Author: Holly Campbell
You’ve 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 maintain the subordination of women. We need to talk openly about periods to empower women, support positive experiences for trans-men and encourage safe and environmentally sustainable sanitary products.
The social anxiety around women’s menstrual cycles is exhaustingly intrusive. Period shaming means that whilst women 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 nowhere near considered. The menstrual cycle is an inherently natural and biological function, yet 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 the potential for 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 the sound of 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. This cultural ignorance further marginalises trans-men. Through removing gender from menstruation and discussing it as a biological function, we contribute to their inclusivity. However, whilst this conversation is being had, it is not broached in mainstream conversations.
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 perpetuate that shame. However, in the name of those deeply affected by the stigma, we can make it our responsibility to enact defiance, from proudly asking your friend for a sanitary towel in public 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.