Vv Magazine’s Neelam Champaneri investigates the ongoing taboo of periods.
This ‘thing’ (Aunt Flo, Girl Flu, Shark Week, or your witty euphemism of choice) that occurs in a woman’s body on a monthly basis is nothing new, but is somehow still considered taboo. Guys have been known to run for the hills if they hear a girl say “I’m on my period,” or “it’s that time of the month.” Even among ourselves, us women often preface or follow up any period-related comments with a “My bad, sorry, TMI.”
We’re allowed to talk about lasering hair off our legs and our make-up routine, and can post as many selfies as we want on Instagram, but the moment someone posts a photo of a woman on her period, everyone gets up in arms.
News flash: periods are a part of most women’s lives from a relatively early age—women in your lives may be on their period RIGHT NOW (cue horror music). Some of us bleed for up to a week each month, and experience body aches, cramps, and stomach upset for one to two weeks before. Come to think of it, it’s almost impressive that we manage to sweep it under the rug as much as we do.
With such a large part of the world experiencing this, why is still taboo to drop the p-bomb? More to the point, why is it still taboo amongst females and our Western society?
Eastern cultures work differently. Hindu families who follow old-school traditions, for example, keep the woman in a separate room for the duration of her cycle because bleeding is considered impure. It’s a form of “purifying” the woman before she returns to her family. Many Eastern cultures don’t even allow women to step foot into a temple because menstruating women are not considered clean.
In western cultures, it’s a bit different. We’re exposed to menstruation through pop culture (remember Ginger Snaps?), as well as in the media. Pad and tampon commercials may use that blue liquid to show absorbency, but they also use it to avoid mentioning period blood.
We’ve even seen a whole crimson tide (sorry, couldn’t resist) of it on social media recently following Donald Trump’s spat with Megyn Kelly, as women took to Twitter to live-tweet their periods. Then there was the London Marathon runner (M.I.A drummer Kiran Gandi) who decided to run without a tampon because she felt it restricted her from running. Gandi said on her personal website that “On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose. Where a woman’s comfort supersedes that of the observer…I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist.”
Menstruation surrounds us, but blink and you’ll miss it. Why is this the case?
The answer is hazy. Women barely even feel comfortable talking about it with each other. Why women think its gross is beyond me—they have to go through it, too. It’s not like women turn into some monstrous figure that magically grows a set of sharp teeth and are ready to go King Kong on the CN tower each month. One theory is that women have always been viewed as these ethereal creatures that are pretty much flawless. I’m pretty sure my grandfather still doesn’t know I get my period, and it’s been years. But hey guys, this is reality. Stuff happens. Move on.
Religion and culture can also be significant factors behind these social taboos surrounding menstruation. Some women had another female figure to guide them through their first cycle, while some didn’t.
Some eastern societies have mixed views. The Sikh and Bahá’í faith, for example, don’t discriminate against women while on their period, and believe that they should be treated equal to a man. Women are also encouraged to participate in religious activities. In Kashmiri Hindu cultures, women are actually shown special care during menstruation because, hey, it’s a tough week.
In many western societies, women acknowledge what they have to go through, but still choose to keep it secret because they may find it embarrassing. Conversely, Judaism and Islam have long-standing rules surrounding menstruating women—sexual intercourse is not permitted and in both religions, the woman is considered ritually unclean.
These taboos often lead to physical harm. Women who don’t have access to hygiene products are often forced into using cotton cloths, and this leads to infections and other internal problems. In rural India, women may use dried leaves, ash, or sand in place of hygienic products. In impoverished countries, young women have sex in exchange for pads.
Some girls don’t even go to school during their period because they don’t have access to proper products or are in too much pain. It’s estimated that an average teenage girl in sub-Saharan Africa loses 156 learning days over the course of high school because she either doesn’t have access to a sanitary washroom, or hygienic products.
But things are slowly changing and you, too, can contribute. Menstrual Hygiene Day aims to raise awareness on the subject. Ruby Cup (a menstrual cup) says that for every product you buy, they’ll donate one to programs such as Femme International to give to communities in need and to further education. THINX underwear, themselves an ingenious alternative to pads or tampons, are produced in a family-run Sri Lankan factory and for every pair bought, they contribute to AFRIpads, an organization in Uganda which hires local women and teaches them to sew and sell reusable cotton cloths.
Why are periods still something we need to keep secret? Women have the right to freely walk around with a pad, freely go change it in the washroom, and freely live life. If our society is going to keep being so sensitive towards the idea of menstruation, we’ll just perpetuate this same culture of shame. And hey, the more we talk about it, the more likely it is that real reform will happen around the world. So go on: tell us about your periods.
Why do you think periods are still taboo, and is there a shift coming? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.