News editor Eva Herr explains the stigma around menstruation. Staff photo: Eva Herr.
By Eva Herr
Despite the fact that menstruation effects billions of women worldwide, it is a subject that is rarely talked about or greatly stigmatized. Being a student ambassador for an organization called Femme International, which educates communities across Africa about menstrual health, showed me how in developing countries, there are customs and traditions surrounding menstruation are oppressive and can severely limit a woman’s daily life.
In Kenya women in the semi-nomadic Maasai region are not allowed to touch animals and eat animal products for fear of contamination. In Nepal, the tradition of chaupadi involves sending menstruating women to live in sheds, isolated from others and forced to endure the elements, often without access to food or clean water. This has led to illness and even death for many women in the region.
With this knowledge I examined my own society and was astonished to find menstruation is still stigmatized. While traditions like these don’t usually persist in the U.S., there is still shame associated with having your period and a silence that surround the subject. Girls hide tampons up their sleeves when walking to the bathroom the clean themselves. People make up words to avoid saying the word period: “I’m riding the crimson wave,” “It’s my time of the month,” “I got a visit from Aunt Flo.” A girl’s intellect and passion can be minimized to “being too emotional” because of her period.
Menstruation is not a disease, not a condition, and not something to be afraid of. Periods are a completely natural and healthy bodily function, so instead of using periods to minimize and embarrass girls we should celebrate this entrance to womanhood. This starts by watching what you say. If male peers, family members, and coworkers avoided grimacing at the sound of periods and blood young girls would begin to learn that their cycle is not disgusting but a normal part of being a woman. And if everyone in society would stop attributing a woman’s emotions to her period, then girls would not feel like their periods are their enemy but instead see it as a sign of female empowerment. Of all the things that limit a woman, her own body should never be one of them. Let’s change our attitude toward menstruation to ensure that girls are never limited again.