Whenever I face the five to seven days of bleeding that occur every month, or sometimes twice a month (short cycle problems), I’m always filled with a sense of dread. My period has always been marked by extreme conditions: terrible cramps, heavy flow, diarrhea, back pain, weak legs, etc.
And for the longest time, I hated every aspect of my period. I hated everything symptom that accompanied it, the unpredictability of my period. And I especially hated how my period basically knocked me out, and rid my body of the ability to function as it normally would.
The older I’ve become, the less hate I’ve dedicated to my period (even though I’m still far from loving it). Not because the symptoms have gotten any better, but because I’ve become used to them and accepted them as a part of my life.
However, because of all the symptoms that come with my period, it’s glaringly obvious when it’s that time of the month again.
When I was younger, this seemed to annoy a lot of people. It became an issue that I couldn’t hide the fact that I was on, my period and it’s symptoms were discussed in such a way that it became a thing of shame.
I often think back to the fact that periods were never even called periods or menstruating, and instead people used quirky euphemisms like, “aunt flo is visiting”, “mother nature’s monthly gift”, “our friend from the village” etc. I was seen as crude whenever I called it “my period” in public, and I was reprimanded for calling my period by it’s actual name.
In addition to the fact that I could not call my period by it’s name, I was also shamed when my period came with symptoms. I vividly remember one time when I was crying from cramps and had slumped on the floor of the corridor and my aunt start shouting at me. She said that whenever I’m on my period every guy in the house knows because I act like a baby about it.
Never mind that I’ve always experienced searing pain when I’m on my period, and that that wasn’t the first time I was crying because of my period. The only thing that seemed important to her at that moment, was the fact that my brother could hear me crying because of my cramps.
I wasn’t allowed to talk about my period, or to show outwardly signs of being on my period. If I didn’t try to hide, other women around me would step in and cover up or shame me for not doing it their way.
Because of this, for the longest time I was ashamed of my period. I would cry about my cramps privately, I would hide my pad in purses, sometimes I would fold paper around it, then hide that paper in a purse. I wouldn’t even collect my pain medication from the school nurses if there were men/boys in the same room.
But hiding my period from people didn’t make the symptoms any less intense, and it didn’t make me feel better. It was annoying and cumbersome to think of new ideas that I would use to hide my period from people, and it didn’t make sense.
As I grew, I questioned the idea of hiding my period from people. And I became more open with the fact that I was on my period. I wasn’t shouting on a mountaintop that I was on, but I wasn’t hiding it. I would tell people that I was facing cramps and ask for painkillers, pull out my pad in open and use my hot water bottle in public.
It’s not like boys/men didn’t know about periods, we all learned about human reproduction in school. So why is there so much pressure for me to hide something that is so natural to my existence?
Menstrual taboos are integrated in nearly every, if not all cultures and religions in the world. Women are put in menstrual huts, isolated from human contact, not allowed to touch their spouses, not allowed to cook, or eat with visitors, they use different utensils. A bodily function that is so natural becomes a sign of impurity and comes with shame. Even when these practices are dangerous and can sometimes lead to death, they are still enforced.
And even though not everyone belongs to a certain culture or adheres to these religions, women are still expected to hide their periods. Advertisements from the companies that make pads, tampons and menstrual cups all show a clean, hidden, mess-less period. Because heavens-forbid that a woman who is has a constant stream of blood would dare show it.
I have never experienced the stricter menstrual taboos, at most I have gotten ridiculed or stared at for outwardly displaying that I was on my period. My experiences wax pale compared to my sisters around the world who have died or had near death experiences because of their periods.
But we all face a society that tells us to hide ourselves and be ashamed when we’re on our periods. A society that taxes products for menstruation and embarrasses us when we stain ourselves. There’s no quick fix for a society like this, a society that hates women is bound to hate women’s bodily functions, and to expect it to change overnight would be fantasy thinking.
What we can do is resist every day, in every little way. We should celebrate periods, not hide them. We should softly or firmly resist these ideals set in place, in whichever way makes most sense to us. Whether it’s by carrying out pads out in the open, or interacting with people when we are on our periods. Whether it’s by having open, healthy discussions about our periods or refusing to go into menstrual huts when we’re on our periods.
Every step we take against stigmatizing our periods is a step towards a society that’s more accepting of our periods, and all the symptoms that may or may not accompany it. Every step will lead to the dismantling of a society that shames us for bleeding. And it will take a while to get there, but it will happen eventually.
Featured Image Source: @maxine.sarah.art | via instagram.com
Supporting link: Menstrual Taboos Among Major Religions