I was nine years old, and I attended a "your-body-is-changing-soon-yay! puberty talk" at a local hospital. A nurse at the hospital ran the presentation and armed us with great knowledge for the coming years. One thing she said, however, has stuck with me for a decade now, and it has struck up a dialogue about the stigma of female puberty between me, myself, and I.
While explaining how to use and dispose of a tampon, our instructing nurse told the room that we should not flush any menstrual product down a toilet. Her reasoning being it could get caught in the pipes, you'd have to call a plumber, and everyone would know that you've started your period. How mortifying!
Her point was completely valid and great advice, but why was it wrapped in a pretty package of menstrual shaming? It's got me thinking about the way we all stigmatize menstruation and everything surrounding female puberty.
For starters, the media feeds us so much to be ashamed about when it comes to periods. From using "cutesy" names like "Mother Nature" to the infamous blue liquid used to show absorbency in pad commercials. To her credit, even the nurse at that hospital had us learn about pads using fruit punch. From before girls even hit menarche, they are fed the idea that this product of simply being biologically female is to be hidden and kept out of polite conversation. I want to open up that conversation to talk about some important issues women and girls face across the globe.
Stretching far back into many cultures, monthly bleeding was seen as unclean and menstruating women were sent away for a week or so to be ritually purified. While most societies don't deem this necessary today, there is most definitely still a problem surrounding periods in our societies. In many parts of the world, the onset of puberty in a young woman determines the end of her education. Either there are no resources to keep her clean throughout a day of menstruation, or she will be married off now that she is able to bare children. Sexism permeates through these various cultural responses. To find out more information, visit: Act!onAid.org
On a smaller, more interpersonal scale, there exists a vast swinging pendulum of "late" versus "early blooming" in male and female children. Psychological studies have shown "early blooming" males are heralded as manly and fit to be leaders whereas "early blooming" females are often branded with awful names and are ridiculed. On the flip side "late blooming" females receive labels of "too masculine" or "not girly" and "late blooming" males are seen as weak and not manly enough. In the end, there are higher chances of depression and anxiety in "late blooming" males and females as well as "early blooming" females. There are so many problems with this for both sexes. No one should feel differently about their body or have to believe the lies of others because they do not fit the "perfect" timeline.
A third issue that I had not even heard of until a year ago is the hygiene, health, and dignity of women in poverty. Privilege blinded me to the stark reality of the lack of resources for women on the streets and living in poverty. Ladies, think about how often you change a pad, tampon, or Diva cup during your period. Now imagine having to deal with that outside of the comfort of a clean bathroom, and that's assuming you even had clean feminine products to use. Please, if you too find yourself in a place of privilege, pick up an extra pack of pads the next time you buy them and donate them to a local shelter. To find out more information on how to help please visit: Power to the Period
Call me a radical or impolite or improper or gross or angry or whatever you will, but I am so proud to be a woman. Human bodies are beautiful and incredible, and I have infinite amazement for the magic that happens in my body every cycle--even if it does hurt sometimes. My body is so efficient, and that is beautiful science to me. I think discussing something as hardcore as a uterus (the self-cleaning oven of the organ world) is worth our time. If all of that sounds like a load of feminism that you can be bothered with, remember this: we are all the product of a female body.
My point in all of this is, no one should feel like an outcast because they've got to change out a piece of cotton for a couple days out of the month. Menstruation is as normal of a biological process as exhaling, and our fragile sensibilities don't get offended every time someone breathes. I want to move past the middle school giggles and the "Oh, she must be on her period" talk to be able to have real conversations about the very real issues that women and girls face.