The cover story for a recent Newsweek (here) details the fight to end shaming about periods in both the US and abroad. Mention of the word “period” has tripled in mainstream media over the past 5 years. Even Donald Trump has entered the shaming discussion around menses when he commented about Megyn Kelly and “blood coming out of her eyes”.
My previous post about Menstruation – the last taboo is the most visited post I have created. Since publishing that post 2 years ago, the articles that have been published on the topic and organizations that have been created to increase awareness and accessibility for feminine hygiene products have exploded. Finally, we are beginning to bring the conversation about a natural process that happens monthly to almost every woman, from early adolescence until midlife, out of the closet. By speaking more openly, we will also reduce the myths and lies that surround 12 weeks of our lives each year.
In the history of the world, pregnancy and childbirth are other female only functions that has been cloaked in secrecy. It was considered poor manners for women to be seen in public once their abdomen was large enough to signify that they may be pregnant. They became confined to their homes until the child was born and for weeks afterword (this is the source of the term “estimated date of confinement” or EDC) Men were not allowed to enter the room where childbirth was taking place, as the room and air were considered unclean. Instead they hung out in bars or waiting rooms while their wives were experiencing the most treacherous journey of their lives. Fortunately, we have moved beyond this system and now expect fathers to not only be present in the delivery room but also an active participant. This has made fathers more sympathetic to their partners as well as increased participation in the lives of their children.
Can we accomplish the same progress with awareness about menstruation that we have with childbirth? My daughter recently showed me this video (here) that would lead me to believe that the answer is yes. The discussion for girls about menstruation usually occurs during sex ed class in fifth grade and between mother and daughter. Although boys have their own version of sex ed at this same age, it involves the mechanics of a period and not the social or financial impact. What if boys in high school health classes had to wear a pad for a few days and find a bathroom or supplies at the last minute? An economics lesson would be used to calculate the cost of feminine hygiene products over the course of a year and then a woman’s lifetime. Discussion around period shaming and slang with their female classmates would benefit both boys and girls.
The precedent for this education in high school has already been set. Boys and girls can be seen carrying around a “smart doll” for a few days during their health class, needing to feed and diaper the doll on a real-time schedule, including waking at night. This experience has been shown to increase awareness about the responsibilities of parenting, helping to decrease teenage pregnancy. Might not the same awareness improve with a “Menstruation Day”?
The awareness about menstruation that needs to be accomplished in the developing world is far greater than here in the US. Many young girls never have a conversation with their mother or older female relatives before they start menstruating. They have often seen or heard of a relative dying in childbirth by bleeding to death, so they often think that that is what is happening to them. If the family is struggling to feed themselves and live day to day, their is seldom money to pay for feminine hygiene products. Old rags, straw, grass and sitting on a blanket are a poor substitute for a clean, absorbent piece of cloth. Thankfully, this has become a hot button topic in the NGO circles and has lead to many innovative products to serve the needs of girls and women. I am currently working with Days for Girls to create a sewing center in Haiti that creates reusable menstrual pads for sale as well as providing menstrual education to girls in area schools. In speaking with our seamstresses, we have been amazed at the lack of knowledge about female reproduction that exists even among adults. The following quotes were given to us by recipients of our program:
“The ‘culture of concealment’ surrounding menstruation has influenced women to feel ashamed about their bodies, and this imposed shame makes us docile, unquestioning consumers of products that are neither good for us, nor the environment.” School headmistress
“Girl’s kits are so amazing! They feel so comfortable against my skin, they absorb so well, they did not feel sweaty or hot, they are super cute! They do not stink at all! And oh my, they save so much money!” Student recipient of a menstrual pad kit
Bring the word “period” out of the closet. Advocate to eliminate the luxury tax that is imposed on feminine hygiene products. Talk to your workplace about putting free tampons/pads in bathrooms. Let’s help our sisters in the developing world by increasing awareness here at home.