The Narrative Is Changing.
Every month I bleed, and somehow I can't talk about this publicly. It's time to change the game.
I have my things and other taboos
Which menstruating person has never hidden a tampon when going to the restroom?
Either inside a purse or in other tactical places, you know what I am talking about.
There are some terrible misconceptions attached to hiding a tampon; it almost feels like something illegal, like some sort of weapon or drug that nobody can see.
Of course, when I hide a tampon, I don't think about what I’m doing: I simply do it.
And that is the problem.
It's not only a period product that I’m hiding: it's who I am during these days, months, and years.
The shame attached to what was initially conceived to solve my period becomes the problem itself.
Stigma is not only present in many men and women. The same companies producing sanitary pads still advertise their products by substituting blood with blue liquid.
Are we smurfs?
Bodyform, one of the U.K.'s leading intimate care product brands, was the first to change the narrative by advertising blood-like liquid and portraying the discomfort that menstruating people go through in their ads.
However, we still have a long way to go, and the language we use is proof.
Who hasn't heard or said these sentences:
"Why are you so nervous? Are you on your period?"
“Do you have your things?"
"On those days you get crazy!"
Sentences like these are often pronounced by men, but women are not excluded. They make menstruating people feel misunderstood, undervalued, and even dirty sometimes.
How womanhood felt to me
In the summer of my 13th year, I got my menarche (first menstruation). It was very hot, and I was playing outside. Suddenly, I felt a strange feeling between my legs while something inside was moving.
Something that I had never felt before.
It was a mixture of scratching and cramps that, at first, I tried to forget.
I didn’t even need to go to the restroom, but my instincts guided me there. The brown-red stain covering most of my underpants left me with mixed feelings: disgust, worry, concern.
In my mind, I had pictured two scenarios:
Is this some sort of seizure? (That’s not okay)
Have I shit my pants? (This is definitely not okay, I’m 13!)
The "celebration of my womanhood" was a very uncomfortable event. No big talk, no big explanation.
Nobody at home really explained what happens to a menstruating body. Ashamed, I told my mother and asked her what I was supposed to do. She simply said, "Oh," and gave me one of her pads, telling me that I would need to use period products once a month.
"You keep track of it on a calendar,” was the only guidance I got.
I remember the very uncomfortable feeling of bad-quality pads and the scratching they would provoke from me. They still remind me of plastic bags. I didn't know that the scratching was not normal and that something more suitable for me existed.
Usually, when girls start to menstruate in my town, they take on their mother's habits, at least until they inform themselves about alternative solutions or are financially independent (welcome teenage years).
Taking my mother's habits was both good and bad. I was as skeptical as my mother about the pill on one side, on the other, I used sanitary products of low quality for most of my teenage years.
At school, it wasn’t any better: in science class, we were expected to learn—by heart—what happens to a female body during menstruation, and we dedicated 30 minutes to the topic– with neither critical thinking nor awareness attached.
No wonder menstrual health doesn’t get discussed.
A generational problem
The words period and stigma still belong together and are a sad truth in almost every society. Families are often the breeding ground of these stigmas, shame, and taboos. Most mothers don't educate their children on what periods are because they simply didn't receive education themselves, and consequently, don't know how to approach the issue.
As a result, most men don't understand what periods feel like (feeling quite powerless and unable to help), and menstruating people don't bother explaining (it's hard to describe something that nobody explained to you before, plus how can men help you?).
I don't blame people who don’t explain: sometimes the weight of stigma is easier to carry than coming up with an explanation.
New generations are paying the price of taboos and stigmas, by not feeling safe to openly talk about periods.
There is a need to change the narrative by raising awareness on what happens inside and around the bodies of menstruating people. This involves discussing gender inequality, stigmas, and how the situation is unequal and unfair.
A heavy burden to carry
Anatomically speaking, menstruations can be debilitating and come with symptoms for the majority of people who menstruate. Menstruations often involve mood swings, severe bleeding, massive headaches, and cramps.
Sadly, some people go through the most severe conditions, such as dysmenorrhea (extreme pain, usually in the lower pelvis and abdomen) and endometriosis (when tissue similar to the one inside your uterus endometrium grows outside your uterus). Many people rely monthly on strong painkillers, and in some cases, are forced to stay in bed.
I am one of those women that used to stay at home from school at least once a month due to intense cramps. However, I can't afford to ask for one work permit per month.
How do I justify that without the fear of not being understood or laughed at?
To date, I personally haven't been comfortable with any of my previous male employers about the topic.
Some companies have finally started to offer period leave, but we know that they’re still an exception.
Not every country bleeds the same
Ever heard of period poverty? We can define it as the difficulty for many women to buy sanitary products. While period poverty is a reality in many underdeveloped countries, many rich countries apply the same taxation to hygienic products as luxurious goods.
I think we can all agree that menstruation is not a luxury.
Some countries seem to have understood this more than others by abolishing the so-called Tampon tax (the VAT applied on sanitary products).
The first nation in the world to make period products free was Kenya in 2004. Other countries followed suit, either by abolishing the tax or by diminishing it. Just a few weeks ago, New Zealand declared that it will distribute sanitary products for free for every student as of June. But how is it in the U.S.?
To date, 34 out of 50 U.S. states still have to abolish their tampon tax. In the 20 remaining states, many paradoxes can be found. In Michigan, doughnuts are not taxed, while in Iowa, neither is cotton candy.
Awesome? Not really, if you consider the fact that these two states still have their tampon tax in place.
The Tax Free. Period. campaign is a very ambitious organization, made of pro bono attorneys and local advocates who meet with lawmakers and government officials to change the dynamics.
As a result, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and California will abolish their tampon tax within the next few years.
The campaign's main argument is that, “The tampon tax is not just inequitable; it is sex-based discrimination, and therefore it clashes with equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions”.
Long story short: it is unconstitutional.
Menstruations are not only considered a “luxury, they’re expensive too!
It is estimated that each year in the U.S., people spend up to 2 billion dollars on menstrual products. I know that with my period first coming when I was 13, I have already spent more than 500 dollars on pads, to say the least.
Today, more and more people are advocating for period equity to make sanitary products available to menstruating people, possibly, for free.
If you thought that the Tampon tax was unfair, have you ever heard of the Pink Tax?
It’s the amount of money charged on different women's products (usually everyday products) based on gender.
This is the reason why women's shampoos, razors, and deodorants cost more than men's ones (while serving the same functions). A tax that is wrong even in its own name.
The only way for women not to pay the pink tax is to choose men's products, which usually don't come in many variations. (It seems to me that the majority of men's shower gel and shampoos come in very few aromas, such as musk or cedarwood, which are not my cup of tea).
The company Boxed created a "Pink Tax Free" section, but how many followed suit?
Isn’t it about bloody time?
Let's not forget that women currently represent 49.5 % of the global population (source: countrymeters.info), so we can safely say they are almost half of the planet.
Therefore, period stigma should really be in each state's agenda that still hasn't faced the issue. In my opinion, not normalizing periods is already a world crisis.
It's not just about hiding a tampon; it's hiding who you are during these days, months, and years.
I don't only want free tampons in schools; I want to be able to walk with one in my hand without feeling judged.