It’s time to end period stigma.
But pre-patriarchy, bleeding was something women celebrated. Our internal cycle was sacred, and mirrored the cycle of the moon.
Bleeding was not our weakness; it was our power. And I am filled with rage knowing that this was taken from us. Stripped away, and replaced with connotations of filth, evil, and shame.
Fast forward to 2020, and here’s a small selection of the stigma and shame menstruating women continue to face worldwide:
In India, female students from a college run by a Hindu sect were forced to strip and prove they weren’t menstruating, to be able to enter the campus kitchen and temple. A priest from the sect was later found on video saying that women who cook while menstruating will be reborn as dogs.
A survey has found that one in ten girls in the U.K. has been unable to afford sanitary products. That’s the same amount of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who miss school during their menstrual cycle. While some drop out altogether once they start menstruating.
Activist Mashiyat Rahman found in Bangladesh that 52 percent of female students didn’t even know what menstruation was before getting their first periods.
In Nepal, women and girls are banished to outdoor sheds during their periods. This archaic custom is known as “chhaupadi”, and although it was recently made illegal by the government, it is still happening in many rural parts of Nepal. These women often die in these tiny sheds they’re forced into, from hypothermia, asphyxiation, snake bites and even rape.
Over in the U.S., most states still tax menstrual hygiene products as non-essential “luxury” items. And the long standing tampon tax in the U.K. will only be banished by the end of 2022, after decades of campaigning.
It seems we’re a long way from the end of period stigma. But the question is, how did we get here as a collective?
How did we reach the point where a woman bleeding has been warped from sacred to shameful?
We continue to hide our periods. We don’t speak about them to boys or men. Because society teaches us not to. And when we do speak openly about menstruation, people often cringe or say TMI.
When I was aged 11 at school, the boys were all taken out of class, while our teacher talked to us girls about periods. We were shown pads and tampons, and asked questions – if we had any.
I learned to hide pads up my sleeve if I was in a public place and needed to go to the toilets and put a new one on.
Sometimes, my pads would be soaked through, because I was too embarrassed to have to smuggle a pad in my jumper mid-class. And if we tried to take our bag with us, there would be questions from teachers that we didn’t want to answer in front of the boys.
I remember at school one day, a guy asked my friend how often we have to change a pad or tampon. She told him usually every 4 hours, and he was utterly gobsmacked. We were all about 14 at the time.
“PMS” is thrown like an insult from men to women, and labelled the root cause of any kind of anger, frustration, or emotion women display, regardless of what time of month it may be for her.
And it was only a year or two ago that I started talking about my menstrual cycle and bleeding openly. With my girlfriends, and the men in my life, too.
The taboo around periods is a form of misogyny, emblematic of the broader subordination of women. Not talking to boys and men about our periods means a quiet subservience, allowing separate, gendered spheres to exist, which validates the idea that anything outside the cis-male experience is abnormal.
– Amika George, founder of the #FreePeriods campaign.
So, how do we end period stigma?
If we want to end period stigma, we have to stop teaching kids that a bleeding vagina is taboo.
Sounds obvious, I know, but so many of us around the world continue to fuel the problem.
We don’t think it’s necessary for boys to learn about periods, too.
Commercials for sanitary products still use an ambiguous blue liquid to represent blood, out of fear of public uproar from showing an actual bloody pad or tampon on T.V.
We speak in code names like Flo, Code Red, and Girl Flu, to avoid saying the stigmatised word, period.
Governments continue to brand sanitary products as “luxury” items, while Jaffa cakes, crocodile steaks, and edible sugar flowers are not. Implying that periods, or pads, are somehow optional.
We are a society that has readily welcomed and glamorised porn stars and cosmetic surgery. Yet we continue to struggle to embrace and celebrate a natural bodily function that half of the population experience every four weeks.
Without periods, there would be no population. But women continue to be suppressed by our patriarchal society, and seen as no more than reproductive machines.
For this to change, there has to be a breakdown of the patriarchy, and a rise in the collective feminine. Like a wave which we continue to see rising, and growing in power and momentum every day.
And while we’re waiting for the world to find harmony once more, we can each play our part in re-writing this story.
We can talk to our daughters, and sons, about the ins and outs of menstruation. Without fear or embarrassment.
We can prioritise period education for girls – and boys – across the world. So that the next generation knows better than the one before.
We can say the words period and bleeding freely, without shame. Because this is our nature.
We can open up to the men in our life, and include them in our sacred cycle. Because many have been left in the dark all this time.
And we can continue to campaign and fight for a global end to period poverty and stigmatisation.
It’s time to remind ourselves of the strength and magic of the female body. And it’s time to reclaim our periods, and reclaim the power that was stolen from us.
It’s time to end period stigma. Forever.