Opinion: Stop the stigma. It’s time to teach girls that it is alright to discuss periods

Eva Bard, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Because nobody can know we’re on our periods, we miserably wait for the bell to ring so we can change out of the tampon we’ve already bled through. We make sure to look both ways before shoving a tampon or pad up our sleeves. We disguise our cramps as headaches. We wear dark, baggy clothes. Because no one can know, women all over the world suffer every day.

The culture of hiding periods isn’t unique to our school or even our country. Menstruation has been painted as something dirty and shameful in society for centuries and although scholars debate where the societal taboo came from, it can be clearly traced back to religious texts such as the bible and the Quran.

In Leviticus 15:19, God commands that “when a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, she shall remain in her impurity seven days; whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.”

Based on this biblical text, the Talmud then expanded the idea of purification with the rules of niddah, or ritual impurity. It commands married couples to refrain from intercourse during a woman’s period and to end her cycle with a trip to the mikvah that will “purify” her again.

Through describing periods as “impure,” along with using a code name for menstruation, the bible and Talmud form a harmful taboo around it. While I don’t fault the bible for not looking at menstruation scientifically, it could have taken an entirely different approach by viewing periods as a beautiful part of the life cycle. Rather, it enforces the idea that periods are gross and humiliating, which is exemplified in a woman’s tradition to visit the mikvah privately at night.

This taboo, first seen in the bible, is still carried around in society today. A study conducted by the International Women’s Health Coalition found that there are around 5,000 slang words for periods in 10 different languages. We’ve all heard and used the seemingly harmless euphemisms like “that time of month,” “Aunt Flo” and “shark week,” but our inability to call it what it is actually adds to the dirty connotation and tells society that periods are unworthy of attention.

The unworthiness that the stigma around periods creates not only prevents students at school from telling their teacher they need to go change their tampon but leads to inaccessible menstruation products and disadvantages for girls around the world. According to Femme International, girls in Kenya miss about 20% of the school year because of a lack of period supplies, and women in Venezuela are forced to sleep in isolated huts during their cycle.

The list goes on.

In American society, there are no expulsions of women during their period, but women living in poverty are unable to access menstruation products because of the high costs, along with the impractical sales tax. Although many states exempt basic necessities from the sales tax, only five have included menstrual products to that exemption, which again, reflects society’s inability to confront periods, and menstrual products as a necessity to female life.

Problems women face are often stereotyped as illegitimate or overdramatized, and periods are no exception. People in power have continuously failed to recognize and prioritize issues surrounding periods, causing there to be a lack of solutions and change for women that need it.

Nevertheless, change must also come from the bottom. If we can’t talk about it, how can we expect society to take period issues seriously? While we can’t get rid of thousands of years worth of stigma, we can start by speaking up for our periods and stop hiding it under sweatpants. Hold your tampon proudly in the hallway and stand up to the teacher that won’t let you go to the bathroom.

However, for progress to be made, males must also take responsibility. Instead of dismissing periods as distant and irrelevant, males should stay educated so that they can participate in the conversation as well. It’s time we all challenge ourselves to embrace periods, engage in conversation and together, we can start to break the silence.