I got my first period when I was 10 years-old.
I remember going straight to my mother when I started menstruating. I did not feel shameful or embarrassed because we had talked about it — both my parents are nurses and nothing body-related was ever taboo, it was merely medical. But things started to shift when my mother explained to me that she had mentioned that significant event in my life to one of her male friends. I thought she had betrayed a serious secret — it was fine for my parents to know, but no other men should ever hear about it, because they’d probably think that I was gross.
The emotion I experienced is very likely how most women feel or have felt about about their period: It is something we need to hide and never talk about with men, sometimes not even with our own fathers, partners, or husbands. We have no problem sharing stories of PMS, stained sheets and underwear, tampons, etc. with fellow women, even those we barely know, but God forbid we share even a tiny bit of information about the monthly ritual with a male.
Here is what, we, women do to shield males from our periods:
We, women, have special little pouches in our schoolbags, purses, briefcases in which we hide the devices that we need to go through menstruation (tampons, pads, menstrual cups and enough Midol to tranquilize a horse) from men whom we think could not withstand the sight of such disgusting items.
We, women, regularly jump awkwardly in front mirrors, windows, and car windshields to check if our pants are not stained. If that’s the case, we worry about how long we’ve been walking around with the mark of the devil on our butts, if anyone’s seen it, and how we’re going to hide it from men for the rest of the day. (The possible responses are: Tie a sweater around your waist and/or never take off your coat).
We, women, hit the bathroom every two hours on the dot to “clean up”. This is something we have to do to prevent the embarrassment aforementioned, even if we are in a meeting, taking an exam, on a road trip or sleeping peacefully.
We, women, never complain in front of males about the tenderness in our breasts and the horrible cramps in our abdomens; even if they are as painful as a heart attack, it is not worth shocking the men with the fact that our uterus is, once again, shedding its lining, sending blood flowing out of our vagina.
We, women, try to not let the discomfort of our period to have too much influence on our behaviour and our emotions, because if we do, we’ll be called crazy, hysterical, or my personnal favourite, bitchy.
Women bleed. Big Fat Deal.
Why are we wasting our time and energy doing everything possible to pretend that our period doesn’t exist when we all know that every woman in the history of humanity has or had her period and that there would be no human race without our bleeding?
It’s time we start to talk about period like the unavoidable natural process that it is, not as something repulsive.
Rupi Kaur is one of the women who want to break the stigma by doing just that. In 2015, the Canadian author and poetess posted the following picture on Instagram.
The image was taken down twice before Instagram apologized and said it was deleted “accidentally”. Rupi Kaur argued that to see women’s boobs, women’s butts, and often women’s genitalia fully exposed on the platform was simply accepted, while a blood stain showing the reality of what being female is was too much to take.
The image received almost 91 thousand “likes” on Instagram and incredible media attention.
More recently, during an interview, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke the stigma by admitting that she was on her period, and that it was affecting her performance during the Rio Olympics. That remark also got a very positive response online.
Although these examples are steps taken in the right direction, we, women, want more.
We want to see advertisements on TV that show the reality of women’s period, not a dream-like versions featuring women wearing tight white pants and running in the sunset while blue liquid is supposedly coming out of their ying-yang, landing in some incredibly absorbent pads.
We want the dreadful consequences of this stigma to end in countries such as Uganda, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, etc. where the lack of hygienic menstrual products and sanitary facilities, as well as the strong social taboo associated with girls’ period hold them back from attending school, damaging forever girls’ future.
We want to see women’s bodies taken for what they are, not only for men’s consumption.