In my previous blog post I spoke about the shame women feel in talking about out sex and our bodies. In this post I’m going to discuss this same shame and embarrassment over our periods. Our menstrual cycle is one of the most natural things that happens to a woman, yet when asking another woman if she has a tampon after you’ve once again forgotten your back up, we tend to mouth the words in a Miranda Hart style and then proceed to do the super secret pass over and try hide it in the most obvious way (I used to put mine up my sleeve). Even when we buy the products at the supermarket there is that same awkward feeling of embarrassment. But why are we so ashamed of something that happens to pretty much all women every month?
Period shaming is a serious problem that makes women feel ashamed about their own bodies. One in three women have experienced period shaming and one in five girls have been bullied over their periods causing them to miss school. For fear of leaking 46% of women admitted to skipping P.E when on their period. By saying that periods are gross or icky is period-shaming. By implying or out right blaming someones behaviour on their period, is period shaming. By freaking out over someone leaking (which is common and a lot of women will have experienced) is period shaming. Making someone feel bad or gross for their choice of having sex whilst on their period, is period shaming. Not talking about periods openly is period shaming. Period shame can lead to people not going to the doctors with something serious like an ovarian cyst or even being dismissed by doctors all together, because their pain is more mental than physical and they’re exaggerating!!! But by educating people on periods, especially women and girls about their own bodies, we can understand what is going on, know when something’s wrong, how to deal with pain properly, not be ashamed and 68% would feel more comfort taking part in sport.
A survey of more than 1,000 girls found nearly half were embarrassed by their period and many were afraid to ask for help because of the stigma.
The Miseducation on Periods
This lack of education also contributes to women believing myths about their periods or not understanding their bodies to the level they should. There are so many myths and so little research into a woman’s cycle and fertility, I couldn’t even tell you what is true. Another myth is “period synchrony”, the idea that women sync up when they spend lots of time together. However, this has never actually been proved, so while it may seem like you and your bestie or your new uni roommates have synched up, there may be another explanation. Another myth involves the hymen, which I spoke about in my last blog. This myth is the idea that by inserting a tampon will somehow break the hymen which plays into the “mark of virginity” narrative and is just not true. Anyone, virgin or not, should be able to insert a tampon and it shouldn’t be uncomfortable, if it is it’s probably not in correctly.
Say It Loud and Proud
There are so many different ways of saying you’re on your period like Mother Nature, the painters are in, a visit from Aunt Flo, it’s that time of the month and lady business, but why don’t we just say I’m on my period?!! MP Danielle Rowley (a modern day hero) did just this, and she did it in the house of commons when talking about tampon tax. Also, a film about periods won an Oscar, even after one of the male judges sad that while the film is well done, he doesn’t think him or any of his male counterparts will vote for it, because periods are ‘icky’. The documentary is called Period. End Of Sentence, go check it out. This shows a move in the right direction, however women need to not be afraid to say they’re on their period, and need to not be afraid of the repercussions of saying this. Men also need to not squirm, cover their ears, sing and leave the room when any word or sentence remotely related to our menstrual cycle is mentioned.
Period poverty is a real issue internationally but also here in the UK. 40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford menstrual products, and it is estimated that women spend £18,000 in their lifetime on sanitary products. That is more than a lot of people earn in a year!! According to Plan International UK, 1 in 10 can’t afford to buy menstrual products, which leads to girls missing school (137,700 to be exact, which could set each girl 145 days behind males). There are charities like Plan International UK and people like 19-year-old, Cambridge University student Amika George who started campaigning for free sanitary products for girls in school and college. Check out her Free Periods website for more on the work they do! It doesn’t help that we pay tax on tampons because they’re a “luxury” item and “non-essential”!!! I don’t find anything about shoving a something into my vagina to stop me leaking and missing out on education or work as luxury. Isn’t it about time we scrap tampon tax? Period poverty and tampon tax is increasingly being spoken about in the media and government but the issue needs to be spoken about more.
So, talk about your periods, share those embarrassing experiences and get the conversation going.