a normal part of most healthy women’s life, that they are the biological norm, that they are natural even though they can be messy, buying pads and tampons is no different than shopping for diapers, or toilet paper to me.
I’ve come a long way, actually: I remember feeling embarrassed about buying toilet paper. I remember thinking that people would notice and think about how I need toilet paper because I have bowel movements. Because I poop! How embarrassing! I’m not joking, either. But most people outgrow thinking about how everyone poops at a fairly young age. It’s 3 yr olds that you need to worry about going from person to person, shouting “You poop! And you poop! And you poop too, right?” If you are mature enough to be reading this it is highly likely that you outgrew that stage a long, long time ago. Shouldn’t it be the same with periods? Don’t be the grown up equivalent of a 3 yr old about periods. Go boldly to the store and buy pads and tampons, and the whole shopping list while you’re at it! Now to get over my embarrassment over purchasing condoms…
7. Finally, no, I don’t have a man card. I burned it a long time ago. I encourage you to do the same.
Jeremy Martin-Weber is the proud father of 6 inspiring girls, and is 19 years into a love story with his partner, Jessica Martin-Weber.