Gloria Steinem: “If Men Could Menstruate”

Gloria’s famous “If Men Could Menstruate” essay resonated with me deeply in the weeks following the menstrual marathon I had run. In my preparation to many different reporters and publications, I did a lot of research on what work had been done to combat period stigma, both in the developed world and in developing nations. A friend showed me Gloria’s famous essay, and while I loved its intelligent nuances and clever parallels, I felt a little sad that not much of this shame had gone away since she first wrote this essay decades ago.

Earlier this fall some leaders of the menstruation activism space were invited to Gloria’s house to consider re-writing an updated version of the essay, to reflect references in today’s pop culture.

Miki, CEO and Founder of THINX, her team, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, NYU Law Professor and policy activist and I all sat around a table with Gloria to highlight what work is still left to do and how the different levers of media, activism, policy and innovation all work in concert together to combat an issue.

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This essay will be published soon.

A month later, I heard Gloria speak live at the Ace hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and was so moved by how well she explained many of the problems women still face today, and the world she imagines for our future. Not surprisingly, many of her values of how life could be reflect a positive shift for both men and women.


Here are my key lessons from her conversation with actress Melissa McCarthy:

  • We shouldn’t have to qualify people with their gender: “male nurse”, “female poet” etc – she calls this the politics of adjectives (e.g. chick flicks; prick flicks –> the strong word is the noun the inferior word is the adjective)
  • “Laughter is the only free emotion” you can’t compel someone to laugh – it only happens when two things come together and laughter is the third (She also said – “If you’re somewhere where they won’t let you laugh, get out!”)
  • We know that women are still considered inferior if the biggest insult we could say to a boy is that he is feminine – when did this become a bad thing?
  • We associate female leadership with childhood / the private sphere – BC this is when we saw it most BC most of us were raised by women – so female leadership in the public sphere is deeply threatening and we also think that women have love that only makes sense in the private sphere not public.
  • “Feminism is being able to access our full humanity as both men and women.”
  • “Anyone disrupting the gender binary is doing us all a favor.”
  • “Hate generalizes and love specifies.”
  • We still discuss parenthood as if men didn’t exist
  • We become adults when we stop worrying about what other people think don’t worry or care about what people think – just like childhood
  • Our job as activists is to make the political leaders look reasonable and rational by having us be far out there with our ideologies
  • Imagine a world without hierarchy – “Imagine we are linked and not ranked.”
  • Still today, masculinity is designed around the control of women

Carrying on Gloria’s work, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff put out her book My Little Red Book, about period stories, that I am reading below!