Singing the Menstruation Blues…

menstruation blues kathy lette

Periods have always been a shameful secret. Tampon and panty liner ads are euphemistic, coy and confusing. I mean what are those mysterious blue ink excretions and why are all those hyperactive, bikini-clad girls leaping about with such alacrity it’s hard to believe that grade A narcotics aren’t involved? Does having your period mean a girl can suddenly water ski and bungee jump? I can remember as a kid wanting my period so badly because the brochure in my sister’s tampon packet said I’d be able to “ride a bike and go surfing.” At the time, I couldn’t do either. Mind you, females with PMT (which stands for Permissable Man Slaughter) are more likely to be in the mood for revving chainsaws and throwing hand grenades than going swimming.

Adulthood doesn’t eliminate embarrassment. I was in the front aisle economy seat of a Qantas flight bound for Sydney, when, on the steep climb sky-wards, my baby’s nappy bag toppled forward, emptying out an entire box of tampons. In the seat-belted silence of the ascent, all forty tampons rolled slowly down the aisle like jaffas, right to the back of the plane. For the rest of the flight, strangers kept handing them back to me. I blushed so hotly you could have fried chips on my face.

Donald Trump is the latest period-shamer. After being challenged by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly during the first presidential race TV debate, he later dismissed Kelly’s questions by implying that she’d been menstruating. “You could see that there was blood coming out of her eyes,” Trump bellowed. “Blood coming out of her wherever…”

The Republican’s response to the ensuing public backlash only made things worse. Cornered, the power-hungry, golf-addicted, comb-over King, blustered that he’d been merely referring to blood coming out of Kelly’s nose. He went on to say that anyone claiming otherwise is “deviant” – a statement which only serves to highlight his disgust. (Clearly Trump’s loathing of menstruation also explains his hatred of Liberals – he just can’t stand our bleeding hearts.)

But it’s hard to believe that in 2019, menstruation remains such a taboo subject. Recently at the Australian Open, British tennis player Heather Watson sent a tsunami of shock around the world when she explained that going out in the first round was “one of those girl things”, which decoded as cramps, back ache, lethargy, dizziness or mood swings. It’s the first time a sportswoman has mentioned menstruation. Mind you, I’m amazed that advertisers don’t take advantage of the Wimbledon rule that players only wear white, to advertise their sanitary products. There’s never been one single accident on the courts. Whatever tampons those players wear, are clearly more resilient than Federer’s forehand.

But whatever brand, tampons are the most liberating invention. They’re freedom, with strings attached. The most obvious thing about them is that they’re not. Yet poor access to menstrual health is a massive part of discrimination against females. The shocking truth is that only 12% of girls world wide have access to safe sanitary products. In Africa one in ten girls misses school when she has her period because of inadequate facilities and information.

In a survey conducted by the U.N. almost a third of females say that they knew nothing about periods. Over 70% thought menstrual blood was dirty and could curdle milk and sour pickles. In Iran, over 40% of girls surveyed by Unicef thought menstruation was a disease, probably cancer. In Nepal, menstruating girls are often forced to live in animal shelters.

I’m a spokesperson for Plan International. In their #JustATampon campaign, people from across the globe posted selfies with tampons. It’s a way of taking the stigma out of a biological process affecting half the world’s population for up to 3,000 days of her life. We would also like to see tax taken off sanitary products. Perhaps someone should point out to male politicians that these are a necessity, not a luxury and really should be free.

But attitudes are improving. There is now a Menstrual Hygiene Day and some great initiatives to provide low-cost sanitary protection to girls. But it’s clearly time we stopped the shame. And we should be bloody-minded about doing so. Until then, all women remain just slaves to the Rhythm.

To help break taboos around the Menstrual Cycle, read more about Plan’s work here.

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