Since the dawn of time, menstruation (or having a period) is something that has been branded an inherently negative thing. It’s seen as a function that should be hidden and never spoken about. Talking about menstruation is important because it helps demystify this natural bodily function. However, we cannot truly break this taboo until we make the conversation more inclusive.
Practice speaking about periods without shame
Taboos are shameful, so it’s no surprise so many of us can’t talk about periods. Think of all the different euphemisms that exist, I mean how many ways can you avoid using the word ‘period’?! By not calling menstruation what it is, we reinforce the idea that it’s something that shouldn’t be spoken about.
Remember it’s not just cisgender women who menstruate
Menstruation is often wrongly equated only with womanhood when the reality is a number of genders can have periods. The very little sex education available often fails to explain the difference between “sex” and “gender”, so allow me to:
Sex refers to the biological differences between bodies (i.e. genitalia), whereas gender refers to an individual’s concept of themselves and for many these often don’t match.
Transgender and/or non-binary individuals have a gender identity or expression that differs from their sex assigned at birth. There is a wide spectrum of gender identities, which means not everyone who menstruates is a cisgender woman. Having a period is an experience that is highly variable and it’s important to destigmatise without excluding anyone.
So, how can you do this? By adapting your language and taking a more inclusive approach. Ditch the phrase “feminine hygiene” for “period products”. Use terms like “people who have periods” or “people who menstruate”. Remind yourself that using inclusive language takes nothing away from your individual experience. It simply helps people who are typically discriminated against feel seen and included.
Being inclusive means considering other people’s circumstances
There are many ways the current narrative surrounding periods fails us. Not only is menstruation gender-essentialist, we can’t destigmatise it fully until we talk about the many ways it can be unpleasant experience too. We have to move beyond this idea that talking about menstruation in a negative context is anti-feminist. I am the first to admit I have definitely contributed to this idea in the past. I can tell you firsthand it helps no-one.
There are plenty of reasons why somebody may not enjoy a period: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), body dysphoria, hemophobia and post-traumatic stress disorder are just a few examples of conditions that can be triggered by menstruation. However, it is also okay if you just don’t like menstruating! Not everyone who avoids having a period is keeping this taboo alive. This idea is ableist and invalidates the experiences of a great deal of people.
As long as periods are seen as taboo, the longer misinformation and myths will continue. Misinformation can lead to all sorts of challenges when it comes to menstrual management. If we don’t talk about periods, we won’t know what signs to look for. This could lead to negative health outcomes. Talking about periods helps dismantle this and encourages positive change like shorter waiting times for diagnosis’s. Inclusive periods are possible, we just need to stop alienating people when discussing them.