Period shaming is when women are shamed for menstruating, explained Hannah Crofts of Huffpost, an American news and opinion website. Remarks such as “Someone’s moody, must be on your period,” and exclamations like “ew” and “gross” when responding to someone telling about their period are considered as period shaming. Period shaming is a form of sexism, but it is often overlooked and unaddressed.
It’s appalling when women are made to feel ashamed for undergoing a natural function of the body. In 2016, Donald Trump implied Megyn Kelly, a Fox News anchor, that she was on her period after grilling him in an interview. Comments such as this may prompt women to feel they can’t discuss disclose to their bosses and colleagues when they are menstruating, causing them to hide symptoms of PMS.
Young Women Are Period-Shamed
Young women suffer from verbal abuse and bullying because of their period and many of them endure in silence, according to a survey by Plan International UK, a UK branch of Plan International, cited Natasha Hinde of HuffPost. After surveying 1,000 girls, Plan International UK found that 20% of 14-21-year-old women experienced teasing around their periods and made to feel shame, with only 49% of them telling anyone about it.
One in 10 or about 10% of girls said they had been subjected to comments about being “dirt” or “disgusting,” 36% heard comments about their perceived mood or behavior, 18% faced abuse about leaking, and 15% had been teased about sanitary wear. Period shaming also affected their schooling, not just the girls’ self-esteem.
17-year-old Atlanta, from Manchester said, “I’ve been told to ‘get over it’. When my friends and I would discuss periods, boys would tell us to be quiet.” The survey found that 66% were absent for a part of a day or full day of school because of their period, with commonly cited reasons including concerns about leaking (39%), anxiety about their period (28%) and embarrassment (19%).
Of the girls who missed school due to their period, 40% of them struggled to catch up on their school work. 64% of girls missed PE or sport because of their period and of those, 52% made up a lie or excuse, stated Plan UK. 68% admitted that they felt less able to pay attention at school/college and work and 52% made up a lie or an excuse.
14% of girls admitted that they did not know what was happening when they started their periods while 26% reported that they did not know what to do when they started their period. Of those surveyed, 22% of girls felt comfortable in discussing their period with their teacher. 24% of them felt comfortable discussing it with their male friends. 29% felt comfortable talking about it with their fathers.
59% stated that they received negative remarks about their perceived behavior and mood while on their period. 12% and 11% of girls were asked not to talk about their periods in front of their mother or father, respectively. Meanwhile, 29% of girls hid or concealed their sanitary products and 71% admitted that they felt embarrassed buying sanitary products.
The Origin of Period-Shaming
In nearly all cultures, there’s a long history of menstrual taboos and these manifest in “subtle and complex ways,” said Jane Ussher, professor of Women's Health Psychology at Western Sydney University, mentioned Olivia Willis of ABC News, a television news service in Australia. She added that periods have long been associated with disgust, shame, dirt, and even fear. “Some would say that it's to do with everything in terms of the female body that's leaking and seeping, and anything that's coming out of us as women is seen as disgusting,” explained Ussher.
It is a sign of misogyny and that anything feminine is equated to being dirty and disgusting. Period-shaming also exists in many of the world’s major religions. In Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, menstruating women are deemed as unclean, suggesting that they have to be segregated during their period.
he Deafening Silence of Keeping Menstruation A Secret
Young girls are taught from a young age to manage their periods privately and discreetly. This is due to the prevailing mentality that menstruation is seen as a woman’s “secret business.” Ussher noted, “If you talk to young women across a whole range of different cultural groups about their major concern about menstruation, it's concealment.”
Feelings of shame can impact women’s sexuality as well as their knowledge about the sexual body, Ussher said. Feminist writer and educator Karen Pickering said this shame creates repercussions on how women understand their reproductive system. For many migrant and refugee women, dealing with menstruating is seen as a challenge.
Professor Ussher spoke with women from countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and South Sudan and found that menarche was often a frightening experience for these women. A high percentage of women said to Ussher that they did not know about menstruation not until their first period. Hence, they felt shocked and horrified about it. Many of them thought they were dying or something was wrong with them when they had their first period.
Sadly, many women felt too embarrassed to discuss their period, even with their loved ones. Ussher narrated, “They say to us, 'I don't want my daughter to go through that, I don't want my daughter to have to go through what I went through', but they don't know how to talk about it — they feel shame talking about it."
Usher argued that better education and understanding of this process was helpful in improving women’s health outcomes. Crofts asserted that period talk should be normalized. The more a person is open to discussing periods, the more women will talk about their periods. “Normalizing menstruation as just a healthy, positive part of the female life cycle is really important,” Ussher said.
Kiran Gandhi, a Los Angeles-based musician, acknowledged that menstruation stigma was some of the “systemic factors that perpetuate gender inequality.” However, period stigma is one of those factors that is frequently ignored.
It is also important for women to understand the highs and lows of their reproductive cycles. That might mean knowing when they will have low energy and when they will be on top of their game to accomplish more tasks. “It shouldn't be a mystery of what's happening in your body," she said.
Period shaming hinders women from discussing their periods openly. Comments and stereotypes that perpetuate period shaming should be condemned. Menstruation is a normal bodily function and should not be looked upon with shame. Education about the menstrual cycle should be done to help dispel misconceptions and normalize conversations on period.