Last week, as word spread that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, Sabrina Fonfeder decided to tweet something that was partly inspired by the news and partly inspired by an ex-boyfriend.
“I tweet this every time men decide it’s time to make decisions about women’s bodies, but my ex boyfriend thought all women got their period on the 15th of the month,” she told her followers. “He was 26 at the time.”
In a follow-up tweet, Fonfeder, a development executive in New York for the TV and film company Irony Point and the podcast company Radio Point, explained her ex’s confusion.
He had once heard a comedian joke that he “loves his girlfriend, except around the 15th of the month, if ya know what I mean.” Fonfeder’s ex figured he knew what the comedian meant: All women get their period on the 15th, naturally!
Fonfeder’s tweet went viral, racking up more than 19,000 retweets and 196,000 likes. It also opened the floodgates for women wanting to share stories of exes who were equally flummoxed by the workings of the female body.
“My ex thought we could just start our periods whenever we wanted,” one woman said. “He asked if I could schedule it around his birthday once. Someone married him and had his child.”
“My ex-husband ― while I was pregnant with his child ― believed the baby was in my literal stomach, and when I ate food, it fell on top of the baby,” another wrote.
“I once dated a 23 year-old who was furious that I mentioned drinking wine while on my period,” another woman said. “He assumed it was dangerous because periods are related to pregnancy. I was like, sir, I am the opposite of pregnant right now.”
Then there was this doozy, from an aspiring physician no less: “I had an ex that told me women shouldn’t complain about their periods because they are clearly getting pleasure from their tampons. He was pre-med.”
Reading the collected tweets is seriously funny but also seriously sad; the myriad misconceptions the men voiced about women’s bodies and simple reproduction matters highlight the dire need for comprehensive sex education in America’s schools.
According to the Sexuality and Information Council of the United States, only 38% of high schools and 14% of middle schools across the country teach the topics identified as critical for sex education by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes instruction on healthy relationships and lessons on birth control, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases.
Currently, 21 states have no sex education requirements at all.
The fight to improve reproductive health education in schools isn’t getting any easier, either. Increasingly, critics of even basic sex ed are labeling teachers who provide the lessons as “groomers” intent on “sexualizing” children in the classroom.
If you’re a parent worried that your kid will end up similarly misinformed, it’s worth reaching out to your child’s school to find out who oversees the health and sex education program, what their teaching entails and in what grades the lessons take place.
If you want to cover your bases at home, Sex Ed for Social Change (SIECUS), a group initially known as the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States, recently put out a great list of online sex ed resources for kids of all ages.
Fonfeder said the need for better sex ed is an obvious takeaway from her thread. But her intended argument was just that men shouldn’t be able to legislate parts of reproduction and the human body that they don’t understand.
“I mean, scroll through the responses to my tweet for 10 seconds and remember that literally anyone is allowed to run for office and make rules that govern your body,” she told HuffPost.
It’s frightening, Fonfeder noted, that the guy who thought his pregnant wife carried their baby inside her stomach, alongside her lunch, can run for public office and vote on legislation about women’s bodies.
It’s not like elected officials haven’t voiced similarly confounding beliefs. Think of former Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri and his infamous declaration about rape: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Then there was Dan Flynn, a former Texas state representative who was one of the main architects of a 2013 proposed anti-abortion law in the state ― even though he had no idea how abortion actually worked. As an interview with Samantha Bee revealed, Flynn seemed to think that abortion providers cut into women’s bodies. (Wrong procedure; that’s a C-section.)
“Each story in the thread about someone’s dumb ex is dumber than the next, but nothing in that thread is much crazier than some of the things current members of Congress have said,” Fonfeder said. “Madison Cawthorn is someone’s dumb ex. Ted Cruz is some poor, poor woman’s dumb ex.”
Besides providing comic relief, Fonfeder hopes her thread reminds readers that if lawmakers are intent on legislating women’s bodies and reproductive health care, they should at least be able to pass a ninth-grade biology class.
“I shudder to think that someone other than the woman herself would have a say in health care decisions, especially if that someone is a guy who thinks women can swallow a camera to conduct a gynecological exam.”
“No,” Fonfeder joked, “that’s not a belief from a guy from my thread. That’s an actual lawmaker from Idaho.”