Periods: Why Do We Suffer In Silence?
Pain. Sharp, throbbing, and mind-numbingly insistent. All too often- this is the monthly greeting I and countless others receive from our bodies, telling us that a certain dreaded time has begun.
The menstrual cycle is something that occurs approximately every 28 days. Before actual menstruation occurs, several chemicals are released into the body, including estrogen and progesterone. Every day for somewhere around three to seven days to a week, menstruation occurs. This is when the lining of one’s uterus is shed over the course of those days through the vagina. Which means bleeding. A lot of it.
Unsurprisingly, periods drastically impact the daily lives of those who have them. Depending on the individual, they can cause debilitating cramps, headaches, chills, soreness, bloating, fatigue, mood swings, and a variety of other symptoms. Heavy bleeding can stain clothes, and the need to constantly change one’s pad, tampon, or menstrual cup forces one to constantly have supplies on hand, and plan their day around the period. This constant need for supply takes a financial toll as well. These products are a necessity, and not a luxury, though there are still places in the world where they are treated as such. For those of us who go through this, much of our life energy is dedicated to preparing for and experiencing our periods. So why do we act as if it doesn’t exist?
Throughout human history, there has been a profound stigma against periods around the globe. This is very much tied up in misogyny, as many of the people who have periods identify as women. Historically, menstruation has been viewed as “unclean”, and has been a source of both shame and ridicule. In The United States of America, this stigma hasn’t gone away. Most of us know periods exist, we just don’t acknowledge it. Even when speaking about it, we go to great lengths to dance around the term, using phrases like “that time of the month” and “code red”, as if “period” or “menstruation” were dirty words!
Since I was thirteen, I have been conditioned to hide the fact that I was on my period from most people. I recall slipping tampons into my shirtsleeves to hide them, lying about the real reason I would go home “sick” from school, and hearing constant snide remarks about “emotional” women who “must be on their you-know-what”. This dangerous stereotype works to invalidate the responses or opinions of women by playing into the “hysterical woman” stereotype, and this stereotype works to hinder women from being put into positions of power to this day. Refusing to address the reality of menstruation lends itself to lack of education on the subject, and this can come especially dangerous, especially when topics such as birth control are involved. Many people take birth control in order to aid in their fight against extreme period symptoms, such as hormonal acne, heavy bleeding, and cramps. However, birth control is often construed as a frivolous luxury instead of a medical necessity. Without open discussion and facts, misinformation and stereotypes are allowed to run wild, and many of these end up being internalized by those who menstruate as well. So how to we make things better?
The first step that all of us can take is displaying methods of being open and honest about the topic. Of course, every person has their own comfort level with what they feel like they can discuss. The thing to remember in this is to promote an anti-shame environment in ourselves first and foremost, and then for others. Instead of using all of those funny replacement phrases, we could start by saying what we mean, using the actual words. Or maybe the next time we hear a derogatory phrase about menstruation, we alert the person who said it that their words weren’t funny. Or we could be open about period symptoms, and be sympathetic to those who suffer from them. After all, periods are a natural part of life, and they deserve to be treated as such.
Written by Gracie Nordgren