When was the last time you watched a movie and heard a woman complain about her period staining her sheets? Or a bathroom scene where she folds a million pieces of tissue paper because her period has come unexpectedly? Or perhaps when a woman expresses frustration that her period has ruined her new underwear? Never, is probably your answer to most of these questions. Because of course, women are made to feel ashamed about anything to do with their bodies, even something as normal and natural as periods. Talking about periods in public remains a no-no and as much as I would like this to change, I’m guilty too. I talk about periods in whispers, discreetly pass a pad to a friend in need and mouthing “I’m on my period” when I feel that sudden rush of blood and think “shit, it’s come early. I hope it doesn’t ruin my clothes”.
Judy Blume’s timeless classic Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret was what saved me during my early teenage years and puberty. My mum never spoke to me about periods (or sex – but that’s a completely different conversation). When I was eleven, she handed me a Bible that was supposed to tell me everything I needed to know. I learnt fuck all about periods from the Bible but at least I had Blume to guide me and answer some of my questions.
We don’t talk about periods. Or perhaps we do, but it’s always in a hushed whisper, as if talking about your period is a crime. At school, we were taught very little about menstruation. We had a very strict nurse who came into my primary school in Nigeria and she told us to carry around a “period purse” with sanitary towels in preparation for the day that we would become women. I took my purse with me everywhere I went for almost three years, but of course, as things work out, I didn’t have it on the day I started my period. And once I’d got my period, I felt an overwhelming sense of shame. I went to the pharmacy on my own and I was confused – why were there so many options? I felt like everybody was judging me, like people knew and were thinking “She’s just got her period”. In the end, I bought pads similar to the ones I’d seen in my parents’ bedroom. It was a big mistake; I might as well have folded a t-shirt and put it in my pants. Until I found the courage to ask my mum, I thought if I stayed in the shower for long enough, my period would go away (and even though I’d prayed for my period to come for years, all I wanted now was for it to go away).
The Twitter hashtag #LiveTweetYourPeriod is honest and hilarious. Again, social media has given women the medium to talk about subjects that we consider to be “taboo” in our society and I love it. Rest assured, I’ll be live tweeting my next period, because the only way we can break the stigma around periods is if we all talk about it. For some girls in other parts of the world, the stigma around periods can mean they can’t go to school and their lives are put in danger.
As Gloria Steinem said, “if men could menstruate…clearly menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event. Men would brag about how long and how much”. So ladies, let’s talk about our periods. Let’s boast about them. Let’s start a revolution so it becomes the norm to tell your boss that you might be a few minutes late for the next meeting because you need to do a quick tampon change. Let’s introduce a proper system of menstruation education in schools for boys and girls. It’s pathetic that in 2015 we are still having this conversation around periods. Let’s do away with the secrecy and have some openness, please.
PS To all the producers of adverts pad and tampons etc: my period is not blue – it’s red.