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It’s Taboo – Period

By Elise Moore | 2/3/17 3:44pm | Updated 2/3/17 4:52pm
Melissa Kelley/American Word Magazine

“What if we told y’all that once a month, half the human race is in pain? And the other half don’t wanna hear shit about it?” - Key & Peele

Silence is a uterus’s worst enemy. Luckily, the vagina is being acknowledged more by comedians, menstrual activists and politicians – though not always in a positive light. In 2017, women around the world face health problems and other issues related to menstruation because periods are still considered taboo.

For most women, monthly bleeding is a part of life. Why is there a stigma attached to such a normal occurrence? Images that exhibit the realities of a woman’s life are still censored. For some people, it is still a shock to see realistic images like Judy Chicago’s “The Red Flag” or Rupi Kaur’s photo of a small period stain on her bed.

Menstrual stigma is based on misunderstandings about the female body. The best approach to destigmatizing the period is to speak openly to all people about the vagina and the issues confronted with being born with a uterus.

It’s not unusual for women to hide a tampon up their sleeve or to create a makeshift pad out of toilet paper when they start their period. It’s uncomfortable to be caught without sanitary protection because of the embarrassment usually attached to a period stain.

Feelings of shame can overwhelm a woman who has a red stain on her pants. And while sanitary products are widely available in stores in the United States, they are not cheap. Forty states still consider pads and tampons as luxury items which means women must pay a tax on necessary hygiene products. Luxury taxes deter some low-income individuals.

The average woman spends $70 a year on sanitary products. For families on tight budgets, tampons and pads may not be a priority. They are not covered by food stamps, so some women even sell their food stamps to pay for the luxury of having a tampon. When women cannot afford sanitary products, they make use of rags, toilet paper or cotton to help absorb menstrual blood. These practices can lead to bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.

Women who are homeless or in prison also face the high prices of hygiene products. Typically, homeless shelters do not receive high donations of sanitary products. Shelters are restricted in how federal grants are spent, leaving homeless women with the challenges of staying hygienic. Women in prison face another issue -- there are often shortages when prisoners are menstruating (especially since many of the women are menstruating simultaneously).

A period lasts for approximately three to five days. There is a wide range of symptoms in addition to bleeding including acne, bloating, tender breasts and fatigue. For some women, periods can be debilitating, causing puking, dizziness or severe cramps.

Because of the difficult side effects, many women search for ways to relieve pain. Heating pads help with cramps. Birth control pills can mitigate the severity of menstrual pain. Drugs like Advil help decrease pain and discomfort.

However, the physical side effects are not the only hardships women face. According to the United Nations, proper sanitation is regarded as a fundamental right for women around the world. The stigma around the menstrual cycle prevents thousands of girls around the world from attending school every single day. In rural India, one in five girls drop out of school when they start menstruating. In many African nations, one in ten girls skip school during their period. These statistics are evidence that when women menstruate they are held back in their education which is imperative for personal growth.

In the context of menstruation, stigma creates a separation between women and men. Historically, it can be seen in religious writings from Christianity and Hinduism to Islam that women were (and sometimes still are) considered unclean. This has prevented women from praying alongside men and from cooking while on their period in some instances. It is believed by some that menstrual stigma was a contributor to women being viewed at a lower social status.

By beginning to talk more openly about menstruation, women can reduce the stigma. Social activism and health education will play large roles in reducing misunderstanding about periods. Hiding such a normal, healthy human process like menstruation is detrimental, so having an open dialogue will lead to safer practices in hygiene and sanitation.