(I'm already sorry about the title. Such a good song, though.)

I'm male. Therefore I find the female menstrual cycle fundamentally terrifying. If I had to experience it firsthand I would probably end up in the fetal position, crying in a manner not unlike that of a little bitch. I have no doubt at all that I am neither mentally or physically capable of enduring such a thing every few weeks. This, combined with childbirth, is all of the evidence that needs to be presented about which gender is constitutionally stronger.

Am I exaggerating the travails of the period? I have no idea, obviously, since I can only observe it happening to other people. But I have seen more than enough women doubled over with painful cramps and the like to assume that, yeah, it seems pretty bad. The only thing that doesn't freak me out about it, oddly enough, is blood. Some people can scarcely handle the sight of blood without fainting. Despite my lengthy list of physical and psychological weaknesses, I am not one of these.

That said, if I sat down on a bus next to someone who was bleeding through their clothes I would get up and move. You would too. No offense to blood; this goes for any bodily excretion. It is, if we're being honest with ourselves, the kind of thing you would notice. It would stand out as abnormal. So it wasn't much of a surprise that a great deal of attention was directed at a woman who ran the London Marathon while…well, openly experiencing her period.

My question is, so what? The odds of a marathoner putting anyone at risk of coming in contact with their blood are vanishingly small. It's not a contact sport. I think most runners (and most women) would agree that bleeding through one's clothes is not exactly the preferred way to handle the situation, if someone chose to do it to make a statement it's not exactly a big deal. Marathon runners crap and piss themselves so regularly that it's practically a badge of honor; the other competitors probably wouldn't even have noticed this in comparison.

When the Marathon Diarrhea Guy was all over the internet my exact quote was, "I applaud his commitment to his sport but for christ's sake maybe take 45 seconds to hose down and change shorts." I said that and meant it because seeing someone covered in shit is gross. He chose to do it, though, and it didn't affect me in any way other than that it looked gross. Nobody suggested that running post-Chocolate Thunder is the ideal way to race. Similarly, nobody is now suggesting that Blood Streaks are the hot new long distance running accessory. The exact point is that while it might not be the best idea for people to wear blood- or poop-soaked clothing, if they do and they're not wiping it on strangers it's really not the end of the world. Everyone lived. Just like when everyone lined up and slobbered on Curt Schilling's knob for playing in the World Series with blood on his uniform. It's not like he didn't have the opportunity to change that sock. If it's OK when the statement is, "Grr look at how tough I am" then it's OK now. On the list of social problems this ranks well below elevator farting. That's not a victimless crime.

37 thoughts on “LIVE FAST, DIARRHEA”

  • Not everybody suffers through periods. Some women don't have cramps or any other pain. But all women, as far as I know, are at a fairly low energy level. As a physiologist I know pointed out, there's a whole raft of amazing adaptations that allow women to carry on as if nothing was happening when they're undergoing a five-six sq. inch area of internal hemorrhage. Under any circumstances except menstruation, that lands you in the emergency room at death's door.

    So anyway, my point was going to be that running a marathon while menstruating is a mindboggling feat of toughness. It's a much bigger deal, in physical reality, than whatever scrape on his leg whatshisname had. Social reality comes from a universe with totally different constants, of course.

  • Wait, this is a thing that people who weren't there are actually talking about? Are we so starved for topics of discussion that this makes the cut?

    I've reached a point in my life where I'm no longer surprised about the things about which I have no clue–I've finally wrapped my head around the fact that other people(s) experience the same world I occupy, but experience it in ways that are very distinct from mine. And when confronted with this fact, I no longer–as I did when I was younger–attempt to wave off this difference as trivial, or the result of 'a few bad apples,' or something equally dismissive, so as to avoid the awareness that I, as a white, straight, nominally Christian male, have been given so many fucking free passes–to which I have been oblivious–that I really ought to have done more with my life, comparatively unburdened as I am.

    So is "period shaming" a thing? I don't know–but it sounds plausible. Certainly those who read Leviticus–and to judge by the social discourse, it is the favorite book of the Bible of many of our cultural leaders–regard menstruation as a shameful thing. And the notion of it as something to be covered up at all costs has to create a sense of obligatory pressure on women that can't feel like anything other than condemnation. And the jokes by hacky comics (of both genders, I'm sorry to say, but at least the female comics who partake are jesting about something they themselves have undergone, so, yeah, huge difference there) certainly depict it as icky, gross, and of course, part of the reason why "women be crazy."

    So, yeah, it sounds plausible. And it sounds as if it's something that we collectively and men specifically should be aware of, and modify our attitudes towards.

    I think the problem is, with 'statements' such as the one made by Ms. Gandhi, that shaming women for their periods feels superfluous–and therefore gratutious, because it feels as if this kind of minor, self-evident social progress ("Don't make women feel bad about a biological function they do not choose to endure and generally handle with stoicism") was something we handled a long time ago. As in, when/if we roll our eyes at the notion of "period shaming," don't we do so because it seems so unnecessary, something we got over a long time ago, and why bring it up, it's over?

    Well, apparently that feeling is wrong. Apparently–to judge by the response many women are giving to this statement–we didn't get over it a long time ago. Apparently it's still very much a thing, and they'd like us to knock it off, and the fact that we feel like it's over, A. doesn't make it so, and B. kind of obligates us, retroactively, to cut it out.

    To which I say: OK. I'll try to be mindful of it. Please correct me when I inevitably fuck up.

  • Period shaming is still totally a thing. There is absolutely no worse social humiliation for a woman than to display any sign that she is menstruating.

    I once saw a guy shart himself at a work lunch, full-blown giant spreading wet stain on the back of his Dockers, and it didn't elicit half the reaction as when one of my coworkers had a small bloodstain barely visible.

    He mopped himself up with some paper towels and stayed to enjoy the party. She went home to change her clothes.

    (The incidents didn happen at the same party. Although that would have been funny)

  • Have you read Rebecca Traister's excellent article about how women know icky? I think menstrual shaming comes from men being grossed out by any suggestion we are biological beings. Men (in our cultural tradition) have always been big into that mind/body dualism (never mind that they also eat, excrete, discharge reproductive fluid, etc.). Women's biology makes it impossible to ignore the more physical aspects of our being. So much of our judeo-christian tradition is involved in restraining women, covering them up, and pretending that the physical aspects of our lives either don't exist or shaming them into secrecy.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    In my endless curiosity about the world's less popular and plausible religious beliefs, I learned a lot about menstruation as viewed by Rastafarians. They are *really* weird about it. And yet, my thought was, "yeah, that's just an exaggeration of the psychosexual fears of a lot of dudes who never quite transcended the "GIRLS ARE ICKY" phase.

  • Ed, not that it affects the point of this post, but the second link ("crap and piss themselves") is the same as the first. I probably wouldn't have pointed it out except that it makes for a humorous correction, and my funny bone evidently never graduated middle school.

  • I'm surprised no one's mentioned the Donald Trump/ Megyn Kelly fracas yet. (Trump basically said Kelly was "on the rag" during the "debate".) What I find hilarious is that so many otherwise reasonable people seem to think this "faux pas" of Trump's will hurt his poll numbers. Why would attacking a woman hurt your popularity among members of a political party whose main deal is attacking the rights of women? Like the "Mexicans are rapists" remark, the Donald is just "telling it like it is". I mean if Huckabee can argue that a blastocyst has more rights than a grown woman, that pretty much says it all, right?

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    Trump is a hateful shit smear on America, but it's pathetic how hard Fox is trying to damage him in service of the Republican Party. #TeamNoOne

  • I'm with you on the bodily fluids in general and blood (and faeces) in particular. Meningococcal anyone?

    Find it interesting that the majority of the comments are from men ;)

    As for myself, if a guy hasn't progressed to a satirical* view of period jokes by the time he leaves uni, he's probably too immature for a relationship.

    I'm always surprised by the "age" of the men who make some of these comments. You're how old, been married (how many times) for how long, with how many kids and you still get bothered by this?

    *meaning period jokes are dumb, and if you really think this joke's about periods it shows what an f-wit you are.

  • I guess it just matters from whom and from where our precious bodily fluids emanate.

    My RN friends like me to be quiet. They say it bores them to death and I don't know WTF I'm talking about.

    I really am boring.

  • So, I'll be the first to say that Gandhi's explanation could be a bit fluffy and unfocused. I'll be the first to say that her already messy points were not passed along with any fidelity. But, aside from just getting people to talk about periods (mission accomplished), she was also drawing attention to the issue of tampon access. This is a major problem, not just in developing regions, but among poor people in the developed world and she correctly evidences it. It reinforces structural inequality for women and it is the kind of thing that this blog normally takes interest in. (

  • As a marathon runner, it's a fact that sometimes people have really bad reactions to long-distance running in terms of their bowels. I've been on that edge before and it's not fun. But there's a big difference between "Oh, fuck… I'm going to crap my pants before I can get to a porta-john" and "I'm intentionally going to bleed all over myself because… reason."

    The world is full of mildly to highly unpleasant things that we don't openly talk about, nor celebrate. I don't think avoiding these topics constitutes "shaming". That's bullshit. People poop with the door closed. If I decide to take a shit in public to "out" people who are "poop shamers", I'm an idiot. What this woman did is pretty much in that category as far as I'm concerned.

  • What else *can* one do on a run that long? (This is not rhetorical. I don't run. At all) The sheer amount of chafing a tampon or pad would cause over that much running (especially if it worked its way out of place) is pretty horrific. Given the choice between skipping an event she'd trained hard for, turning her genitals and inner thighs into hamburger meat, or getting some blood on her spandex, the choice seems pretty clear.

  • @seatea: and the access to tampons/women's rights issue doesn't resonate with you at all? OK, everyone is entitled to be wrong occasionally. Enjoy!

  • I have seen indications that the men who are squicked out by menstruation are also disturbed by evidence that women urinate and defecate. There is a definite subtext of gender-related body horror in some online misogyny.

    This has not been an issue for me, possibly because I do not view women as objects of sexual desire. Not sure how up on this topic my older son is – with two dads and a brother, he basically grew up in Sparta (with better food). Now that he's eighteen and identifiably heterosexual, it would be helpful to ensure that he knows about the menstrual cycle, the difference between the vulva and vagina, and the importance of the female orgasm.

  • I'm surprised this is a thing. It's pretty well known amongst distance runners that one's period can get really random. Runners can go years without menstruating and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, bam, there it is. Usually in the middle of a run (heyo, physics!). It has happened at the Olympics, the most well known example happening in the 70's IIRC. Running periods happen.

  • Hell, periods happen somewhat randomly even if one isn't a runner. I was fairly regular during those years and even yet sometimes, there it would be, out of the blue. And contrary to what a lot of men think, it's not something most women focus much on. I remember when I still had a male gyne and he would ask the "how many days since your last period?" and to my response of "no clue" would be AMAZED! What? It happens, I deal with it, and then I forget it until the next time. I've got better things to think about!

    I mean, think about it – from about 12 until 50something, except during pregnancies (which, unless you're a Dugger is two, three years at most) EVERY FUCKING MONTH you bleed for 3-4 days (YMMV). Someone else can do the math, but that's a long time to keep track of how many days before/how many days after. I couldn't be bothered – I had shit to do!

  • Periods also tend to happen at the least convenient times possible, like, say, midterms, camping, during an important meeting at work, or, you know, in the middle of a marathon. I personally wouldn't be surprised if she was wearing some kind of pad or tampon or something and just had a blowout. That happens too, even without the added stress of running.

    I'm so fatigued when I start my period I have trouble running for a bus, and I couldn't run a marathon if you put a gun to my head, so holy shit, tough woman!

  • Just remembered – in pre-agricultural human societies, women didn't menstruate as much. Menarche came later, and lactational amenorrhea kept children spaced a few years apart.

    Now, a woman who reaches puberty at ten or eleven, has one or two children, and goes through menopause in her late forties will have menstruated for most of her life. Not sure how this affects women, but it's a very recent thing in human history. Connie Willis wrote a SF short story back in the '90s, "Even the Queen", about the social and cultural transformation after a safe and effective menses blocker is developed.

  • We have that. It's called the pill. The problem is, most doctors (still) are men so instead of having women take the pill continuously – thus avoiding the menstrual cycle – they think somehow women will explode if they don't bleed regularly. Of course that's nonsense, as implantable hormone methods have shown.

    The most immediate result is that those women stop being anemic.

  • april: realtalk, the reason we have 21 on/7 off is because the dude who invented the pill (wisely) realized that his best shot for acceptance was hewing as close to nature as possible.

    and taking continuously does have its own shit associated with it, not least of which is the monstrous hassle that is getting insurance to cover four pill packs in three months.

  • Rachel – not getting insurance to cover it is also because insurance companies are run primarily by men. Otherwise, for most women there are no other side effects. As was pointed out, historically women have been pregnant or fully lactating (where her hormones stay in the "pregnant thus no period" stage) for the majority of their lives.

    It's having a period every month that's biologically unusual.

  • I am 45 and I have had a period for 34 years. If I take after my mother, I could have another 10-12 years before I even enter perimenopause. I wish I could be cavalier and roll with it, but it is an enormous hassle for me. You would think after 34 years, I would be able to predict it better, but it always changes. My period just wants to be there – I breastfed both of my children, and my period came back between 4 and 6 weeks after giving birth anyway. Hell, I had monthly spotting for the first 4 months of my first pregnancy and all the way through my second pregnancy! Surprisingly, I'm only slightly anemic, and I am fully functional while I have my period and do all the things I do when I don't have my period.

    I donate tampons and pads to the local food pantry – they are an expensive necessity, and I have been more poor than I am right now, so I know how important they are for poor women.

    My ob/gyn discouraged me from taking the pill continuously, and they really want me to get off hormonal birth control all together, but if there is one thing I want less than my period at this age, it's a baby.

  • ". I have no doubt at all that I am neither mentally or physically capable of enduring such a thing every few weeks". This innocuous statement is really interesting to me. That's exactly how I felt when I was eleven years old. The thing is, *you're not given a choice.* That inevitability must affect women's experience and attitudes enormously. It seems likely men and women would have some fundamental differences in outlook based on this alone. No doubt a Google search would uncover some scholarly research…

  • Oh Marathon diarrhea guy. I personally would rather wash myself off and finish lower but with some dignity than slightly higher but covered in liquid feces. But that's just me.

  • The point everyone is missing/ignoring is that marathon running is bad for you — which is why your body probably rebels.

    Long-distance runners die younger than the average person.

    The first guy who ran 26 miles dropped dead at the end. Every year, tens of thousands of people try to repeat that feat.

  • @ Skipper: The first guy who ran 26 miles didn't do it once but THREE TIMES! In the same day I should add.

    Not sure if he was wearing armour or not. But I'm pretty certain he was barefoot and bloody, Nike was his goddess not his footwear.

  • First, I applaud your excellent taste in music, sir.
    As for the topic, I felt like standing up and shouting. Finally, a guy who seems to get it. It's really more of a hassle to deal with the mess and the supplies, but the drain on energy and the pain can effect every aspect of our life for those days of the month. I know you are a perseptive guy, but it says a lot when seeing how well you get this is a pleasant surprise. I think blood is something men tend to associate with injury and disease more than a normal bodily function, so to see it coming from a woman's genitals is somehow more abhorrent to them than shit.

  • Michael S Goodman says:

    Women are permitted to get away with a lot of things that men can not (lying, showing off upper and lower cleavages, misstating their weight on official documents like driver licenses, just to name a few)

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