Why is it that so often, when we talk about menstruation, it’s seen as something bad that we have to fight against, rather than a natural part of our bodies?
And this week, while on Twitter, I was blown away by an amazing thread by Katie Ruth from Reflections of an Ezer (you may remember we talked about what an ezer is in a previous post on being a warrior), and I reached out to her and said, “can I please please please please run this as a guest post? Because my readers need to hear this.”
She said yes, and so here it is! I’ll post her first tweets, and then I’ll just post the rest as text.
Ok friends, I usually don’t respond or interact with TGC articles, but this latest one is so bad and so personal that I HAVE TO ADDRESS IT.
This is going to be a long thread. Buckle up.
— Katie Ruth (@reallykatieruth) February 25, 2020
For those who may be reading this via email, and for whom that may not come through, she writes:
Ok friends, I usually don’t respond or interact with TGC articles, but this latest one is so bad and so personal that I HAVE TO ADDRESS IT. This is going to be a long thread. Buckle up. And then she links to this post from The Gospel Coalition called: PMS, the Monthly Fight with the Flesh
Then she says: First of all, I agree there is a lot that we don’t know about the female body and this has a lot to do with patriarchy (that’s another conversation for another time), but lack of understanding of basic biology in this piece is worrisome.
Female bodies are not malfunctioning at certain times of the month.
They are doing EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing. For many women, this NORMAL function comes with symptoms and unwanted side effects due to a variety of reasons. Stress, varying hormone production, and anatomical differences cause each woman to experience their cycle differently. But I AM TIRED of the narrative that says that something is wrong with the female species because our hormones rotate cyclically. In fact, I think it is a super power that we have that if we learn to pay attention.
Our bodies literally have a built-in radar that signals seasons of creativity and production and days where our body needs rest and care. PMS is not a fight with your flesh. Let me repeat that: PMS is not a fight with your flesh. If anything, it is the very opposite. It is an opportunity to slow down and accept the body that we have.
All my life, I have struggled with severe PMS.
I have debilitating pain, fluctuating hormones, and irregular periods. Ever had a cyst burst? Let me tell you, it is not pain I would wish on anyone. I have had more ultrasounds and I have been hospitalized—multiple times. I have had surgery and tried many natural interventions. All this I say not for your sympathy, but so you can maybe start to understand why I think articles like this are so dangerous. All my life I have fought my body. Spoken unkindly to her. Been angry with her for constantly not living up to the expectations I have for her. My body is tired of me fighting, and this difficult struggle that I face is not a reflection on my spirituality. It is a reflection of a body that is imperfect, and needs loving care and medical attention.
My fight is not against my body, my fight is learning to love my body despite its imperfections. PMS is not just some issue with women not being spiritual enough at some points of the month, PMS is a physical process that literally alters the landscape of your body. To suggest otherwise is uninformed and dangerous to women who actually need help. If you struggle to function at certain times of the month, it’s not because you need to try harder.
It’s not because you need to “sin less”. Your body is sending you a message that it needs more support. By beating yourself up for your “lack of spirituality” you will only make your symptoms worse as PMS is exacerbated by stress and anxiety in most people.
Now, let’s talk about the confusing of the concepts of “flesh” and “body” in biblical discussions.
When the Bible talks about the flesh, it is usually in comparison with the Spirit. It is a discussion of spiritual realities. What is entirely unhelpful is the notion that because the Bible talks about the flesh, therefore our bodies are bad, irredeemable, and worth nothing. God places value on our bodies, despite whatever view you may hold on sin nature and the brokenness of the world. God created our bodies, God cares for our bodies, and one day God promises to redeem our bodies.
It is a lie that God cares only for the spiritual, & not the physical. We are whole people, & God cares for our whole person. Our bodies, just like our minds, hold important messages for us that we need to learn to listen to not just dismiss in the name of being biblical. Our hormones are large part of daily functioning, and in some sense they direct us in more ways than we are consciously aware of.
Most functioning decision are made at the cellular level and have nothing to do with a conscious choice you make. If your hormones are at certain levels, it is very likely that you will feel sad. This is a PHYSIOLOGICAL response, not a spiritual one. To pretend that someone should just white-knuckle their way through and pretend everything is okay is unhelpful. Anger, sadness, joy, and every other emotion are all gifts to us. They are not to be discarded or shoved down inside. They are to be embraced and stewarded.
Might I suggest that on days when your body is feeling overwhelmed and on edge, that you try something revolutionary? Actually, be kind to your body?
Maybe go to bed a little earlier, or spend some time reading a book? If your PMS is affecting your life, maybe self care looks like going to a doctor to discuss your options.
A trauma-informed perspective of our bodies understands that ignoring the messages our bodies are trying to give us only makes the problems worse, not better or fixed. You are not wretched because you bleed. You are loved. May your PMS lead you into love, not self-hatred for the body you have been given.
I loved that so much! Thank you, Katie. Some of the comments on that thread were interesting, too, and a few stood out to me, including this one by the amazing Ruth Everhart who has written the great new book The #MeToo Reckoning:
Grateful for your pushback on this damaging article in @TGC which assumes that female bodies bleed because they’re broken and encourages women to FIGHT their very flesh! It makes me angry, but underneath my anger is so much sorrow for women who believe these things! pic.twitter.com/e4ekPvzfZO — rutheverhart (@rutheverhart) February 26, 2020
And this one, which makes a great point:
This is also a very historically absent view of menstruation. Women generally (someone correct me if I’m wrong!!) were not expected to do the same labor while bleeding as they were the rest of the month. We are now unless we have the ability to set boundries. — Y’all Need Coffee & Jesus – Egal Potato Peelers (@CoffeeYall) February 25, 2020
In Old Testament times, your period was actually a break for you! But today, we’re supposed to function as if we’re exactly the same, and no one can possibly know, or it’s a source of great shame.
As we finish the month talking about how to embrace the bodies we have, it’s worth thinking about how much shameful messages about our periods have impacted how we see our bodies. I don’t think we can truly embrace our bodies until we accept all that comes with being a woman.
So what do you think? Do we need to be willing to embrace our bodies more, even in their natural functions, and stop seeing these functions as somehow “bad” or causing sin? Let’s talk in the comments!
Katie is a thinker and writer. Growing up in the church, she experienced a lot of bad theology and trauma. Now she is passionate about pointing the church towards justice and providing better answers to theological questions. Katie has a bachelor’s in Christian counseling and works as an administrator by day. When she’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book, chatting over tea with a friend, or stretching on her yoga mat.
She blogs at https://reflectionsofanezer.com and is active on all the socials.
Instagram and Facebook: @katiesreflections