Despite our strides toward gender equality, it seems menstruation is still shameful, and must, at all costs, be hidden.
At least once a month, I muster all of the courage I have and make the terrifying walk from my work desk to the office restroom.
This is a seriously covert and often stressful operation – simply because I happen to have my period. It requires rigid strategizing, meticulous planning, and serious stealth to make the 30-second sprint.
I have to consider how I’m going to get my tampon from my handbag and into the palm of my hand without anyone seeing the flash of brightly colored plastic. Do I have pockets I can slip it into, or do I have to clutch the shameful piece of cotton in my balled up fist, praying no-one notices I’m headed to the restroom with something hidden in my hand?
It’s been this way since commercial sanitary products began; starting with girls in highschool exchanging maxi-pads between hushed whispers and slights of hand befitting of a shady drug deal, and coming full circle with grown adult women bashfully whispering around office cubicles “Do you have a spare…tampon?”
It seems that, for all our social progression and strides toward gender equality, the very idea of women menstruating is still shameful, and must, at all costs, be hidden and remain a secret. But, why?
Why is such a natural, normal bodily function still considered so gross we can’t even mention the word, let alone let anyone think we might be going to the bathroom at work to insert a tampon into our immoral vaginas. That would just be too disgusting.
It’s a well-known fact that a lot of men are extremely disgusted at the very thought of a period – and some don’t even have the faintest clue what one even is – but it’s not just men who freak out at the very idea of vaginal blood. A significant portion of society still believes periods are ‘too icky’ to talk about. Huh?!
I still vividly recollect the terrifying feeling that I was dying when I experienced my first period. When my mother calmly explained this was actually totally normal, and I wasn’t, in fact, bleeding to death out of my vagina, I breathed a short-lived sigh of relief. Until she went on to inform me it would happen to me once a month for at least the next 40 years, usually accompanied by an emotional rollercoaster and a world full of pain.
Until she handed me a tampon, which I, as a naive 11 year-old, was convinced would never, ever fit where she was telling me to put it, and was absolutely terrified of inserting. I remember taking a mirror into the bathroom with me (so I could see what I was doing) and trying to follow the confusing diagram on the leaflet from the tampon box instructing me on how to get the foreign wad of cotton into my vagina.
I remember getting flustered, embarrassed and frustrated to the point of crying and giving up, vowing never to tell my mother I hadn’t managed to figure out how the tampon worked, and foregoing ever going near one again until I was in my twenties, because the first experience was so traumatizing for me.
Making periods a shameful, secret thing means the products we’re supposed to use to handle them are also secret and shameful by default.
If you’ve ever seen an advertisement for ‘feminine hygiene products’ like pads or tampons, you would have seen a group of beautiful, glowing and smiling women, clad in white skirts or dresses, laughing and playing tennis or going to the beach. These women show no sign of having a period at all (and, as any sane woman will tell you, this is NOT an accurate depiction of how we feel during that time of the month).
If the pad ad dares to show the actual product it’s trying to sell, there’s not a drop of blood in sight. The voiceover tells you how “discreet” the product is, usually concluding the whole affair with a condescending sentence like, “It will be our little secret,” because that’s exactly what a period is – a secret.
These products are marketing themselves on the fact they won’t let anyone know you’re menstruating, which sends a pretty clear message to young girls and women – shut up about your periods, be ashamed of them, and suffer in silence, because no-one wants to hear about it.
Considering menstruation happens once a month to roughly half the world’s population, isn’t it about time we kick period stigma to the curb and start being open about the woes and joys of surfing the crimson wave?
We need to start being more open about periods in general – our health depends on it. For example, the shade of your period blood can tell you a lot about your overall health, but it’s going to be useless information unless we’re able to talk about it.
Tackling period stigma is no small feat, and will take a lot of work and time, but a pretty easy place to start is to remove the shame surrounding pads and tampons.
Let’s face it. Periods – for the most part – kinda suck. We shouldn’t have to suffer through the dreaded belly bloat, the pain, and feeling ashamed for merely having them.
We deserve better than that.
If a work colleague sees you carrying a tampon to the restroom or, heaven forbid, even storing the box on your desk, embrace it. Smile at them, because you’ve got nothing to hide and nothing or be ashamed about. Make the walk from your desk to the restroom with period-pride. You’ve got this!
Images via imgur.com, giphy.com.
Comment: Do you feel ashamed to carry a tampon to the restroom?