My followers will know by now how much I just love to dig deep, bring up those “taboo” subjects, expose them and bring out the truth in peoples opinions. I love to raise awareness of the big issues which are so often swept under the rug, and address the subjects which most find “unsuitable” to be speaking out about publicly. I’m not the type to live in the shadows. In my opinion, It’s okay to be vulnerable. In fact I believe it is in these times that we find the true character of people, and when we open ourselves up we are able to connect on a much deeper level of understanding. Honesty, and having an open mind, is key.
So this week I’d like to talk about good old Aunt Flo. Being “on the rag.” “On the blob.” Shark week.
I’m talking about the menstrual cycle.
Now, don’t go shuddering and saying “yuck” without reading on, because you’ll just be proving my point; Society has made us believe that as women, we are to shut out one of the most natural parts of our being and hide any signs of this sacred human process we are going through. The menstrual cycle is something which, in our culture, is a no- go- zone in conversation, especially around men. It is offensive to speak about your period.
Ads on TV selling sanitary products are highly censored, show no sign of blood, but rather a pad absorbing an alien blue liquid. If you’re having a hard time at work due to cramps or a heavy flow you’re expected to make up excuses. And if you are offended by any of that, I believe it’s because that’s the way society has conditioned you to feel.
If females are grouped together in close proximity for a long time their menstrual cycles will synchronize. In a village or tribal setting this would be no different from when I worked in clubs, where we would all have “period week.” It goes to show how in tune with our bodies and with nature us females are. So while we were experiencing this process together as a group, I found we were more open about this topic and could express our feelings among an understanding group.
But why isn’t it always like that? Why can’t we speak up about how our periods affect us? I decided to ask around to find out.
I asked a bunch of questions based on the topic of periods to a range of women from different cultures and walks of life; mothers, young people, older women. My aim was to gain a better understanding of what it is like for most women to experience this, not only for myself but for the public, too. And to try to figure out why we don’t speak brazenly about periods. I found the whole process of asking questions quite empowering. I could speak to strangers, relatives and good friends about the same topic and feel like there was a similarity there uniting us as women. I want to shed a positive light on the topic and change peoples perspectives towards it. I would like to promote this type of bonding, and encourage all people to feel comfortable with these discussions.
I asked women what some positive sides were to getting their period. One woman said that having her period meant she wasn’t going through menopause yet. Another said it meant she wasn’t pregnant. Another woman said that without her period she wouldn’t have known when she was pregnant til noticing other symptoms much later on than six weeks, and this was special to her. From this we can see that our period works as a natural indicator of what our body is doing, which can be very helpful for a variety of reasons. Another woman told me that after two years her periods finally started to become regular, and for her this was exciting, as she could time when it would arrive for her. Another girl agreed that this helps women to feel more in tune with their bodies.
I asked one lady what made her menstrual cycle unique to her, and she said that the only thing she thinks made her period unique is that it’s her own DNA being shed.
When asked at what age they got their period, one woman told me she had her first period at sixteen years old. I asked another what it was like when this first happened to her. She said, “I had no idea [what was going on], even though my mother told me about periods. [My mother] didn’t use tampons so I had to use these beltless pads which were very thick and had no adhesive to stick to your undies, so there was the constant worry of leaking everywhere, which I did one time at school swim sports. For some reason she kept me home the whole week- I was twelve, I think.” Another person told me that the one thing she wishes she were told before that moment was the amount of hassle getting your period can be and to enjoy the time where she didn’t have to worry about it. I asked others whether they were taught about periods before experiencing them themselves, and one lady said she might have been given information in school, but that’s about it. She said that when she did get her first period she felt scared and wasn’t sure of what to do. I believe this could be due to a lack of information or support. This is definitely something I feel as a community we could work on.
I decided to ask about the struggles women face when experiencing their period. One woman told me she feels very limited during her period, and she feels uncomfortable going out. Another woman said, “I can never remember when it’s due, but I should remember, because a couple of days beforehand I have restless sleep and night sweats.” She said this was very draining for her. Cramping was another common struggle women faced, and one woman described PMS as having an invisible person trying to stab her to death, and her best advice for those around her was to give her chocolate and run far away! Other struggles involved having to make up excuses due to having periods, for example, when it comes to sex. Another woman noted how it was difficult to plan events such as weddings and birthdays around her cycle.
I’ve heard a few women tell me that they’ve been told by government organizations that sanitary products are considered “luxury items.” After asking a range of women questions about their menstrual cycle I didn’t once hear anyone refer to their period as being “luxurious.” And, as we all know, it’s not by choice, either. I did ask how much a woman experiencing a regular monthly period would be likely to spend yearly on sanitary products, and it was calculated to be around $60 annually. When asked whether tampons or pads were preferred, one woman said that it is totally dependent on her day; generally tampons during the day and pads at night, however if she wouldn’t find the time in her busy schedule to change properly in between jobs she would need to use both. It makes me wonder how women struggling financially are expected to get access to sanitary products, which I would view as necessities.
I asked one woman how she thought men viewed periods. Her response was that it depended on the person, though age and maturity could be a factor, in her opinion. She thinks that immature males find periods gross and disgusting and don’t want to know about them, whereas after having kids and witnessing childbirth a lot of fathers are a lot more accepting and don’t really care about it. She thinks some males will never get to that stage of understanding or want to know about periods, even after becoming fathers. She said she feels lucky to have a man who will buy tampons for her. I asked another woman, “If there was one thing you wish males would understand about periods, what would it be?” And she replied, “The one thing I wish men would understand is that it’s actually painful. Men don’t know how badly it hurts so they shouldn’t say it’s not bad, or that it doesn’t really hurt. Cramps are a bitch and anything can, and will, set me off.”
I tried to put into perspective what it is like living among a community of other women experiencing the same thing, but feeling “awkward” speaking about it. I suggested a couple of likely scenarios to two different women and was surprised to hear that both seemed quite comfortable to speak up about periods.
To one I said, “If you saw a stranger in a public bathroom who was rummaging around in her handbag and in distress, would you have the confidence to ask whether she needed a tampon?” To this she responded, “Yeah, I’d ask if she was okay and if she needed help. Like, maybe she’s just lost her phone or something, so I’d keep it light and casual by asking if she needed one or if there’s anything I could do to help. I’d hope that someone would be willing to help me too. Once you start talking about it others become more open.”
To another woman I put forward this scenario: “If you were babysitting a girl and she got her first period while in your care, not knowing what was going on, what would you do? Would you feel it was your place to explain to her what was going on and help her?” The woman replied, “Of course I would help her. I would explain to her what’s going on. It is very scary when you get your period for the first time and I would hate to think that she was scared or didn’t know what was happening. I’d take her to the nearest supermarket and buy some pads for her.”
I asked women how comfortable they really were speaking about their periods. One woman said that at first she didn’t feel comfortable talking about it due to childhood reactions. She said that in school it was a shameful thing to experience your period and it was used mockingly, for example, if someone was in a bad mood others would say, “Oh, she’s just on her period.” Because nobody in her school talked about it she felt as though it wasn’t supposed to be spoken about. She said she gained the confidence to speak up about it once she became comfortable with her sexuality and gained confidence in general. She thought then, “My best friend is open about it, so why shouldn’t I be?” She said, “We both went through the same things and it’s nice to know if you get a ‘surprise visit’ you can ask for a spare pad or tampon, (“Oh my gosh, dirty words!” She added, jokingly,) and they can help you out. You can sit there and bitch about period cramps and pimples and all those wonderful things together. It’s a bond between girls that we can share.”
Would they speak about their own period to anyone? One woman said “Yes, because I lost all dignity while giving birth!” But I wonder what makes women feel like speaking about their period publicly makes you appear undignified? Why is it that, although all of these women could easily and honestly answer my intimate questions, the subject of menstrual cycles remains taboo? Even in the Holy Bible, when translated to English, words like “impure” and “unclean” are used. This is not to be taken personally, and I don’t think women should ever feel like they themselves are unclean.
I asked another woman why she thought a woman’s period is kept so secretive in our society and she told me that, because it has been treated as “dirty,” many younger girls don’t feel comfortable talking about it. This creates a cycle of “not talking about it,” and girls lack people who they feel they can trust to talk to about their period.
So what can we do to change this? I’m doing my part by trying to open up this door of communication. I want to allow women to feel empowered, to be informed, and to build that communal bonding between ourselves. I want women to feel understood and know that it is okay to speak up about what they’re experiencing. I don’t want to hear of women feeling gross or shamed for getting their period. I want them to feel supported. In schools, in public, at home and in general.
Someone said to me while surveying all these beautiful women: “No one should ever feel ashamed of their body and its natural functions. They’re all amazing.” And I couldn’t agree more.
The purpose of a menstrual cycle is to prepare a woman’s body for pregnancy. That in itself is a beautiful gift. The whole cycle that we go through is incredibly designed, and something we, as women, should feel proud of, not ashamed.
So next time you find yourself riding the cotton pony or smoking a lady cigar, don’t you feel ashamed to walk up to that supermarket counter with a box of tampons in one hand and a block of chocolate in the other. It’s okay to spend all week in sweatpants and a baggy sweater. Don’t feel bad if you spend all weekend crying and watching sappy chick flicks while your mates are out partying. And don’t feel gross if an army of angry pimples suddenly swarms your face. You’re strong and you’re awesome.
After all, who else could bleed for a week and not die?! Now that’s badass.