On the whole, the world doesn’t much like to talk about periods. Why is that? Why do our cycles cause so much societal discomfort? Why are our tampon advertisements devoid of all blood?
Why was saying to your male high school teacher ‘Sir, I have my period’ the fastest way to get out of sport, no questions asked? (And not because he necessarily knew about our need to rest in our Winter…)
This Adore Your Cycle work is at once a deeply personal affair and a societal movement.
As we shift fear and shame within ourselves, I believe we have a responsibility to contribute to shifting the menstrual stigma and period-phobia in the world at large, which can be achieved by simply sharing this information, our process and personal experience with others.
I consider myself a feminist (and I do hope you do too) and believe with all of my heart that the ‘menstruation conversation’ deserves a seat at the Gender Equality Table. And it’s happening! With women like YOU reading blogs like THIS, sanitary product options (finally) expanding, cycle tracking apps rising in popularity and companies granting ‘menstrual leave’, it’s an exciting time.
A quick note on the latter: some may see this as a step backwards for feminism and gender equality and I do get that, particularly if the workplace climate and culture in question is more likely to discriminate against a female employee in comparison to her non-menstruating male counterpart. Certainly we can all agree that no one is interested in a return to a pre-feminist world where women were considered ‘less capable’ due to their biology, but if we’re working with the entirety of our cycle and optimising our natural rhythms, how can recognition of our cycles not be a step forward?
And frankly, some women (myself included at times) find themselves in debilitating pain whilst bleeding each month. We could absolutely take the inclusive route and call it ‘flexi-leave’, but we could also just be direct and call it what it is: ‘menstrual leave’. Perhaps there are simply more options for companies and individuals to explore here. What do you think?
But, I digress. Sharing with the world: where do we start? Like anything and everything, awareness is key.
In 2015, alongside the International Women’s Health Coalition, the team behind the cycle tracking app Clue conducted an in-depth ‘period perception’ survey with over 90,000 women around the world and their insights shocked and surprised me! When it came to chatting about periods with others, only 32% of respondents in Australia were comfortable talking to their male colleagues (similar percentages were seen in Canada and the USA), with less than half that again in Japan and Russia.
Almost three-quarters of Japanese women surveyed felt uncomfortable talking to their female friends or family about their period and a heartbreaking 93% of respondents in Bangladesh were uncomfortable talking to male family members about their monthly flow. Spain recorded the highest percentage of women feeling comfortable chatting menstruation with their male pals with half of the respondents ticking ‘yes’ to that box, with Argentina (47%) and Italy (44%) not far behind.
When it came to menstrual cycle education (WHICH IS SO BLOODY IMPORTANT) only a quarter of Russian women surveyed had received information about what it would be like to start their period, with Scandinavian countries taking home the cake on menstrual education.
I was surprised to learn that Australia only ranked an 88% response to this question. Not bad, but not great either; this really should be a 100% ‘yes I was educated on menstrual health’ response rate! Even more shockingly, a quarter of Australian women also answered ‘yes’ to missing school or work because they were afraid someone would find out they were menstruating—the highest percentage recorded (alongside Brazil) for that question!
This particular survey had no rankings for African countries, where many women are still forced to create makeshift pads using fabric from old mattresses, newspapers, leaves or twigs, with 61% of female Kenyan students estimated to miss school annually due to a lack of sanitary products and menstruation hygiene facilities in their schools, totalling a loss of 3.5 million learning days every single month due to menstruation.
Phew. So while these statistics are somewhat overwhelming, what we can get really excited about is the work of organisations and charities such as One Girl and Wash United, who work to educate and provide sustainable options for women in the developing world, meaning that conscious and fortunate women like you and I can contribute to sharing this information and encouraging positive change by throwing our support behind their fabulous work. We can take part in initiatives like Menstrual Hygiene Day or donate a bunch of pads to a charity like the Melbourne Period Project who support homeless women by providing them with safe sanitary products and outreach.
But do we need to lead a revolution to share this stuff with the world?
Not necessarily. The simple act of choosing not to hide your tampon on the way to the office bathroom might feel like the most empowering step available to you right now. Who knows what waves that action in itself could create!
Maybe you share your cycle reflections on your blog or social media or try replacing ‘that time of the month’ with a word or phrase that feels more empowering for you (‘moon time’ was a favourite from my workshops, as well as ‘lady red’ or the giggle-worthy ‘shark week’—one woman’s Ma affectionately called hers ‘Henry’ but I personally just like to say ‘I’m bleeding’) or just set the powerful intention to speak openly and honestly with others when you’re menstruating, ovulating or in the in-between, as if it is the most normal and natural thing in the world, which of course, it is.
I telepathically fist-pumped actress Jennifer Lawrence when she shared in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar that the motivating factor behind her Golden Globes dress was that “awards season is synced with my menstrual cycle… this dress was loose at the front… I’m not going to suck in my uterus. I don’t have to do that.” No J-Law, you do not have to suck in your uterus (literally or figuratively) and nor do any of us.
It is in these simple moments of sharing that we can have a huge impact!
When artist and poet Rupi Kaur instagrammed a photo of herself lying in bed with a small blood stain on the back of her pants, she was promptly reported, censored and the photo was removed from the social media platform (twice!) citing a violation of ’community standards’.
The response from the online world was polarising; comments (from both men and women) slammed her for being ‘weird’ and ‘gross’, while others celebrated her work and called for the end of discriminative, unjust guidelines on social media (ie. why are we more comfortable seeing scantily-clad women then we are seeing a spot of menstrual blood on a bed?) but Rupi’s response was excellent: ‘thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique… I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak. When your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified. and treated less than human.’ At the time of writing, that particular photo (now reinstated) has 89,300 likes and almost 16,000 comments. Now that is a powerful menstruation conversation!
I feel like I’m merely scratching the surface here.
How, where, when, why and what you choose to share with the world is up to you. One of the many reasons that I love our Adore Your Cycle private Facebook group is the array of interesting articles and conversation that’s shared on a daily basis; from menstrual artists to protesting the tampon tax to cheering each other on as we choose to give our pads pride of place in the shopping trolley, rather than disguising them under the celery. It’s the big things, but it’s also the little things. And you can totally do it.
And tell me in the comments, how do you feel about talking about periods with the world? Does it feel important to you? How have you seen others doing it in an empowering way?
Love Claire x