The Flowery Box Under the Bathroom Sink
In my household, my mom gave my older sister and me a flowery gift box to keep our tampons and pads in under the bathroom sink. It wasn’t supposed to ever be something shameful – if anything, it added to the intrigue of periods for me before I started my own – but as I reflect on period stigma, I can’t help but wondering if this added or removed period shame within our household? Does wanting privacy about my period mean I was ashamed of it?
In the UK and around the world, there’s been a massive push to fight period poverty and stigma, with incredible progress being made, but free period supplies in bathrooms can’t, on its own, put an end to the shame which too many women and girls continue to feel about having their periods. We should NOT feel bad about our bodies and a natural process which happens every month, and yet in some way, most of us still carry around old habits that might perpetuate stigma about our periods.
I definitely do this. I’ve realised that even as I strive to be a fierce, stigma fighting feminist (catchy title I know!), my language slips and in creep those words that turn this natural process into something mysterious, something with the potential to embarrass, or worse – shame me. I can’t help but think that flowery box now contains all my memories of unexpectedly getting my period, obsessively having friends check my butt every two minutes and trying oh-so-discreetly to sneak tampons out of my bag without throwing them at anyone.
I wonder, if we all talked about the memories and fears around our periods that lie in our respective flowery boxes, would we be able to end this insidious part of period shame?
In advance of Mother’s Day, I sat down to have a bloody good chat with my own mom about how we talked about periods in our relatively period-positive family.
In an effort to not only put my mom on the spot, I’ve also gathered some stories from co-workers, friends, and family. Do any of these experiences sound familiar?
“My parents are divorced, and I got my period for the first time on one of my dad’s nights. When I saw the dark red blood in my underwear, I knew what it was, but I was still a bit in shock. Rather than go talk to my dad about it, I just kept it to myself until I got to my mum’s house the next day. I felt way too uncomfortable to broach the subject with him because he was a man. I don’t think I ever even told him when I started it.”
“When I was 11 years old, I started my period for the first time at my grandmother’s house. My mother had told me about it before, so I knew when I saw it. I called for my mum and both my mum and grandmother came rushing into the bathroom. My grandmother was so excited she was cheering, and my mum was asking if my grandmother had any pads. My grandmother said, ‘well I certainly don’t need them anymore!’ My mum asked ‘oh what happened? Did it just stop?’ It quickly became this intergenerational conversation of me getting my period, my mum trying to help me, but also asking her mum about menopause at the same time.”
“In school my friends and I would unwrap clean pads and put them in our male friends’ text books between classes, so when they opened their books, the pad would go flying across the floor. It was our, rather mean, way to share the ‘embarrassment’ of periods”
“When I was a 14 and in school, I was talking to my older sister and some of her cool, male friends. I had my period at the time and had tampons in my pocket. Part way through the conversation, I pulled my hand out of my pocket, and the tampons fell into the middle of the group for everyone to see. Everyone was silent as I dropped to grab them. I have never turned so red so fast. I was horrified.”
“I was quite young, and I saw my mother’s used pad and I asked her, ‘Mummy, can that blood be used by the blood bank?’ She answered back ‘No this is bad blood. It can’t be used for that.’”
Only through talking about period stigma in our own lives can we start to put an end to it. So, for Mother’s Day this year, have your own bloody good chat with those close to you about becoming a little more period positive. And, if you’re feeling up to it, record and share a bit of your own conversation using the hashtag #LetsTalkPeriodsMum**
**or Dad, Friend, Sister, Brother, or whoever you talk to about this stuff, or don’t talk to...
Need some questions to get you started?
Keep in mind, shame works by making us feel uncomfortable, so if it feels weird or hard talking about these things, that’s okay! Talking about it will make it a little bit easier every time.
· How does your family talk about periods? Do you talk about them with any men in the family?
· What kinds of words or phrases do you use to talk about it? (On the rag? Aunt Flow? Your monthly?)
· What was each of your first periods like? How did you tell your mother?
· Did you talk about periods in your house before you got yours?
· Did your mum do anything intentionally different from her own growing up?