On Menstrual Hygiene Day last year, Teen Vogue released this awesome article Period Taboo Around the World which discussed the stigma associated with menses and how that stigma plays out in nations around the globe. It gave such examples as persistent myths about the use of tampons in China and how many girls in England, India, Kenya and right here in the U.S. skip school while on their periods because they lack access to menstrual products. Y’all should check it out, along with this one which discusses how periods can perpetuate homelessness in America.
Now, I’ve just mentioned the words “menstruation,” “menstrual,” “period,” “menses,” and “tampons” in the paragraph above. Even as I type this, I’m wondering how many of my readers (both male and female) will stick around to read the rest of this blog post. I usually begin these posts with a personal story, but even I paused at the thought of sharing anything about my menstrual cycle. After all, periods aren’t supposed to be discussed…and that’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?
I am a grown-ass woman with two kids. Before I had my sons, I had a difficult time getting pregnant. In trying to successfully get knocked up, I had to experience repeated tests and examinations which all seemed to involve someone sticking their hand or some other object into my vagina. I got poked with so much stuff that I felt like a human hand puppet. During that incredibly stressful and worrisome time before I became pregnant with my first son, I had to constantly report on the details of my periods. When was my last period? What was the duration? Was there any pain involved? Are my periods abnormal in any way?
I talked about it then without embarrassment or shame because I had an end goal and nothing else mattered more to me than becoming a mom. Today I am a mom of two boys who seem hellbent on urinating on everything I own. I discuss pee and poo constantly with them as both urination and defecation are normal bodily functions that must happen in order for everyone to be healthy.
My period is also a normal and healthy bodily function, yet I am actually nervous to share that I didn’t get my first period until I was 14. I’m nervous to say that, before my first period, I pretended to have a period for a year and a half because I viewed my menstruating classmates as cool for already having theirs and didn’t want to be left out. I am nervous to say that up until the point in time when I did get my first period, I really and honestly believed that I was a strange hermaphrodite with a girl-like body and a boy’s inner plumbing who would never get a period…ever. And I am nervous to admit that I am not going to delete any of this confession by the time I edit and post this blog.
But guess what? Every single person on earth exists courtesy of a woman’s menstrual cycle. And when our mothers were pregnant with us, that same mix of blood, uterine tissue, vaginal mucus lining and life-affirming bacteria in period blood actually nurtured our fetal development until we were born. Menstruation isn’t dirty. The ability to have a period does not make a woman unclean, unholy, unworthy or incapable of functioning in every single way that a man does. In fact, having a period gives women the ability to do something men cannot: produce life. THAT IS POWER. And definitely not something of which any past, present or future menstruating woman should be ashamed.
Furthermore, according to this 2008 article, Japanese scientists have discovered that cells taken from menstrual blood can be cultivated and used like stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue. That’s right; menstrual blood actually has healing powers, Y’all. Yet the stigma that periods are shameful persists because someone somewhere once said that this very natural thing that happens to 50% of the population is somehow bad. (This article on Helloclue.com provides a robust discussion on theories of how that stigma first came into being.)
Menstruation should not prevent any woman from pursuing and achieving her desires, dreams or goals in any way. When Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner revolutionized the maxi pad by making it less likely for menstrual blood to leak or stain clothes, she was effectively showing us all how periods don’t have to interfere with how we live our lives. Periods are neither a curse nor a hindrance. They are simply a fact of human life that warrant increased awareness so that girls and women around the world can lead healthier lives. We need to practice and pass on a new tradition of normalizing menstruation. Frankly, this taboo talk is tired.