Bad blood: Your period is taboo
The period taboo has permeated every outlet of our culture. Menstruation, and subsequently womanhood, has been deemed a burden to society. In a world where we are taking initiative to propel gender equality, how can we expect women to feel equal when they are shunned for their womanhood?
I don’t remember much from my first experience at my aunt’s house – I was only eight. But I do remember one thing. I stained my white shorts and my aunt took me and bathed me, made me wear sanitary and that was it. No explanation other than I had to change that pad every two hours. Afterwards, I was told that “washanyirwa usazorege kugeza” -in English “visitors” were periods, though I don’t think I knew what periods were either. And that was my first exposure to society’s endless talent for euphemising an inevitable and natural aspect of women’s lives: the monthly shedding of the lining of their uterus.
Menstruation sounds like a disease.
Perhaps that wishful thinking is why the menopause is known as “the change”, a bland word that holds none of the distress and despair of endless hot flushes, depression, brain fog and eradication of libido. Or maybe it’s a way of sticking women’s health in the dark and unspoken corner where it’s supposed to belong.
Perhaps it’s why periods have so many alternative identities. There are at least thousands in different languages. Here are a few: on the rag, the curse, shark week, having the painters in, Aunt Flo, river flow , moonwalker and of course the infinitely useful “time of the month”. Who else remembers their PE teacher asking if anyone was skipping a shower that week? Most responses from my street findings 96% feel comfortable talking to female family members about periods; 86% of women and girls would hate to talk to a male classmate about them.
This is a very welcome survey, though of no surprise to me: periods in much of the world are supposed to take place in silence no one should guess that something has changed. It’s funny how some girls are not well informed on my survey I interviewed young girls who were convinced they were dying of cancer when they started bleeding.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never excreted a blue liquid, or worn white trousers on my period.
Yet times are changing. The last few years have been revolutionary. There is now a Menstrual Hygiene Day. There are advertisers who are daring to talk frankly about tampons and sanitary hygiene. A international company Body form is about to launch a campaign to get period emojis added to the Unicode keyboard based on the premise that young women are mortified to talk about periods, but they might use an emoji.
Whatever it takes to bring periods out of the realm of secret and hidden is fine with me. But euphemisms are fine with me too. It would be nice if we were capable of talking more clearly and scientifically about our bodies. But what’s damaging the lives of millions of schoolgirls and women is not daft and coy terms for periods but being unable to talk about them at all, or being so ashamed that they have to dry their sanitary cloths under the beds or in the damp, getting urinary infections or worse. Unesco estimates that one in 10 African girls, for example, miss at least one day of school a month, leading to a higher drop-out rate. A survey in India found nearly 25% of girls drop out of school permanently when they reach puberty because they have no toilet at school. As long as we can talk about periods openly and stop all the disease and degradation that comes from women’s bodily functions being thought polluting or dangerous, you can call them what you like.
When I had my first period, I did not see it as something shameful. In fact, I walked around my home with pride, announcing my transition into womanhood to everyone I saw, including my father. It wasn’t until I walked out of my sheltered home that I got the wakeup call. At school everyone was ashamed when their period arrived, as if it was D Day. Girls asked for tampons so secretively it was as if they were initiating a drug deal. This is a bodily process experienced by 50% of the population, so why is there so much stigma regarding something so common?
It’s time we each take our own step to end the menstruation taboo. The next time you get your period, celebrate instead of mourn. The next time you see someone ignorant about menstrual hygiene, introduce them to a world free of shame and full of knowledge. The next time you need to ask for a tampon or pad, don’t be hush. Don’t be quiet. Ask loud and proud there is no shame in that.
By Eve Mary