The art shown in the cover picture of this article has been created by Crafts and Cramps , a Berlin based organization/ artist collective to end the stigma around menstruation
May 28th is a day for feminist activism: Today is #MenstruationHygieneDay, a day to fight for ending the global stigma on menstruation, period poverty and the lack of education on menstruation (hygiene). I had not been aware of the global movement challenging the negative, shame-ridden and discriminatory perception of menstruation. But obviously, I have been well-aware of the period stigma, the feeling of shame, embarrassment and being unclean, the fear that traces of blood will show through my pants, the disgust of bloody underwear, bedsheets or seats, the laughter of others (boys and girld), the pain (oh the pain!) an the deep, unbearable sadness and exhausting emotional roller-coaster of PMS (premenstrual syndrome).
Long enough I felt as if I were a victim of my body and her hormone production. A victim, in fact, of my feminity which I otherwise loved so much. It took me a good decade of monthly bleeding to accept my period and all the physical and mental ups and downs of my cycle as a part of me (Still waiting for the day of a painless period).
This is particularly sad, because my initial reaction to the first droplets of blood in my panties had been an exhilarating mixture of astonishment, anxiety and pride. I had my mother to help me through the first moment of shock, equip me with all the pads, tampons, hot water bottles and chocolate I could potentially need and wrote into my diary: “Dear diary, it has happened – I am a woman now and feel very different. It is crazy to think that I could make a baby now.” I had been equally excited for my axillary and pubic hair to grow – signs of growing up – and realized with all these things quickly and brutally that the transition from childhood into womanhood is tough, agonizing and full of judgement. A day after I had discovered my first period blood it was my best friend’s best birthday, celebrated at a lake. I did not feel like swimming. This was the first (of many) times of me feeling left out, because of “well, you know”. The monthly (open, yet never articulated) secret felt heavy on my shoulder from then in, its only advantage seemingly being to get out of sports class without further questions asked.
A decade of menstruation and feminist empowerment and I got sick and tired of hiding the fact – and with it an essential part of myself – that I am a woman menstruating. I have come to terms with it, try to plan my life accordingly and do not await the day of the blood with anxiety. It has made my life a lot easier, because I can ask other women for an emergency hygiene product when the blood flows early (fun-yet-sad story: In airport it is easier to buy lingerie than menstruation products. I once went shopping for an underpanty in Istanbul airport, when all I could get from a fellow traveller had been a pad to large to fit into my own slip. Only time for me buying Victoria Secret underwear. Did you know they had high waisted “granny panties” with fun prints? Fanciest period panty I have owned ever since).
Being comfortable with my period also means to accept PMS, the pain and the feeling of discomfort and treating myself during those tough days with indulgence. It means that I say “Today I simply cannot, because my uterus is killing me” and to crawl back into bed whenever possible.
Yet, I am able to do all those things, because my environment enables me to take up that room during my period, is understanding (if baffled at my first mentioning) and supportive. I have the luxury to give me and my period the space we need. Most women do not have that privilege (alone the fact that I frame this as “privilege” and not a goddamn precondition to LIFE is infuriating!). Period poverty (I have linked info down below) denies menstruating girls and women the access to menstrual hygiene products and with it the access to normal life. Girls are being left alone when the blood first begins flowing, uneducated. Bleeding out of your vagina and the accomodating cramps, bloats and headaches are SCARY and even more so if you do not have anybody to comfort you. At work, nobody cares if you are being torn apart from the inside and your head is dizzy, because of “women things”.
For me, my mother had provided me with (empowering) sex-ed literature even before my menstruation began. She was there for all my questions. At least at home, the period had never been a taboo.
Menstruations are normal. It is simple biology. This is how our bodies function. But with so many “female-only” businesses women are left alone and shamed. In fact, menstruation is not a women’s thing alone. It is a necessary element of the human reproduction cycle. But societies and politics at large never bother much with mothers, and even less about women who decide against motherhood.
but, this is not about the fake appreciation of motherhood, the unequal care burden-sharing on women, the commercialization of pregnancy and birth, the taunting bans on abortion and birth or all the 1 billion other daily discriminations women are challenged with daily, because “it is a private affair”.
This text is about menstruation, menstruation hygiene and the shocking lack of knowledge on all uterus-related conditions among societies and physicians.
Menstruations are normal, several 100 million girls and women all over the world bleed each day. Yet, the stigma surrounding it deprives women of so much, starting with self-respect and self-love and moving on to the access to equal opportunities.
Menstruations are normal and a crucial part of the “circle of life”, yet dangerously under-researched. There is not “the one” period. All women, their bodies and their hormones are impacted differently by menstruation.
Imagine if men would bleed and suffer once a month. I bet you our societies would long be designed to accomodate their needs and to herald the pride that is the monthly flow. Imagine properly equipped toilet stalls (hello sink!), paid period leave, health insurance covered access to hygiene products and so on. But as usual, where women are concerned the political response is weak.
May 28th is one out of 365 days to fight for the normalization and de-stigmatisation of the period. Let the activism flow strong!
Period Poverty: All you need to know (by Global Citizen Organisation)
More Information on the Menstrual Hygiene Day Organisation and their activities all year round