Although more than half of the world’s population bleeds down there every month, talking about menstruation is still considered taboo. But you can help squash all that — read on to find out how.
When’s the last time you talked about your period — like really talked about your period? You know, without using terms like “crimson tide” and “red wedding.” Not much? You’re not alone. Many people aren’t all that down for talking about it above a whisper and especially not in mixed company. And according to Cece Jones-Davis — a period health advocate and founder of the Women & Girls Working Group, which raises awareness about menstrual hygiene — Black girls tend to talk about it the least. “Black women and girls have been subjected over time to ideas that we are not ‘good,’ that our bodies are not ‘good,’ that our hair is not ‘good,’” she says. “So we’ve had to work overtime to prove the opposite, which has caused us to be super-sensitive and silent about the taboo of menstruation. We have that extra social pressure to be pristine, and blood flow does not help us with that.”
But on the real, the less we talk about our periods, the less we know about what’s normal and what’s not. Understanding menstruation and talking openly about it is the key to breaking the stigma.
It’s time to get real about periods. Period.
Why The Stigma, Anyway?
Periods weren’t always considered so taboo. In fact, a Newsweek article from last year reported that during ancient times and in cultures that were female-led, “[the period] was a mark of honor and power, a sacred time for women to rest and revive their bodies.”
Things took a turn, though, during the Roman Empire when naturalist Pliny the Elder started doing the most. In his book, Natural History, he shared his absurd opinions about menstruation: He believed, for example, that if a woman on her period so much as walked by a garden, the plants would “catch a blast, and burn away to nothing.” He even referred to menstrual blood as “venomous” and “poisoned”.
And totally false. Periods are completely normal and natural. So, why in the 1-7 do we still treat them otherwise? “[It’s] because of how we view blood, especially blood that comes from ‘down there’. It’s seen as messy, dirty, and shameful mainly because, again, it comes from our most private area,” Jones-Davis says. “When shame and taboo are appropriately addressed, we will feel more comfortable and confident in our bodies.”
Shifting The Convo
Eighteen-year-old Ileri Jaiyeoba has been combatting period stigma since she was just 15 years old, when she launched Code Red Co. — an organization that promotes menstrual hygiene awareness and provides feminine care products to homeless women.
Her Own Struggles “When I was 12, I had incredibly bad pain during my period. I knew something was wrong because I felt so helpless during that time that everything I used to do became a hassle … I met with multiple doctors to see if there was a possible solution for the pain, but many times I felt dismissed. Talking about the pain with my doctor even became so taboo, and I felt like my pain wasn’t being addressed correctly. I wasn’t able to find the right solution until I found the right doctor and figured out what was really going on with my body at age 16 [it was endometriosis].”
Counter Culture “Talking about the subject became extremely uncomfortable sometimes in school. I knew that once I started Code Red, no one would view me the same again. I became an ‘extreme’ feminist in other people’s eyes because I talked about menstrual hygiene … I can definitely say, though, that speaking up about the issue definitely made me bolder.”
Changing the Game “Not shutting up about the fact that there are so many people currently who cannot afford basic needs is extremely important. The issue is large, so many women turn to things like dirty rags and used socks during that time of the month. The best way to raise awareness is to be straight up and bold about the issue! As a teen living in this generation, I believe we have so many tools to utterly change the stigma surrounding menstruation whether through art, word of mouth, or social media.”
Tales From First Period
Choppin’ it up about the flooding down South is the first step to #noshame. A few girls share their first period stories and keep things all the way 100:
Alyssa, 18: “[At 12], I was a mixture between confused and scared. Confused, because I wasn’t sure why the heck periods happened! Scared, because it actually happened at school and I was a pretty shy kid, so it was really hard trying to build up the courage to tell my teacher. I remember [my mom] telling me I was becoming a woman. She told me it was something girls around my age got every month, and it was basically telling me I wasn’t pregnant. She never really expressed that it was OK to be open about your period since it’s a natural thing, but I will make sure to do that for my younger girl siblings.”
Brianna, 20: “I wasn’t particularly thrilled when ‘the day’ hit me. Since I was a preteen, I thought it was the end of the world, like I’d never be the same girl I always knew. Eventually I was accepting of it, but I definitely didn’t feel the way I do now. I have more of a respect for it. I talk openly about my period with my close friends and family. I let go of being shy about it a long time ago because I realized that everyone goes through it, and as a society, we’re becoming more vocal about menstruation, and I appreciate that.”
Phalene, 18: “I went with my only logical explanation I had conjured in my 10-year-old mind: I was dying. I called my mother while she was at work, explained to her as best I could through childish sobs, and her only response was laughter. She told me to put a wad of tissue in my underwear and to wait for her to come home. And that’s exactly what I did. I sat around scared with tissue in my undies awaiting the conversation where I learned what being a ‘woman’ was.”
Tasha, 20: “I was around 13. The day it happened, I was at home and I went to use the bathroom and saw some blood on my underwear. Part of me thought I was dying, and part of me assumed it was my period. I screamed out for help just to be sure. [My mom and sister] both confirmed I wasn’t dying, and it was just me entering womanhood. During the early stages of my period, it really stressed me out, especially buying pads. I was always so embarrassed about it (and even more embarrassed if the cashier was male). Now I don’t really care … because I know that it’s normal and happens to every girl at some point in her life.”
Become an Advocate!
Looking for a way to turn the tide on period talk? Join an organization that has a mission to change the way we view that time of the month. Get started with this list:
What it is: Nonprofit working to ensure that every woman and girl has access to quality feminine products and menstrual hygiene education by 2022
How you can help: From starting a chapter in your community to assembling kits that include pads and clean underwear, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
What it is: An organization dedicated to period health education and supplying a year’s worth of feminine products to women and girls in need
How you can help: Partner with your school, church, or local store to organize a pad/tampon drive in your area. Then, donate all the goods to nearby shelters, schools, food pantries, or social services centers.
What it is: A global movement that promotes proper menstrual hygiene management while confronting menstrual taboos
How you can help: May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day – because it’s the fifth month of the year and a typical cycle is 28 days. Show your support on social media by uploading a video explaining why #menstruationmatters to you.
This post was excerpted from an article that originally appeared in Sesi’s Winter 2016 issue. Subscribe here to get the current issue, on sale now.