I’m sure we all have hazy memories of sitting in our sixth-grade biology class, starting the chapter that we’d all been sheepishly looking forward to: Sex Ed. Remember your old biology teacher scolding anyone who giggled at the mention of “vagina” or “penis”? I remember being mortified yet mesmerized while learning about menstruation.
Alas, I didn’t actually learn much about my own body. I was unable to label the uterus and vagina on my worksheets because I was too embarrassed — not just to look at the diagram in my science book and figure it out, but also to ask anyone for help, because the whole subject made me so uncomfortable.
Most women, when they hit puberty, are able to share stories about period cramps and all that jazz with their female friends. Keyword: female. It’s a natural process that happens to most women, yet for some reason, it’s taboo to bring up the matter in public spaces.
Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer who competed at the Rio Olympics, openly talked about how hard it was for her to compete while ‘riding the red wave.’ After that, she was recognized by the world as “that girl who talked about her period on TV,” not in a sense that commended her openness or her raw talent, but with a tone of derision and shock.
Periods have received a variety of entertaining nicknames: “shark week,” “surfing the crimson wave,” “leak week,” “blowjob season,” and the “end of sentence,” among others. Though the humour and wit of certain nicknames is not lost on me, I can’t help but wonder why the period needs so many different names for people to use when discussing it — if they discuss it at all.
When I go to the store to restock on feminine hygiene products (yes, I’m referring to pads, tampons, and panty liners), why do I feel the need to disguise the fact that I’m on my period by filling my cart with additional mundane things that I don’t really need? Why do I freak out when the next cashier available at the checkout is male? Why do I avoid making eye-contact with the cashier as they process my transactions, as though I’m ashamed?
These nicknames, these behaviours — perhaps all of this is meant to ease the unease surrounding this natural and recurrent event in a woman’s life. Because, yes, women in Western society still aren’t comfortable when talking about their bodies. Moreover, Western society doesn’t support the idea of us feeling comfortable when talking about our bodies.
That discomfort is a societal construction, and the fact that we haven’t dismantled it shows that we aren’t yet fully occupying our rightful position in society. We should be encouraged to express what ails us as frequently as necessary.
Having a period is not the dirty and shameful secret that society would like to make it out to be. Considering that as of now the current female population is at 49.6%, you’d think that females would have some input on what society deems to be appropriate to converse about.
You might say, “Why do women need to talk about it? Can’t you just be on ‘that time of the month’ without feeling the need to shout it out to the whole wide world?”
Well, we get our periods every bloody month! Shouldn’t it be considered necessary — or at least, completely normal — to talk about an event that happens so frequently? Women should be able to talk about periods just as casually as if they were talking about a full moon, or the weather.
I can tell you more about the ionic bonds between hydrogen ions or photosynthesis than I can about my own reproductive organs. Sexual education has failed us — but that doesn’t mean that it’s too late to get to know our bodies. The first step toward addressing that is destigmatizing the discussion surrounding bodies.
Even though Fu Yuanhui faced backlash for talking about her menstrual cycle on TV, the fact that she was able to do so in the first place is a positive sign that the doors to a more open and honest dialogue are opening up. Yuanhui is totally right to talk about herself and her body with that level of confidence, because there should be no reason for her not to be confident.
It’s OK to be vocal about menstrual pains. You don’t have to hide your pad/tampon under your shirt when you go to the washroom to change it. Open up and be a part of the change by talking about your body, and hopefully, others will do the same.