I’m done with being subtle about my period. At least once a week I remember that I live in a country where period products are viewed (and taxed!) as a luxury, non-essential item, while Jaffa Cakes are not. Yes, we have seen significant steps forward in recent months to tackle period poverty, but the stigma around menstruation is still sticking around. And I’m fed up with it.
Content warning: explicit discussion of blood and periods. Also contains mention of suicidal ideation and bowel movements. And affiliate links.
My period is an irregular fucker. I bleed out of my vagina for an average of eight days, but the time between each period can be as short as seven days or as long as seven weeks. Being on birth control briefly helped stabilise my cycle but it didn’t help my mental health, so as my depression got worse I had to come off it.
My period comes with cramps so bad that they can trigger suicidal ideation, as I curl up in a ball and can’t work out why I feel so utterly, physically crap. My period comes with me needing to shit two or three times a day, as the tension in my muscles affects my bowels. It comes with a painful and often itchy vagina.
It doesn’t help that I have vaginismus. I’ve never been able to use tampons, and in a world which continually tells me that true eco-friendly feminists should be using menstrual cups it’s hard not to feel bad that I can’t. For folks who don’t know this, a person on their period should change their pad every three to six hours. During the first few days of my period, I have to change mine at minimum every three hours.
I don’t want to imply that I have especially bad periods – apart from when they’re at their most frequent (and six weeks of a 14-day cycle is far too frequent to be healthy!) I expect my periods are pretty standard. This is what all folks who menstruate have to go through. No matter how they deal with it, the bottom line is that it sucks.
My period kicks my butt – or more specifically my vagina! – at least once a month. And I’m supposed to not talk about it. It’s 2019, and it’s still taboo to talk about a completely normal biological function. We use euphemisms to avoid saying the word ‘period’; we ; we expect the folks to be subtle about their periods.
If you want proof that sexism exists, look no further than the conversation that exists around menstruation.
Sexism can be small and subtle, and it can make us doubt if we are really dealing with misogynistic microaggressions every single day. When I need to remind myself that I’m not overreacting, I think back to a conversation I had during my first year at uni. A friend and I were walking back to halls together after lectures, and I told them that I needed to pop into the supermarket to buy something.
“What do you need?” he asked.
“Oh, just some more period pads.”
He asked, please remember that. And his horrified expression at my response? It hurt more than I ever told him. He practically whispered his aghast reply:
“Did you have to say that out loud?”
I blushed, because I hadn’t yet reached the point in my feminism where I will call people out on their patriarchal bullshit at full volume, regardless of where we are. I felt ashamed, as though I’d done something wrong and dirty, when all I’d done was mention that I needed to pick up a hygiene product.
Why is a period pad different from a toothbrush? Oh yes, because it is used primarily by women, and touches “that area, down there“. I don’t blame my friend. Ok, I do a bit, but I blame the society which cultivates a culture of shame around female sexuality that leaves folks with vaginas unable to talk about what their bodies experience on a monthly basis.
Did you know that some cis men think that we can choose to hold menstrual blood in like pee, and choose not to? Did you know that scientific research has shown that period pain can be equal to the pain of a heart attack? Probably yes, and that’s good. It means we’re talking about it.
Did you know that today at work, I had to give myself a pep-talk before I told my boss that I needed a bathroom break? I didn’t need to pee, I just needed to change my pad. Even though I knew that was a completely rational request (and I didn’t need to say the word ‘period’ to him), the shame stopped me from speaking up. It reminded me how often I censor myself to make other people comfortable with my body.
And right now, I’m asking why I should. Right now, I’m so over being subtle about my period.
Menstruation Matters is run by the brilliant Bee, and you should check out her blog – A to Sub Bee – for other essays about the excitements of menstruation
Want to support my work so I can spend more time writing about feminist issues and/or can buy comfort hot chocolate when my cramps are really bad? Folks who buy me a coffee are helping me to keep writing about sex.