Author: Holly Campbell
Women and trans-men are exposed to a culture of period shaming. You have likely experienced somebody’s overt disgust at the sight of menstrual blood or had your views devalued because you are ‘on your period’, an insult used to disregard a person of any gender as irrational. This culture of shame is sexist and used as a tool to subordinate women. We need to talk periods to empower women, support positive experiences for trans-men and encourage safe and environmentally sustainable sanitary products.
There is a social anxiety around women’s menstrual cycles which is exhaustingly intrusive. Period shaming means that whilst we are dealing with pain, cramps and expensive sanitary products, we also have to manage our periods with utmost secrecy too. This consensus of shame and embarrassment means public conversations around menstruation are avoided and challenging concepts to include trans-men is not even a consideration. Our menstrual cycle is an inherently natural and biological function, but we live in a culture that associates periods with weakness and irrationality, traits historically associated with women for the convenience of patriarchy. This oppression devalues women and marginalises trans-men.
Period shaming limits open conversations around menstruation and positive action to combat related social, health and environmental impacts. Period, vagina and tampon are not shameful, dirty words. However a patriarchal society has created a culture that squirms at them. We need to challenge this for honest discussions around the environmental and health impacts of sanitary products. We use on average 11,000 tampons in our lifetime, all dumped in landfill taking centuries to degrade. Furthermore, manufacturers are not legally obliged to disclose ingredients, meaning many consumers are unaware that their sanitary products contain harmful toxins. In third world countries periods are utterly unmentionable and women resort to using unhygienic rags. Homeless women are crippling in period pain on freezing cold streets and cannot afford the luxury of sanitary towels – despite the British government providing free condoms to all citizens, whilst homeless women do not have access to free sanitary products. Finally, shaming must end to encourage inclusivity for trans-men. Through removing gender from menstruation and discussing it as a biological function, we contribute to inclusivity for trans-men. However, whilst this conversation is being had, it should not be limited to feminist publications.
We can take action to unload this stigma by talking openly with our peers about our experiences – asking a friend for a tampon should be as easy as asking for a tissue! We should not have to bear the burden of cramps, expensive sanitary products and cultural shame in addition to confronting those who exhibit that shame. However, in the name of those deeply affected by the stigma, we can make it our responsibility to enact defiance, from asking your friend for a tampon in public, to replying to problematic social media comments, to starting a campaign. Rupi Kaur uses art, the free bleed movement is uses protest and recently, Madison Beer used her celebrity platform to challenge period-shamers (below).
When we talk openly and confidently about our menstrual cycles, we reclaim power and ownership of our bodies. We own vaginas, use tampons and we have periods. Let’s call it what it is and normalise what society cannot seem to accept.