I’m going to talk about periods. If you’re rolling your eyes right now then maybe click or look away before I go any further.
*gives it a few seconds*
Periods are big news at the moment – firstly we had the woman who posted a picture of herself on Instagram in which you could clearly see a patch of blood. Instagram took the picture down and she reposted it. They took it down again, but later apologised for their ‘mistake’ and reinstated it. As Jessica Valenti pointed out, Instagram are only too happy to showcase bikini selfies but have banned breastfeeding shots. Similarly, women can be nearly naked, but if they dare to have body hair, they have to go.
Then just last week we had Donald Trump criticising Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly, saying on CNN, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes … Blood coming out of her wherever.” It’s not new to have a man accuse a confident, vocal woman of being subject to ‘that time of the month’, especially if she’s questioning his motives, but it’s not something you usually hear from a man running for the US presidency. That comment probably lost him the race.
And yesterday we had the news that Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon in April while she had her period, but decided to run tampon-free in support of women in countries who have no access to sanitary protection. Interestingly, the incident wasn’t reported by anyone there at the time – maybe they thought she’d simply had a ‘mishap’.
And oh, the fear of that mishap. The leak. I remember the very real fear that it would happen at school. I started my periods while still at primary school and in the beginning, had to wear things (we called them ‘things’ in our house because the words ‘sanitary towels’ were just to awful to say out loud) that resembled single-sized duvets between my legs all day.
I remember my mother describing the onset of my periods as ‘something that happens to all women, even the Virgin Mary’. It wasn’t exactly a biology lesson but I was only nine and I was in a Catholic school. I remember my sister reaching her arm out of her bed to shake my hand: “Welcome to the club,” she said.
From being dropped off at school in the morning to going home at night I worried about leaking. If I sat down too long during lessons the worry would mean I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think about was how I could subtly spin my skirt around when I finally stood up just to check the back. At secondary school, my friends and I had a silent agreement that we’d check each other during those times. “Am I ok at the back?” I’d whisper through unmoving lips. They’d nod. I never leaked there, but I did in ballet class once, whilst wearing a light-blue leotard. I nearly died of shame when I realised later.
Managing this situation takes up a lot of time in women’s lives. If you’re a man, you won’t notice it because we are so practised at hiding it. If we think we might be in ‘danger’, we engineer a trip to the toilet; we stuff tampons up our sleeves or even down our boots if we have to, because the very worst thing we could do is let someone know that we have our period, even other women.
We manage the pain with timely painkillers and work out if we can manage an exercise class without worry. Don’t get me started on PE lessons at school and the showers. The opportunities for shame there are legion.
The worry lessens as we get older as we get more adept at managing periods and knowing what our bodies will do, or can handle, especially as our monthly cycles tend to become more regular. But those early days are fraught with unexpected or phantom start days, sudden rushes of ‘flow’ and not being near any facilities or painkillers for hours.
We even get up during the night to change our protection as eight hours is way too long to wait. We regularly ruin underwear if we don’t, which is why we have special ‘period pants’ that we don’t mind losing.
And then there are holidays. The all-important timing issue. Periods can be so erratic that you can change your holiday dates and still have to contend with the discomfort and inconvenience while you’re away. To a certain extent you can be that girl on a yacht in a Bodyform advert, but the reality is, her smile belies her ‘When will we reach a proper toilet so I can check my situation? Will this tampon last for a whole round-island trip? Did I make a mistake wearing white shorts?’ questions.
And finally, sex. There is nothing more frustrating than being ‘out of action’. Yes, there are some men who don’t mind, but there are even fewer women who think the same way (although maybe I’m wrong). Yes, there are other things you can do for entertainment, but it does rather take the shine off.
It is rather astonishing that something that affects all biological women is so gloriously taboo. The lengths we all go to avoid saying the actual word or admit that it’s happening are incredible. I’m still embarrassed buying tampons in Boots for god’s sake.
So I’m pleased that periods are finally in the news. It’s about time. At least this is blood spilt without harming anyone.
Great piece on the Trump moment: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/10/menstruation-revolution-donald-trump-periods-stigma
4 thoughts on “Go With The Flow”
Oh I remember the single duvets and all the rest of the pubescent embarrassment so well! Luckily I stopped cringing at purchasing sanitary protection many years ago, although (up until menopause) I still preferred to “sneak” the replacements into the loo discretely. I have to say that we’re a good bunch in our office here and there isn’t really a taboo about periods (amongst the women – god forbid the blokes join in with that). In fact, we’ve been known to have a giggle amongst the menopause crowd about who’s due as that sometimes was the only way to tell if one was likely to come along ….
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at work we have an “emergency locker” in the women’s changing room, tampons, pads for those caught out. Complete strangers have asked me for “protection” when caught out in the ladies with “rabbit in headlights” look in their eyes. Guys have no idea. Yes I too did the skirt spinning when I had a leak in a school skirt. Mortified.
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Whatever one may think of Donald Trump as a politician, I think one has to see him as a clumsy oaf who goes everywhere to the sound of breaking glass and overturning lamps. As such, you either loathe the man or feel sorry for him. That aside, he may actually have done women (and by extension, men) a favour by making the unmentionable mentionable.
Menstruation is a topic that women have traditionally kept to themselves thus making it something that men regard with embarrassment when not outright fear. Not understanding it, men have been able either to ignore it or to treat it as some sort of hysterical nonsense that women engage in quasi voluntarily.
The more it is talked about, the more chance there is that it will come to be seen as a normal fact of life, something that both sexes understand and allow for in their lives.
My partner is very upfront about it and communicates her worries or problems to me as she would any other physical condition. I have been known to go to Boots and buy sanitary towels when she was unwell and unable to do so. By the same token, I feel able to talk to her freely about “men’s problems”.
So, even if Mr Trump thinks “whatever” is a euphemism for “nose”, he may have performed a service for humanity.
Your post, too, is a valuable contribution to the debate.
Loved this blog peice!
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