For some time now, my love, LT Harvey, MA - and soon to be MSc - has rightly fulminated against the lazy editorial thinking that knocks out the monthly Observer Woman magazine. Below is a letter she wrote to the Guardian following on from a particularly dense article on the "Women's Page" of a recent G2.
Proud of her, I am.
"For an article about breaking the taboo surrounding menstruation to be printed on the 'Women' page seems to me to be self-defeating and even patronising ('It's in the blood', G2, Friday 2nd October). Yes, menstruation happens only to women. Yes, this can be a shameful subject to some women. And I appreciate that there may be an argument for challenging the taboo among women first - after all, if we cannot love our own bodies, how can we expect men to? Only as a united, collective power can
women achieve equality, autonomy and fulfilment, right?
Not necessarily, I would argue. For 'women' I would substitute 'humanity', for sexual inequality is detrimental to men too, and we all need to work together to combat it. But this cannot and will not happen when our differences are perpetuated, our experience polarised, by 'women's' pages, supplements and magazines. The publication of 'It's in the blood' as a 'women's' article merely reinforces why menstruation is taboo - it is hidden from the other half of the human race, the powerful half, and is being kept hidden at the back of G2, in a clearly demarcated 'women's' space, a space with, by definition, nothing to say to men. And what message does this carry, if men are excluded from female discourse? That women are a different species, with bodily functions so different that it is advisable for men not to know about them? The reverse of this certainly seems to hold for Kira Cochrane, when she writes: 'And might [discussing this issue] not prove an invitation for men to talk about their bodily functions too? (Surely something to be avoided.)' Whether or not this is intended to be ironic, I find it a deeply divisive and offensive attitude, and sadly the attitude I discern throughout the media.
The very existence of a 'Women' page is in itself adisturbing issue. Quite apart from the implication that women, like children, are set apart from the mainstream,
this too does nothing but perpetuate inequality. Again, if men are not allowed to participate in female discourse, how are women ever going to be understood in any way apart from 'other'? How can we ever get beyond 'male' and 'female', and
become 'humanity'? As an Observer reader, I am infuriated monthly (oh the irony) at Observer Woman magazine, a publication about sex and shopping with the occasional human interest article, which could be more appropriately titled Observer Fashion. I deeply resent this prescription of interests and the beliefs and values it conveys - even the title 'Woman', singular, suggests a homogenised ideal to which all female readers will aspire, or at least identify with. I find very little to engage with in Observer Woman - indeed I would go as far as to say it repulses me. Do I, then, not fit the Observer's view of Woman? Is this because I am a complex mosaic of a human
being with a multifaceted identity, part of which is as a creature with female hormones and organs including a womb and vagina which bleed every month?
If women are ever to have full equality, women must be acknowledged as people. Menstruation is something that happens to some people. Do not exclude it; do not
marginalise it by consigning it to the 'Women' page at the back. De-mystify it, normalise it, make it part of human experience. Celebrate our differences, yes, but let us not use those differences to create more division. There is plenty of it in the world as it is.
Your proud pal,