A young woman walks into the kitchen, she is carrying a warm water bottle pressed against her stomach and she looks exhausted. She leaves after grabbing a sandwich and as she does a female family friend who we are visiting whispers, “That time of the month”, to which my dad very casually blurts out “You mean her period?”. Our family friend is shocked at first, as if she had never heard someone say it so naturally, especially not a man.
To us, my family as well as my friends at home in Sweden, periods are not taboo but a normal conversation topic, natural as it is. However, this was not the first time I encountered periods being taboo to speak about, or period stigma. Half of the world’s population bleed for, usually, about four to seven days every month, it occurs naturally and is therefore, more often than not, out of our control (there are of course ways to control your period but that is a different topic). Still, most people with periods hardly speak about it. I remember whispering about it around school, asking my mum to write it on the shopping list, enabling me to avoid being seen buying pads and tampons. When in school, all the girls would try to hide sanitary products as they transferred them from locker to pocket when they needed changing. Every woman figures out ways to hide she has her period, many feel embarrassed, some get actively teased or harassed if they are “found out”. It almost seems as though it were a crime. Why?
The female body has been taboo for decades, it is so deeply rooted in society that it will take time to make significant change, though change is coming. How fast and in what manner depends on country and culture, among other things. Growing up in a different country I have first hand experience of this as periods, nudity and bodily functions seem more widely accepted in Scandinavian culture than it generally is in the UK, among other places. The UK is however improving, as is the rest of the world – there are several articles on the BBC discussing periods, there is a massive increase in charities working towards improving the accessibility of sanitary products for all, meaning providing free products as well as more and improved options. But to really initiate change and improve, or, normalise, the subject of periods we need to figure out where to start and where would be better than in schools and at home? The focus should not be on mainly educating girls regarding the subject, but equally educating boys as this would decrease the stigma and prejudice they might have. By increasing the information given to children we normalise the subject and the phenomenon – young woman start to bleed and it is completely normal, they use pads or tampons to absorb the blood and that too is completely normal, half the world’s population does it.
So if you happen to be met by a lot of stigma regarding your period or if you might feel ashamed of it, please find someone you can start having conversations about it with, educate yourself but also educate others. And I can not put enough emphasis on the importance of educating everyone equally on this matter, so do not neglect your male friends as well. Usually they tend to be rather curious.