The wave of sweat making you question whether you sprayed deodorant that morning. The clenching fist in your abdomen. And the sudden undeniable presence of wetness in your underwear. You know exactly what’s happening. And now the pimples, overeating, and floods of tears over an insignificant event the day before all make sense. It’s that time of the month. But you’re at work, at your desk so it’s time to begin your undercover mission. You slide your hand into your bag while no one’s looking, take out a few things to make it look like you can’t find something, slide the tampon up your sleeve and rush off to the bathroom.
Despite the fact that women spend 4-7 days a month dealing with menstruation, we are expected to keep our periods as covert as possible:
- Sanitary product ads seem to display every colour… except red. We are shown pads soaking up blue liquid – because apparently anything that actually resembles blood is just too much. This is the same with the packaging of sanitary products, always an array of pinks, blues, greens and purples, actively avoiding the colour of the bodily function in which we are buying the product for.
- Sanitary product ads show women going about their lives with no signs of a period happening. They are dancing. Wearing white. Jumping into pools. And appearing to be able to forget about what’s happening in their bodies as voiceovers praise how ‘discreet’ the product is. I cannot speak for all women, but for myself, I can firmly say that wearing white is always a risk that I am never willing to take while on.
- Sanitary products are wrapped like sweets. They are marketed with the notion that they won’t reveal the secret that you’re on your period. Which sends a clear message: no one should know about your period. It’s not something to talk about, show any signs of, or even acknowledge is a thing.
It’s odd because as a 10 year old girl with many older female cousins I couldn’t wait to start my period. I saw it as one of the defining features of becoming a woman, and it is. But when it came and the ‘novelty’ wore off I started to have very different views. Periods became smelly, painful, and so often an inconvenience. The fact that this monthly occurrence is the complete opposite of what society has deemed femininity to be makes women hesitant to speak freely about it, or reveal that they are experiencing it at that moment, especially to a man.
Historically, many religions branded periods as “unclean”, and a similar message is still present in contemporary media e.g. teen magazines containing period-related stories in the “Most Embarrassing Moments” columns. Now after 11 years of blood each month, I still find myself on missions to handle and conceal a very natural part of being a woman. From making my way to a bathroom in public to buying sanitary products. God forbid someone sees me purchasing something I need to ensure I can reproduce and contribute to the existence of humanity. I have so often hid the brightly coloured box under other items in my basket, tactfully wait for a female cashier, and don’t make any eye contact while the items are being scanned through.
A poll of 1,500 women and 500 men from across the UK found that:
- 58% of women have felt embarrassed for being on their period
- 73% of women surveyed have hid a pad or tampon while on their way to the bathroom
- 1 in 3 women say they’re uncomfortable saying the word ‘vagina’
- 62% said they would rather not use the word ‘period’
- More than half of men said they believe it’s inappropriate for women to openly mention menstruation while in the workplace
How are we supposed to get adequate support if we can’t even put words to what we’re experiencing? Without periods none of us would be here today, which is what makes the taboo around period talk all so silly, and ultimately, just another way to make women feel as though there is something wrong with them. But the change must start with us. I am attempting to be more open with what is happening with my body. Instead of creating excuses as to why I can’t go somewhere or do something, I am going to start saying straight up “I’m on my period”. I am not going to behave in a shifty way, as though I am stealing something, when purchasing sanitary products. And I am not going to stuff a tampon into my pocket as though I am going out to sniff coke when I need to change in public.