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Fighting back against period stigma



Last week, a man on Facebook decided to show his expertise on menstruation and educate menstruators on how to cut down on the costs of having a period. He outlined quite clearly how to do this and concluded by suggesting we ought to 'cut down on [our] starbucks venti frapps and stop whining'.

Woman's hand holding tampons (Getty Creative)The thing that scares me most about this is that this lack of understanding is not uncommon. I don't blame this individual man for his ignorance, I blame the patriarchal society in which we live. A society established by men that allows, and even encourages, men to be ignorant about all aspects of health that are traditionally seen as 'women's problems'.

To address the ideas in his comment, anyone who experiences periods will know that a suggestion of using only seven tampons per cycle is not only preposterous but dangerous. Tampons must be changed at least every eight hours to avoid toxic shock syndrome which is very real and deadly. Along with this, not everyone uses tampons on their period and sometimes we use both tampons and pads. What's more, I don't know about you but I'd be pretty grateful if my period only came for nine months of the year, as this man suggests.

But there are other costs involved with having a period. The Huffington Post highlighted just some of the extra costs, on top of sanitary products, that we have during our periods. This includes heating pads (or time taken out of work to walk to reheat a heat pack), acne medication, sanitary products, chocolate (because having a period sucks), pain relief, new underwear, and birth control.

But there are other costs too, and as March is Endometriosis Awareness Month it would be remiss of me to not highlight this. Endometriosis affects one in ten menstruators and can only be diagnosed through a laparoscopy which can be a costly and time consuming operation.

But that is not the only problem with diagnosing endo. For many menstruators, a diagnosis takes years to get because our symptoms are dismissed and we are simply considered weak. We have to fight our doctors to get them to take our pain seriously. There is no cure for endometriosis and treatment for it can involve having multiple laparoscopies to remove and limit the problem. But it can lead to other costs later in life, with one in three endometriosis suffers having issues with fertility and struggling to get pregnant.

Periods, and a lack of support for those suffering from them, are costing the economy. Not just in terms of the waste that sanitary products generate but also in terms of sick days. A YouGov poll in the UK found that one third of people who menstruate had taken a day off work due to period pain, not to mention a decreased ability to focus that comes with the physical and emotional toll of having a period.


"Why do we have to perform stealthy, under-the-desk manoeuvres to lend a tampon to a sister in need? Why do we hide our sanitary products? Why do we disguise our pain and pretend it's something else? What good is this doing any of us?"


Many of these statistics and ideas are generalisations based on a cis-woman's experience of menstruation. It is a completely different experience for transgender and non-binary people. Not only can it complicate which bathroom to use to ensure their safety and comfort but it can leave them suffering from gender dysphoria.

These costs and issues surrounding periods are only heightened by poverty. Some menstruators in Nepal are made to sleep with animals when bleeding due to the stigma — this lack of cleanliness and lack of access to supplies can lead to illness and death.

But, things are changing, reusable pads are being made by local communities in poverty stricken areas, periods are being spoken about and education for people of all genders is occurring to reduce the stigma. Documentaries such as Period. End of Sentence are winning Oscars and generating discussion.

Why can't we be open about menstruation? According to the ABC, period stigma is holding menstruators back. Why do we have to perform stealthy, under-the-desk manoeuvres to lend a tampon to a sister in need? Why do we hide our sanitary products? Why do we disguise our pain and pretend it's something else? What good is this doing any of us? It leaves men in the dark and it leaves women feeling ashamed.

Maybe things can change? The fact that this man's comments went viral is a good thing as it means that we are talking, and this can only lead to education and a reduction in stigma.



Brenna DempseyBrenna Dempsey is a freelance writer and involved in various areas of activism while studying at University.

Main image: Getty Creative

Topic tags: Brenna Dempsey, menstruation, endometriosis, feminism



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Existing comments

This is brilliant! I feel frustrated when people dismiss these issues as irrelevant. I suffer debiltating pain twice a month due to what I suspect is undiagnosed endometriosis. Why undiagnosed? I’m not yet ready to go down the path of expensive surgery that can diagnose and treat, but not cure the problem. I’m not whinging, I promise. In fact, I never talk about this openly. Like most women in my position, I blush and grimace and say I’m having a hard day. I keep my mouth shut and my eye on the clock. I don’t say “Excuse me, folks, I’m finding it hard to concentrate. It feels like my uterus is in a vice and I’m hanging out for ibuprofen-o’clock!” It might make the men uncomfortable. But when these men suggest that such issues are irrelevant, I bristle. I take heart from my fourteen-year-old daughter. She and her friends talk openly about periods in front of their male friends. If the boys dare to cringe, the girls howl them down “Oh, get over yourselves! If there were no periods, you wouldn’t exist!” Thank you Brenna, and thank you Eureka Street!

Kate Solly | 10 March 2019  

About twenty-five years ago, I took a unit of my theology degree with a strongly feminist Catholic scholar who shall be nameless. (Oh, OK, Sr Mary Anne Confoy). It was concerned with women in the history of religion, and was seriously life-changing for me. One strand was concerned with the powerful significance of blood in the history of women in religious societies - not just menstrual blood, but also the blood shed in childbirth. Women were subject to all kinds of taboos and restrictions because of what seems to have been fear - fear of female power symbolized by the blood they shed in ways unavailable to men. I'm not doing justice to Mary Anne's material at all - I'd love to see a book on this topic - but this Eureka St. article reminded me of it. We're not talking about a new stigma, or practices rooted in contempt. What we experience today is the remains of thousands of years of fear (and thus, loathing). I think this is getting better, but I don't know how to speed up the process. Legislation is useless, changing hearts is slow.!

Joan Seymour | 10 March 2019  

A great article. I am reminded that when my husband was having prostrate surgery - many of the men in the same situation did not really know a great deal about it. I find that many men, is that not only do they know very little about women's health but of their own health as well. Again I find this another aspect of the patriarchal system because it has traditionally been women who looked after all of that 'sort of business'.

HippyDonna | 11 March 2019  

The example cited isn't the first male so arrogant as to moralise on matters Obstetric and Gynaecological. Every February 2nd the Church - Roman and its manifold offshoots - celebrates the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Mikvah or ritual cleansing, a bath its Outward and Visible Sign, required by her religion - as patristic as Catholicism - to purge the UNCLEAN state she entered by the act of childbirth. The implicit doctrine of Candlemass is that chilbirth fills women with sin. The days required for spiritual cleansing were twice as many for delivering a girl as for a boy child. Menstruation also made a woman "unclean" until she expiated that "offence" against God, the Man's Male God. The first person I knew who described herself as a feminist was a High Anglican, lobbying against the ancient practice "The Churching of Women". The Muslims may excel at it, but they didn't invent misogyny. Women were the first preachers of Christ's Resurrection, and the only such divinely directed in Scripture AND Scripture-based Liturgy. In the Quem Quaeritis, the 3 at the Tomb are directed: Ite nunciate quia surrexit de sepulchro! The Disciple Mary of Magdala has been libelled for 1600 years, using her sex to trivialise her. No Phoebe the Deacon is found today, no Hilda of Whitby no Walburga.

James Marchment | 12 March 2019  

Ladies, if you are hanging around with a bunch of men who cringe when you want to talk about your periods, then all I can suggest is you’re hanging out with the wrong men! We aren’t all cavemen, thanks very much!

Aurelius | 12 March 2019  

Please!! Could ES please run a series of articles dealing with the unpleasantness of all body systems that expel all physiological waste eg from the bladder, bowels and stomach as well as from the genital system. And these happen with far greater regularity and frequency than the monthly expulsion of the effete, unused lining of the womb, sometimes even with pain and discomfort. Really! God save us from this pathetic modern world!

jeem | 14 March 2019  

Great work Brenna! I do educational work for the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra Goulburn and right now our team are packing up our kit to head off to one of over 30 primary schools which we visit regularly to speak to boys and their dads (and girls and their mums) about all things puberty - including telling boys all about the woman's menstrual cycle - all of it, not just periods but also ovulation, fertility, and the effects all this has on women. It's important knowledge for women and for all people who care about, work with or are are friends with women. I've never experienced anything but genuine interest and a desire to understand on behalf of the boys and men I come across which leads me to the hopeful conclusion that its generally lack of opportunity rather than lack of willingness that is the biggest hurdle. Cheers. And thanks for drawing attention to the Starbucks comment. It's a cracker!

Lara | 18 March 2019  

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