Guest Post by Lydia Aponte — Marymount Manhattan College
In Professor David Linton’s Social Construction and Images of Menstruation course, our class watched two documentaries involving menstruation and menstrual suppression. Both Period: The End of Menstruation? and Red Moon addressed what is becoming an increasingly concerning topic: now that menstrual suppression in the form of birth control is becoming more and more readily available – and is even being promoted to specifically stop or slow the menstrual cycle – is menstruation necessary?
Many women, including myself, have asked themselves this very question – some because of the monthly cramps that have reduced us to a fetal position, some because of the awkward situations that menstrual stigma has put us in. Yet, many women still do not question it because menstruation is believed to be a natural occurrence that must happen because, well, that’s just life. What happens, on the other hand, when a man questions the necessity of menstruation? Or even further, does something about it? Meet Dr. Elsimar Coutinho.
From São Paulo, Brazil, Dr. Coutinho appeared briefly in Red Moon avidly disputing the necessity of menstruation. He believes that it is not necessary, because “what is the use of an ovulation if it does not result in a pregnancy?” I was initially stunned by his intensity when it came to the subject, not only because of his stance against menstruation, but because of the role he seemed to be playing. It seemed as if Dr. Coutinho were playing the “mad scientist,” distributing birth control to women and spreading the word that menstruation was “unnecessary” and “unnatural.” So I decided to look up this “character,” and came upon Dr. Coutinho’s biography page. Of course, the first paragraph of his bio was nothing but praise: “Dr. Elsimar Coutinho is, unquestionably, a man born to make history. For more than 50 years, his research and discoveries in the fields of human health and reproduction have broken paradigms and brought down millenary concepts.” (For a man who made history, I had never heard his name before Red Moon.)
Yet, I was more taken aback by how he had been quoted regarding menstruation. “My greatest contribution to humanity was to realize that menstruation was unnecessary, a disposable phenomena.” (Coutinho, E.M.) Not only is a doctor refuting the biological necessity of menstruation, which alone is jarring, but a man is refuting the necessity of a cycle highly regarded by many women, including myself, as a symbol of womanhood and deeming it “disposable.” Not only is Dr. Coutinho refuting it, he is actively taking measures to suppress menstruation through his research and practices.
If menstruation equals womanhood to so many, and Dr. Coutinho believes that menstruation is unnecessary, what is he saying about the beliefs and values that many people hold in regards to femininity? According to his philosophy, those,too, would be disposable. Dr. Coutinho’s suggestions — although questionable — have caused me to ask these questions: has something I regarded a natural part of my female biology been unnecessary this entire time? Is the human body wrong, and is Coutinho seeking to correct it with medicine? Or is misogyny still a key player in the menstrual realm?