For the first four or so years of having my period, every single time I needed to go to the bathroom during class or even during lunch, I had to figure out a way to hide my pad. My sleeve was typically a good place, but what if I wasn't wearing long sleeves? A boot could work, but what if I wasn't wearing boots? Okay, then I'd use my pocket, but that always left an obviously bulky effect, and often times my pockets weren't even deep enough to hold what I needed.
The idea of carrying a whole bag with me out of the classroom to the bathroom was a no-go as well, for it would have given me away, so I took to trying to go between classes, carrying just my pencil case with me. That worked well, until my boyfriend, early on in our relationship, tried to tease me. He, having no idea what really lived in my pencil case, took it from me and exclaimed, "I'm gonna steal all your pencils!"
"Well, you're not gonna find them there," I responded, shocked at my own confidence about the issue. It was then that I realized for the first time: why I was I trying so damn hard to hide something that was so natural, and so not a big deal? It was because of the stigmas about menstruating that I knew were present in our society, yet I did not realize I had fallen into being controlled by them. Not sure what the stigmas are? Well, let's discuss...
1. "Periods are dirty and disgusting."
I don't know where this idea that someone going through a natural process, a process that is vital to reproductive health, is inherently dirty came from; but it needs to go. Sure, those of us going through it might feel gross or wonder how so much blood could possibly come out of us while we still remain alive, but there is still nothing disgusting about it. So many women feel the need to hide their period products because they feel that if they are caught, they will be seen as unclean.
Some of this stigma might dates back to the Bible, where it says that women are unclean during their periods, as is anyone who has relations with them during that time. In some more conservative parts of the world, women are literally made to leave their houses and live in dirty huts with animals because they are deemed as so unclean during that time. However, there is really no reason why that idea still needs to persist today. Our bodies go through so many cycles in so many systems so there is no reason to label this one as unclean just because blood is involved.
2. "There is a 'correct' product to use."
As a proud pad-user, this one really bothers me. You would think that given all the other problems and societal misconceptions, those of us on the receiving end would band together in support; but it is not that way. As one Reddit user put it, "it seems the general consensus is that tampons are 'better' and 'cleaner'." I've also heard some compare wearing pads to wearing a diaper and that you're less mature if you use pads instead of tampons. On the flip side, there has been some debate, again, surrounding different religious beliefs as so whether wearing a tampon before marriage is impure (as the hymen can be broken by a tampon). Generally, the idea is that it's okay to use, but again, opinions differ. To shift away from both tampons and pads, there are also more environmentally friendly options like the Diva Cup. The list of options goes on and on.
If we're looking just at sustainability, I would agree that reusable, environmentally-friendly options are probably the best options objectively, but in reality, the best option is whatever makes you feel the most comfortable and confident during that time of the month. It is okay to prefer one method and dislike another. With hormonal changes, cramps and societal pressure, there is really no reason why we should be shaming one another for the products we choose to use in order to keep ourselves healthy. That is immature.
3. "Emotions are just PMS speaking."
No, no, no and no! If someone is upset, there is either a good reason for it, or maybe, they are in fact over reacting. Whatever the case may be, however, it is never okay to assume someone is just mad at you because they are on their period, whether you know they genuinely are menstruating or not. Making comments about it being "that time of the month," whether you have an idea or not, is never okay and only perpetuates the shame factor. Even if you are someone who has your own periods, to assume someone else is on theirs is wrong. If we could all agree to take each other's emotions and opinions more seriously and with more respect, maybe we could get things done more efficiently rather than spending time making assumptions like this one.
4. "Someone on their period is incapable of functioning."
In some parts of the world, girls experiencing their periods end up regularly missing multiple consecutive days of class each month because they either can't afford or access the products they need (which is a different issue that a whole separate article could cover), or quite often because their environment shames them so harshly and promotes the idea that they are useless and dirty while on their cycles. Even in parts of the world where we like to think there is more progress being made in terms of acceptance, there remains the idea that a woman on her period is less capable because she has, as President Trump said, "blood coming out of her wherever."
The general sentiment that women are incapable of functioning on their periods is simply untrue. Again, sure we have cramps and might have hormonal changes, but that does not make us any less intelligent or any less determined to accomplish our goals. This ability to still function applies to physical feats, too. I have watched friends of mine put on amazing performances in high school theatre performances when I know they were in severe pain from cramps. I have read stories of athletes who have broken records while pushing through the sluggishness that can come as a side effect. The bottom line: women can accomplish greatness no matter what time of month it is and allowing any idea to the contrary to actually persist is only going to deepen the divide between gender equality.
5. "The only way to get rid of the stigmas is to go to the extremes."
So what can we do about this? I'm all for advocacy and getting the word out there that having your period is normal and not something to be ashamed of, but I also know that the topic is still pretty uncomfortable for many to talk about for a variety of reasons. To me it all starts with normalization, and that's something I think we can all participate in. When I need to change my pad now, I try to not stick it up my sleeve or down the side of my boot; I simply hold it in my hand and walk to the bathroom as I normally would. There's no need to wave it around to tell everyone you see what's going on; simply making the product something that's seen in everyday life could go a long way.
Additionally, as with many things, we need better education for people in all parts of the world. I'm not saying we need a whole class devoted specifically to periods, but if health classes could stretch beyond just the idea that girls have periods and go more into what that actually means, that too could go a long way in terms of how we perceive and treat people when they are on their period.
There are already so many things people in general, and more specifically women, are shamed for, so to shame a natural process that denotes their hormonal and reproductive health just seems silly. Having a period is healthy, not impure or unclean. We don't need to wave our products, whichever we choose to use, around in everyone's faces, but we don't need to hide them either. Menstruation is a process that roughly 334 million of us are going through at any given moment, so why are we still pretending like it is something that does not exist?
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