Do we not bleed? Shylock asked. Of course Shylock was talking about the fact that, if pricked with a needle or a sword, Jews bleed just as Christians do. I, on the other hand, am talking about women.
Do we not bleed? Anyone would think not, considering the lengths we go to to hide our flows. Women take their whole bags to the bathroom just so we don’t have to suffer the shame of carrying a sole tampon. We wait until someone flushes the chain before we remove a sanitary towel, wincing at the ‘rip of shame’. We wear clothes with a different cut and check our VPLs in the mirror. Young girls whisper they’ve started to their mothers with blushes. They’re consequently filled with embarrassment when said mothers see fit to announce their daughter’s coming-of-age to female friends and family. And to top it off as a gender we’ve come up with an absolute smorgasbord of glorious euphemisms for being, to put it bluntly, on the rag.
As an over-sharer, and someone with a very poor excuse of a pain threshold, I’ll gladly complain to passing strangers about my cramps. Any such public announcement would also go towards explaining why I might have tripped over five times, knocked over anything and everything that wasn’t screwed down, then walked into a door. Yep, the curse, as it was once so aptly dubbed, not only sets of my pain receptors but also messes with my balance (and I’m clumsy at the best of times). But blurting out you’re on the blob just isn’t the done thing. Aside from the fact that that particular expression we all used at school is just a little bit gross, I can’t understand why.
Around about 50% of our population menstruates, has menstruated in the past, or will at some point menstruate. According to one article women will probably bleed around 2,250 to 3,000-plus days in their lifetimes. So why the cloak and dagger? There are still so many issues surrounding menstruation and this Victorian-esque prudishness prevents us from speaking out about them. Leviticus actually says if you touch a woman on her period you are unclean and then lists a whole load of reasons why women and their menses are dirty af. In Western Nepal, menstruating women are still ‘banished to sheds’ and deemed ‘highly infections’ and ‘cursed’. Not that long ago, it was reported that almost 25% of girls in India leave school when they reach puberty as they have no toilet in school. Homeless women don’t have access to proper sanitary care; these items are rarely donated to food banks and because of the so-called tampon tax they are highly expensive. These issues affect women’s lives massively, but they’re rarely ever spoken about.
Recently, women have been attempting to break these taboos and speak out about the problems surrounding menstruation. Laura Coryton has protested the tampon tax. Rightly so. The fact that some people think the choice to not bleed all over your clothes is a luxury (one guy even said women on their periods should ‘just hold their bladders’) is beyond me. Kiran Ghandi highlighted just how uncomfortable we are when it comes to code red when she ran the London Marathon whilst freebleeding in 2015. People were outraged, but her act still went a long way to getting people talking about their periods. Rupi Kaur attempted to remove taboos with her menstruation-inspired instagram photograph, which was removed twice because it was apparently too ‘provocative’. And last year Chinese Olympic Swimmer Fu Yuanhui made waves when she explained she hadn’t done as well as she’d liked because she’d started her period the day before. We all subsequently fell in love with her.
These women have all gone some way towards breaking the silence but, at the end of the day, it’s 2017. Why should it be shocking or brave for a woman to talk about her period? Why should we be ashamed of what it is that makes us women? Something that ties us to the earth and the moon and the tides in a way that men never will be. I’m proud of how much we put up with. The stomach cramps, the backaches, the shaking legs, the heart palpitations, hot flushes, nausea, mood swings, spontaneous crying, sheer exhaustion and every other ridiculous symptom that comes part and parcel with being on the proverbial rag. Women are bloody tough and on the whole we suffer in silence.
We should embrace our periods in all their horror. We should throw parties for the next generation to celebrate their first flows. We should write songs about surfing the crimson tide. Above all, we should make like these wonderful women, and start complaining about how bloody annoying our periods are – not just for us, but for women all across the world whose periods leave them at risk, shunned, and lacking the opportunities their male peers have. Until periods stop being taboo, women will still have to face these issues that could so easily be avoided.