By Monica Baro Sanchez (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – If men had periods, at least the first day they came on would be declared a holiday. I don’t know about other women, but I hate working the first day of my period. Sometimes even the second day, too. I can even hate talking or just seeing people.
I have never known what it’s like to suffer so much pain in your ovaries that it has you curled up in bed, in a chair at school or at work, or bent over in the middle of the street, the kind that gives you nausea and makes you vomit, which calls for pills, injections, infusions and hot water bottles on your lower abdomen; but I do always feel bad every time I have a period. I’m on my period right now.
If men had periods and, therefore, could also get pregnant, abortions would be carried out with anesthesia and respect here in Cuba. Many women wouldn’t be treated like pigs going to the slaughterhouse to end up on our dinner tables for New Year. Or even worse.
Does anybody know why anesthesia isn’t used during abortions? I asked myself this very question last week, when a friend who got an abortion in Canada discovered that it doesn’t have to be a painful and traumatic experience like her first abortion was in Cuba. I don’t even ask myself anymore why it is that so many women in Cuba must suffer abuse when they decide to abort or give birth.
If men could get pregnant, then their right to abort wouldn’t probably be criminalized in any country and so many of us women wouldn’t end up dying because we don’t have access to this right. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to understand that every person has the right to decide over their own body, which is them choosing their life, and that rights can’t depend on religion or ideology if they are to be universal.
If men were to give birth, many mothers wouldn’t tell us how they felt like cows during birth, because nothing they said was taken seriously by medical staff, or because the nurses got insulted and slapped them, or because their babies were born with some defect due to obstetrical violence, or because they had to go back to the hospital because of an infection, days later.
If men had periods, none of them would ever say to a woman mid-argument: “I bet you’re on your period”, in an attempt to discredit her opinions. As if a woman stops thinking when she menstruates or as if the only thing that could explain her disagreement with a man is a hormonal change.
I’m exaggerating a little, of course. What I’m trying to say is that the world is essentially designed for men and men’s wellbeing. A certain kind of man, more specifically: the middle-class, heterosexual, white man.
I’m writing about this because the two movies I liked the most up until now during the Havana Film Festival, talk about this issue: historically, women have been given a screwed-up place in society just because they were born with a vagina, because they have periods, can give birth. A Vida Invisível de Eurídice Gusmão, by Brazilian filmmaker Karim Ainouz, is one of them and the other is Los sonambulos (The Sleepwalkers) by Argentinian filmmaker Paula Hernandez.
The first one unfolds in the 1950s and tells the parallel stories of two sisters, Euridice and Guida, whose wishes, desires, dreams, feelings, their lives in short, are repressed time and time again by Patriarchy’s social norms. Personally-speaking, I felt the movie was twenty minutes too long (its 2 hours 25 minutes long). There are several scenes that describe the characters and their contexts which bluntly repeat what the central plot tells us, weakening this plot instead of strengthening it, but apart from that, I was quite happy with it.
A Vida Invisível de Eurídice Gusmão paints the universe of women that live under patriarchy’s oppression with extraordinary sensitivity, which expresses a profound and unprejudiced understanding of this universe. I would have liked one of the protagonists to have rebelled at some point, maybe because I empathized with the lead characters a great deal, but there were only a few light confrontations that didn’t bring about any substantial change in the power dynamic between women and men.
We also can’t ask a movie for justice when many of us women don’t find it in our own reality.
And the second movie “Los sonambulos” (The sleepwalkers) is a boring and dense movie, but I quite liked it. Almost fifty people got up and left the movie theater before it finished. Nothing really happens until the last five or six scenes.
Los sonambulos tells the story of a family conflict, but through dialogue rather than action, and it progresses as the characters open up and tell their truth in very normal everyday situations. I believe that suspense could have helped the story a little, having us anticipating something, because while it might have reduced the impact of the final revelation at the end, it might have been better to have had some suspense and a surprise than being so boring it scared so many viewers away. I imagine that it was the filmmaker’s intention to recreate this monotonous atmosphere, which is also tense, during so many family reunions, but I think it got a little out of hand.
And the movie title doesn’t convince me. The role sleepwalking plays in the story is more decorative than functional; there is only one moment when it shapes events, although it could have been replaced by chronic asthma and it would have been the same story; so, the title, which also takes the masculine form (in Spanish) when the sleepwalking lead is a woman, creates false expectations.
A more symbolic interpretation could be given to the movie, when the sleepwalkers are really the men, or the entire family, but it doesn’t really work for me as a metaphor either.
But I have to say it again, I did like it. A lot. Maybe because of what it denounces, because of how blunt it is, because of how clever it is, because it recreates situations of violence against women perfectly, to the T.
When I left the movie theater, after seeing these two movies, I wasn’t thinking about their artistic qualities, but about the women they feature. I was frustrated. In Brazil, Argentina, anywhere, we all share the same stories.
Of course, men wouldn’t need to have periods in order to give up the privileged space Patriarchy has given them in history, and to put themselves not in a woman’s place, which has been a very difficult place, but in a place that means that we have another place that is a little less screwed up. Men don’t need to have periods for us to take our fair place in society.
In the meantime, I’m happy that both women and men can watch these movies in Cuba.