December 24, 2015

There’s No Shame in this Blood Game. Period.

periods, menstruation

I bleed.

At least once a month my lady-part flood gates open—a ritual that can not be avoided and has been an expected part of my life for over two decades. There are times I’ve b*tched and moaned about it, times I waited with baited breath for it, times I’ve used it as an excuse for my bad mood when in fact I just didn’t want to deal with other people’s crap, and these days I wonder what it’ll mean to me when it’s no longer a monthly ritual.

I find my period an easy thing to talk about, but it wasn’t always this way.

I grew up in a home where periods weren’t something we talked about, because if we talked about that, then we had to talk about sex and that was certainly off limits. Needless to say when I finally did get my period at the ripe age of 13, I was terrified. My mother explained I was now a woman, handed me some pads, and told me I needed to be sure to stay as clean as possible. I looked at my bloodied panties and wondered how the hell that was possible when I had a murder scene happening right between my legs.

I soon learned that the worst part of aunt flow wasn’t the actual blood but the non-conversations due to shame that revolved around it. Sure there were ads for pads and tampons in my Sassy magazines, and some commercials on TV with blue liquid, but I was too ashamed to ask my friends about it. And I certainly didn’t feel I could go to my mom without her looking at me like I was no longer her little girl and now had the makings of a potential teen mom.

It was like I had to inherently know what to do or else it meant I was either stupid or simply wasn’t ready to become a woman.

As a 13-year-old with no prior period experience, buying pads felt like the worst thing in the world. I was embarrassed to ask what aisle they were in, which one to buy, and to even make eye contact with the person at the register. This scene played out over and over just about every month. And this is exactly what I do not want my daughter to go through.

When my daughter was four, she barged in on me changing a tampon. Thinking back to my own experiences with menstruation I wanted to make sure I didn’t convey shame or embarrassment with something so biologically natural. In her mind blood meant I was hurt. So, I explained that I wasn’t in pain, or injured and that it was only my period. And that was my body’s way of letting me know I wasn’t pregnant. I explained that one day she too will experience this, to which her eyes widened and the following words spilled out, “No Way.” She backed out of the bathroom and screamed to her older brother of seven, “Mom is bleeding from her vagina because there aren’t any babies in there!” Aside from it being a laughable moment, it was also a teachable moment.

As parents, mothers, and sisters we need to be able to speak freely about our bodies, to learn that our bodies are not vessels of shame.

Today my daughter is about to turn 10 and knows that at some point soon she’ll get her period too. And I’m going to make damn sure her experience is different to mine. We’ll talk about it, joke about it, maybe even have a moon party.

Yet my biggest concern is that regardless of what I do, in our society there are still elements of shame, embarrassment and even disgust surrounding menstruation.

It wasn’t that long ago that Donald Trump, in his response to Megyn Kelly’s line of questions said, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Donald Trump can claim he was talking about her nose, but even the NY Times came out and said what we all knew he meant. “Donald J. Trump’s suggestion that a Fox News journalist had questioned him forcefully at the Republican presidential debate because she was menstruating cost him a speaking slot Saturday night at an influential gathering of conservatives in Atlanta.”

Her “wherever” is the same “wherever” on me and other women, which gets used as a form of insult against us.

More recently there was the controversy with Thinx Underwear, creators of the period proof panty, and the NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority over the use of the word “period” in their subway ads. A month later they were at odds with Vistar Media, the company that’s in charge of the ads on taxi advertising screens, over a short commercial for Thinx, claiming it could be offensive to riders. The ad would feature the same images as the subway ads—an image of a peeled, halved grapefruit and a runny egg next to women wearing Thinx underwear. Clearly some people are more uncomfortable with this advertising imagery than the countless images in ads of women as sexualized objects.

Then of course there are religious references to which people and whole cultures adhere to, which state that menstruation is unclean. “When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.” Leviticus 15:19. This type of rhetoric isn’t just found in bibles, it can be found in Hinduism, Judasim, and in Isalm. In some cultures women and girls still get sent away to live in huts with no contact with other people for the duration of their period, their status reduced to that lower than a dog while they are menstruating.

This dangerous line of thinking, that menstruation is unclean and shameful, continues to seep into our everyday thinking about periods.

We’ve been getting these messages about riding the cotton pony for years: Periods are dirty, keep it a secret when you have your period, don’t talk about your period with your boyfriend/husband/or other male as it’ll gross him out, having period sex is gross, and on and on. It needs to stop.

It’s time we changed this way of thinking. We need to remove the taboo and shame around something that is normal. The conversations have to change—hell, in some cases they just need to be had! We need to be real about our periods. We have them, they aren’t going away, and they aren’t anything to be ashamed of. Let’s break the cycle of embarrassment by informing both men and women about menstruation.

The more we talk about it the less scary it gets and the more normalized it becomes—because let’s face it…it is normal.

Eliminate the shame so our daughters and sisters can hold their heads high when asking what aisle pads, tampons, or diva cups are in.


Relephant Links:

Claiming our Power to End the Shame of Bleeding. Period. {Photography Series & the Picture Instagram Wouldn’t Allow}

How the Menstrual Cup Changed my Period.

Relephant bonus:


Author: Brenda Davidge

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Juan Chien-Han/Flickr

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