I’m reading Ellen Briggs and Mandy Nolan’s book Women Like Us and had a laugh out loud moment at Mandy’s period soaked pad on the basketball court story. You’ll have to read the book to get the full details – order it here 😊
Every woman I know has a mortifying tale to tell about their period. Despite the fact that the vast majority of us bleed once a month, society still places a stigma of shame around it. We try to conceal when we have our period, we keep sanitary items in discreet packs for fear of someone seeing them, we tuck tampons in our bras when going to the toilet, so nobody sees us taking it in. Why is this perfectly normal and vital biological experience so taboo?
It began so long ago, it’s no wonder we are stuck with an aversion to periods today. The word hysteria is derived from the Greek word hysterikos “of the womb, suffering in the womb” and was used to describe neurotic females, suggesting we were out of control due to our mystical anatomy. Ancient Greeks thought women could suffer from a malady called ‘wandering uterus’ where our wombs moved all around our bodies causing varying degrees of crazy. Leading physicians of the day believed that the uterus was able to smell and would control it by wafting pleasant smells at the vagina to entice the uterus back down to its rightful anatomical position. Yep, to fix PMT symptoms they would jab an incense stick at your lady parts.
Many religions still hold onto antiquated concepts about menstruation. Judaism labels women niddah for 2 weeks, due to the impurity of menstrual blood. Some Orthodox Christian religions won’t allow women to receive communion while having their period. I’m guessing it’s an honour based system – or is someone checking this at the church door? Islam refers to the menstrual cycle as an impurity and dictates that men should keep away from women until they are cleansed by a ritual bath. They can’t even touch a Quran during this time. Buddhism is a little more relaxed about it, yet they still believe that women lose some of their life force (Qi) while bleeding which makes them vulnerable to impurities. Is it any wonder we get a little flustered about poor Aunt Flo?
In my twenties, I read the Anita Diamant book The Red Tent which is the retelling of a biblical story from the perspective of Dinah. What stuck with me most from the book was the description of women gathering each month in the Red Tent as they menstruated. It was a haven for generations of women to share knowledge, initiate girls into womanhood and to celebrate and support one another. I was so drawn to the concept, recognising that our society lacked this sense of community and tradition around embracing the transition into womanhood. We no longer revere the process that plays a vital part in producing life.
Whilst I don’t hang out in a menstrual hut during my period, I do feel a desire to connect with my female friends at that time. I’d quite enjoy a monthly ritual of spending a week lounging in a tent surrounded by women of all ages, drinking wine and eating stuffed vine leaves. Oh, imagine the problems we could solve!
Age has brought with it less embarrassment about periods, as it does for many I think. Now I happily joke about my visit from Aunt Flo, Shark Week, On the Rag, Crimson Wave, Carrie Week, Dracula’s Teabag, Communist Week, Lucifer’s Waterfall (oh yes I had fun looking up some new terms for it! Please add to this in the comments section if you have others.)
So, back to Mandy Nolan’s story about her period, I thought I’d share my embarrassing moment and encourage others to tell theirs. I truly believe there is power in sharing and shining a light on things we once thought were too shameful to discuss.
I got my period at twelve and, for reasons completely unknown to me, my mother decided I shouldn’t use the readily available adhesive surfboards of the 80s. She bought me an old fashioned sanitary belt – pictured to the side because let’s face it – most of you would never have heard of the bloody thing! It was humiliating for a preteen, so I saved pocket money to buy my own ‘modern pads’. With nobody to ask for clarification, I decided the logical way to apply the pads was to put the sticky adhesive part against my skin. Yes, I stuck the pad to my labia. I wore them like that for several days and was almost convinced that my Mum was right about using the old belt style as I was constantly leaking over the edges. Little wonder considering that the plastic coating was directly on my skin – nothing absorbent about that! One day at school I was running up to the netball court to meet friends and I leaped over a bollard. At the split second that I copped my first accidental Brazilian waxing, I realised what I’d done wrong.
So, if you are feeling up to it, share your story below and let’s demystify this perfectly natural bodily function.