In my pocket, up my sleeve, tucked in my waist band, even down my knicker line or in my bra are places that I have hidden a tampon in the past so that watching eyes didn’t know why I was going to the toilet! I’d nonchalantly stroll past the faces of those who probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway “nothing to see here, I’m absolutely not bleeding from my nether regions!”
I grew up in an age when periods were talked about in hushed tones and even then it was because you’d forgotten to bring a pad or a tampon and you had to ask a friend the mortifying question “do you have a spare tampon or pad?” You never talked to friends about your periods. I mean yuck, why you would want to highlight the fact that several days a month, if the miracle egg that we have inside us is not fertilised, then the womb needs to shed its lining ready for the next egg release and that lining exits as blood via the vagina? Disgusting eh? Well that’s the thing, it’s not is it; it’s the awe-inspiring beauty of Mother Nature, yet society has encouraged girls to feel shame about this magnificence and boys to feel confusion or disgust through lack of education and therefore ignorance.
We probably all have our now comedic stories which may have been mortifying at the time about a sanitary product dropped or seen in public. I have two; one where a male colleague looked into my handbag which had fallen open on my desk and asked why I wasn’t sharing my sweets (luckily he didn’t try to eat the wrapped tampons); the other where I unwittingly tried to pay with a panty liner at my local co-op (the male till operator stopped short of telling me it wasn’t legal tender). We can laugh about this now and my shame has even dropped to a level where I can post about these incidents on Facebook. What I still can’t post on social media though is when my flow is so heavy that I’m struggling to leave the house; when my cramps are so strong that I can’t stand up or sit down; when my peri-menopausal period keeps stopping and starting so I can’t keep track. If I did though, maybe it would get some likes on social media; maybe there’d be women heaving a sigh of relief and commenting that they were going through the same; maybe some men would think, “at last someone is explaining the mystery to me”.
This historic taboo around periods has resulted in boys not understanding how to broach the subject through lack of education and girls feeling shame growing up, moving on to becoming women feeling alone as they battle through their menstrual war until they reach the great siege of the menopause.
It was an article in the Guardian today with the headline “The stigma over periods won’t end until boys learn about them too” that provoked me to write this blog. We can never understand something if we’re not taught. It’s what I refer to as an unknown, unknown. So how can men and boys show compassion and empathy about topics to do with women’s health if it has been all shrouded under secrecy? Things are hopefully moving in the right direction in schools but we can also erode the mystery by trying to be more open in everyday life. Take advice from my 17 year old daughter who said “we often talked about periods during lunchtime at school and all of the boys who were sitting on our lunch table just got used to it”. Normalise it by openly discussing it with friends; let your sons, husbands, partners know what it feels like when you’re struggling; keep your sanitary products in plain view in the house; just do anything to remove the mystery.
Are you comfortable about being open about your periods with your sons, husbands, partners?
What steps might you take to reduce the stigma?
Where do you conceal your tampons?
Have you got any public display of sanitary products stories to share?
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