Let’s talk about periods. The female kind.
As a strong supporter of women and girls, I’m a big believer in removing the stigma of women’s periods, which hurts them in so many ways. After all, half the world’s population has to deal with them a dozen times a year, for 40 years. But it’s something we never talk about.
Menstruation is hardly a common discussion topic, certainly not in polite circles, and certainly not by men. This’s exactly why men need to talk about it and be much more supportive.
Avoiding the topic, making crude jokes, or embarrassing girls are exactly what causes period poverty, makes period products taxable, and creates serious stigmas around the world. Don’t do this, and don’t let your kids do this.
In many counties, girls on their period can’t go to school, nor cook. In some places, they can’t even be in the house (see Wikipedia on Menstruation Huts). Imagine the damage done to a girl’s self-worth, education, and future prospects, when every month you’re told you’re dirty, unworthy, or worse.
In addition, since it’s such a taboo topic in many places, girls are often never taught the basics of why they are suddenly bleeding, how reproduction works in general, or how to avoid pregnancy, in particular. This surely helps no one.
Even where it’s taught in schools around age 10-12, the Internet is rife with strange & just plain wrong info, causing stress, stigma, or worse. Teaching the topic and discussing it in a plain-spoken way is important all the way around.
We also need to be teaching boys about periods. What they are, why they happen, and frankly, how to think about them. These days, boys are really never taught about periods, so they just hear bad or wrong things on the playground, especially that it’s icky or gross, and good fodder for jokes to embarrass girls.
Remember, these boys are mostly girls’ future partners, so this is the time to build understanding, respect, and support. Right from the beginning. And to dispel myths.
For example, my eight-year-old son asked matter-of-factly why mommy bleeds. So I matter-of-factly explained the whole process, including when and why it happens. He asked questions, gets it, and hopefully will always have respect and empathy for women in general, and at that time of the month, in particular. No big deal.
The goal is to have men and women treat periods like another body function, something necessary and generally private, though it occasionally spills over into work or public life, due to cramps, leaks, etc. And when that happens, for others, especially boys and men, to have empathy and be supportive - even if they have to run to the store to buy Ibuprofen and a pad or two. No big deal.
And if a girl (or woman) is having really bad cramps, she should be able to say she needs to opt-out of some activity, etc., at school, at work, or with friends, by just saying it’s that time of the month.
Other folks, especially men (and boys at school), should accept that and be supportive, such as ‘no problem, I hope you feel better soon”. We’re pretty far from that today, at least in much of the USA, though it’s less of an issue in some places like China, where I’m writing from (and where bodily functions are discussed much more openly).
Period Poverty is also a real challenge in many countries. For the unaware, period poverty is when poor girls can’t afford pads or tampons. This affects millions of girls in developing countries, plus many in middle-income places like China and India, too.
Sadly, many caregivers (or men who earn the family money) will buy other things, including beer, before they’ll spend money on their daughter’s basic needs. This, in turn, often leaves girls unable to keep themselves clean, go to school, or really feel like first-class citizens.
For example, in South Africa, about 30% of girls don’t attend school during their period because they cannot afford sanitary products. We should be scandalized by this - can you imagine your daughters missing 25% of their school for want of a pad?
Fortunately, there is progress on this front, as various countries and NGOs work to end period poverty, to educate families, and remove these persistent stigmas. In addition, some countries and US states are removing sales taxes on female products and/or are providing them for free in school and other bathrooms.
By the way, your company should also be providing free feminine sanitary products in your work bathrooms, be they in an office, factory, or construction site. It’s a simple thing, as we provide toilet paper in every bathroom for bodily needs, so why can’t we provide sanitary products for female needs, too?
Simple, inexpensive, and shows respect for the women on your team. Do it today.
Period Pain & Empathy
Nearly every woman of a certain age has periods. While most manage them as part of their everyday lives, some have serious pain and other issues that really impact their life and work. There is not much they can do about it, other than often-problematic painkillers, so please have empathy and be supportive, such as when they need days off from work, or your help in other areas.
I wrote about this previously in “Give Women Time Off For Painful Periods?” and some folks complained and asked why women should get time off or reduced workloads when men never get this. This is an absurd argument, especially when we expect women to carry the far, far higher burden of pregnancy, but can’t seems to give a few a break here and there to deal with their health.
Free the Period
In the end, what can you do?
Don’t stigmatize periods nor make jokes about them, or make girls uncomfortable, etc. Frown on those who do.
Support period poverty efforts to provide free or untaxed feminine products when and where needed. Educate men who stand in the way of this.
Teach kids, especially boys, correctly about menstruation, just as you should be teaching them about their bodies, sex, etc. Emphasize empathy & support.
Recognize many men know nearly nothing about this topic, so gently educate them on the need for respect, empathy, and support.
Support efforts in your community and around the world to educate, support, and empower girls in all areas, especially around their periods, their bodies, and their control over their future.
Let’s free the period, period.
Have you educated your kids properly about periods?
Is there Period Poverty in your community that you can help alleviate?
If you’re a man, are you empathetic at that time of the month for the women in your life, school, or work? Or do you make jokes, complain, or speak disparagingly about it?
References & Resources
Period.org - A global non-profit organization fighting to end period poverty and stigma through service, education, and advocacy.
WikiHow: How to Explain Menstruation to Boys