Why We Must Tackle the Stigma That Surrounds Periods

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In a recent article it was made clear just how little some know about women’s biology, specifically the menstrual cycle, when a 19-year-old ‘meninist’ asked why women couldn’t just hold their bladders until they got to a toilet. He expressed his anger over complaints about the ‘tampon tax’ and described the menstrual cycle as ‘dirty’, comparing it to urine and faeces. This raises an alarming question of how periods are perceived in society and whether the taboo around it is getting in the way of education.

Why is it that we are in the 21st century and periods are still something taboo, an issue people don’t want to talk about? To do so breaches the boundaries of polite society, you are now vulgar and crass discussing things better left unsaid. Some act offended, disgusted at the very mention of the menstrual cycle. For them the event is dirty, it is foul and they should not be subjected to the details.

Periods are natural. Fact. Yet people continue to tiptoe around the issue, treating it like something that’s can’t be discussed, something shameful and embarrassing. Whether people realise it or not many young girls sense this lack of comfortability, this invisible line which they are not supposed to cross, and so they don’t. Society teaches these girls through passive aggressive behaviour and unspoken words to stay silent. These silent young girls then grow up into silent young women, adult in their own right and yet still unable to say the words out loud. They have been conditioned to know the place for their body’s functions and any discussion on it, namely in private.

Women deal with their periods as quietly as possible, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. They don’t complain about the pain they feel because society tells us to do so is a form of attention-seeking. Very few feel able to openly discuss their personal experiences with periods, so most assume their pain is normal, that the pain isn’t actually that bad, they just have a low tolerance for it. This can get in the way of medical assistance, as severe pain can be a sign of many medical conditions including endometriosis, fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease. As such our inability to discuss periods openly can cause unnecessary hurt and pain as women force themselves to push through it rather than visiting a GP.

It seems the only time the menstrual cycle is acceptable conversation is when it is used against women. Often innuendo and stereotypes are perpetuated, insinuating menstrual cycles lead to weakness and an inability to stay rational or sane. Common jokes suggest women get overly emotional during the menstrual cycle, that they have less self-control and are distracted and less able to do their jobs. These insulting jokes are bandied about whenever the individual thinks the situation calls for it. Had a bad day at work and get a bit emotional? Clearly it’s your time of the month. Feel distracted and struggle to pay attention? You must be on your period. Too often these jokes are used in society, spoken more openly and freely than any honest conversation on the matter ever could be.

These jokes might not even be made with the intention to insult, they may just be said to amuse. Regardless the effect is still the same – the belief that the menstrual cycle negatively affects women is propagated and any woman’s experience during the menstrual cycle, whatever she might have gone through or felt, has been trivialised. Even women who have made it to the top tiers of their career are undermined by insinuation regarding periods and hormones. In an interview during the current American election a female Trump supporter unashamedly admitted she didn’t want Hillary in power because she was a woman. The individual being interviewed specifically feared hot flushes, often caused by menopause, would lead to Hillary being emotionally unstable and cause her to enter into wars as a result.

It is a common though arguably foolish belief in western society that we are equal and no longer discriminate women in ways still prevalent in places like India, yet the continued existence of stigma and taboo around periods proves us wrong. For true equality and the extinction of gender discrimination to be achieved these stereotypes and misplaced beliefs need to be eradicated, which can only happen through open and honest discussion. In short, as long as the stigma and taboo nature of the menstrual cycle persists, gender discrimination and inequality will continue to exist as well.

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