By: Erica Payne
Okay now ladies (and gentleman), it’s time for a chat. Particularly, about the one thing that nearly all women experience but still somehow remains a taboo topic. YOU GUESSED IT: periods. As women, we’ve mastered the sly move of slipping a tampon up our sleeves to discreetly walk to the bathroom without being gawked at. Or the public “do you have a *mouthes* tampon” question to your friends who all suddenly turn to tear apart their purses because we all know what that panic feels like. In actuality, periods are an amazing, incredible experience that bonds all women. To put it bluntly – we are the damn creators of life and menstruation gives us that power. Even though we should be revered as superheroes for putting up with the pain and bleeding every month, we’re not. In fact, society not only makes us feel gross and shameful for having periods, but encourages us to hide this part of ourselves.
In order to really understand why this is, I did some digging. Dr. Bobel is the Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, and is also President of The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (Meisel, 2019). She aptly explains how we got to where we are as a society: “We don’t construct [periods] as a vital sign. We don’t construct it as something neutral, normal, or healthy. We construct it as a problem that needs to be solved. And the menstrual care industry has been brilliant at delivering the “solution” and the solution comes in a box or bag” (Meisel, 2019). Rather than learning how to embrace and find pride in our bodies incredible ability to menstruate, we are taught how to suppress, hide, and fix it. From this, the stigma of period shaming was born.
One thing in particular that has always bothered me about the menstrual care industry is the discreet advertising. Companies use language that dances around what we really want to know when shopping for tampons and pads, leaving us wondering: which one of these products is actually right for my body? It shouldn’t be a mystery guessing game of “which tampon is actually going to work this time” and “which pad will not make me feel like I’m wearing a literal diaper”.
I could go on forever about these stigmas that have brought such shame to a natural, bodily function; but instead, I want to address how we can begin to stop them. And by we, I don’t just mean women. First off, the lack of universal sex education limits what women – of all ages – understand about their own bodies; this creates confusion and overall feelings of anxiety linked to the subject (UN News, 2019). So – how can we begin to change that? Let’s talk about it.
The societal ignorance and misinformation surrounding menstruation “spirals further in educational institutions and workplaces as a lack of accommodation for menstruating women and girls’ health” persists (UN News, 2019). Without proper education, “the stigma and shame generated by stereotypes around menstruation have severe impacts on all aspects of women’s and girls’ human rights,” (UN News, 2019). Like Dr. Bobel said, reproductive and menstrual education needs to be for girls, boys, parents, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, doctors and nurses. Literally everyone needs to know that it’s okay – that it’s essential – to talk about all aspects of our bodies in a respectful way. The subject needs to be weaved into all parts of our education as humans, not just sex-ed class. If we can teach menstrual literacy in a way that encourages body positivity, stigmas will be broken and replaced by an appreciation, respect, and most importantly, an empathetic understanding for one of the most incredible parts about being a woman.
Break taboo around menstruation, act to end ‘disempowering’ discrimination, say UN experts | | UN News. (2019, March 5). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1034131
Meisel, L. (2019, February 07). How to Debunk Menstrual Health Stigmas in the Age of Consumerism. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.avawomen.com/avaworld/how-to-debunk-menstrual-health-stigmas-in-the-age-of-consumerism/