Pass the Leeches, Please
By Brenda Fine
April 10, 1999
In her book The Beauty Myth, feminist author Naomi Wolf paints a picture of women's health care in Victorian England. In particular, in that era, menstruation was not a monthly inconvenience, but a horror: every twenty-eight days, select women would consult their physicians for treatment. This treatment, however, didn't involve a few Advils and a hot water bottle; it was considerably more aggressive. No - every twenty-eight days, the physicians would "cure" these women's bleeding with...leeches. And lest any woman on this board be having visions of being whisked away for this treatment, I assure you that most readers would have been immune to leeching. This procedure was reserved only for the elite - and women didn't have to be coerced, but rather asked for it...a testament, according to feminist writers, to the second-class status of women and lack of respect for the female anatomy.
Anyone keeping up with pop-culture feminism should be well aware that by now, the pendulum has swung the other way - and its momentum shows no signs of waning. Perhaps for a fleeting instant some time ago, Advil and the hot water bottle were the tools of choice. But today, many perceive a woman to be a traitor to her sex if for even a second she insinuates that there is anything even remotely negative about the event in question. The Monthly Curse has evolved into the Monthly Celebration of Womanhood; feminists greet such events as the "Vagina Monologues" outlined in TIME magazine, among others, with the pubescent glee of a Judy Blume character. In her 1978 essay, If Men Could Menstruate, Gloria Steinem postulates that the sanguinely-challenged sex would "brag how much and for how long". Women, implore the feminists, honour your bodies; do not allow yourselves to believe that their normal functioning is diseased and hideous.
And, somewhere in the distance, Donna Shalala, a member of the Clinton administration - that's right, folks, the administration of the United States' "first woman president" - proposes that abortion "be covered as a treatment for pregnancy, just like a treatment for any other disease." And mainstream feminists, as ignorant of their bleating as they are knowledgeable of their bleeding, continued - and continue - to cheer when Steinem, the ink from her menstruation essay still wet, declared that "if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."
Am I the only one shaking her head over this one?
Of course, lack of consistency is par for the pop-culture feminism course. We are, after all, talking about the movement that cranks out their support of Larry Flynt after vocally condemning the Promise Keepers, whom we should be seeing as the far greater enemy of women. And, we're talking about the movement that publicizes studies documenting the prevalence of rape, and then insists that any woman charging the president couldn't possibly be telling the truth. To add insult to injury, I'll wager that some representatives of said movement would be quick to tell me that my reasoning is embarrassingly unfeminine...shouldn't I be relying instead on my intuition and feeling that we should be celebrating menstruation and attempting to cure pregnancy? Yes - I've heard such suggestions before. In the meantime, however, I have a calculus exam next week, and I'm not willing to turn off the left side of my brain quite yet.
Women never were dragged in by force for leechings. Apparently, they're not dragged in by force for this latest, sacramental (for men, that is) brand of suctioning. So their consent alone can't mean that abortion is beneficial to women - but let's not benefit from hindsight or anything. After all, according to pop-culture feminism, the term "pro-life feminist" makes about as much sense as "successful alchemist" or "Muslim Pope". Personhood of the fetus aside, I'm allowed to state that breast implants, liposuction, and facelifts (and, of course, leechings) all corrupt the natural female body, but any claim that abortion is similarly degrading meets with puzzled looks and "get real"s.
I'm not about to make the claim that pregnancy is always fun; I'm every bit as aware as any prochoicer that it has the potential to be pretty miserable. Then again, I'm not the one suggesting that women pop out the bubbly once every twenty-eight days. In fact - and call me unimaginative - I'll bet that if men could menstruate, they wouldn't be doing that either. Given the inequality that I can't deny did (and to a lesser but still significant extent, still does) exist between the sexes, if men could menstruate, they probably would have avoided a lot of the garbage that women went through on account of their biology - they, unlike one of my grandmothers, likely wouldn't have met puberty with a fear that they were dying, concealing the evidence for months. Other than that, though, I'd assume that Advil and hot water bottles would be found in every other bachelor pad.
Then again, I could be wrong. Perhaps somewhere, a bleeding man would turn to his locker buddy and "brag how much and for how long". But if he did, his pal may well be flipping through an old issue of TIME magazine and proclaiming, "Octuplets? Pfft. Betcha I could do nine."
This article copyright © 1999 by Brenda Fine and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.