"If men got their periods they’d broadcast it in some show of bravado." Photo: Emma Arvida Bystrom, via Vice.com
There isn’t a woman out there who doesn’t remember the first time she got her period. Usually the event can be remembered with such clarity it has the power to transport them right back to that moment in time – the awkwardness, the sickness, the grossness, the sudden flush of hormones surging through your body, the realisation that things will never be the same.
My first time occurred in the middle of the night. I woke up to go pee. I was in a hazy half-awake mode when suddenly Slam! There.Was.Blood.In.My.Underwear. All my internal alarms started to go off, something was wrong, but at the same time I was incapacitated. Unable to move. If I went to get mum, dad would want to know what’s wrong. Plus my youngest brother was still a baby. It would wake him too. But...There.Was.Blood.In.My.Underwear.
I imagine 12-year-old girls today are so savvy that when they get their first period, they might actually laugh if their mum attempts to explain to them the changes that were happening in their body. “Yeah mum,” they might say. “I saw it on the internet when I was 8. There was like an interactive guide and everything.”
But when I was 12 more than 20 years ago, 12 year-old-girls were for the most part, well, like 12-year-olds. We didn’t have the internet. Our bodies were still giant mysteries whose secrets we were yet to unearth. That night when I crept into my parent’s bedroom and whispered to my mum “there is blood down there,” I really thought she would whisk me off to the emergency room. She didn’t. She woke up with a groan. My dad asked what was going on and she plainly stated, “I think she’s got her period. Go back to sleep.” And I believe he did.
My younger self could not have known that one night she would fall asleep a girl, and the next morning wake up a woman. That’s how massive an event it was. And the funny thing? I wasn’t the only one this happened to. Yeah, get this, periods happen to Every Woman. Really. They do. I’m sure there are rare exceptions, but really they happen to Every Woman.
I know this doesn’t need telling. This doesn’t need to be broadcast in any way or form. But I believe the memo has been missed by most producers and retailers of sanitary products. All women live with the constant sense of inadequacy based on the knowledge that they produce red blood down there. As much as we try, every month all over the world, women of child-bearing age cannot seem to produce the much more appealing blue liquid that saturate sanitary napkins on TV.
And it’s not just TV. The fact that there is something not quite “sanitary” about having periods is all pervasive. History and religion has not been on the side of menstruating women. This sense that the blood we bleed is somehow not quite right has filtered down through the ages and resides deep within our consciousness. We conceal our sanitary products in our bag, or in our pockets as we scuttle off to the bathroom. We whisper apologetically to each other if we’re caught without. In general, it is a topic we feel uncomfortable discussing in mixed company. We may not consciously be aware of this sense of shame when it comes to our period, but we still feel obliged to obey societal norms. It seems our periods for the most part need to be concealed and tolerated month in, month out.
I imagine if men got their periods they’d broadcast it in some show of bravado. There’d be high-fives around the office when John in Accounting declares “Aunt Flo” had come to visit him. Except he wouldn’t call it Aunt Flo. He’d call it Gi Joe. He’d call it a big Fuck Yeah.
Then he’d take the afternoon off, buy a beer and stuff a free tampon down his penis. And you know tampons will be free if men had periods. Bu they don’t have them, so it’s a woman thing. A woman thing that men are generally too uncomfortable to talk about.
This sense of embarrassment is not reserved just for men. Ask a woman what’s possibly the most embarrassing thing that can happen or has happened to her, she might say, amongst other things, being caught with period stains on your clothes. That stuff is mortifying. And yes, it’s happened to me. The odds are, it’s happened to most women.
So when you see these images on Vice.com of women with period stains on their clothing, how do you feel? Do you feel grossed out? Do you find it confronting? Do you find it harder to look at than perhaps a body covered in blood? Interesting that, isn’t it?