Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jo Brand Discusses the Taboo in Comedy

Jo Brand, comedian, (Flickr Creative Commons Photo)

I'm streaming BBC Radio Four today. I usually download program by program because when I first discovered that Radio Four was on the Net, the streaming didn't work.

So now, I'm listening to new programs and I just heard an interview with Jo Brand who has a new book out. You Can't Stand Up for Sitting Down. She's a stand up comedienne, and prolific author, and is a little younger than I am.

Well, she was discussing misogyny in comedy and mentioned that when she talks about periods, audiences tend to find it disgusting.. and that she has been associated with such jokes even though she has 4 minutes of period jokes within 12 hours of stand up comedy.

The topic is taboo, she said on the radio. Hmm.Still is....I wrote Period Piece about 10 years ago. It was published in Chatelaine and on Oprah's old Oxygen website.
Period Piece

Originally in Chatelaine Magazine and Oxygen. All rights reserved by the author.

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I got up in the morning with a bleeding nose and I raced to the bathroom to stuff a wad of toilet paper up the afflicted nostril. As I was busying myself with this ridiculous performance, I noticed a delicate, almost lyrical trail of blood on the bathroom floor. "How pretty, "I thought. But then a prim little voice in the back of my head immediately piped in, "Better wipe it up: They'll think it is menstrual blood!"

I didn't want to gross out my family. No. No. Not the man I've been intimate for 15 years. Not the children for whom I've changed about a million mortifyingly stinky diapers.

In my house, where bodily functions are nobody's secret, (and where my now happily toilet-trained children love to imitate Jim Carrey as they leave the bathroom - waving their arms and saying "Pyyyoooo! Don't go in there!") my period is still a taboo subject. It just doesn't seem fair!

It's not merely a family quirk: it's a cross-cultural prejudice.

Even on television, with the floodgates of poor taste being flung wide open every week on network and cable TV, menstruation is seldom mentioned. There's no end to the sexual stuff on TV but periods aren't discussed. Period.

Seinfeld may have had its Emmy winning masturbation episode, but no critically-acclaimed menstruation episode.

The only female blood movie TV screenwriters seem interested in exploring comes from knife stabs and gunshot wounds.

Now, I ask, "Why do men find one type of female blood so much more appealing than another?" I recall watching my husband sitting impassively through an X-files episode as a woman was having her heart pulled out of her chest. Yet one glimpse of a blood-stained panty and he's lunging toward the bedroom window for air.

Mulder: (excited) Take a look at this mattress, Scully. There's blood on it. You know, the ancient Wadoodoo people of Peru have a legend where men fall from the sky and disembowel virgins in their beds.

Scully: (taking a closer look) I'm afraid you are imagining things again, Mulder. This woman merely had her period.

Mulder: (lunging toward the window for air) Oh, no. Not that!

I'm confused. Why are men so put off my female menstrual blood? It is the blood of fertility and isn't that what men are supposed to like best about us, our fertility? Hasn't that always been the excuse for men's obsession with big breasts?

Ally McBeal and one of the other impossibly gorgeous female lawyers, talking to each other from adjacent booths. (Crinkling sound in the background.)

Ally: Have you seen that candidate for the articling position.

Other: Yes, she certainly looks...ahh.. fertile.

Ally: (scowling) She's going to be hired for those big breasts of hers..

Other: Oh Ally! That's unfair, You're just sensitive because you're so..ah, gee, the damn applicator fell into the toilet. Do you have a spare tampax?

Ally: Flat-chested! .FLAT-chested!. Why don't you just SAY IT! .Here, take the stupid thingy.. (She opens the stall door and tosses the tampax at her) It's three years old. Do you think anyone this skinny even has a period?

Yes, periods can present a problem, especially for working women. We all have our horror stories. An unfortunate co-worker, busily engaged at work, once bled all over her office chair. Her fellow female coworkers leapt into action, making like an impromptu typing pool SWAT Team; one woman threw her sweater around the poor unfortunate; another hustled her to the bathroom and yet another sped away with the chair.

I once had to attend an all day board meeting on a particularly heavy day and couldn't help wondering if everyone knew why I had to leave the room so often. "If I am lucky, "I thought, "they'll think I have a cocaine problem."

O.K. They're a problem, sure, but not the CURSE, as women my mother's age liked to describe them.

So, why does our culture fear and loathe the female menses, causing us women to fall into that trap to one degree or another? Maybe because periods are our connection to the nature, the life-cycle and the cycles of the moon. - and even the most rational mind can see this is so.

Elaine (munching on a snack, flipping through a magazine.) Oh, Jerry, I just left my old sanitary napkin on the top of the toilet by mistake. Just toss it in the garbage."

Jerry: WHAAAA??

Kramer. (hands akimbo) Why are you so upset about a soiled sanitary napkin. The menstrual cycle is women's connection to nature and the life-cycle.

Jerry. It's disgusting! Ask George. He feels the same way.

George: Sorry, Jerry. I am comfortable with Elaine's womanhood.

Elaine: (smirking) He's easy with the period.

Jerry. All I know is I want that thing out of my house or, or, I'm going to call the movers..

Then, why wait for some screenwriting hack to take the daring step? Hey, Sex and the City: what are you waiting for? Tell a menstruation story today - at dinner. Do it in all reverence. Do it for women for women everywhere.

by Dorothy Nixon --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What does this have to do with my ebooks Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster and Furies Cross the Mersey, about the militant suffragettes invading Montreal in 1912/13. Nothing. Not much, except that story is about turn of the last century women, who didn't even mention their periods.

I have a 1914 letter from Flora who is complaining that 'no one tells her anything." Her sister, Marion, is pregnant and the 'married' women are carrying on with their secrets. She feels left out. She is 20, but supposed to be totally naive about sex and love and babies. In a family full of 'new women'.

The Montreal Council of Women wanted Sex Education to be taught in schools, although I can only guess to a rather meagre extent. This was to prevent women from falling into prostitution.