No Shame: Call It by Its Name

Photo Credit:  Jesse Magnan

Photo Credit: Jesse Magnan

Let’s be honest. Talking about menstruation can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, when we actively avoid such conversations or blanket them in euphemisms and slang, we may be reinforcing stigmatization and—even inadvertently—inhibiting resource accessibility for marginalized populations.

You may be wondering, “How does my use of period slang affect women in need?”

The underlying implication is that not only the menstrual conversation but menstruation itself should be avoided, masked, or concealed at all reasonable costs. It’s why even unused, unopened feminine hygiene products are perceived as shameful or gross. It’s the catalyst behind “pocket” and “compact” tampons and “quiet pad wrappers to keep your period private.” It’s why one woman, in an inquiry regarding menstrual cups, describes the simple act of changing a pad as one that produces “really disturbing sounds.” Let the reality of that sink in. Even in a public restroom—one that would be used only by those of the same gender or gender identity—the simple sound of adhesive could cause such shame and distress. We all know the sound of a roll of toilet paper unfurling from its holder, and yet, the same level of discomfort does not seem to apply.

The real detriments of this avoidance and concealment are the shame and confusion ingrained in women and girls, so that if they find themselves in need of menstrual support, whether through feminine hygiene products or education, they may not know where to turn for help or what people or organizations are open to these conversations or provide these resources. There are about 5,000 euphemisms used to describe menstruation, some of which are entirely obscure or downright offensive, as they are often used to berate men and women alike. When considering the sheer number of euphemisms, compounded by possible language barriers, many women may not know how to best ask for the resources they need. Similarly, if the stigma and discomfort prevent a young girl from receiving adequate information and support prior to menarche, she may experience confusion, shame, and powerlessness as she seeks to manage her period. In contrast, if a girl understands exactly what is happening in her body, as well as the feminine hygiene options available to her, she is much more likely to experience a sense of confidence and empowerment.

We’re not suggesting that menstruating women wear a bright red t-shirt labeled “Ask Me About My Period!” each month. (Although, now that I mention it, I’m inclined to do some shopping!) We’re simply suggesting that when the conversation occurs or feels appropriate, women use direct and empowered language. Let’s face it: Periods can be physically uncomfortable (hello, heating pad!). We should not feel obligated to shoulder unnecessary mental or emotional discomfort by doing everything we can to pretend that our bodies aren’t undergoing their natural processes.

In addition to using direct language, how can you help challenge the stigma and connect women with resources? Share and promote organizations like Be a Rose, to reach underserved populations and let them know that shame-free support is available!

By: Aanee Nichols