We need to talk about the tough stuff at some point, don’t we?
Periods. I said it. Periods, periods, periods, periods. This stigma that goes along with talking about something that ALL cis-gendered women have to deal with to some extent or another is ridiculous and unfair. The subject is taboo because it has been deemed by society as uncomfortable, and untouchable. Due to this, many people lack the necessary information we should all, both men and women, have about this natural process. So, if you’ve never had this conversation with anybody, here it is.
First and foremost, it cannot be said that all women have periods; that is not the case. Many women have an issue with infertility or some sort of reproductive disorder that causes them to not have periods. I am not particularly familiar with transgender issues having to do with periods, so I cannot speak on behalf of trans men or women (see disclaimer at the bottom). Usually, cis-gendered women begin getting periods between the ages of 10 and 15, and go through menopause and stop having periods between the ages of 55 and 65. But what I want to talk about today is not so much the biology, I am here to talk about the way that periods affect the everyday lives of women and how they are perceived by society. Here is a link to some more information about the biology involved with periods.
Thinking about this very straightforwardly, it makes no sense to have to keep the topic of periods hush hush. If the vast majority of women get periods, or have at some point, it is an issue big enough to be discussed at large. Also, this society places a great pressure on women to have children. News flash: you can’t have kids if you don’t have a period. So, it is totally okay to talk to women about how they have to have kids, but not a biological process that goes along with it? That makes no sense in my mind.
It actually amazes me how uninformed many people, both men and women, are about the female reproductive system and the reality of periods. First off, it is a common response to find periods gross or disgusting. While blood coming out of genitals is not a pleasant thought, it isn’t controllable. Shaming someone for being on their period is ridiculous. It’s like saying “OMG you have a headache. Ew. I don’t want to sit by you until that’s over…” Sitting by someone on their period will not cause you to get blood on your clothing. Hygiene is huge during periods, and it actually does become a big deal because of, you guessed it, more unfair societal standards. If a woman is seen carrying a pad or a tampon (still inside its wrapping), it is a huge no-no. How dare they be carrying hygiene products with them to the bathroom? God forbid they don’t find a place to hide it. God forbid their clothes don’t have pockets to camouflage the product. What a sin to be clean. I swear, the struggle to take a tampon with you to the bathroom in high school was so real. First, it was the sneakily getting it out of your backpack so nobody could see it, and then it was the scramble for finding a place that to hide it when I had the audacity to wear an outfit without pockets. It feels like we can’t win, no matter what we do. The regular functions of our body should not have to be kept a secret or be classified as gross.
Also, apparently, the only time anyone is allowed to mention periods is when a girl shows even a slight bit of anger and a guy says, “man, she’s probably on her period.” Not all women who are on their period are angry. However, I genuinely think that women have the right to be angry when they are on their period. Between the extreme blood loss from the genitals, back pain, swelling of the entire body, cramps, and more, it is absolutely no walk in the park. The pain is all too real. I personally suffer from PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), which causes menstrual pain to be multiplied significantly. People often compare the pain of periods for PCOS sufferers to the pain experienced during childbirth. PCOS can cause periods to appear too frequently, not frequently enough, or for too long. The extreme pain that goes along with PCOS can be unbearable, at least it is for me. I was only formally diagnosed a few months ago, and it has been a struggle for me. The pain I have to endure every few months can only really be described as one week of pure hell and genuinely feeling as though I am going to explode, die, or something in between. I know that because of my pain tolerance building up like this, childbirth will not seem so intense to me, if I am even able to conceive a child (another issue produced by PCOS in some women is difficulty conceiving). But that doesn’t make it feel any better when I am unable to walk and screaming in pain waiting for my prescription painkillers with codeine in them to start working. PCOS has been an unbearably painful fight for me, so far. What makes it worse is having to go through my day to day activities pretending that everything is just fine while my body is swollen to the size of a balloon so I cannot wear real pants, and I am in such a significant amount of pain that I cannot even walk without help. PCOS is extremely common, I know that I am not alone in this. It is so unbelievably unfair that I have to hide this pain that is consuming my life because society believes it to be “gross.”
The point that I am trying to make here is that it is actually really important to talk about taboo subjects, as they must be important since talking about them seems to be such a huge deal. It is healthy to have awkward conversations. Please, don’t be an insensitive jerk. Please, don’t make women feel as though they have to suffer in silence. Please, learn about the female anatomy, as I am sure there is a female in your life in some way or another who would appreciate your knowledge, sensitivity, and support. Please, don’t feel as though you need to hide the reality that is your body and its functions; periods are not gross, untouchable, or anything like that. It’s time to get rid of stigmas and taboos; it will make this world a better place.
One cool thing that I wanted to draw your attention to, before ending the slightly angry feminist rant of the night, is the Happy Period organization. Happy Period is an organization that provides menstrual hygiene products to those with low income or who are unable to access the necessary products. It is an awesome initiative with chapters in Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, Miami, San Diego, The Bay Area, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., to name a few. One of my family-members is a very active member in the Detroit chapter, and I am going to get involved with the Chicago chapter once I go home for the summer. I highly recommend you go browse the website, join the Facebook group for the nearest city to you, and donate if you can.
Thank you for reaching the end, I hope that this was informative, eye-opening, and empowering for you.
Disclaimer: I am not trying to offend anybody with this post. I have received several angry comments about how I have failed to report the reality of periods for transgender men and transgender women. I, by no means, claim to be an expert on trans issues. I am still learning, and this post is specifically tailored towards cis-gendered women, because I identify as a cis-gendered woman, so I can provide my expertise from my own experiences in that aspect. If you are offended by the lack of mention of trans men and women in this post, I would like to thank you for your willingness to inform me on trans issues, but just note that I am in no way, shape, or form claiming to discuss the topics pertaining to periods for all people who identify as women or have identified as women previously. I am not trying to exclude or discriminate against anyone, this blog is a place of inclusion and empowerment. I simply do not feel comfortable providing advice on a topic that I have not personally experienced and do not know much about.
Friends gif courtesy of Tumblr, PCOS image courtesy of Pinterest, Happy Period Image courtesty of Happy Period, cover image courtesy of Metro UK.