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Menstruation: Let’s talk about it

Judy Grahn, an American poet, wrote: “Menstrual Blood is the only blood that is not traumatically induced. Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken about and almost never seen…”.

Menstruation stigma is a form of sexism. With negative taboos surrounding us, society has understood menstruation to be something not talked about, kept hidden and nameless, or worse, referred to using codenames.

But why is it that we hesitate to say the word? When did codenaming become a thing? Menstrual euphemisms and taboos are old. They date back to the early formation of a society navigating religion and beliefs.

The release of the first Latin Encyclopedia reads, “Contact with [menstrual blood] turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.”

This literature seems to have penetrated the minds of our ancestors, along with certain other religious scriptures, such as the Bible and the Quran, which use the word “unclean”. Menstruation, after all, existed even before language, religion, and beliefs.

Therefore, the taboo has likely to have been formed even before this time, as language was based around the major functions of early evolving humans. These were primarily hunting, survival, reproduction and biological functions like birth, death and sex. The problem could therefore most likely be sourced to patriarchal constructs and their evolution in society.

Patriarchy is unfortunately very much prevalent in modern society. The influence of patriarchy in menstruation is apparent in the way in which we deliver sex education classes, come up with codenames for periods like chums, aunt flow, time of the month among others, when talking about them.

When friends and acquaintances were asked for their experiences, one said: “Growing up I was told my body was unclean when I was on my period and I was a “germ-carrier” and hence was not allowed to touch anything or sit in religious ceremonies, or even pray in my own home or visit temples.”

Another commented: “Let’s just say that when my cousin would tell me she “couldn’t swim” I would assume she just was being annoying about not wanting to get wet. I didn’t understand this till I was 16.”

“In school I could only talk to one person about being on my period but at home my family were completely fine talking about it, but I know that my family are an exceptional and rare case.”

“I never slept over at my boyfriend’s, on my period, just out of fear I’d stain his sheets.”

“My mum was pretty open about it, but I grew up with brothers and it was never okay for them to go get me pads from the store. But eventually as they grew up, they agreed to go buy me pads.”

“My worst nightmare was staining my school skirt and I would constantly go to the toilets and change pads so often, even if they weren’t full, just out of paranoia.”

These conversations justify the fact that patriarchy is very much a factor when it comes to talking about and addressing menstruation. This is where some revolutionary mass communication movements have a place in art, literature, media, and film. Their aim is to debunk these constructs, talk about, and show off period blood like never before.

Feminist work by Judy Chicago and Vanessa Tiegs’ “Menstrala”, the “Blood Normal” campaign are some examples that are changing the way we think about menstruation.

Menstruation is a biological function that takes place all around us. Our role in society is to not discourage those who menstruate by excluding them, making them uncomfortable, and making periods a negative experience but to say it as it is and treat it like the scientifically occurring phenomena that it is.

Image: Katie Moore