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Pads
Jocelyn Hsu / Spoon

Femininity sold in a 7”x 7” box; stacked on shelves no one wants to be seen looking through. Once purchased, they are tucked away in corners or under counters. Out in the world, they become envelopes sent on a wind of whispered requests and emergencies. Those with uteruses share a mutual bond of blood, sweat, tears, and the trauma placed by the thunderous crinkling of the wrapper in a tiny stall. Shame and discomfort are meant to be held in each deafening wrinkle of the plastic. This is the lesson that young girls are taught from the moment the boys are taken to another room while we talk about how our bodies are going to ‘change’ in middle school. Young girls internalize the unspoken message that menstruation is a secret, it is the bloody elephant in the room that girls are told to not draw attention to and the boys are told not to worry about. This is all to say, thank you to the person who accidentally dropped a sanitary pad on the floor of the entryway to my building. 

I did not see the person drop the pad and I did not see when someone picked it up and whisked it away like it was never there. It was there when I entered the building and gone when I left. What I do know is that it was there, a stark golden squire in the middle of the floor, glowing like an alarm. My first thought was to feel sorry for the person who had dropped it. Then I irrationally feared that perhaps it was somehow mine and had teleported out of my bag and onto the floor in the time it took me to blink. And finally, I wondered who was going to have the guts to lean down and pick it up and remove it. I must admit, I was not willing to be that person. The feminist in me shrinks away from admitting that to be the truth. But that’s what shame is. It’s the quiet voice in the back of your head that says don’t let them know you’re human. 

I and I think most people who have a period are capable of talking and bonding over the symptoms and inconveniences of having them. It’s just a fact of life for most of us. But when I saw the pad in the middle of the floor, it felt as if there was a glitch in the matrix. Something so out of place sat in the middle of the floor and no one was acknowledging it. People stepped over or around it as if it might suddenly grow a hand and point at them, calling them out on their discomfort. But how could people not be uncomfortable when periods are treated with such taboo. I will admit that it is getting better, great strides have been made in the pursuit of dismantling the shame that surrounds ‘that time of the month’. 

But are strides enough when there is a college that has more than fifty percent female students, and not one feels comfortable enough to pick a pad up off the ground? Are strides enough when no one told whoever dropped it what had happened? This article is not to berate others or myself for not speaking up or acting. I am not attempting to add more shame to essentially a large re-designed bandaid in not-so-subtle packaging. 

The point of this article is to address the ridiculousness of period-havers’ internalized discomfort with our own bodies. We treat menstruation like it is meant to be seen privately but never heard publicly. We deal with it, we push through it, and we hide it. Why? We have about a hundred different ways to avoid saying that we are bleeding: ‘Auntie Flow’, ‘Shark Week’, ‘The Crimson Wave’, etc. There are Pinterest boards entirely devoted to making “cute and discrete” period pouches. We remove the subjects of our sentences when referring to ‘the event’. We say things like “can you check me?” and “hey, I’m just mine, got anything?”  Who are we protecting?  

I can almost guarantee that every man that walked by that pad on the floor knew exactly what it was. And if they didn’t, that speaks to the wider issue. The boys were taken out of the room and the girls were told they were now women. Menstruation was the key to growing up. The only cost? Living freely in our bodies. 

I thank the person who accidentally dropped a sanitary pad on the floor, not because it was some conscious rebellion against the status quo. No, I thank them because it reminded me that our bodies are not perfectly wrapped in plastic and meant to be tucked away in cute and discrete packaging. We are meant to be seen in our entirety and feeling shame about our bodies accomplishes nothing. This is not a soapbox moment where I tell everyone to bleed proudly and carry tampons and pads in their hands for all to see, though if that’s what you want to do, you do you. This is me writing to voice my thoughts on how a small square of plastic and cotton has been given permission to stop me and others with periods in our tracks, how the idea of touching it in public would have felt like an admonishment of guilt. Guilt at what? Being human? Taking up space? Of crinkling too loudly? Or being too noticeable with a bright wrapping? Thank you to the person who accidentally reminded me just how ridiculous the world can be.      

Izzy Adler

C of C '24

Originally from Vermont but a recent South Carolina resident; I am an aspiring author in her sophomore year of college. I am an English Major with a love to write and learn about people.
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