For this post I wanted to discuss something a bit embarrassing. It’s not exactly that I think this topic is embarrassing that has me eager to delve into it, but rather the notion that I should. Periods. A word almost cringe-worthy to say when it’s not in reference to writing, but also a mystical force that holds a lot of power when used correctly. It has gotten me out of many gym classes (taught by male teachers) and gained me a lot of empathy among my female friends. It has even provided the opportunity of bonding with a stranger when a casual “Cramps. Am I right?” has been tossed out and replied to with a quick nod and chuckle of understanding.
The last thing I want to do is associate the female identity simply with having a period, because many of us are now aware that identifying as a woman is far more complicated, especially when discussing femininity and transgenderism or the LGBT community in general. However, I would like to use the point of periods indicating femininity in order to support the argument that they should not be something we are embarrassed about anymore. It’s 2016—the new millennium—and yet female bodies are still seen as much more erotic and uncomfortable to discuss than men’s and a function as natural as eating and breathing is looked down upon. My experience with this is from the perspective of a middle-class citizen in a developed country, so I know I haven’t experienced many of the other issues that are created because of my reproductive organs, but I still think that any discussion is better than none at all.
For as long as I can remember I was always taught to hide that I had my period, which is kind of insane if you think about it enough. Not only is menstruation a natural and necessary part of both men’s and women’s lives (reproduction and birth), but it happens once a month from as young as 9 to about 50 years old. Within that span of time, I have been encouraged not to slip up and mention having my period to people I don’t really know or accidentally letting someone at work catch a glimpse of a tampon or pad as I hurriedly walk to the washroom. To this day I still get an uneasy feeling when I have to check out at a drugstore line with only a box of tampons, as though the idea that I desperately need those at the moment is mortifying. And let’s not even talk about the walk out of the store with the box dangling away in the sheer plastic bag they give you.
However, the most important point of this overall discussion is the dismissive reaction to when you feel unable to do something because you have your period. I will admit that at one point I was under the impression that the side effects of menstruation weren’t that bad and maybe some women did overreact. But, as I’ve grown older (as you do) and my hormones have changed (as they do), I would like to formally retract my statement and say that periods suck. Maybe not every time, but when they do it can be life-shattering in those 3-5 days. So, when I hear some people respond “That’s not real” any time menstruation is used as a reason to not do something, I get angry. Of course it’s real. It’s one of the universal truths along with gravity and the knowledge that fire is hot. The fact that many people have learned to ignore something so fundamental only perpetuates the idea that it is something worth hiding. It can be equated to a myth or the fairies in folk lore if people don’t recognize it, accept it, and try to at least sympathize. That’s not to say that women are entitled to sympathy because our femininity is a difficult burden. If anything, they should be commended on how gracefully we can deal with its effects (maybe not always) and still be awesome in our daily lives, whatever that may entail.
Now, there are some people that might argue that the conversation of periods is as gross or uncomfortable as discussing bowel movements. To them I am going to respond that almost every other part of the female body has become a sexual display in media—big breasts and big butts have become our distinguishing features as “women”, so why is the biological feature that instigated the development of those breasts and wide hips thought of as disgusting and unladylike? It doesn’t make sense.
I believe that the most important and influential action we can take to alter the notion of menstruation is to just talk about it without making it into a tragic tale or something that reaffirms the weakness of a woman. I have actively tried not to be so self-conscious when unwrapping a tampon in the washroom or taking my time to look at the different brands on the drugstore shelf. Those are going to be inside of our bodies for the next week, they should at least be the right fit. The more real we make periods seem by not being ashamed to use the word in conversation, the closer we will get to normalizing it in everyday life. The more normal it becomes, the less memes we’ll see popping up on social media asking men what they would do if they saw blood on their girlfriend’s pants when she turned around. Or justifying making fun of someone because they unknowingly got their period, like in one of my favourite movies, Carrie. Once the negative, gross, embarrassing connotations are taken out of the word, the easier it will be to acknowledge that we are all still acting like newly pubescent teens discovering what it means to be adults.
That became a bit more of a rant than I expected. I hope you enjoyed!