A female peer came to class late one day because she wasn’t feeling well. When it was her turn to perform an original song for the class, she told our male professor, “I have really bad cramps because I’m on my period. Sorry if this doesn’t end up being a good performance.” My professor replied with, “Whoa, TMI, am I right?” and the entire class chuckled.
There are three big things wrong with this picture.
The professor should not have said what he said. It’s subtle body-shaming comments like “Whoa, TMI, am I right?” that make women feel like this natural process they experience every month is disgusting and shameful. Comments like these reinforce the idea that women need to hide their periods, especially from men.
The morning that I woke up and had found that I started my period, I went to my mom to tell her. The first thing she said was, “uh oh,” as if I had made a mistake. In my culture, young girls who haven’t hit puberty yet are seen as pure. Prior to starting my period, I was asked to attend many prayers in order to bless a house for new homeowners—one of the many duties of a pure girl. Once girls get their periods, they are seen as unclean or impure, even though regular menstruation cycles are a sign of a healthy body. Periods are commonly referred to as “shark week” or “the curse,” as if menstruating is the worst thing that can happen to a woman.
When a woman follows a menstrual cycle, it is a sign that her body is happy and healthy. It can also mean that she has the ability to have children. Menstruating is supposed to prepare women’s bodies for pregnancy. Being able to create life (with a little help) and keep it safe in our bodies for nine to 10 months is an absolutely beautiful process. If having periods prepares our bodies for pregnancy and the creation of life, why are we made to believe that bleeding like that once a month is shameful and disgusting?
The second thing that is wrong with the initial situation I shared with you about a female peer’s interaction with a professor is that everyone chuckled at the end of the exchange. Laughing at jokes made about periods, and women in general, reinforces the ideas set in our heads that women are inferior to men. We think moments like these are funny because we’ve been raised to do so.
We have been raised to believe that a woman’s place, when she isn’t taking care of the rest of her house and children, is in the kitchen. We’ve been raised to believe that women should not be working because it’s the man’s job to provide for a family. We’ve been taught that women aren’t as intelligent as men and can’t think for themselves. We’ve been raised to believe that women are inferior to men, when, in fact, men and women are equal.
The last big thing that’s wrong with this picture: she apologized. Women in general tend to apologize more than men do. I’ve noticed in school that, whenever a young woman wants to contribute to the class, she will raise her hand and apologize before entering her contribution. She is likely to get interrupted anyways by a young man who doesn’t even bother to raise his hand. As women, we have been taught by example to apologize before contributing to a conversation because our thoughts are supposedly less valuable than a man’s.
So how do we change this?
One of the most powerful things we can do in order to show the world that women matter and are just as valuable as men is talk with one another about our experiences. We can get together and encourage others to share their experiences and value themselves, as well as all the women in their lives. We can join or start organizations, school clubs, and events that promote high self-worth and equality. We can and should speak out against moments of inequality. It’s important not to be caught in the group that chuckles after a sexist comment is made. Standing by and watching moments of inequality happening without saying anything is almost as bad as actually saying or doing something discriminatory.
Before we can really change the world and help people recognize the importance of loving everyone, we must first love and value ourselves.
So, here’s to you. I hope that you see that you are a powerful, intelligent, bright, beautiful human being. You, along with everyone, deserves love, respect, and kindness.