“Periods are something women are socially programmed to be ashamed of..”
I didn’t go to work today because I had debilitating period pains, and no, I didn’t tell my colleagues that my ‘not feeling well’ was code for menstruation or a natural cycle I had no choice in. I was evasive about the cause of my so-called illness despite the fact that I work mainly with women and the space itself is not gendered, but old habits die hard. In reality, there is always the fear or expectation that you’d be shamed for being transparent where this is concerned because many workspaces are dominantly male and often hostile to any signs of femininity.
I didn’t say anything because periods are something women are socialized to be ashamed of. In some cultures women are segregated/secluded during their cycle, in some local religions, women are considered impure [dirty] during their periods, therefore, aren’t allowed to touch items around the household, cook for the family or sleep around their husbands. For a period of about seven days or so, they are not even allowed to go to church. They are required to go through a cleansing after, before they are reintegrated into a normal routine, this is to do away with the ‘aura’ because periods are treated as a mourning period.
Like most things, nobody actually tells you menstruation is something that is never discussed with others, you just sort of learn and take cues from the women around you. You quickly come to realize that bleeding is never something that is ever up for discussion, it being ‘crass’ and all. It’s between a woman and her ovaries, sometimes between a girl and her friends [if you’re lucky] or a wife and her husband [especially if they are planning to get pregnant]. We are never encouraged to discuss, explore and understand our bodies because they are never ours, to begin with. We are just carriers.
“It’s baffling to me to think it’s still something we speak around rather than openly speak out about..”
A lot of women, like myself, get period pains during their cycle. Despite this fact, using it as a reason or an ‘excuse’ [as some would say], for not going to work isn’t regarded as a legitimate reason. As a survival strategy we mask our period pain as regular cramps, headaches or any other illnesses under the sun, but the actual cause itself. The pain that often occurs as a result of menstruation is quite real.
Depending on the severity, sometimes it feels as though someone is cutting or crushing your ovaries. For some women, period pains get so bad it’s difficult to get out of bed and function. For others, every month is like going through the first trimester of a pregnancy, ironically because they are not pregnant. They get waves of nausea, vomit, stomach and back pains and headaches, you name it.
About every woman with a regular reproductive system [some women don’t get periods at all or regularly] goes through some form of bodily or mental disruption every month because of periods. It’s baffling to me to think it’s still something we speak around rather than openly speak out about. There is something deeply humanizing about period pains. You’re literally forced to listen and be present in your body while waiting for the sparse moments of pain to end or hit again. Your life is forced to stop because it’s often too painful to do anything else, you feel more alive, even though the pain itself could sometimes feel like you’re dying.
“They have invented pretty pouches and holders to perpetuate the dirty little secret that is bleeding. Why?”
Yes, women bleed a few days every month regardless of race, class or political views. If we never have anything in common or even agree on anything, at least we have our periods. We have a whole billion dollar industry dedicated to profiting from this. An industry that encourages this same syndrome that women seem to carry by creating more products that are meant to enable women to hide during their cycle.
They have invented pretty pouches and holders to perpetuate the dirty little secret that is bleeding. Why? Because openly walking around with a tampon is ‘undignified’? Because the men in our offices will now know or feel justified to call us hormonal, emotional and hysterical when we are disagreeing with them, to dismiss us by blaming it on our periods. Meanwhile, in Africa, we have more young girls still skipping school because they don’t have access to sanitary pads.
Society is robbing these young women of their right to education by denying them their dignity. It’s a human rights violation that has only now caught the attention of the mainstream. Thus corporations are spending money on making periods ‘sexy’ when they aren’t, making them invisible from public scrutiny and comfortable for men in the public spaces women occupy, whilst young and poor girls still can’t afford basic sanitary pads.
“Bleeding is never meant to be pretty and that’s OK..”
Making fancy bags that make periods invisible not only ignores reality but takes away the very thing that forms part of most women’s being. Conversations need to happen so periods can come out of the closet so we can end the shame women have had to carry.
A public acknowledgement and a presence of this natural process would serve as part of giving women their dignity back. Bleeding is how most young women transition from childhood to ‘womanhood’ [I used this loosely]. Bleeding is never meant to be pretty and that’s OK.
There is a lack of education across the board, part of the process is unlearning all the things we’ve been conditioned to believe and perceive. Part of that is having men who wouldn’t be ashamed to go to the grocery store to buy sanitary pads or tampons for the women in their lives because it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s just nature taking its course. The usual condescending question: ‘is it that time of the month’ needs to stop being framed as something so ugly. Here’s to #periodpainleave!