I have one New Year’s Resolution for 2019, just the one. I’m going to be period positive.
I’m going to shout and cheer and champion periods all year long. Hopefully I’ll be able to convince you to join me – I promise it’ll be more fun than that ambitious trip to the gym you were thinking of making.
Every woman you know will have a cringe period story, either about themselves or someone they know. It’s part of being inducted into womanhood. But is it really necessary for us to hide away our menstrual products like they are contraband?
Many of us are taught period shame when we are very young. I remember asking my mum when I got my period – ‘How often should I change a pad?’. She shushed me furtively to lower my voice. We were in the house, apparently alone in the kitchen. Perhaps she was concerned that my dad or brother might overhear? Maybe she worried they’d tease me? Maybe she just found the whole topic too awkward to bear? And so mine and many other periods began, in a confused haze of shame and uncertainty (as did, undoubtedly, my Mum’s).
Check this out:
Of 1,500 women recently surveyed, 58% of them had felt embarrassed from being on their period. 42% of them had been actively period shamed. 44% of the 500 men who were asked said they’ve made a joke about someone being on their period, and 51% of those men think it’s inappropriate for women to talk about periods at work.
THINX survey 2018
73 % of women surveyed have hidden a pad or tampon from view on their way to the bathroom. Most women we know have periods and use sanitary products in exactly the same way that we do. So what are we hiding from? Men and boys have a key role to play here. Inevitably, the lack of education that young boys (and girls!) get about periods is one of the main culprits. It’s not surprising that male views of periods are so negative. Periods are mysterious, icky sounding secret bleeds, that can have all kind of scary and confusing side effects. If this is what boys are taught, it’s no surprise that they grow into men who are very likely to feel either like it’s inappropriate to talk about periods at work, or make a joke about them (in many cases both). Why not try having an honest conversation with some of the men and boys in your life? Ask them why they think period shame exists. You might be surprised!
One thing that we can be sure of, is that not talking about something typically makes it worse. Welcome to the dark world of period shame. One of the reasons we don’t talk about it, is because women and girls have been disempowered to take control of their own periods. We’ve all had period nightmares associated with leaky pads, tampon strings sticking out, stains on bed sheets and bus seats. My period used to be something that I would actively dread, even to the point of having anxiety dreams about it. (Getting married to someone you don’t know and turning round to discover that you’ve bled all over your white wedding dress? Anyone??) The looming horror of Toxic Shock Syndrome every time I used a tampon. The hot, sticky discomfort of a pad. As if cramps, PMS, acne and fatigue aren’t enough to be dealing with, we’re supposed to be ashamed of it too?
I spoke to Chella Quint who is the mastermind behind the #periodpositive movement. She shared with me the intended meaning behind my new fave hashtag:
“I coined period positivity and founded #periodpositive to promote a positive environment for talking about menstruation and reproductive health (the good and the bad) and challenge media stereotypes of taboos around periods. You are period positive if you care about knowledge and confidence, learning more, talking openly about all aspects of menstruation”
Chella also founded STAINS™ – a removable stain to wear on your own clothing, intended to break the taboos around one of the top concerns women and girls report when it comes to period shame.
Periods happen, by and large, every month. A woman will menstruate for up to 8.2 years of her life.
That’s a long bloody time to feel ashamed for existing.
I say enough is enough. Enough squirrelling a tampon out of your handbag and up your sleeve. Enough urgent whispering across your desk ‘Have you got a spare pad?’.
Period shame = woman shame. Periods are part of our power and humanity literally wouldn’t exist without them. Let’s own them.
Since I started using a menstrual cup a few years ago, my relationship with my period changed, almost over night. I gained ownership over my period. It made so much sense to me! They are easy to use, clean, leak free and safe. Menstrual cups give you period power! Now that’s something we can all be proud of.
Next time you spot period shaming in any form, call it out. Do it for those countless girls who have missed school days or struggled to concentrate in class due to having their periods. Strike up period positive conversations with your friends, your family, the men and boys in your life. Be part of a more period positive world that doesn’t make women and girls ashamed by something so natural and fundamental to life. Hell, let’s use #periodpositive to share our stories with each other and the world. We can change period shame. We’ve just got to start talking about it, and stop hiding our tampons on the way to the bathroom.
Wishing you an excellent and #periodpositive 2019!
Lauren is a Northerner living and working in London. She currently works in the tech/travel industry after previously managing campaigns for a political party. Her biggest loves are food, feminism, swimming, politics and reading about all of these things (and crime fiction) whenever humanly possible.