Friday, March 13, 2015

It's time to fight the menstruation taboo. Period.

It’s time we talk about something. And that something is menstruation. Ah yes, the period.  Aunt Flo. That time of the month. You know, “women’s troubles” (Warning: If just these phrases alone are making you uncomfortable, this may not be the post for you…but it probably should be).

Menstruation (also known as a period) is what occurs when a female’s body sheds the lining of the uterus. This monthly process causes bleeding, which passes out through the vagina, and can last anywhere from 3 to 7 days (want to learn more about the menstrual cycle? Click here).  In short, the period is a natural occurrence in the female reproductive system. So, why is everyone so uncomfortable talking about it? 

I’m extremely open when it comes to my period – I ask for tampons loudly in public, I carry them to the bathroom with no shame, and I talk about my cramps. I am always taken aback when that seemingly offends people. Recently, I was traveling with a friend when I told him I had to run back up to my hotel room to get a tampon. He looked at me in utter disgust and said “UGH, did you really have to tell me that?” It absolutely infuriated me. I responded that he needed to grow up (my sass got the best of me) and that I’m absolutely not making up an excuse to shield anyone from this natural process that is not only part of who I am but also something we all know exists.

Sadly, he’s not the only one who feels women should keep quiet about the topic. Recently, Instagram removed a photo posted by an artist. It was of a woman wearing grey sweats and a small amount of blood had visibly leaked through her pants and on to the bed. The removal of the photo means that an Instagram user (or likely users) flagged this image as inappropriate. Sigh

The taboo of menstruating has been around for centuries. In many traditional religions, menstruation is considered ritually unclean. In fact, the Old Testament states that when a woman is menstruating, “anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening.” There are cultural taboos, too. Until about fifty years ago, Italians did not allow women to enter the kitchen while menstruating. In India, women are considered impure, sick, and cursed during their period. Nepalese traditions include banishing women during menstruation, often expelling them to unheated and unclean shelters (such as animal sheds).

Thankfully, there are individuals who are striving to eliminate this taboo. One example is the media campaign, #periodpositive, which challenges negative media representations of menstruation and hopes to encourage menstruation education. Another illustration is derived from the photo and artist discussed above. When Instagram removed her photo, Rupi Kaur did not stay quiet – she struck back. Ms. Kaur explained that the photo series is actually to de-mystify periods and overcome the taboo that Instagram demonstrated. Further, she stated, “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak…” Preach it, sister!

There’s no doubt that I strongly support the women and media campaigns that are challenging the negativity associated with menstruation.  But what can I - just a normal gal in Sacramento – do to stand in solidarity?  I pledge to myself (and this cause) that I will continue to not hide my tampon in my sleeve when I walk to the bathroom. I will continue to be honest about how I’m feeling when I have my period and cramps. I will not be shamed for a biological occurrence that I cannot control naturally. Period.


Juliana said...
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Juliana said...

I also think the way tampons and pads are marketed adds to the "period taboo." I'd assume, for some men, tampon commercials are a huge source of how they get their information about periods. So it probably doesn't help that a lot of tampon commercials consist of an attractive women wearing white pants, walking on the beach, talking ambiguously about her period, with a flash image of a box of tampons at the end. This New York Times piece sums it up pretty well:

This parody also addresses the fact that a lot of tampon commercials are created by men, who don't really seem to understand what periods are:

Ahva said...

I too have been baffled by what you call the "menstruation taboo." You mentioned Rupi Kaur's Instagram post of the girl in grey sweats with the menstrual leakage. I saw Kaur's whole photo series, which included photos of a bloody tampon and a view from the top of a shower where all that is visible is a shower drain, running water, the showering girl's feet, and drops of her period blood on the shower floor. I didn't show the photo series to my husband, but I explained the images to him while he grimaced in disgust. I agree that it's absurd that we are this uncomfortable talking about menstruation, to the point that I was thankful that I wasn't on my period while taking the MPRE because that way, I wouldn't have to put tampons into the clear plastic bag that I had to bring into the test center.

Are men fussy about periods because they never see images like the ones that Kaur documented? It can't be the unpleasantness of viewing someone else's blood that puts men off - men see blood in movies and TV shows all the time. Moreover, to be frank, society is more willing to talk about male ejaculation than about female menstruation. This makes me wonder whether it is the fact that menstruation is an inherently female process that makes it taboo.

Jessica S. said...

I agree with Ahva's point that it isn't so unpleasant that we can't talk about it. I think there does seem to be a repulsion toward menstruation. Many physical events that women go through are downplayed or labelled off-limits to men's conversations. The patriarchy does not want anyone to understand women's experiences or acknowledge that periods require upkeep and are painful for many women. I think this distancing and silencing is why birth control automatically makes men think of pregnancy prevention, and they're rarely aware of its use for regulating and easing period problems. It's just not good to continue dismissing menstruation as gross because I've heard some men making comments that show ignorance. For example, the men who say young girls shouldn't use tampons because then they won't be virgins anymore. Yes, there are people out there who still believe this stuff.

Rebecca F. said...

I say "Preach it, sister!" to you Sophie, not just for this post but for the way you pledge yourself to this cause!

It seems silly to me that we are so often shamed for, as you so perfectly put it, a biological occurrence that we cannot naturally control. With that shame, comes a strong pressure to never talk about our periods - we speak in euphemisms if we speak at all, our commercials feature blue liquid and tout the discrete packaging of pads and tampons.

Perhaps through the work of Ms. Kaur, #periodpositive, and posts like this, we can finally put an end to this centuries' old nonsense.

Sara said...
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Sara said...

When it comes to menstruation, I'm generally discreet. I'll put my tampon up my sleeve when going to the bathroom, and only talk about the subject with close female friends. But I agree that it is so backwards that something that is natural generally goes unspoken.

And when it is discussed, it can be met with abusive and degrading comments. This reminds me of one of Ahva's posts: Her post discussed Internet responses to Feminist bloggers. A feminist blogger asked, "Twitter friends: Anyone know a country where tampons are free or somehow subsidized?" Twitter users responded with comments such as:
"here's a thought: get married. Then your husband can pay for it. As long as your putting out....";
"Yeah, it's called the Middle East where they sew your vagina shut for being a loud mouth."