Changing the Culture of Menstruation

I previously wrote a blog post pointing out the stigma associated with female menstruation and it is obvious that this is a problem. It is prevalent in our cultures all over the world as well as in our media.  Menstruation is portrayed as a dirty or polluting influence for females.  It wasn’t until July 2011 that a feminine product company used red to represent menstruation blood, most companies continue to use blue as a representative color. [1]  The stigma has been such a large part of our society for so long it will difficult to change. But it is through efforts such as the VICE a photo series by photographer Emma Arvida Bystrom. [2]  The series is an extreme effort to fight the stigma, but there are several other options that we have as a society to fight the taboo that has been placed on women for generations.  I would like to discuss a few things that we can do as individuals to make a difference.

‘Always’ Runs First Feminine Hygiene Ad to Show Blood

Celebration
I started my period when I was 14 years old which was a little late compared to my friends.  It seemed like such an exciting event and one of my friends who started her period earlier gave everyone “period” bags after they began menstruating. The little baggie was cloth and consisted of different feminine products and Motrin. It was something exciting and something to celebrate and I actually longed to begin my period like my friends.

I remember after I told my parents I had started my period. They took me out to a restaurant, just me and them.  It was a celebration of my womanhood and the power that I now possessed to create a life when the time came.  I am grateful for the attitude this began for me. But it wasn’t long before I forgot about the celebration and began to complain along with my friends. It was no longer new and exciting, but a burden.

What if this type of celebration were to continue on throughout one’s life? What if we always celebrated our periods as a sign of power not pollution? What if every time we got a period we gave ourselves a little treat, not a consolation for our trouble? I am not dismissing the fact that menstruation can be painful and that it can be difficult to cope with the hormones.  But if we were to change our attitude about menstruation and celebrate it when it starts and continue to celebrate it through out our lives, perhaps it would change our dread for that “time of the month” and replace it with excitement or at least appreciation.

Conversation
In the Huffington article about the Photo series by Bystrom, they discuss the different “embarrassing moments mentioned in Seventeen Magazine.  Menstruation is not a dinner table appropriate conversation and it generally discussed as a burden, dirty, smelly experience.

What if we were to change the way we discussed menstruation? I propose that we begin to change the way that we talk about menstruation, that we associate it with positive experiences, that we allow ourselves to discuss it openly and not treat it as a dirty secretive event.  What if we were to avoid complaining about our menstrual cycles and what if we were to stop joking about it in a derogatory manner?  What if we were to praise women for having their periods and talk about it in a positive manner? I believe that changing conversations will change the way we think about it and fight the verbalization of the stigma that already exists.

Confidence
Women need to have confidence when going into the bathroom with tampons. We should not hide them or be ashamed that we are on our periods. It should be an event that we are either proud of or at least a matter-of-fact about. Why are we as women so embarrassed about something that represents something so beautiful and important to human existence? If we as women were to take a stand in our actions regarding our periods and walk about with confidence in ourselves and our bodily functions then perhaps we could begin to change the stigma that has followed women for centuries.

Menstruation is something to be praised and celebrated. It is something to be looked forward to with excitement not apprehension. We should not discuss it as a dirty or embarrassing occurrence. It is our privilege as women to have the power to create another human being inside us and menstruation is just a manifestation of that power.  I know that if we begin to do these things, if we change our conversations, if we celebrate our periods and are not afraid to show that we are menstruating women and proud of it.

References

[1] Stampler, Laura. Always Runs First Feminine Hygiene Ad To Show Blood
The Huffington Post, July, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/always-runs-first-feminin_n_891546.html

[2] Gray, Emma. Menstruation Taboo Challenged By VICE ‘There Will Be Blood’ Series. May 2012.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/emma-gray/menstruation-taboo-vice-there-will-be-blood-photos_b_1528826.html

—CKL

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6 thoughts on “Changing the Culture of Menstruation

  1. GoodReason says:

    This brings back some nice memories. i gave my daughter a “period party,” and we invited women she admired. They each gave her a gift (not a bought gift) that symbolized to them why it was wonderful to be a woman. We had red velvet cake, and I gave her a necklace I had made that had a stone for each stage of a good woman’s life. And then we sang songs, such as “Ancient Mother” by Libana. Great, great memories . . .

  2. CMF says:

    Awesome, CKL! I’ll admit that having my bi-monthly acne breakouts (ovulation and menstruation) don’t leave me feeling like I want to celebrate, but I love the idea of celebrating womanhood any way possible! Thanks for the link to the photo essay as well, I really enjoyed the simplicity and matter-of-factness/finding beauty in the ordinary element to them.

    And GoodReason, I have mother-daughter relationship envy. You guys had something special. I avoided telling my stepmom when I got my period and all in all it was fairly embarrassing and otherwise uneventful. I think that both what your parents did, CKL, and your experience, GoodReason, are both excellent examples to work from going forward!

  3. Chelsea says:

    I had a similar experience as CMF when I had my period. Growing up I would ask my mom about things like the tampons & pads, or random blood I noticed every once in a while in the bathroom. She said she would explain when I was older. This made it seemed like a taboo subject. When I had my period I was embarrassed I kept it secret from my mother and my friends. I don’t think she figured it out until the next month. I wish we were more open about it, I think I would have been able to appreciate myself more at 13 years old. It took me a while to talk about it openly with even girlfriends. Thanks Crys for talking about this and great suggestions!

  4. Jessica says:

    Great post. I think we need to change the way we think about it. We talk about all sorts of fun things at our meals. But I think I will be more intentional at making it a positive experince.

  5. CPC says:

    I have actually missed having a period…. I have only had one in three years due to pregnancy/breastfeeding. I have always appreciated my period, but I also did not start until I was 16 and it has always been light and easy to deal with. I hope I can instill the same appreciation in my daughter! And we will definitely throw her a little party and take her to dinner or to buy a new outfit, whatever she wants and needs from us at the time. Although she is only two months old, I have already been telling her how wonderful it is to be a woman. I hope I can be a good example of womanhood and teach her to love her body and it’s creative potential!

  6. Katie says:

    Great post! When I got my first period I didn’t tell anyone for months. Not even my mom. I had strongly picked up on the vibe that it was embarrassing and not to be talked about. It actually took my husband to start changing this mindset in me. He has always been confused about why there is such a social stigma about it and feels bad for women that a normal and natural bodily process has to be so hushed up. Thanks again for the great post and great ideas.

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