The Trouble with Period Shaming
I had sex while I was on my period once. And never will I do it ever again. The guy involved wasn’t at all grossed out. He was actually surprised to hear me say we’re never doing that again. It grossed me out. It smelled bad. I didn’t have fun.
Let’s face it ladies: Our periods are gross. They’re painful, they’re annoying, and yes, they smell bad. But does that really mean we’re ashamed of them? There’s a substantial movement to end “period shaming.” Some of the grievances of this movement are valid, while some are completely ridiculous. So let’s try to separate the legitimate from the excessive.
Period shaming is serious stuff in places like the third world. When a lack of access to proper supplies for the management of women’s periods collides with their culture not being accepting of periods it creates a really bad situation. In places like Nepal, women are expected to stay outside while they are menstruating, even sleeping in sheds. They are told if they enter the house while menstruating, everyone will get sick, the gods will be angry, and their hands will curl up and become deformed. Apparently 1 in 5 girls in India drops out of school when they start menstruating. This guy even taped a bag of animal blood to himself to aid in inventing a solution for the lack of affordable menstruation supplies in India.
So in this sense, period shaming is some serious stuff. Helping women access proper supplies in parts of the world where they aren’t accessible should be a priority. And educating people about menstruation would be a huge help too.
So what do we have in the western world? Well, nobody’s banishing us to sheds or spinning crazy tales about deformed hands. But we’ve made a really big deal out of the “Tampon Tax.” People are calling it a luxury tax, but the reality, at least in the US, is that tampons are subject to sales tax in most states. People pay sales tax on all kinds of stuff, and a lot of that stuff could be considered a basic necessity. Sales tax laws can get a little ridiculous. In Texas, prepared food is taxed while unprepared food isn’t. So if you buy a frozen burrito and the store heats it up for you, that’s taxable. But if you heat it up yourself it isn’t. On the list of taxable items in Texas? Diapers, toothpaste, school supplies, toilet paper, and yes, tampons. So let’s not blow it out of proportion and say the government is straight up oppressing us just because we’re women. There are a ton of things subject to sales tax that can be considered basic necessities for both genders. But things like sunscreen, acne medicine, hemorrhoid treatments and even ice cream are tax exempt in Texas. So I don’t think it would be that big of a deal to add tampons to that list.
So with that out of the way, it seems that in the western world women are still ashamed of their periods. Kiran Gandhi gained some notoriety when she ran a marathon while free bleeding. To be fair, she had a good reason. She had heard about men’s nipples bleeding from just their shirts chafing them while running long distances. She had a friend who put a tampon in her bra while running and still has a scar from the chafing. Kiran had never run while on her period before. It was 26 miles. She probably pictured those stories of chafing and then thought about the inside of her vagina and…
This is totally understandable, and I can’t say that if I were in her situation I wouldn’t have done the same thing. So she didn’t do it as some brave political statement. But then of course it got turned into a political statement. It was used to ask questions like why should we be ashamed of something so natural? Why should we have to cover this up just because it makes other people uncomfortable?
Yeah, about that. While menstrual blood is merely blood mixed with a lining of your uterus being expelled when no baby showed up to need it, it’s still a bodily fluid coming out of an orifice. Humans have problems with coming into contact with other human’s bodily fluids. Especially if those humans are strangers. For centuries humans have spit on each other as an insult. Why? Probably because it’s gross. Also because it involves forcing someone else to come into contact with a personal bodily fluid without their consent. It’s considered rude and gross to pick your nose and wipe the resulting boogers on whatever seat you happen to be sitting on at the time. So it makes total sense that people would be grossed out by your period, especially if you walk around with a giant blood stain between your legs.
And no, there’s not a whole lot of scientific evidence of menstrual blood posing a great health risk to people if someone were to decide to free bleed in public. But is that really going to stop people from being grossed out by possibly touching the bodily fluids of a total stranger? Science has devoted a lot of time to proving you aren’t at risk for contracting diseases from toilet seats. But that doesn’t stop women from hovering over the damn things and getting pee everywhere. How many pee covered toilet seats have you encountered in your life? How many women are hovering over public toilets right now as you’re reading this, regardless of the fact that science says their balancing act is completely pointless?
I think most everyone agrees shitting is gross. How many women wait for others in a public bathroom to leave before they tear up the toilet? How many women say they need to pee when in reality they need to take a big steamy dump? Do we pay attention to this shame? Well, a quick Google search for “shit shaming” yielded a Huff Po article about open defecation, as in, trying to convince people to stop doing it. And if you didn’t realize that was a thing here’s this. You’re welcome.
But anyway, it doesn’t appear as though poop shaming is something feminists are concerned about. Maybe because men poop too? I can’t help but wonder if this is indicative of our ability to be ashamed or sensitive about a lot of things. And excessively so. Men talk about pooping and farting all the time, despite constantly being told by the women in their lives that it’s gross and they should stop. This does not deter them. So why are women deterred by men expressing disgust at their periods? Haven’t we moved into a new era where we’re strong and independent and don’t care what other people think?
No, apparently we’ve moved into an era where we feel entitled to deny men consent on even having to hear about our periods. I’ve heard a lot of talk about how it’s just not okay for a man to refuse to hear about our periods, and I think it’s ridiculous. We don’t have ultimate authority over other humans just because we’re women and we uniquely experience this special kind of monthly hell that men don’t. We all have the right to refuse to talk about certain topics with the people in our lives, regardless of gender.
This whole campaign to remove every ounce of shame from our lives is forgetting that shame serves a valuable purpose sometimes. You wanna free bleed all over your bus seat? At least have the decency to wipe that shit up after you get up. Of course I don’t think any less of you because the lining is being shed from your uterus because that happens to me on a monthly basis as well. But that doesn’t mean I want to come in contact with the fluids of a complete stranger on my way to get coffee in the morning. It doesn’t mean I’m going to celebrate you as a heroic champion of some great cause if you made a conscious choice not to wear a tampon or pad today.
So to recap, banishing women to sheds because they are menstruating is bad. Women having to give up important parts of their lives like school because of menstruation is bad. Sales tax on tampons is kinda retarded considering all the other products that are tax exempt so we should just quit fighting about it and add it to the exemption list. But people do have the right to be grossed out by your period. It doesn’t mean they think badly of you. It just means they’re human and they don’t want to be around your bodily fluids. They have the right to refuse to hear about your cramps if they don’t want to. Just like you have the right to refuse to hear about the gigantic dump they took while on the clock at work today. So stand down on the petty things, and let’s help those poor girls in Nepal get out of the shed.