“I’m on my period.” Silence. Questioning looks. Did she just say that out loud? “Hey, not everybody has to know, keep that to yourself.”
Menstruation is one of the many bodily issues women have to suppress. In order to make both girls and boys feel comfortable about it, we need to talk about the matter.
When I was 10, I remember learning about periods and sexuality in school. Only girls were invited to the lesson. “Girls have their period once a month, it can hurt a little, but is usually manageable and completely normal.” That seemed okay, I thought, wondering why it was only girls bleeding once a month. “Oh and right, the boys won’t learn about this until next year. They aren’t mature enough.” I laughed at this at the time, proud that I was a girl. But now I’m thinking, why do we have to protect boys from their fellow classmates reality?
Men are indeed spared from the monthly hell of periods. But still, they cannot escape the bitter reality where all fertile women menstruate. Most men will live with a menstruating woman at some point, and knowledge about the phenomenon would probably facilitate everyday life. Yet, we try to silence the discussion about this bodily normality. I don’t blame men for suppressing the conversation; it is often women who teach our kids to never speak loudly about periods. I have never heard a girl ask for a tampon in a conversational voice. It is always whispering, mumbling, and signaling when discussing menstruation. Why does asking for a tampon differ from asking for a tissue, or even toilet paper?
I do realize that the topic may feel a little trite. Still, the lack of knowledge about the female body is a huge problem all over the world. In many countries, women aren’t aloud to attend religious functions, eat certain foods, or attend school when on their period. Some think this is only a problem in underdeveloped countries, but that isn’t the case. In an American survey, only 20% of female population thought that it’s safe to delay one’s period with hormones (which, by the way, it is). 69% of the French women experience social discomfort when on their period, 52% in Germany, 51% in the UK, and up to 87% of the Chinese women. This has to stop, and to do that, women have to be brave enough to talk about it.
Another problem that inhibits productive discussion about periods is that the menstrual complications often differ from woman to woman. While some women hardly experience period cramps or PMS, others may suffer from heavy pain and grave mood swings. This has nothing to do with sensibility, so telling another woman to “suck it up” won’t do any good, I’m afraid. The fact that you have found a way to live with your period cramps doesn’t mean other girls can’t complain. You don’t know their pain. Our bodies are different, and we need to encourage girls to talk about their problems, rather than giving them pain killers and the advice to shut up. Hormonal pills work for a lot of people, but they are not available everywhere, and the misconception about them being dangerous prevents a lot of girls from taking them. We still have a long way to go to reach a world where menstruation isn’t a disadvantage for women.
So please, don’t tell me it’s not everyone else’s business when I’m on my period. It is a necessity for us to talk about our bodies. And in the end, how different is menstrual blood from other body fluids? I am sick of feeling disgusting when on my period; it’s an issue big enough without the taboo. So yes, I’m menstruating. Problem?