Why we should be angry about periods

Date

Pop culture warning: This story contains season 5 Mad Men spoilers.

In season five of <i>Mad Men</i> Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) shares an intimate moment with her mother after discovering she has her first period.

In season five of Mad Men Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) shares an intimate moment with her mother after discovering she has her first period.

Back in the good old-bad old days of being fully immersed in social networking, I became known for my propensity to talk about periods: mine, my friends’, my family members’, other people’s, periods on television, periods and advertising, periods, periods, PERIODS.

 

(It reached a crescendo when some dude on Twitter whined that it was “gross” and I drew this smily face for them in response in mother nature’s own brick-red ink.)

 

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The reason for such menses-mad tweeting was, in part, because I think the continued taboo about menstruation is one of the most depressing aspects of our allegedly enlightened society.

 

These days, I don’t have a public Twitter account, but more compellingly for my sense of self/sense of humour, nor do I have a period. I went on Yaz a few years back and my formerly impressive uterine tidal wave has gradually been replaced with a sad, occasional smear.

 

Does that mean I’m no longer compelled to talk about periods 24/7? No, in fact, I’m still as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore - so here are a few reasons to be mad about periods.

 

It’s always that time of the month at my place. 

 

The GST Is Still Applied To Sanitary Products

The Howard government introduced the GST on July 1st, 2000, and included in the items that would carry the new tax were pads and tampons - “non-essential” products, according to the stellar minds at Howard HQ. Flash forward to 2012, and pads and tampons are still being taxed as a non-essential item. (There is no GST on frangers, in case you were wondering.) I harangued both the Howard and Rudd governments about this nonsense tax and received witless replies from both; I haven’t bothered contacting the Gillard government because I assume the response will be the same. But when a supermarket chain uses removing the “period tax” as an advertising angle - and even that was four years ago - that was also shrugged off by the government, you know something’s still rotten in the state of tampons. Anyone for a bleed-in at Parliament House?

 

‘Applicator Tampons Vs Non-Applicator Tampons’ Is Still A Thing

This ridiculous non-issue, designed mostly to set women against each other, gets wheeled out with tiresome regularity. Its bloated corpse is reanimated one of two ways: via a bogus “concern for the environment” angle, which is also a non-issue in Australia since the majority of applicator tampons available use biodegradable recycled cardboard applicators), or in a haughty “applicators are weird and for women who are afraid of their bodies” fashion. Years later I am still fuming about Gabrielle chiding Alex in the Secret Life Of Us pilot episode (yes, my rage runs deep), “What, afraid you might have to touch yourself?” when Alex passed her a Tampax. For the last time, everybody together now: PERSONAL. PREFERENCE. It’s your vagina, you choose what you put in or around it. Pads? Tampons? Mooncups? Reusable pads? Sea sponges? No problem! After over a decade of menstruation, I just decided that applicator tampons tended to unwrap in my handbag less often, and were better equipped to soak up my monster periods. Your mileage may vary. THE END.

 

People Are Still Scared Of Periods

In the second-last episode of Mad Men’s latest season, two things happened: Lane Pryce committed suicide, and Sally Draper got her first period. I’ll give you a gift-wrapped box of maxi-pads if you can guess which image - blood-stained underpants, or Lane’s corpse - was a cause for more outrage amongst the American viewing public. Yes, Sally’s menarche whipped up a storm of debate: it was “gross”, it was “unnecessary”, it was “horrible”, and it was, according to New York Post writer Linda Stasi, “inappropriate and gratuitous” and likely to “excite child sexual predators”. Come on down, Linda, and receive your Helen Lovejoy trophy for “Excellence” In Outrageous Hyperbole. Menstruation is still a taboo topic when it comes to film and television, save for some tentative steps like No Strings Attached’s “period mix CD” sequence, or - less tentatively, and more awesomely - Cherie Currie getting her period within the first few minutes of The Runaways.

 

Pads And Tampons Advertising Is Still Scared Of Periods

This might be the worst/most hilarious one of all. An industry that creates products that have the sole purpose of being soaked with menstrual blood seems to be utterly incapable of referring to its products purpose. We all lost our minds when [U] by Kotex’s “beaver” ad ran a few years back, because it euphemistically dared to suggest that pads exist in a vague proximity to [whisper voice] your vagina. We may no longer have to suffer through the dreaded blue water, but to my knowledge, the only companies that use the term “period” are American brand Always - whose “Have a happy period” tagline caused much consternation from those who are never happy about anything - and locally, Coles supermarkets, who last time I checked included the revolutionary phrase “during your period” on the packaging for their home-branded pads. (If that’s no longer the case, well, at least, for one brief shining moment...)

 

“Feminine Hygiene” Is A Month-Long Affair

This one doesn’t even relate to periods themselves, rather, the “pantyliner” industry, which has spent the better part of a decade telling women that their undies need to be “protected” from the almighty shame of “discharge”. (As the Gruen Transfer’s focus on “padvertising” noted, you could argue that liners were created purely to allow feminine hygiene companies to sell their wares all month, rather than just for one week.) This ad for Carefree’s “ActiFresh” liners caused some fuss given it actually used the word “vagina”; the offending sentence in full being, “Even that bit of discharge in between our periods is our body working to keep the vagina healthy” - so here’s a little piece of plastic to prevent the horror of discharge hitting the cotton gusset in your undies that is perfectly designed to be washed after you wear them, GOD.

 

That’s just a tiny sampling. Look, we’re all grown-ups here: isn’t it time we stopped treating a natural bodily function as though it was something that body-horror genius David Cronenberg had dreamed up? Yeah, it can be a pain in the arse (literally), but we need to band together to end the ridiculous menstrual taboo once and for all. It’s the 21st century FFS.

 

So the next time you see someone online say that periods are “gross”, or the next time a dude tries to tell you to stop talking about your period “all the time” on Twitter, feel free to give them a massive eye-roll from me, since I’m not around to do it anymore. Or, draw them a smily face with your period, it’s up to you.

65 comments

  • Sometime between the ages of 15 and 16, I started forming close friendships with boys more than I had previously and discovered that more often than it it was my fellow period-havers who meet any mention of periods with exclamations of 'gross!' and the boys who did make similar comments usually ended up looking rather sheepish when told to grow up and get over it!

    Of course I'm not suggesting women are to blame for the attitude, but we could definitely help things along by refusing to pretend we need to carry our whole bag into the bathroom when all we need is a tampon.

    I must say though, t I am not a big fan of any form of bodily secretion - feminine, masculine or neuter - as an artistic medium.

    Commenter
    Dee24
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    August 23, 2012, 8:48AM
    • Have obviously not had the same experience between Males and periods as you. Found them to be the most clueless about it. A woman had an leakage at a hotel and didn't have any sanitary items and all the male staff could say was, "Why would there be blood?" after a few minutes of hearing this i had to step in to the women's relief and the males just stayed uncomfortably silent with wide eyes for the rest of the day.

      I went to an all girls school and we never had problems talking about our periods as it is an inevitable consequence of being a women. Even now there's no shame in casually mentioning to each other if we're pre/during/post period so we know what mood they'll be in.

      Commenter
      Tall Girl
      Date and time
      August 23, 2012, 9:49AM
    • Wow! I also went to an all girls school but found the girls to be quite squeamish , but the general population at that school was quite innocent, for want of a better word with anything to do with the world outside study.

      I remember my younger brother coming in wide-eyed in year 5 after they had a boy/girl sex education class at school so I guess I assumed that everybody school had to have that as part of their curriculum but it must not be the case!

      Commenter
      Dee24
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 23, 2012, 11:14AM
    • Tall girl - and I bet when they the men asked that question, that not a single person responded to them with the obvious answer.

      Commenter
      Christian
      Date and time
      August 23, 2012, 2:47PM
  • I realised while reading this that I hadn't even remembered Sally's blood. I remembered it happened but the scene didn't stay with me like Lane's death did. Amazing that there was such a reaction to it!

    Also, one time on twitter I said something like 'I've got cramps and I feel like crap' and was told by a man that I should have been more delicate about it and if I really needed to share that I had my period perhaps I could have just mentioned the need for a hot water bottle. HUH?

    Commenter
    Helen13
    Date and time
    August 23, 2012, 9:00AM
    • I had the same thing! I posted something like "such bad period pain, need a glass of wine" on FB and had a "friend" write back oh gross, too much information. WTF?! This is a woman who LITERALLY posted photos of something that came out of her child's nose, because it was so gross she thought it was funny. How can you a) not realise that that's more disgusting, and b) have a child, and still be grossed out by anything to do with reproduction?

      Commenter
      Alice
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 23, 2012, 3:27PM
  • Spot on! (Mind the pun)

    Commenter
    km1234
    Date and time
    August 23, 2012, 9:07AM
    • I'd probably draw the line at making an artwork out of it but I've had no problem discussing my period in great detail with anyone who'll listen. It's ridiculous how uncomfortable people act. I'd forgotten all about the tax on pads and tampons though at the time I wrote a few letters to Dear John.

      Commenter
      Miss D
      Date and time
      August 23, 2012, 9:09AM
      • Buy a Mooncup instead. I don't know if they're available in Australia yet, I bought mine in Croatia. http://www.mooncup.co.uk/ You can buy them online. No pads or tampons ever again.

        Commenter
        Ms Anthropist
        Date and time
        August 23, 2012, 9:14AM
        • Clem! Yes! Literally EVERY TIME I go supermarket shopping, I look at the docket afterwards and get so angry my head almost explodes. How can soy chicken nuggets be considered an essential item, while tampons are taxed!? AAAAARRRRGHHHHHH

          Commenter
          Kate
          Location
          Fitzroy
          Date and time
          August 23, 2012, 9:18AM

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