It surprises me how grossed out adults can get over a woman menstruating. It happens every month, pretty much, from the age we go through puberty, and routinely unless we are pregnant until menopause. Accepting most of us will only have maybe two or three pregnancies in our lifetimes, and go through menoapuse around the age of 50, that’s a massive number of periods we’re going to experience. Yet it freaks us out.
I count myself one of the more unfreaked out women in the world, I am unpeturbed buying tampons in shops when men are on the counter, I’ll go swimming or to the gym during my period without blinking, and I don’t try and hide when I am on my period from my partner. Yet I know I still feel a degree of public shame because, even in a changing room at the gym entirely populated by adult women, I’ll stick a tampon up my sleeve and shufty off to the loo like that so that nobody can see what deep shame I’m about to deal with.
It annoys even myself that I do it, because it’s not a deep shame, it’s nature. It’s monthly. It’s normal. All the other women in that room will have experience of menstruating, and if any of them judged me for being on my period then that would certainly be there problem and would suggest some kind of deep loathing of their own gender, because what possible judgment could be given? Oh look, your body is doing what it does by design, how dare it?
In groups of female friends, the men who will go to the shops to buy feminine hygiene products for their partners are heralded as progressive, wonderful, understanding. It’s seen as something special that a man isn’t shunning a woman for being on her period, that a man doesn’t avoid everything associated with it, and is actually willing to buy things his partner needs. You can be damn sure if men got periods they’d be handing out tampons free with petrol.
However, treatment of women in Britain (embarrassment, assumption that any negative emotion we feel is based on our periods not the behaviour of others, and occasional adolescent style taunting) is nothing compared to the abuse, ostracizing and cruelty women experience around the world now and throughout history.
Even now in places such as Nepal and Afghanistan, girls can be prevented from attending school during their periods. In Afghanistan and Iran they are prevented from washing during their periods. In Nepal and West Bengal they’re prevented from attending religious functions (source). Excluded from the normal human experience of life just for being on their period.
Women have been seen as dirty, cursed, impure. Women on their period are disgusting and to be avoided, shunned. Getting feminine hygiene products to women in remote areas is a challenge and because of that they’re often banished from their homes until their period is over. Every damn month. For what? For going through something we all go through as women, because that is how our bodies work. Not for something we’re choosing to do, not for something we want to happen, just for something that happens as naturally and without our control as breathing.
Women bleed. Every month our uterus prepares for pregnancy, lining with a thick layer of blood to grow an infant in. Every month that doesn’t happen, the lining sheds away. It’s not complicated, it’s not hard to understand. It’s something we have happen from the age we are physically able to bare children until the age we are not. It’s not something we want the world watching us deal with, because being on the loo isn’t something we want the world watching us do, but it’s something we shouldn’t be ashamed of doing because it’s not something to be ashamed of.
This belief is something I firmly have and for that reason I have never banned Miss Rose from busting in on me on the toilet when I’m on my period. For some reason she is a big fan of me being on the loo. Whilst having a poop used to be my time to be alone and use the toilet in peace, it is now time for a conversation about rainbows, why Daddy can’t come in too, when she’s next seeing Nanny, and why she loves Bing Bunny. Changing a tampon is the same. I don’t want to banish her because one day she will be doing it too, there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing, and I don’t want her to think periods are something shameful and humiliating we have to hide from people.
Until yesterday she had never reacted. She just carried on wittering about things without hesitation regardless of what I was doing. Yesterday I pulled out a tampon and she went “EURGH! YUCK!” then carried on a conversation about her shoes.
I took it as a sign.
I explained, in very gentle langauge I hasten to add, that when she’s grown into a woman, every month she’s not pregnant she will have some blood too and it’s not yuck it’s just natural and fine, and totally normal. It’s nothing to worry about and it’s not disgusting, so don’t stress.
“NO MUMMY! NO BLOOD ON ME! NO BLOOD! NO ME PREGNANT! NO BLOOD NO PREGNANT! NOOOO MUMMY NOOOOOOO!”
Her howls of horror and indignation rang out about the house as from my precarious position on the toilet I hugged her tight and stroked her hair, then quickly finished what I was doing and then we sat together in the living room, her having some milk and a cuddle, and occasionally whimpering “no blood on me” whilst I stroked her hair and kissed her… feeling like the worst mother in the world.
But am I?
She’s fine now, she’s not said anything since but has been in the bathroom chattering about dinosaurs going stomp, stomp, roar, whilst I’ve been changing a tampon. Next time it happens she may again, she may not. But the process has begun of normalising the normal, taking charge of her perceptions to accept and love her body before society tells her not to. Before she reads magazine articles teaching young girls how to avoid the “embarrassing rustle” that might let your friends know you’re on your period. Reads tales of humiliation when people have discovered girls are on their periods, and the horror and shame they have felt.
When I was a teenager, I had tampons stuffed in the pocket on my school backpack, and some of the mean girls who generally hated all geeks like me, opened my bag and pulled them out, scattering them across the corridor, laughing cruelly. As humiliated as I was, as hideous as it was to have to scoop them up whilst boys laughed and girls pointed, I remember thinking at the time “do you not get periods??” in bewilderment, “it’s not just me… why is this so funny for you?” It’s because it’s supposed to be shameful and embarrassing, so let’s change that now, because those girls, however cruel they were, wouldn’t have thought that was a good punishment for my existence if they weren’t ashamed and embarrassed by their own menstruating. And that’s really sad for them.
I never want Miss Rose to be ashamed or embarrassed by her body and what it does, and the time we start fighting that view that women on their periods are gross is now. Right now.
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Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!