Here’s a fact that should make you scratch your head in wonder: despite the fact that menstruation is a normal, important, and legitimately necessary part of life for women all over the world, most women are embarrassed by their periods. This embarrassment causes them to pretend their period isn’t happening. Every day, thousands of women struggle to hide signs of their period, feel ashamed of having their period, and wonder how they’re supposed to tell someone that it’s that time of the month. Not only are women embarrassed by what’s happening to their bodies, but most men are horrified by even just the thought of discussing what goes on down there once a month.
Uh, what is going on? It’s 2015 – why are we still scared to talk about our periods?
This is something I actually do think about quite often, but I was reminded of the bigger issues of this collective feeling of shame when I got to meet with and talk to Miki Agrawal, the founder of the brand Thinx. You know what Thinx is – they created that line of period underwear that made everyone freak out earlier this year, and they also created the period ads that the MTA banned from New York subway systems a few months ago. Basically, Thinx has been causing a commotion since it came about, and the only reason is because it’s a company that isn’t afraid to talk about periods. Well, okay, the other reason is because their period underwear rocks, and those ads are incredibly important in our steps towards a more equal world.
I coincidentally met with Miki on the same day those once-banned subway ads finally made their way onto an actual subway platform in Brooklyn (YAY!!). Her passion about changing the way we think about periods was inspiring. Even more inspiring? The short documentary Thinx was releasing to us that discusses shocking facts about the way menstruation is talked about and handled all over the world. I left the meeting with so many thoughts rushing through my head, mainly, “Why are we so ashamed to discuss one of the most important things about being a woman?”
I got an answer to this question in the beginning of the video. Actress Sophia Bush makes an appearance, saying, “We’re sort of energetically taught to feel shame about it because the conversation about it always starts in very hushed tones, and it’s something the boys have to go away for, and it’s a little embarrassing.”
This feeling of shames go a long, long way back. As Miki points out in the video, ancient religious texts even teach us to feel embarrassed by what’s happening. She says, “For example, from the Bible: ‘whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. If you touch her during that time, you will be defiled until evening.'” Um, WHAT.
Think about it: how often have you doubled or tripled up on menstrual supplies because you were so stressed about a period blood leak while in public? How many times have you shoved a tampon or pad up your sleeve on your way to the bathroom, praying no one would notice? How often have you tried to open a tampon or pad wrapper as quietly as possible in a public stall, cringing as you wonder if others can hear it? How many times have you avoided hanging out with a crush or lied to him because you didn’t want to say you had your period and couldn’t fool around below the belt?
Not only that, but consider all of the names we have for menstruation. Instead of just saying, “I have my period” or “She’s on her period,” we say things like, “Aunt Flow is visiting” or “Oh, it’s just that time of the month” or “It’s my lady time.” Which, seriously, what? Aunt Flow? Are we joking with that? And “lady time?!” That makes me want to barf.
Feeling embarrassed and ashamed of our periods is about so much more than we realize – and it is also holding us back from so much. It is not just about feeling embarrassed by a blood stain (which, I mean yeah, I get it – period stains are never fun). It’s about being embarrassed of the very thing that makes us a woman. When you really think about what menstruation is – it’s basically the way we bring life into the world – it’s amazing! Feeling ashamed of it is like feeling ashamed about being a girl.
I’m not going to lie to you guys – I used to be embarrassed of my period too. I remember the first time I noticed blood in my underwear. I cried hysterically when telling my mom. I didn’t feel excited that I was growing up or proud that my time had come. I felt terrified that someone was going to find out.
I spent the next few years desperately trying to hide my period. I hid pads and tampons in pouches and zippered pockets in my handbag, clutching it to my chest as I went to the bathroom at school. In fact, I was so paranoid about people knowing I had my period that I started bringing my handbag to the bathroom every single time I went, even when it wasn’t that time of the month, just so that people wouldn’t be able to tell when I actually needed it. When I hung out with a guy during the week of my period, I would say anything besides “I can’t right now because I have my period.” Even when they assumed that’s what it was, I would deny it.
Then, one day, I was like, “eff this. Why am I so ashamed?” I was in college, and I was learning how to be less shy and more outgoing. I had started talking to my friends about periods, and discussing our mutual experiences made me feel less embarrassed. I realized that this was something that millions of people dealt with – why should I stress about it so much?
I slowly came out of my “period shell” (I don’t know what that means, I just made it up). I wasn’t afraid to straight up say to dudes, “Don’t bother, I have my period.” Feeling like I was dying from cramps and headaches, I would groan to friends and anyone who asked about how my PMS sucked. One day, I was out with a few friends and a group of guys I didn’t know very well. I had my period and had a terrible headache, so I had to go home, take some medicine, and lay down. When I came back to a room full of people, one of the guys was like, “Are you okay? Did you feel sick?” When I asked what he was talking about, he said, “Oh, your friends said you weren’t feeling well.” To every single person in the room, I said, “Uh, I’m fine, I just have my period.”
When I said that, I noticed almost every single person in the room visibly cringe. Some of the guys gave wary, nervous smiles. One of them looked grossed out. One of my friends was like, “uh, okay,” and another one was like, “Jessica you can’t say stuff like that!” I rolled my eyes. Honestly, the freaked out reactions made me laugh. It made me realize how utterly absurd it was that I couldn’t be honest about the completely normal thing that was going on. Why should I lie and say I was sick when really I had PMS cramps? Why were these people in their early 20s and couldn’t handle the truth?
You know what? Ever since I became less embarrassed of my period, I feel like it’s really helped. Now I will tell anyone who will listen that I have my period because I literally do not care. Not only has it made my period easier, but it’s also made me feel more confident – and it has made me more proud to be a woman, as corny as that sounds (and I’m aware it sounds REALLY corny). It’s kind of awesome.
The bottom line is this: we have to stop feeling ashamed of our periods. I’m not telling you that you need to run outside the second you see blood and announce to the world that you’re bleeding out of your vag. You don’t need to make a Facebook status about it. You don’t need to free bleed to make a statement if you’re uncomfortable with that. But you have to stop feeling disgusted by your own period. It’s not gross to talk about it. It doesn’t make you “less classy” to say you’re dealing with PMS. It doesn’t mean you’re “crass” for saying you need to change your tampon. These viewpoints are so old-fashioned and they aren’t doing anyone any favors. They are only making women feel ashamed of being a woman, and that is not okay.
So please, do me a favor. Watch the video below that Thinx created, because it will really make you think (no pun intended). Stop feeling grossed out by yourself. Start talking about your period. Feel happy to be a woman! Let’s take this small step towards making our periods more tolerable – and making gender equality more likely.
What do you think of this video? Are you embarrassed by your period? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments.