What is period shaming and how can we overcome it?
By Anne & Dani
What is period shaming and how can we overcome it?
Menstruation is pretty amazing (albeit a bit messy) and is one of the most natural processes in the world!
Your menstruation is the shedding of the uterine lining that happens due to the natural rise and fall of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The menstrual cycle lasts between 28 - 32 days (although some might be shorter/longer) and starts with the 1st day of bleeding.
Menstruating is healthy and marks your fertility.
Even though millions experience periods throughout their reproductive years, there exists a huge taboo surrounding this in many places of the world. Many of us are made to feel embarrassed or somewhat ashamed, or even considered impure, dirty, or sinful.
Has someone commented on your mood when you were on your period? Your friends teased you when you didn’t want to join that day for a swim? Have you ever hidden a pad or tampon on your way to the bathroom? Or worn specific clothing that would not show a leak if it were to happen? Did you cancel plans because you had cramps and made up a false explanation?
These are all examples of period shaming - an unfortunate reality all over the world, reinforced by a lack of education, discrimination, cultural taboos, and period poverty.
For me (Anne), years ago a roommate stated that he wouldn’t throw out the toilet trash when it was full because we women had to dispose of the ‘dirty period things’ that were in there. At the time, I thought this was a weird but somewhat reasonable request. Now, my view has changed as I realize this was yet another example of how period shaming is present in our daily life.
I (Dani) used to share a bathroom with the rest of my family. More than once, I got asked to hide the plastic wrap from tampons or pads with toilet paper because my brother or dad might see them. This made me feel ashamed and confused (did they not know about periods? If not, they were in for a surprise). I’m happy to say that, years and many candid conversations later, this is no longer the mentality of my household.
The reality is that menstruation, in all its bloody glory, is a natural and healthy part of a person’s monthly cycle. It is also intrinsically related to human dignity – a human right. We think it’s about time to fight the shame that surrounds menstruation. This starts with an open and honest conversation.
Here are three things you can do to fight the stigma around menstruation:
Normalize period talk
Acknowledging periods is one thing, but talking about them is a whole other monster to tackle. It might feel a bit off the first few times. When we’re taught that periods are something to hide, to keep secret from the world because it’s embarrassing or dirty, it’s no surprise we inadvertently reinforce the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Let’s stop that!
We can begin to normalize periods simply by talking about them more. Whether it is friends, family, co-workers, the guy at the end of the street selling pretzels… don’t shy away from the conversation.
Don’t be thrown off by negative responses - we’re all learning.
Next to this, call a spade a spade. Many people prefer calling menstruation anything other than what it is - ‘That time of the month’, ‘Shark week’ and even ‘The Curse’! Using euphemisms only creates a larger stigma around menstruation, which is what we want to avoid.
Menstruation is something we should embrace and celebrate! Not keep hidden and feel abashed about.
We are in this together. Your voice matters.
Education is a powerful tool. It creates empowered people ready to take on new opportunities, accept new perspectives, and share their knowledge.
Myths and misconceptions should be tackled at every chance.
In school, period education is usually rather basic. At home, parents don’t always know how to broach the subject (many of us remember a parent awkwardly talking about the… hmmm… blood that comes out of your... you-know-what). This discomfort tied to the topic only adds fuel to the taboo fire.
Myths and misconceptions should be tackled at the very moment when all youngsters start to learn about their bodies in school. Raising awareness about the reality of periods should be a focus.
Education can help us better understand what is and isn’t ‘normal.’ Part of the misunderstandings surrounding periods is that they are very painful, heavy, and horribly unpleasant. This can lead to many diseases such as endometriosis to go undiagnosed (check out our blog post My Subtenant Mrs. Endo to learn more about this disease).
If we take the time to educate children and adults of all genders about menstruation, we’ll eventually normalize it and destroy the stigma.
Provide access to menstrual products
Period poverty refers to a lack of access to sanitary products, safe, hygienic spaces in which to use them, and the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma. In the Netherlands, about 10% of people who menstruate struggle to afford menstrual health products.
Access to these products is essential for anyone who menstruates to have their period with dignity. Menstrual cups are a wallet-friendly alternative for period management. They save you from having to buy new disposable products every month (hi less menstrual waste!) and because you only have to replace them every 10 years, saving you tons of money (check out Phia Cup and learn more about reducing your environmental impact with menstrual cups).
Stay informed and vocal, donate (if you can) to organizations and charities fighting period poverty, and push legislators to take this issue seriously.
Together we can kick stigma’s ass!