period products covid essay graphic
period products covid essay graphic

Finding Femininity in Quarantine

The irrational fear that I am becoming less of a woman began long before my period stopped. I was already indifferent to sophomoric forms of girl-power-girl-boss rhetoric; where I had once nursed feminist excitement, I was numb.
By Lana J. Reeves
CAPTION. By Madison A. Shirazi

The irrational fear that I am becoming less of a woman began long before my period stopped. I was already indifferent to sophomoric forms of girl-power-girl-boss rhetoric; where I had once nursed feminist excitement, I was numb.

I paid a visit to my gynecologist when I grew suspicious that my detachment from womanhood was permanently screwing up my insides. She assured me that my period loss was due to an ordinary hormone imbalance, likely exacerbated by the stress of a global pandemic.


This seemed reasonable: My body has always absorbed its surroundings to its own detriment — grasp my arm hard enough and you’ll leave bruises behind — so it was inevitably going to react to the trauma of this year. But even after my appointment, the timing unnerved me. Was my uterus paying attention, catching up?

It was an absurd idea, rooted in panic — my period loss was coincidental, a symbol rather than a symptom. Periods are not a decisive factor of womanhood, nor femininity, and it is misguided to use menstruation as a rigid gender qualifier. There are plenty of women who don’t get periods for a myriad of reasons — and plenty of people who do get periods who don’t identify as women. Femininity and womanhood are porous concepts, hardly definable by whether or not you bleed.

I like to think of my femininity as a muscle, one that requires feeding and flexing. During Covid-19, I’ve starved this muscle to the point of atrophy. I’m separated from my girlfriends and spared the awkwardness of meeting new people — without an audience, I forget what presenting myself as a woman even feels like. I lack the special tone of voice, angled gaze, and movement to my spine that composed my experience of feminine physicality. It took the pandemic isolation for me to realize that this notion of gender is basically a performance.

In the absence of a mirror, I’m just a tangle of thoughts. It takes an itch on my ankle or a gust of cold air to force me back into my body. I search my reflection for something inherently female, but all I see is dark hair, broad shoulders, a scared face. When I’m alone, I cease to recognize myself as a woman at all.


A lady ahead of me in the CVS check-out line evaluates my oversized T-shirt and flattened hair, then calls me “little man.” I’m plunged too deep into a mental spiral to correct her. I haven’t considered that as my femininity wanes, I might be becoming something else: more masculine? Wouldn’t I have noticed? That isn’t what I want. It’s a nagging contradiction — I question myself in private, yet bristle at the assumption that I’m perceived as anything but a woman.

When it’s my turn to walk to the register, I’m defensive; I pop my hip out and unknot my hair, then knot it again. I’m sure it was an honest mistake (I’m wearing a mask, after all), but I walk out with my coconut shower gel on full display.

I Facetime a high school classmate that evening. After the unsettling encounter at the drugstore, there’s relief in connecting with another girl. We catch up on the past few months until the topic unavoidably shifts to our old chemistry teacher — we are reeling from the disturbing discovery that he’s an alleged sexual predator. We recount how fond we were of frequenting his classroom at lunchtime. We’re shocked, but behind our disbelief is a heaviness. It seems like even memory is an unsafe place. I suggest forming a support group for women who survived his company. She chokes up at the idea or at my expression — I’m not sure which.

Looking at each other, we are both aware of something lurking, trying to erupt from the static. Our pixelated videos crackle with an energy, an empathy, which is transmittable even through screens. Then she smiles, exhausted, and the moment shatters sweetly.

“Sorry, I’m, like, totally PMS-ing,” she says.

But that’s not what this is. I remember what PMS feels like. I fumble around for it internally and come up empty; there is only rage. Then I understand that she’s offering me a kind of kinship: I am like you. I feel what we women feel. I hadn’t grieved for my period before that point, but her choice of words makes me cry.

What I’ve really lost is my scapegoat. There are an immeasurable number of things to hate as a woman — your period is just the easiest.


I exit Safeway with my hands full, receding into my hoodie to escape a sudden wind. As I’m waiting to cross the street, a teenage boy on his phone collides with me. My bags fling from my arms into acrobatics before spilling across the pavement.

“My bad, bro,” he says.

I might convince myself that it was a slip of the tongue or a blanket phrase used to address all strangers, but when my voice squeaks out a reply, he tries to conceal his surprise. As I bend over to pick up my scattered groceries, he makes a series of half-gestures like he can’t decide whether to help me collect them. He’s nervous about contaminating my vegetables.

He finally decides to retrieve a bunch of carrots, closest to him, which are coated in a fine layer of asphalt dust. He leans forward to place them into the bag as I simultaneously reach in to right the milk. We audibly knock heads; both of us swear, loudly. The milk topples over again. Sheepishly, he squints up at me, cradling the carrots like a baby. A pure and joyous laugh bubbles up in me at our ridiculousness. It’s a small comfort to know that despite my contradictions, I am still every bit as human.