The period fallacy

by Harriet Carter | @harriet_ewc

PERIOD. Sorry, how vulgar of me! I mean actually it’s not. I’m a woman and for 2,250 to 3,000-plus days of my life I will be menstruating. So why is there an expectation I don’t mention what I spend so much time experiencing?

I realised recently I was unknowingly perpetuating this taboo in my own life. I was talking to a male friend and I wanted to say, “I’m in a shit mood for no real reason apart from the fact that I’m on my period.” I held back.

But then I had a slight epiphany. Why don’t men understand? Why haven’t we, as a society, moved past this? It’s something we all know happens, but something we are so hesitant to refer to or discuss. Is this not an important step for gender equality?

So I launched into a full-scale lecture on periods. Bar a slideshow, it was a pretty in-depth presentation. I felt as though I had given my friend a better understanding of females and he actually really appreciated it.

He was mature and gracious, just listening and asking understandable questions. “So you’re not just in a bad mood because you’re bleeding; you’re in a bad mood because of hormones affecting your brain,” was my proudest penny-drop moment, but more on that later.

The fact of the matter is women are not hairless, non-toilet using, period-free super humans. The evasion of discussing what a period actually is has bred humongous ignorance surrounding the female body and how it operates.

In 1996, Uta Pippig participated in the Boston Marathon while on her period. Even though it was evident she was experiencing cramps and had blood trickling down her legs, not one commentator could spit it out. “Physical problems” or “stomach pains” were all it was referred to as. Oh and by the way, she won the race.

Saying the word “period” seems to make people cringe. Instead we use euphemisms like “riding the crimson wave” and “Aunt Flo is visiting town”.

Dr Valerie Curtis, author of Don’t Look, Don’t Touch: the science behind revulsion has found part of the reason people are uncomfortable discussing periods is due to the evolutionary disgust of blood and other bodily fluids.

The ignorance travels even further up the ladder, all the way to federal government level. In Australia we are charged 10 per cent GST on pads and tampons because they’re deemed “non-essential”, implying sanitary items are just luxuries.

Most information (and misinformation) about periods comes from the media. We’re presented with pad and tampon adverts using a blue liquid to imply menstrual blood and periods always being the butt of the joke. Kat Lazo, a self-titled Blogging Feminist Media Activist said “periods are either a comedic punch line or a horror show”.

Let’s get something straight right here, right now. A woman on her period is receiving a sign from her body to say, ‘Hey gal, just letting you know, you’re all healthy and fertile!’ I mean I get it, blood usually means an injury. But we’re not dying, I promise.

Author Dominique Christina puts it frankly in her piece, The Period Poem.“There’s this thing called a uterus, and it sheds itself every 28 days or so,” Christina writes. An entire menstrual period releases less than half a cup of blood on average. Not too bad, ‘ey?

Period cramps are also not an unexplainable phenomenon. It’s literally the spasm of a muscle. Ever had a foot cramp? Well that’s exactly what it’s like, a foot cramp in your stomach. Sometimes it makes you keel over in pain, but it’s usually quite manageable.

I’m sure almost every woman out there who has been in a slightly irritable or bad mood around someone has been subjected to the absolutely prime joke “oh, are you on your period or something?”

Well, listen up mate. Research actually shows a female’s three key hormones – estrogen, testosterone and progesterone – all rise and fall throughout your monthly cycle. It affects your mood, energy, memory, romantic life, food cravings … the list goes on.

So if we seem shitty on our period, let’s not assume we’re whining about it. The chemicals in our brain are different to usual. Boom. Science.

As Chella Quint, a menstruation education researcher puts it, “periods can be a pain in the uterus, but sometimes it’s nice, and sometimes it’s simply no big deal”. Quint created the #periodpositive campaign which aims to “counteract the mainly negative public discourse” surrounding periods.

To be period positive means you’re willing to confidently ask and openly answer questions about periods. It means avoid shaming people about periods, and if you joke about it, make sure menstruators aren’t the butt of the joke.

So let’s chat to our dads, brothers and partners on what happens during a period. I’m not saying you have to bring it up over the dinner table, but don’t avoid the conversation as a whole.

There’s no shame in menstruation, and the more we talk about it, the less ridiculous stigma will be attached .

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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