I am starting to write this article today and today I am on the first day of my period.
Here I am sitting in front of the computer, I am tired and don’t feel like concentrating. I am feeling good overall but I’d just like to have some time for myself. Luckily I am working in an office where it is alright to sit on my chair with my knees pulled up towards my tummy and my feet on the seat to feel more comfortable….. Oh, should I not have shared that? Is it bad, am I impolite to say that I am writing this article while I am on my period and how I feel about it?
Let’s make the most striking point here right away: Did you ever think about the following:
When you first came into this physical world, what was your first home? The first place that you, as a beautiful new growing being were protected and nourished by? No, not your parents’ house, long before that?
It was that wonderfully, soft and cosy, nourishing thick layer of mucus lining a woman’s uterus – your mother’s – penetrated by tiny blood vessels ensuring the very blood perfusion to support you with oxygen and all the nutrients you needed to grow into who you are, sitting right in front of this article right now.
Do you really think anyone should consider we are talking about a taboo here?
Surely, you as a reader are feeling comfortable enough about reading up on the topic of menstruation, as you have clicked to open this article. But how is your overall conditioning about the monthly blood flow of women? And how comfortable do those around you – including the men in your family: brothers, fathers, boyfriends, spouses and sons – feel about openly talking about menstruation just as you would talk about other common daily topics such as a shopping list or picking up the kids from school?
Feel good about yourself as a menstruating being
The first step in being open about the topic of menstruation is feeling comfortable yourself. In our last article in this series, we encouraged women to feel positive about being a menstruating being, by getting to know themselves, their cycle and their needs. Now we would like to give some food for thought about everyone regarding menstruation in a normal positive way and how this can prove to be beneficial for all!
There are many books, websites and articles on this, here are a few examples:
- Eco Femme book list
Menstruation as a cultural issue
Different human societies throughout different ages have different relationships towards the topic of menstruation. In some cultures the onset of a girl’s menstruation is celebrated publicly, while in others it is barely spoken about or even considered a taboo. There are several organisations that aspire to open up these limiting boundaries. In fact, this can be important for health and livelihood. If a woman feels inhibited in talking about her menstruation, she may feel hesitant to reach out for help when needing to effectively handle a health problem. If those around her feel uncomfortable, they in turn might refuse and neglect someone reaching out for help. While this does include issues of physical health, let’s not forget that emotional well being and feeling safe in one’s family and social surrounding are very important to a person confidently living a happy life.
“In our work as an organisation working on a healthy and natural relationship towards menstruation within India, we have encountered many personal stories of difficulties as well as positive accounts. While we do meet those who feel comfortable to talk openly about the monthly flow, we also encounter girls and women as well as boys and men who tense up and become quiet.”
While some share inspiring stories of being celebrated as a respectable woman at the onset of their monthly bleeding, other accounts include issues with feeling humiliated or even shunned and being considered as dirty and sinful beings. There are some men who never questioned such practices in their social surrounding and those men who regard a woman’s menstruation as a natural part of her life, which after all is a sign for the great gift of giving life to a child.
These are some of Lakshmi’s experiences, when she talks about menstruation in her educational sessions with rural Indian women for Eco Femme:
- Have to sleep outside on the porch
- Have to wash themselves every time before entering the house
- Mothers feel bad that they make their daughters sleep outside alone on the porch
- Amongst the women the topic of menstruation is actually handled openly, but less so towards boys and men.
While these attitudes do exist, the topic of menstruation is also handled as a normality in other places. We shared on our blog a number of nice books which introduce girls to the subject of menstruation in a gentle and sensitive manner.
In South India, girls celebrate their first period with a puberty ritual.
Miranda Gray has written a couple of useful books, one called Red Moon and another called The Optimized Woman, that discusses using the advantages of each cycle phase in your professional life to achieve success – all corporate bosses should read this to know how to benefit from women’s’ potentials!
What is your own experience? How did you experience your first menstruation? If you are male, did you get to know about your sister or female friends starting menstruation? How do you feel about the topic of menstruation? Do you have any tense feelings about it or can you experience yourself talking about it freely?
Open up uncomfortable feelings in family, education, growing girls AND boys
We probably all agree, that the topic of menstruation is still handled in various degrees of a stigma by many people. It can be said, that we can all play a part in the process of making it a normal issue. Think about this: every time you feel you have to whisper when telling a friend “I got my period today..” or “ do you have an extra pad, I have run out”, or “I have a stomach ache” when you actual are having menstrual cramps, aren’t you continuing to uphold the idea that any women on her period should obscure and hide it?
Do you use a code name when referring to the menstruation? Technically speaking, the word ‘period’ already is a circumscription for menstruation, as it is coding ‘a certain time stretch’.
There are thousands of terms used around the world to speak about menstruation in code. In Germany some girls say “I have my strawberry days”, or, “my friend is visiting me”. In France they say, “the redcoats (English) are coming”, “J’ai mes Raniania” (this one is the most common and means ‘I have my Raniania’). In Spain they say ‘tener el tomate” literally means “to have the tomatoes”.
But how to be ‘normal’ when talking about the monthly blood flow?
These are some of Harishini’s experiences, when she talks about menstruation in her educational sessions for Eco Femme:
- Don’t even make a big deal out of it, treat it as a normal topic. This normalizes the topic right from the moment you begin to talk.
- Just start! Begin talking and then it will flow. Actually children are naturally always full of questions, unless they have already been made to feel awkward about a certain topic. Open the conversation and go with the flow.
- As a mother, father or anyone else, you also learn while you talk. Often the topic of menstruation is embedded naturally within other topics like pregnancy.
- When talking about menstruation, see to make it not only about hygiene or menstrual sanitary products or pregnancy. There is so much more to talk about! Use the opportunity to talk about the cycle of fertility itself, how it is to become a woman, emotions, sexuality, so much more is important to growing teens and children than just the blood.
- Make sure not to demonize menstruation by labeling it as something negative, like telling a girl “You will feel horrible the day it comes” and give them horror stories about pain and cramps.
If you are not sure about how to start a conversation about menstruation, here is a handy guide to give you some ideas.
As this article is about finding normality and lightness towards the topic, here are some inspiring links that give some examples of how the topic of menstruation can actually be a normality in our daily lives, sports, parent-child relationship, children toys, public bathrooms and while travelling.
- Fu Yuanhu, 20-year old olympic swimmer inspired the world when she mentioned having her “period” in a TV interview after a race. It went through the media, as it was noted that the topic of menstruation is never mentioned although it surely is an issue for female sports professionals.
- Have you ever wondered what does Barbie do, when she has her period? The Lammily doll comes with period accessories because it’s never too early for education.
- Some parents are more uncomfortable talking about menstruation than their children are, here’s the Period Rap.
- New York City offered free distribution of sanitary products to school girls as well as to those most in need.
- Travelling guides include information about restaurants, public toilets and public transportation. But let’s all stress this: every woman going on a trip wonders “Will I have my menstruation while I am travelling and how will I feel comfortable handling it?” Here is a guide for many traveling destinations on how and where menstrual products are readily available and a friendly reminder to all male travel guide writers.
Boys education on menstruation?
While some only think about talking to girls at the onset of puberty, have you ever wondered how boys learn about girls menstruating? Have you experienced women waiting for males to be at a distance before mentioning their period to another woman? Consider this: understanding menstruation can help boys be more compassionate brothers, sons, boyfriends and fathers, as well as make them feel more connected themselves to the women in their life.
But maybe it does still feel like a sensitive topic to you. So how to go about it? If you are not sure about how to start a conversation about menstruation with boys and men, here are an inspirational document and a guide to give you some ideas.
While you yourself might be quite clear on the topic, you might find that boys and men are actually very happy that they finally get to clarify some of their questions. This might even encourage you to help them to step out of feeling to awkward to educate themselves.
Have you ever wondered if young Indian men have considered how it feels to be in the position to not be allowed to hug a family member, as some girls are expected not to do while on their period [Indian men try out how it is for a woman to wear a pad]? Or what to do when a 7 year old boy finds a sanitary napkin while looking for a handkerchief to blow his runny nose? If you have a male sibling and you realise that your parents are not comfortable enough to answer his questions, maybe you can do it. [a sister educates her younger brother about menstruation] Many men will feel more confident in their relationships with women if they know about what women experience during menstruation. While they might be embarrassed to ask, they might actually finally feel more embarrassed about what they don’t know! So as for the shy ones, you are really helping them out if you start the conversation on menstruation [men explain periods]
When starting up the conversation about menstruation we also come to talk about menstruation management: pads, tampons, cups. Here’s some food for thought for all women as well as men: if women use disposable menstrual products, they are exposed to harmful chemicals which can affect their health! Think about alternatives to make a switch that is beneficial for your own health as well as for the environment.
So seriously girls and boys: When you now think about that wonderfully, soft and cosy, nourishing thick layer of mucus, penetrated by tiny blood vessels, know: this will be the first
home to keep your child nourished and protected if you parent a child one day to bring a beautiful new growing being into this physical world. It’s a blessed experience, so actually we can all feel more than comfortable, talking about menstruation.
I work in an office where we have a calendar where all women mark a red dot on the first day of their period. We want to explore if our cycles and our work rhythm are interrelated, we feel safe and acknowledge each other if we are feeling more inward during our period. We are all glad that we can be ourselves. I started writing this article today on the first day of my period. I marked my red dot and started off sitting in front of the computer, tired and not feeling like concentrating but more like time with myself. I’ve had that time and some laughs with the funny results of my research today as well as some reflection on the importance of the issue of lifting the topic of menstruation out of taboo.
Dear reader, do you have an interesting personal story to share? We are happy to hear about your experiences on talking about menstruation with others around you!
By Stephanie Kraus