Period shame (and shaming) affects women worldwide. Over the past few years, with feminism increasingly going mainstream, the conversation regarding period shame has gone mainstream, too. There have been a number of initiatives to combat it – workshops, protests and even very public “free bleeding” during the London marathon. But, as shown by a conversation started by journalist and activist Vonny Leclerc this weekend, we still have a long way to go.
Leclerc called on her Twitter followers to share stories of them being shamed during their periods and the responses ranged from the disheartening to the downright dangerous, in anecdotes that included poverty, violence and bullying.
Aside from showing how little many men still know about periods, the thread reveals a society which would prefer it if women didn’t bleed at all, with one user saying she had, just recently, been asked by a male colleague if she could simply “hold it in”.
“Many years ago I suffered migraines during menstruation and a male employer suggested that instead of calling in sick, I should take the Pill constantly to avoid menstruation altogether,” Twitter user Suzanne Russell said.
Other replies showed the way in which a lack of resources make the shame for women two-fold while menstruating. One woman explained that one of the students in her school was so poor, she had been re-washing and reusing the same rag during her time of the month.
One user said she had, just recently, been asked by a male colleague if she could simply “hold it in”
Another told of how the lack of sanitary bins at her university turned toilet visits into a walk of shame. “There are far fewer women's toilets than men's. Those that are, often have one sanitary bin between three plus cubicles. You either have to wait for the 'period cubicle' or more commonly, walk with your bloody tampon/pad into the common area and put it into the bin in full sight of everyone,” said Twitter user @grumpwitch.
Internalised misogyny came up several times within responses, too, with women at times being as disgusted with menstruation as men – friends gagging at descriptions of mooncups, irritation and disgust from school nurses after a leak.
“Bleeding through onto my bedsheets when I was 14 and had another girl over to stay the night,” said novelist Melissa Harrison. “My mum absolutely bollocked me. Anger was easier for her to tolerate than embarrassment, disgust or shame.”
“To add another dimension to this, in some religions, you’re not considered clean if you are on your period, you can’t touch holy texts etc,” Muslim tweeter Talat Yaqoob said. “Vivid memory of telling a family member I had started my period (11 yrs old) and her telling me to not touch anything and run upstairs.” Her story comes in the wake of an article today by Megha Mohan, a Hindu BBC reporter, who was unable to go to a temple in Rameswaram to mourn the passing of her grandmother because she was on her period.
As shown by the tweets, the surface-level reasons behind period shaming are many – structural, economical, cultural, religious – but they, of course, remain bound by misogyny. Leclerc’s Twitter call-out scratches the surface of a multi-layered conversation, but conversation is key in ridding us of period stigma and shame. Let’s get talking.