I Plugged My Menses With Pages from the Holy Book

beyonce emerges denial lemonade
Water breaking

In the segment of Lemonade labelled: “Denial”, Beyonce recites part of Warsan Shire’s “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love”. We’ve just seen her jump off the side of a building, as though ending her life; she’s chanting while floating in water – almost as in utero:

“I tried to change
closed my mouth more
tried to be softer
prettier
less awake”

She goes on to describe a penance. Maybe he cheated because she was too much; if she could just change, be more good, less sinful, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. The penance she describes is brutal, supernatural, like something from one of the Southern Churches. Towards the end, she recites:

“I bathed in bleach and plugged my menses with pages from the holy book.”

When she said that, I felt like I’d been struck. Like she’d reached out and slapped me across the face.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, about an angry woman, “Oh, maybe she’s on her rag.” or some such variation. People – and not just boyfriends – have said this to me, or within earshot of me, about another woman.

I also cannot tell you how hard it is for me to write this. I like to tell my friends that: “I’ve never had sex”. If I thought they’d believe it, I’d tell them: “I have no sex organs: none. It’s a medical anomaly.” Because your body is your own vessel: you can choose to share it or not. (So, be flattered that I’m talking about this with you ;))

Perhaps that’s partially why I think it’s gross, openly discussing a woman’s menstruation – some function of her body that she has not chosen to share. It may be why Beyonce’s lyrics hit me, too. That, and that she’s talking about a norm: lots of people will make comments about women’s hormones to discredit their concerns.

When I was younger, I sometimes even believed those comments: “Oh, you’re right. Maybe I’m just upset because I’m PMS-ing. I’ll probably feel better next week.”

But, after years of this, it goaded. One’s menstrual cycle is not an ailment or an illness: I’ve never accused any men of having bad attitudes as a result of the healthy functioning of their circulatory or respiratory systems. And I know myself – when I was angry, it was for good cause. My concerns should not have been disregarded, or put on ice, to see if I still felt that way three days later.

Plus, how come no one says to men: “You’re only angry because you have so much testosterone.”? Only once (I’m no saint!), I accused a man of being a jerk because of his hormones: “Oh, my period is making me grouchy? It’s not that you’re being insensitive because of your prick?!” But that’s not the norm.

(Sometimes, team, I paint myself as a victim, but I can give as good as I get. Sometimes, I give a little too good, and then spend weeks wincing as I recall the sharpness of my tongue. Let me assure you: I have a sharp tongue regardless of where I am in my menstrual cycle.)

Both are insulting: it’s insulting to think a jerk is just a jerk because of his hormones (lots of people have hormones and are not jerks), and it’s insulting to deflect a woman’s unpleasant opinion because you believe the healthy functions of her body have somehow impacted her reasoning.

But, it’s common.

And, forget something as advanced as reasoning being affected: many believe that menstruating women are unclean or impure.

We drove past an orthodox church when I was little, and I asked my mom something – what made this church different? Maybe a family had gone in, and a woman was leaving.

“Well, sweetheart, some churches preach that women are dirty when they menstruate. They make the women stand at the back, or the woman has to leave.”

Me: “Why?”

My mom was not one to hold back: “Because some people are backwards.”

Of course, now, whenever I hear or see a woman’s opinions being cast aside because she may be menstruating, I think perhaps those beliefs would fit in better with some conservative religious groups. Like in Afghanistan, where sisters are really winning.

Those beliefs are gross and rude.

Hearing Beyonce say it: “I plugged my menses with pages from the Holy Book”: the line was brilliant. Ambitious, emotional, raw. For every woman who’s been told that their menses make them overly emotional, and who has tried to piously clean themselves – it’s an acknowledgement of that pressure, to be more sedate, to apologize for your body, and to deny it.

Yet it’s also a taunt – because so many religions see menstruation as unclean. “Here, I’ll bleed all over your sacred text.” Any woman can tell you: try as you might, you cannot plug your menses.

After, of course, she joyously leaves the floating room, water gushing around her, starts swinging her baseball bat, and sings that it’s better to be crazy than jealous, because when you’re crazy, at least no one is walking all over you.

Damn, girl! Me too! I’ll take crazy any day! If being sane means no hormones, trying to stop your cycle, apologizing to your priest for being “unclean”, and listening to people tell you you’re just angry because you’ve got your period; I’ll take crazy any day.

Update: I’d originally included a link to Warsan Shire’s: “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ to Love” that’s now been removed. I’ve updated this post so it only includes working links.

I could have written a book about Lemonade – about every frame. I didn’t. But I did write another post, about jealousy, Lemonade overall, and betrayal in a marriage. You can read it here.