The Dirty Truth About The Way We View Menstruation
The menstrual cycle – a woman’s monthly bleeding, shedding the lining of the uterus, can be a joyous occasion for some. However, the regulatory body function holds negative connotations in many societies around the world.
In the English-speaking world, we’ve developed nicknames from “parting the red sea” to “Carrie at the prom” and “massacre at the Y.” Such nicknames conjure up feelings of disgust, discomfort, and pain.
According to researchers, society makes women feel shameful, unclean, and inferior about menstruation. Because menstruation is still a taboo topic, some related health issues are not addressed properly. Jennifer Weiss-Wolf explains, “Around the globe, managing menstruation can be a debilitating, even deadly, problem – fueled by a combination of poverty, misinformation, stigma and superstition.”
In many parts of the world, education and societal attitudes regarding menstruation are based on myths and misinformation (See Kat Lazo’s discussion on how menstruation is reflected in the U.S. media). However, there are many writers, artists, organizations, and even companies trying to change those attitudes. For example, remember HelloFlo’s hilarious camp gyno advertisement? This more recent period party themed advertisement will make you laugh as well.
We call this being “period positive.”
What Does It Mean To Be Period Positive?
To refer to someone or something as “period positive” signifies that it addresses menstrual cycles in a way that gives accurate and honest information, without shame, humiliation, or ridicule. Chella Quint (see her Ted Talk), the founder of the #periodpositive project and the comic Adventures in Menstruating, says:
“If you are period positive, this means you are willing to confidently ask and/or frankly answer questions about periods, understand the importance for menstruators to chart their cycle and treat it as a vital sign, avoid passing on shame to others, and if you joke about it, that you make sure menstruators aren’t the butt of the joke.”
Despite the generally negative treatment of periods, there are many examples of period positiveness around the world.
Examples Of Period Positiveness Around The World
Menstrual Hygiene Day – Worldwide
An idea developed after May 2013 when WASH United promoted 28 days of menstruation awareness called #MENSTAVAGANZA, May 28 Menstrual Hygiene Day works to “bring together individuals, organizations, social businesses and the media to create a united and strong voice for women and girls around the world, helping to break the silence around menstrual hygiene management.”
On this day, organizations around the globe are encouraged to host events to bring light to menstrual hygiene and put an end to the social taboo surrounding it. With over 150 partners, and celebrations in over 15 countries in 2014, the initiators hope to continue its growth. On their website one can find toolkits and other education resources.
El Camino Rubí – Spain
On the main page of El Camino Rubi’s website, founder Erika Irusta says, “Menstruar nunca ha molado tanto y yo te lo voy a demostrar” (Menstruation has never been cooler, and I’m going to demonstrate it). The project, managed by Irusta, promotes menstrual education and body appreciation through personal online sessions, group workshops (virtual and in person), and publications with the goal of helping women understand their menstrual cycles, destroy myths and even enjoy being on their periods. She argues “Menstruar en esta sociedad es toda una aventura. No somos defectuosas” (Menstrating in this society is an adventure. We aren’t imperfect).
Menstrupedia Comic – India
Menstrupedia is an online information guide to menstruation, focusing especially on shattering cultural taboos. Published by the project, the comic is meant to help young girls “learn about menstruation in a fun and easy way.” The comic book includes colorful illustrations, easy to understand science, and practical information. Affected by the way her family treated menstruation (“an unspeakable curse”), founder Aditi Gupta was still unaware of many facts about it even in adulthood. Together with her husband’s curiosity, her search led to the founding of Menstrupedia, aiming to promote awareness, factual information, and dialog, especially with males.
StainsTM – United Kingdom/Ireland
Created by Adventures in Menstruating and #PeriodPositive founder Chella Quint, StainsTM “leak chic” is a creative endeavor that seeks to remove the shame related to leaking during one’s period. Recently part of a BLOOD exhibit at Science Gallery Dublin, StainsTM is a “A removable stain to wear on your own clothing as you see fit. A fashion statement that really says something.” Quint says,
“Screw you, Madison Avenue. I’m taking this one back. I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve and my blood on my pants. I’m gonna reclaim the stain, reclaim my blood, and reclaim my period. Because people, I’m telling you red is the new black.”(First printed in Adventures in Menstruating #5, December 2009, by Chella Quint.)
On its website, you can download iron-on transfer sheets, put the StainsTM on your clothes, and take photos to use for social media with the hashtag #periodpositive.
There Will Be Blood – Sweden/United Kingdom
London-based Swedish Photographer Enma Arvida Bystrom plays with the title of the film by Paul Thomas Anderson in this photography series. Challenging assumptions about female behavior while menstruating, the photographs show females performing everyday activities- listening to music, running, or waiting for a bus- while not hiding the blood on their pants or running down their legs. Instead of hiding their bodily functions, the females in the photographs are not ashamed.
The Moon Inside You – Slovakia
This menstruation documentary (See trailor in English or full movie in Spanish), exposes the way societies fail to give information to pre-pubescent children, myths surrounding women’s bodies, and the pain that many women may feel. Speaking with experts in six countries, the documentary makes it clear that young girls are not given accurate information and are often felt restricted with regards to with whom and how they can discuss their cycles. Director Diana Fabiánová (see her Ted Talk) seeks to remove menstruation as a “hidden topic” and create more awareness around how the shame and embarrassment causes lasting damaging effects. The Moon Inside You had such success that she developed a new project specifically for teens titled Monthlies.
Still looking for more? Check out this period positive art:
Carina Ubeda, of Chile share her project “Paños.”
Morgan Hecht also has written about 5 menstrual art projects you should check out.
Allison Yates received a B.A. from Indiana University in International Studies. She is currently teaching English in Spain and is interested in researching cross-cultural relationships, sexual education, and violence prevention.