I’ve talked about this before but deal with it, I’m talking about it again.
Periods, AKA this monstrous Saw III blood bath experience, is something most cis and trans women, as well as trans men, go through. And it’s really not a monstrous Saw III blood bath experience.
There’s a huge stigma around the topic of periods. Anything to do with it, really. Period poverty, sanitary pads, the symptoms, etc. It’s considered this taboo thing that we can’t talk about. So many people, even adults, laugh at the idea of it whenever it pops up in conversation or in the media.
But what are periods?
Periods, also known as menstruation, occur every month when the thick tissue lining the uterus breaks down and is discharged out the vagina (period blood). This all happens with the help of two steroid hormones, progesterone and oestrogen. However, periods are much more than this bodily function in bodies that help with preparation for a fertilised egg for a baby to grow. It’s an experience. There are several symptoms, which include bloating (that feeling you get when you eat too much because we’re all fat pigs) and cramps (they’re basically minor contractions) and acne, fatigue, headaches, muscle and breast pains, lower back pain, discomfort (especially at night lying down which leads to trouble sleeping, and something I call ‘period poos’ but we don’t have to get into that.) It’s also the experience of leaking and not being able to do certain activities normally e.g. swimming. Don’t get me wrong, periods shouldn’t be considered a burden and there’s always a way to overcome these issues and inhibitions because of it but I feel like not a lot of people, especially cis men understand the whole experience of it. Some people think periods are just a tap that we release when we go to the toilet, some think it’s a continuous non-stop thing, etc. The average menstrual cycle is 24 to 38 days but periods last about four to eight days.
These stigmas and misconceptions and ideas are influenced by our education.
When I was in year five, doing sex education, we had a day where we learnt about menstruation. All the girls, and only the girls, were taken away. Not to another room away from the boys but away to another building (this cabin in the playground) so that we were secluded from the other year classes and from the boys in our class (because god protect their innocent little ears). Despite all this, our teacher spoke in a really soft quiet voice. This, I think, conditioned us to keep any talk of periods within the community of people, who have periods, and to be secretive about it. It made it seem as though periods are some dirty secret us girls (and trans boys) must keep to ourselves. In addition, I barely learnt anything from that lesson. I learnt that we bleed about one/two eggcups of blood but I don’t remember being specified how long periods lasted. I genuinely thought once you started your period, it would never stop until menopause (about 50 years old).
In fact, us girls also had to learn about what happens to boys even though the boys didn’t learn about what happens to girls. We learnt about sperm cells, obviously, but we also learnt about wet dreams and boners. We even learnt about masturbation! Not directly but we were told it’s okay to touch yourself and explore and discover parts of your body, whatever that means. So we learnt all of this, yet learning about the menstrual cycle and menstruation was such a taboo. It’s not very fair that the girls learnt about the experiences of boys but boys don’t learn about the experiences of girls. The argument that “boys are silly so we won’t teach them all of that” isn’t valid or acceptable at all. Boys may be “silly” because of the self fulfilling prophecy that they’re considered silly so must be treated in a way to accommodate to that. Not teaching boys about periods “because they’re silly” means when they grow up, they’re going to be silly about the idea of periods. It’s a cycle. And it support the quote “boys will be boys”, which is also an unacceptable excuse.
To tackle this issue, the education system needs to change. Teaching children, at a young age, while their brains are still developing, can create positive schemas, a framework that helps to interpret information, for periods. Sex education and PSHE lessons need to be changed so that every gender learns about periods to help normalise and take it seriously. We need to take it seriously not just because almost half the population experience it but because there are so many issues regarding periods such the financial and environmental cost (many menstruation products take ages to decompose) and period poverty, which is not being able to buy sanitary products due to financial issues and constraints. This is a big issue for homeless people, refugees, asylum seekers, etc. Period poverty is also a big topic that needs to be taught in schools (possibly in RS and PSHE). Here are some shocking statistics I found from Free Period
- 40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford menstrual products.
- Over 137,700 children in the UK have missed school because of period poverty. If a girl misses school every time she has her period, she is set 145 days behind her fellow male students.
- 1 in 10 girls can’t afford to buy menstrual products according to Plan International UK.
- Menstrual products cost more than £18,000, in a women’s life (£13 every month).
Education changes and matures attitudes towards topics, such as periods. And that’s exactly what we need! If people become educated, I’m so sure we could make a huge difference to societal approaches to periods and issues revolving it.
I also think teachers and people, who have periods, shouldn’t talk to younger girls in a way that my teacher did with me and my class. We should discuss periods with girls so they feel comfortable with it and not scared of it and make them understand it’s a normal thing. The majority of the population wouldn’t exist without periods!
Here are some period charity websites you can donate to and learn from:
- Bloody Good Period – “We supply 16 asylum seeker drop in centres based in London and Leeds, and our ambition is to supply many more food banks and drop-in centres across the UK, so that everybody has the right to a bloody good period!”
- Action Aid – “Provide sanitary kits in our humanitarian response work, alongside other essentials including food, water and shelter. We have distributed sanitary towels (and aid) in crises.”
- Freedom4Girls – “We actively support women and girls in both the UK and in developing countries, who struggle to access safe sanitary protection by offering not just disposables, but environmentally-friendly, washable re-usables and menstrual cups.”
What do you think? Do you agree with what I said? What are some other ways you think we can normalise and overcome the issues and stigmas revolving periods?