I can remember the first time I got my period. I was 11. I was so scared and embarrassed to tell my mom that I cried. Even typing this feels slightly wrong, like I am sharing something I shouldn’t be.
There is so much shame and secrecy surrounding a woman’s menstrual cycle, but the reality is that it happens to nearly half the population at some point in their life. We aren’t supposed to talk about this part of our lives, but this reality is something most women experience one week every month from the our early teens to our early fifties.
Women are expected to hide their pads and tampons. They are expected to keep quiet about the possible pain that comes along with a period. They are expected to be chipper and pleasant even if they are in pain and uncomfortable.
With periods, there is a secrecy that is demanded of girls and women when going through these experiences that is not all dissimilar from the secrecy demanded from women about their sex lives. This secrecy seems to surround and invade the intimate, natural experiences of women in a way that is not healthy for our society.
Because of this secrecy surrounding the experience of menstruation, there are people like Ryan Williams who are grossly misinformed about menstruation. Williams, a notorious meninist, posted on Twitter, “Tampons should not be free, why does everyone keep saying they should be?? if you can’t control ur bladder then that’s not taxpayers problem!”
He also has a series of other tweets about how women must be lazy since they won’t hold their bladder until they get to the bathroom in order to menstruate. His blatant ignorance can be directly linked to the secrecy surrounding menstruation.
This man has a girlfriend, and he still doesn’t understand the reality of menstruation because I am sure nobody has ever been able to explain the reality to him whether by his own unwillingness to listen or women’s inability to discuss it.
What is scarier is, after this tweet, he tweets that other men have messaged him privately saying that he is right, and they agree with him. When polled (as reported by Mirror UK), 13% of people said they agreed with him.
While this is probably also a fault of the education these people received, periods wouldn’t be such taboo to discuss in a health class or in public if it wasn’t viewed as a “private matter.”
There is also this belief that periods must be gross or unnatural. Some people believe that periods are not natural, and if you eat right and take care of your body you shouldn’t have one. This is all without saying that without menstrual cycles, none of us would exist. Periods are a natural part of life and are essential to having children, so why are they only discussed in secrecy between a girl and her mother.
For every person who does not have to go through the experience of having a period, they know someone who does, whether that be a mother, sister, lover, or friend. There needs to be a level of openness surrounding the intimate experiences of all people in order to allow for an understanding of these experiences.
There needs to be a normalization of menstrual in order to have understanding and support for the people who have to go through this experience. Going through life is hard enough without feeling embarrassed because you bled through your jeans or because your cramps are so bad they make you cry.
Going through life gets even harder when people don’t understand that what you are going through. We share the experiences of life through books, movies, music, and various other things, so why shouldn’t we try to share and understand the experience of having a period?
Things are beginning to change. More and more people want to support women by making pads and tampons affordable or free. The sharing of stories of menstruation are becoming more and more common. Certain programs, offices, and stores are providing feminine products in their bathrooms.
More products are being created to make the experience easier. There are apps like Clue, which I myself recommend, that helps track everything that comes with periods in a non-gendered format. There are products like menstrual cups and menstrual underwear.
While the support surrounding menstruation is becoming better every day, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially when there are still grown adults that don’t understand the biology of menstruation, but we are on the road to understanding for all people who experience menstruation.