How many of you menstruate and have felt really awkward about it? I bet almost all of us have been ‘period shamed’ at some point during our lives. A good example of this is when you mention the ‘dreaded’ p word and somebody is visibility grossed out, then tries shuts you down. Cue eye-roll. Although this may happen a lot, I don’t let it stop me talking about my period, and you shouldn’t either. Here’s how we can combat the period-shamers.
First of all, I just want to talk about how much people who menstruate are censored or ignored. A lot of our feminist-driven pieces are met with lacklustre responses such as: “it’s not even that big of a deal!” or “that’s not an issue,” so I know some people are going to read this thinking, ‘what’s this period positive nonsense she’s on about?’
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been taught to feel like menstruating is a shameful thing that should be kept secret. I feel very lucky to have had an open and completely unabashed mother, who never made me feel ashamed if I was caught short or had questions. That’s not to say I haven’t experienced my fair shame of period shaming, though. From a very early age, we’re taught that periods are this weird, gross and shameful thing that happens to us. In reality, it’s a perfectly normal and healthy thing. Over the years, I’ve known so many women who have felt so uncomfortable talking about their periods; I remember growing up, particularly in secondary school, where periods were treated like a faux pas. We had to come up with intricate nicknames for them, never mentioned them out loud and they were used against us if we spoke out of line or seemed ‘angry.’
As a modern society we’re so ashamed of our periods that in menstrual product adverts, the very word isn’t even mentioned. In the re-enactments, our flow is blue like water and the women in question are often embarrassed when caught off guard. This line of thinking is not only outdated, it’s incredibly harmful too. If we don’t break this tradition, so many young girls are going to be caught off guard and have no idea what is happening to them. We need to be made aware of the changes happening to our body and taught that it’s natural, otherwise we’ll just freak out.
Earlier this year, I attended a debate about tampons where most of the line-up couldn’t even say the word ‘period’ or ‘menstruation.’ Any mention of alternative menstrual products or period sex were completely shut down. We’re so afraid of menstrual blood that the very thought of period sex is quite often met with the most dramatic gasp. The only shocking thing about this is that so many vagina-owners are missing out on the best sex of their lives.
In third world countries menstruation is a different problem altogether. In some countries, periods are still viewed as a curse. Menstruation is a largely shameful and private act so affordable and hygienic menstrual products aren’t a priority. Many are forced to use whatever they can find: old rags, tree leaves and newspapers, putting them at risk of infections.
On top of all that, transgender men don’t even have a voice. Menstruation is no longer just a woman’s issue and it’s really about time companies start acknowledging that. The longer we entertain this harmful stigma, the more alienated transgender men will feel. If a woman can’t talk openly about her period comfortably, how do we expect trans men to?
If you’ve made it this far and still don’t think we need a period positive revolution, go and talk to people who menstruate. Ask them about their first period, how sexual partners have treated them in the past and how many times they’ve heard “Oh, you’re just on your period.”
It’s not all bad, though. I feel like 2015 was a big success for menstruation. In fact, I’ve never seen it in the news so much. Well done gang, we made periods mainstream! From a free-bleeding marathon runner to this artist’s reaction to Donald Trump’s sexist comments towards Megyn Kelly and people (including myself) tweeting Trump about our periods, it’s been a good year for menstruation. We’ve also seen an influx of innovative menstrual products too such as a kit for washing, drying and storing sanitary pads, period panties (for all genders), and the rise of reusable menstrual products such as non-disposable pads and menstrual cups.
So how can we keep it up? I’m glad you asked.
Keep talking about it
There’s a reason I talk about my periods to just about anybody who will listen. How do you think we’re going to get rid of stigma without talking about it? I started a new job in June and during my first week, I got my period. I didn’t go out of my way to let them know, but it came up and I was honest about it. It’s a pretty bold move, I know/ At first people were a little disgusted, so I made it my mission to talk about it on a monthly basis. Luckily, there were a couple of like-minded women in my office too. Six months down the line, my male colleague will almost-comfortably ask if it’s ‘Shark Week’ if I’m feeling a little run-down.
This is a really important one for me as not everyone has had the same privilege as us. As long as others are without the same platform, we need to remain educated and help any way we can.
Buy with pride
As well as talking about periods, another good thing we can do is act like it’s a normal thing – because it is. I have found that a lot of the time its only awkward if you’re awkward or if the guy serving you feels way more awkward than you do. Once I stopped feeling ashamed, buying products became a lot more easier.
Embrace your period
If you can, embrace your period; adopting a Mooncup really helped me think more positively about mine. Instead of dreading it every month, look at it from a different perspective: “My period is here. Yay to having a healthy, regular cycle!”* I understand that not everybody can do this and some people truly do suffer when they menstruate, but for me this helped.
Stop censoring people
If somebody is venting about a bad day or something that has bothered them, would you act disgusted and tell them to stop talking about it? No, so stop doing it when people complain about cramps.
Do all this and we might be able to make the world a better place for those who menstruate, because everyone deserves to feel comfortable when menstruating.
*I feel healthier and happier when I menstruate on a regular basis; that’s not to say you’re not healthy if you don’t.
This post is part of a month long theme on Traditions.
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