Power to the Period: How to Tackle the Taboo
by Alicia Lalicon
Indicative of healthy reproductive functioning and fertility, menstruation is a natural process for women, girls, and all those who have the biological capability to menstruate. However natural, some still perceive menstruation as a taboo topic for everyday conversation and even academic discussion. Here are some steps you can take in order for you to tackle the taboo of menstruation, and celebrate power to the period:
DO become comfortable being in possession of menstrual products when necessary. DON’T use menstrual products for shock value.
We’ve all had experience with “the exchange”: the swift and--hopefully--inconspicuous transfer of a tampon or pad from your purse to a friend’s pocket at school or while out with friends. Taking such measures to hide your menstrual status can be unnecessary. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone sees evidence that you’re menstruating and, most likely, you both go about your day. And if that’s the worst thing that happens in your day, you’ve had a pretty good day.
I’ve heard stories of girls sticking pads on cars in the style of post-it April Fool’s Day pranks, in order to make the owner of the car (a male) uncomfortable or embarrassed. A girl tied an unused tampon to her car keys to “gross out” her brother enough that he wouldn’t ask to borrow the car. Using menstrual products in this way reinforces the topic of menstruation as one of disgust or inherently inappropriate.
DO talk to young girls about menstruation factually. DON’T tell young girls that it’s a burden that interferes with general living.*
Adolescents and adults who have negative attitudes towards menstruation have most likely received negative information about it throughout their lives, or a lack of information. If all young girls know about menstruation is that blood with escape from a private region of their body for an average of five days, they will not understand it as a potentially positive experience. This isn’t the mindset they need when approaching something biologically natural and usually very tolerable, albeit with some preparation. Educating these girls about the facts of menstruation -that it’s a sign of healthy general and reproductive functioning- can change their outlook on a process that they’ll be experiencing for decades. It can be a minor inconvenience to have to sit out a pool party or check your purse for tampons before going out, but if it means that your body is functioning well, it’s worth it.
DO attribute menstruation to biology. DON’T use menstruation as a mark of being a woman.
Using menstruation as a means of distinguishing men from women may seem intuitive, but it’s potentially offensive. Many women or those who identify as female can’t or don’t menstruate, whether due to lack of appropriate physical structures, hormonal causes, abnormal health conditions, or the choice to engage in menstrual suppression. Most women do menstruate (or are capable of doing so) and most menstruators are women. However, believing or using certain language to indicate that menstruation “makes” one a woman or women must menstruate can have detrimental consequences to the emotional health or identities of some individuals.
DO feel open to use the terms ‘menstruation’, ‘menstrual cycle’, or ‘period’*. DON’T restrict yourself to using obscure euphemisms (‘on the rag’, ‘TOM’, ‘Aunt Flow’).
*‘Period’ is technically a euphemism, but it has been used so interchangeably with ‘menstruation’ that ‘period’ itself has developed similar language taboo.
A discussion addressing the taboo associated with menstruation cannot take place if one refuses to address it by name. By instead calling it ‘TOM’ or referencing a visit from ‘Aunt Flow’, the idea is reinforced that people shouldn’t say what is it, much less speak about it intellectually. Calling menstruation by its scientific title shows you’re able to talk about it for what it is, factually and maturely, and this can potentially instill the same mindset in others.
*I recognize that using the term ‘girls’ to describe potential menstruators excludes a wide population of individuals who menstruate, but for the sake of simplicity in writing, I continue to use ‘girls’. I apologize for any inconvenience my language choices may cause.
Alicia is a 20 year old senior at The College of New Jersey, with a major in Psychology and minor in Women's and Gender Studies. In addition to writing for Her Culture, she is a writer and editor at The Prospect and Vice President Internal of TCNJ Barkada (Filipino culture club).