Menstruation is a natural body function as any other. The average woman has her period for 2,535 days of the life, nearly seven years. Yet, women frequently feel ashamed when they bleed, in large part due to pervasive taboos.
According to freeperiods.org, a survey of more than 1,000 women in the UK revealed that nearly half were embarrassed by their period. While 20% admitted to have had such feelings because of comments made by males, 12% have been shamed by a family member and one in ten by a classmate. To make things worse, a disturbing 51% of men studied maintain it is inappropriate for women to openly mention their period in the workplace, and 44% admit to having made a joke or comment on a partner’s mood on period.
Another survey of 1,500 US women - this time commissioned by “period-proof underwear” manufacturer Thinx – besides confirming the same tendency, revealed in addition, that 73% of women hide their tampons and sanitary pads when they head to the bathroom for a change, with a cumbersome 42% of women indicating to have experienced period-shaming from men.
Besides prejudices of all sorts on menstruation in both the Eastern and Western parts of the world, we have an alarming problem of representation of menstrual blood– let’s think of the deceptive blue liquid most ads use to depict it. Moreover, particularly in the developed countries, the objectification of the female body takes the issue to extremes, with women trying to distance themselves from their nature in the name of their idealized bodies through menstrual suppression with oral contraceptives.
While we need to normalize the conversation surrounding menstrual cycles and end the stigma it is trapped in, it is also urgently necessary to change policies on periods worldwide. In fact, half of the population on earth bleeds every month, but too many still cannot afford menstrual hygiene products. Activists around the world are fighting not only to demolish the narrative that periods are worthy of shame and somehow unnatural, but to pressure governments to end the ridiculous “tax on blood” as well, while providing free pads and tampons to homeless women and all those who are not able to purchase any. Lately, just to take into account one example, an amendment proposed to reduce sales tax from 22% to 5% was rejected in Italy, with pads remaining a ‘luxury item’ as in most parts of the world. In response to a similar and widespread disinterest, in many universities around the world a fantastic initiative is being carried out, with sanitary products being made freely available in bathrooms.
As it is unthinkable for women to bleed through their clothes, those without access to menstrual supplies must stay at home and miss out on education and on essential income, which means deeper gender inequality. The homeless, trans or gender nonconforming and women in prison are those mostly affected. In the latter case, the rationing of pads and tampons is exploited to manipulate and dehumanize. Both the stigma and the pink tax evolve into or are ways to oppress and restrict women’s freedom and opportunities, permanently holding them a step behind. This makes menstruation a political issue.
Indeed, women – and transgender and non-binary people who menstruate- are beginning to talk about it more than ever in public, and feminist photographers are taking part into the menstrual revolution by giving faithful and true representation of period blood and women bleeding. Innovative menstrual supplies option are being launched on the market, blood is starting to be represented with its real colour in ads, and organizations and activist movements are advocating for actual changes. People are coming together to fight discrimination and injustice, with the shared and fundamental belief that it is time to let women worldwide experience and care for their natural cycle with pride and dignity, it is time to allow them higher participation in school and work, and it is time to let them do (and bleed) whatever they wish to do.
Photo by Olivia Doyle