Ten years later, the story of getting my period is pretty hilarious, but at the time I was downright mortified.
I was 13, my mom was out of town and I hid in my bathroom horrified after finding my sheets stained red. My dad, poor soul, figured out something was ‘up’ and called my mom. I heard a knock on the door, opened it as he handed the phone through the tiny fraction of space I had allowed.
“She wants to talk to you. “
It was like we were negotiating a hostage situation.
My mom told me not to worry, and to check the mailbox in about an hour. Our neighbor was dropping something off.
Neither of my parents had raised me to be ashamed of my body, or embarrassed by puberty, yet when I got my period we went along with some bizarre unspoken contract to talk about it in vague terms and with spy-like secrecy.
Years of stigma around female reproduction and our monthly cycles, had created a mentality I didn’t realize I was guilty of buying into until I got a bit older.
Recently, Chinese Olympic swimmer, Fu Yuanhui, broke a big sports ‘no-no’ and Chinese taboo by speaking openly, and on a worldwide stage no less, about her period.
After placing fourth in the 4×100 medley with her teammates, Fu was clutching her stomach while speaking with a reporter.
Asked if she was experiencing stomach pains, Fu replied nope, she had just gotten her period the night before and had cramps – not to be confused with an excuse for her performance, she just didn’t swim her best.
Women around the world took to Twitter to cheer Fu on and rejoice in her candid interview for helping to further break down period stigma.
Anyone who doesn’t think this is a huge deal should be informed that Chinese commenters on various video clips of the interview were asking how she could swim without the pool turning red.
And, they weren’t kidding.
There is added importance to the fact that Fu wasn’t a white western woman, though period stigma doesn’t discriminate based on race, we are a bit further ahead of the game when it comes to acceptance of women’s menstruation.
As a result of inadequate sex education and cultural taboos, only 2% of Chinese women use tampons due to the false fear that using them robs them of virginity.
It is the same reason male commenters were wondering how a female could possibly swim while on her period – they are uninformed. No one talks about it!
Beyond lack of readily available information, there is also the unfair and gross habit of shaming women for something that is simply human nature.
All over the world women are banned from entering temples and holy sites during their time of the month because they are considered ‘impure’ and ‘dirty.’
In Nepal, women menstruating are banned from touching certain objects and are banished to dark rooms during their cycle.
Seventy percent of reproductive diseases in India are caused by lack of menstruation hygiene and information.
In Kenya and other third-world countries, many young girls stay home from school while on their period which results in them ultimately dropping out.
Fu talking about her period on live TV is a huge step in the right direction towards female empowerment. Even in pop culture we rarely see women talk openly about their reproductive cycle without it being used as an embarrassing plot point.
Shows like Girls or Broad City have been praised for their blunt script-writing dealing with female bodies.
Sex. Periods. STDS. They talk about it all, and more of us should.
Why do dudes get to constantly talk about their boners when we have to whisper about using a tampon?
As Gloria Steinem famously satirized, if men were the ones who got monthly visits from Aunt Flo, the conversation would be much different.
Ergo, there would be a conversation.
Guys would brag about how long their period lasted. How manly they were for bleeding each month.
It would be used to argue for only men serving their country, she quips.
“You have to give blood to take blood,” might be their slogan she muses.
Both menopause and first periods would be treated as celebrated rites of passage.
And Steinem’s assessment is spot on.
The more we talk about periods in a frank and realistic way, “played for what they really are: a somewhat inconvenient part of life we all have to deal with,” the better off women around the world will be.
Instagram and Twitter have been a forefront in the movement towards ending period stigma. Poet Rupi Kaur posted a photo of her snuggling in bed with blood on her sweatpants that went viral. Similarly, Harvard Business graduate Kiran Gandhi crossed the London Marathon finish line with a red stain on her pants.
#JustATampon became a hashtag as part of a campaign, “aimed at dismantling the secrecy around periods,” and featured, “countless women and men holding tampons in selfies on Twitter.”
Periods have even taken to politics. More specifically to end the tax on tampons which are classified as ‘non-essentials.’
Fu, I’m sure didn’t mean to ignite a media firestorm surrounding the pretty mundane monthly occurrence of bleeding a bit, but it is extremely important that she did.
Half the people on the planet – hint women – go through this, and the other half needs to get over it.
For $10 ZanaAfrica Foundation will help provide disposable pads, underwear, and sexual-health education for young girls in Kenya.