Periods suck. There’s no denying it. Literally everything about them sucks, from cycling through a week’s worth of emotions in a day, to bloating too much to fit in skinny jeans, to going to bed and then waking up in the middle of a Japanese flag (except that you’re not pregnant!! Unless you were trying to get pregnant in which case it sucks even more).
Being a woman has its perquisites, but also has its drawbacks, and having a period is definitely one of those things. But it’s something that all women go through, all 51% of the population, meaning that more people on Earth are having periods than not having periods. If this is the case, then why is period shaming even a thing?
Let’s start with outside of North America, where more arcane forms of period shaming take place. Many societies, such as the Dogon in Mali or the Huaulu in Indonesia , see it that women are “unclean” when they are having their periods. This has resulted in women being confined to “menstrual huts” for the duration of their period where they are isolated from their families, friends, and the rest of their society. Many of these societies also hold the belief that having sex with a menstruating women will weaken a man, leading to allegations that having a wife in a menstruation hut is the best way to ensure that she is not cheating on him.
So that’s the emotional stuff. And as isolating as it can be, period shaming also has further implications, both health and even education-wise. In poorer countries, for many women, their only form of period protection is a resuable cloth pad that must be rewashed and worn as many times as possible. Because of the shame women on their period feel, many of them will wash out their pads quickly and quietly and hide them in undetectable areas to dry. This results in insufficient drying, as well as attracting bugs and fungi which can lead to infection.
When I was in Kenya working with a school in a rural community, one of the things that was mentioned to me on a tour was that the school was very proud of being able to install gender-separated toilets. While this is something that we in the West take for granted, these toilets actually made it possible for more girls to attend school, as they didn’t have to endure the shame of dealing with their period in co-ed washrooms. Before this, many girls simply would not go to school during this time, and as I’m sure many a university student can attest to, missing an average of 5-7 days of class every single month will definitely set you back.
While we certainly don’t experience these kinds of period problems at home, I’m sure everyone can say that they’ve been embarrassed to have their period on more than one occasion, whether it be buying supplies at the drugstore or opening up a pad or tampon in a public washroom. If this wasn’t the case, Tampax would not be making products with a new packaging for more “discrete, worry-free disposal”.
Let’s be clear: disposal is good. Everyone is encouraging you to properly dispose of your feminine hygiene products, as it will ensure a more sanitary environment for everyone. But should you be embarrassed about the fact that you’re on your period? No. While I’m not denying that it sucks, and by no means I am telling anyone to go yell from the rooftops when they have their period (although if this is what you choose to do, all the power to you), I am saying that there is no need to feel ashamed or uncomfortable if you’re on your period. It’s almost the same thing as being embarrassed about being a girl, as periods are synonymous with being female, and this is definitely something you should, under no circumstances, be ashamed of.
It is time to put an end to the period shaming. Over half the population experiences it. All girls you know have, and will experience it at regular intervals, and we have reached the point where we should be able to (and encourage people to) have a mature conversation about the topic, because not doing so will continue to set women back emotionally, mentally, and physically. And if you’re not prepared to do that, then you need to grow up, period. (Not to mention that periods are nothing to ovary-act at….the period shaming can stop but the puns never will!!!)