Why Are Periods Still a Secret?

The other day I found myself hiding a tampon in my sleeve as I was walking to the bathroom. While this is something all of us girls know how to do all too well, why did I feel the need to do this if I live in an ALL GIRLS residence hall? Have these practices been passed on to us by our mothers who grew up with a less accepting society or have we built them ourselves because our society has not changed as much as we may think it has? Keep reading if you would like to debunk the stigma surrounding periods with me.

It’s no surprise that periods have been kept a secret and hardly ever talked about, by both men and women, for… , well, forever. Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a professor at the University of Melbourne, says “in primitive times, menstruation wasn’t understood and in some contexts it was associated with the supernatural so women had a good reason to keep it hidden.” It seems strange that periods, which are so natural, could be seen as supernatural. Well how could something so powerful and mysterious be understood without modern science? Because menstruation wasn’t understood at such an early time in humanity, women still have to fight off the stigma surrounding periods today.

This stigma continues to be fueled hundreds of years later. In the 1920’s, as women were beginning to enter the workforce in the U.S., they felt enormous pressure to be professional and discrete. This basically meant pretending to not even have a period. Advertisements from the “modern period,” as Lara Freidenfelds calls it in her book “The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America,” began to portray women on their periods to be carefree, which is something still commonly seen in the media today. “It’s the idea that your body does not undermine your ability to be productive at school or at work,” Freidenfelds explains. “It’s a body that doesn’t smell or have cramps.” While this seems to be progressive, especially for at the time, the “modern period” diminishes the beauty and meaning behind periods, treating it like something we should suppress.

When examining many other cultures around the world, this stigma is still very prominent, as would be imagined. Buzzfeed compiled experiences from girls everywhere regarding periods in their cultures. Jann from Malaysia says “most Malay women even wash out their tampons with soap and water before disposal, as it is thought to be unclean otherwise.” An 18 year old from Bangladesh says “girls can't buy pads in shops without being stared at like they're committing a crime or something. After you buy it, it's wrapped in such a way nobody can see it.” Eni from Ghana says “most men wouldn't want to eat food cooked by a menstruating woman or share a bucket or bathroom with her." Reading these testaments and so many more of the nature saddened me, along with so many other women I’m sure.

If we now know that periods aren’t supernatural, why do we still treat them like our darkest secrets? Years and years of secrecy is hard to detach from. Reversing the stigma surrounding periods is something women will have to work at for even longer. The “free bleeding” movement, where women go through their periods without any sort of intervention such as tampons or pads, is a big step for women. You might remember Kira Gandhi crossing the finish line of a marathon with blood on her leggings in 2015. Women are doing this to make a statement and to get people talking about periods, as people should be. However, this is probably not the most comfortable and easily adoptable practice to get the conversation started. But that is all it has to be, a conversation, talk about your period and don’t hide it. Easier said than done but we can all start somewhere. Maybe next time you’re walking to the bathroom walk proudly with your tampon. Women should always feel empowered, even when we are on our period!