I don’t think it’s particularly possible to separate out the effect of menstruation on women from the effect of other gendered socialisation. We don’t know what exactly that biological cycle is responsible for in female bodied people. We can’t judge the impact of it.
I guess I’m being asked for some wild assumptions, that’ll probably show me up as somewhat bigoted. This is the problem with what if discussions about human behaviour, especially split along lines of bodily sex, which are lines I don’t really like going near, because I think most peoples assumptions are flagrantly wrong.
I think the thing I can safely say is that it would probably force men to learn a little more empathy. There’s something about the process of bleeding, and having a recognisable signifier of your hormonal cycle, that should change the way you think about people and the world. Male bodies have these cycles of hormones too, its just that without a periodic signal of when our cycles are based, we get to claim they are just part of who we are, instead of a chemical system.
Which is, of course, an absurdity in itself. Hormonal behaviour gets belittled, despite the clear fact that all behaviour is chemically dominated. The brain, the seat of consciousness, is a weird mess of rehearsed electricity, reacting for swirls of chemicals and their feedback loops. We learn to be a certain way, and then when our mood swings along with a chemical torrent, we just take that as part of self. Somehow, some of these chemical reactions become different in quality to others. Its just another gendered oppression. Male chemicals are human nature. Female chemicals are the rule of the moon.
However, I’m fairly sure patriarchy would survive the advent of male menstruation. I guess that’s a corollary to some of my assumptions anyway. Because I believe that gendered norms are culturally generated, biological shifts shouldn’t have a huge impact.
Except that my mode of thought is not the dominant one. You end up with a whole new set of arguments to have if biological difference is shifted.
Not to mention that cultural differences are clearly built on biological characterestics, at least in the sense that different sorts of genitalia give you your cultural label, and more likely, that minor differences are magnified, amplified in significance, and then trained into something different.
I think the really interesting thing is that really, you can’t add menstruation to men without also giving them wombs and ovaries.
What would be the impact of men that could have babies, with all the biological support networks that maintains that capability.
I know it would change my life, because it would give me control over my own reproduction. I envy that freedom immensely (whilst being certain and disgusted that we we live in a society that works hard to withdraw that freedom where it can).
Illustration by Henry