Feminism | Posted by Hannah Hildebolt on 10/11/2016

The Period Problem

Let’s talk about period stigma.

Let’s talk about periods. No, not the punctuation mark — I’m talking about blood. Menstruation. You know what I mean.

It’s a touchy subject, isn’t it? Especially with boys. God, I mean you so much as mention a tampon around most guys and it’s game over. They can barely look you in the eye. Why is that, though? Menstruation is a perfectly natural process. It happens to lots of people, including women, transgender men, and nonbinary people of all shapes and sizes. However, due to the fact that sex and gender have been intertwined throughout history in many different cultures, menstruation is most often associated with women. Combine this association with the systemic degradation and stigmatization of womanhood, and one can see why menstruation has developed a taboo in our culture.

I still remember the first week I had my period. Thankfully, I got it on a Saturday, but navigating school a few days later was an utter horror story. I had to figure out where to awkwardly stuff tampons in my clothing so that I wouldn’t have to bring my bag every time I asked to go to the bathroom during class. I spent the week scrubbing rust-colored stains out of many pairs of underpants and constantly feeling paranoid  about “leaking through.” I won’t even go into how bad the cramps were.

I also remember feeling very alone during that time, and for months after. When you’re standing in a bathroom stall with your jeans around your ankles, wondering where the fuck you’re going to get a fresh pair of underwear, you tend to feel like you’re the only one who has ever had this issue. It’s so easy to forget that there are millions of others going through the same thing, because we’re told not to talk about it. It’s disgusting, society tells us. It’s shameful, embarrassing, something to be kept secret.

On one particularly terrible occasion, a clean, unused, wrapped tampon fell out of one of the pockets of my backpack while I was sleeping on an airplane. When a flight attendant saw it and woke me up to give it back, the look on his face made me feel like I’d committed some unforgivable crime. I was absolutely mortified and couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day. I still haven’t forgotten it.

There’s more than just loneliness and disgust surrounding period talk, however. The number of times I’ve been accused of PMSing or being “emotional” due to my period is absolutely ridiculous, and I know plenty of others have had the same experience. Using menstruation as an excuse to invalidate or even make fun of people is straight-up awful. Having blood come out of your body is unpleasant enough already — thinking that it affects everything we do is just sexist.

The combination of this isolation, shame, and invalidation was enough to make me feel like it was necessary to start some sort of conversation around menstruation. I assumed other people felt the same way, but I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. But when I joined the Day of the Girl – US, a youth-led organization focused on centering the voices of young women, it was brought up for me.

I’m part of Day of the Girl’s Action Team, and it’s our job it is to lead the organization. We create and launch campaigns, write issue briefs and blog posts, keep up partnerships with other organizations, and cultivate Day of the Girl’s social media presence. One day, one of my fellow Action Team members, Blythe, voiced my concerns about period stigma. She’d given it some thought, too, and had a bit of a plan cooking. Blythe wanted to put  “menstruation stations” —  or little machines (or even just jars) where people could pick up free tampons and pads — in school bathrooms. That would solve the bringing-your-bag-to-the-bathroom issue for so many kids and it would save so much embarrassment. Additionally, displaying the products so publicly was bound to start a conversation. Hopefully, talking about the stations would kick off a general discussion about period-related issues.

I loved the idea. Action Team members began to implement the menstruation stations in their schools in whatever ways they could. We also partnered with Camions of Care, an organization that donates tampons and pads to homeless women, who generously offered to give us free products for the stations in exchange for our fundraising help.

So what do you think? Does your school need menstruation stations, better accessibility, and more period talk? Are you ready to lead the charge on those things? If so, read our issue brief on menstrual hygiene and get in touch with Day of the Girl through Facebook or Twitter. We’ll help you get started.

Hope you’re not afraid of a little blood.

October 11th is an international day of action dedicated to dismantling patriarchy and fighting for social justice. Day of the Girl-US is an 100% youth-led movement fighting for gender justice and youth rights. Join the movement at www.dayofthegirl.org

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