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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Lots of people get periods

Middlebury’s Feminist and Gender Resource Center at Chellis House.
Middlebury’s Feminist and Gender Resource Center at Chellis House.

I have fond childhood memories of sitting criss-cross apple-sauce with my three younger siblings, listening and giggling as my father read us the storybook “Everybody Poops.” For families with little kids, this is often a staple of their repertoire of nighttime stories, and one that I’ve enjoyed seeing passed on to younger cousins. Not only does it elicit infectious giggles from little kids, but it also provides a positive outlet to teach them about their bodies. 

However, it makes me wonder, why is it socially acceptable to teach children about this completely normal, healthy bodily process, but it remains completely taboo to even utter the word “menstruation” in public? 

Why isn’t the title “Lots of People Get Periods” read at bedtime, and what makes the topic so heinous that we cannot possibly fathom teaching kids about it when they’re young? 

There is a highly gendered stigma surrounding menstruation, leading to half the population being left wholly unaware of a critical aspect of the other half’s health. And, there even remains a stigma around the discussion of the topic among the half of the population it directly impacts. Teaching about menstruation in a way that articulates its normalcy would help minimize the embarrassment and discomfort many face at older ages. 

As adults, it's our responsibility to dismantle this stigma for the next generation so that they can experience the benefits of a more accepting and aware society. From understanding our bodies, to diagnosing medical conditions or addressing deep-seated societal inequities, it would make half the population’s lives much simpler. It sure would’ve made mine.  

I first experienced the societal stigma surrounding menstruation in seventh grade. Fretting about how to best conceal my period products in my backpack, I was constantly worried that somebody would notice what I was grabbing before excusing myself to the restroom. 

Instead of this embarrassment being quenched, this was the beginning of a litany of experiences that ingrained in my mind that menstruation is something that must be concealed at all costs.

And so I began to inherit the age-old wisdom of the generations that came before me: I learned one of the more practical purposes of a purse, how to best perform the backpack-to-pocket transfer and remained acutely aware of whether or not I was wearing pants with pockets on the days my period persisted. 

I don’t blame the generations that came before me for passing on these traditions of concealment; they were merely messengers of what they were taught by the generations before them: society’s disdain for all things female. This acceptance makes it even more crucial that we consciously work to break this stigma. 

The notion that my period was something that nobody else must find out about impacted me much more significantly as I entered eighth grade. That year, I began coming off the soccer field with cramps that made me want to double over in pain. I would hobble off to the bench, trying everything in my power to keep myself upright so as not to arouse suspicion. But how relieving it would’ve been to curl up into a ball right then and there. Despite the pain, I couldn’t bring myself to say a word to my male coaches. Sometimes I told them I was lightheaded, making them far more concerned than was necessary.

Once, during a midmorning game, the sun was beginning to inflict blistering heat. As I was sprinting up the sideline after a ball, I felt the first pang in my abdomen. Knowing that this would be my final full-speed run of the day, I pushed myself as hard as I could, making the pain worse in the process.  

Through trial and error I learned how much pain I could bear while continuing to play, and as a result, and learned breaking points. This meant that once a month, my playing would abruptly get much worse. I would look slower, lazier and like I wasn’t even trying. 

I was well aware of this, and it was infuriating. During these weeks, I was more harshly scrutinized by coaches and it impacted my playing times and the positions at which coaches placed me on the field. I knew that after each week, I would have to prove myself all over again. Still, not once did it cross my mind to explain to them the cause of my sub-par performance. 

I knew it wasn’t just in my head either. It was in the middle of this very midmorning game that a mom from the sideline shouted onto the field in frustration “Sophia, if you’re hurt, ask for a sub!” Her snippy tone made it clear to me that she was not concerned about my well-being but rather the team’s success. She just wanted me off the field. 

Reflecting on this experience not only made me consider how archaic our societal views of menstruation are but also how lucky I am. Tucked away in my bag on the sideline were period products, Tylenol, Advil and a snack to fill my stomach before taking them. I am so fortunate to have had and still have access to all of these resources and can’t imagine what the experience is for the extraordinary number of women and people who menstruate who don’t have access to them. 

During the month of March, the Feminist and Gender Resource Center, SGA DEI Committee and SPECS, have all worked together to bring attention to the stark inequities in menstruation health care, which are known as period poverty. During The Period Forum, we addressed the fact that period poverty can prevent people from attending school or work and can also impact the reproductive health of those affected. 

In order to further bring awareness to these issues, Middlebury’s Feminist and Gender Resource Center at Chellis House will host feminist, activist, artist and creative strategist Treasure Brooks on April 20 at 4:30 p.m. in Hillcrest to discuss her own activist initiatives to address period poverty. 

During a small period storytelling event, we brought together a group of people on campus to address the stigma and discomfort that can accompany discussions surrounding menstruation, even among the communities it most directly affects. 

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And if you’re still not convinced that this stigma exists, consider this. Although very clearly a necessity, to this day period products get labeled a luxury good. Grouped with items like jewelry, makeup and toys when it comes to taxes, this categorization reduces their importance to that of frivolities, and largely undermines a serious aspect of healthcare for women and people who menstruate. Additionally, guaranteed period products for school-age students is a requirement in only 15 U.S. states. If this abysmally low number wasn’t already troubling enough, the guarantee only extends the length of the school day and academic calendar. What happens after school? What about weekends? What about summers?  

Educating ourselves about these issues is critical to doing better for younger generations. And we simply must do better for younger generations. Reconceptualizing the way we discuss and address menstruation begins by educating ourselves. It’s just another thing that happens in life, and eradicating this stigma is critical to the mental and physical health of all women and people who menstruate. The way we think about menstruation needs to change, from the way we teach young people to the way we hide personal hygiene products when we walk into the bathroom, or to the way we handle not feeling well while menstruating. It’s time we start owning our periods.