Posted on: 30 November 2017
Imagine a house where the father is a well-known gynaecologist and the mother owns a sanitary product company. Sounds like the comings of an inappropriate joke but ironically I am simply describing the layout of my family.
Despite my father’s profession, growing up I hadn’t given much thought to my period. It was something that came every month if I was lucky, occasionally ruined an expensive pair of underwear if I wasn’t prepared, and was the cause of extensive over-spending on questionable herbal teas that I naively believed would cure severe stomach pain and bloating.
However, since my mother decided to venture into her own business Freda, which provides organic period care products (we don’t like the word sanitary as it implies periods are dirty) whilst addressing period poverty worldwide, I must say I’ve become rather obsessed with a world of cycles, tampons, menstrual stigma and blood stains. It’s weird that as a mental health campaigner, I hadn’t paid much attention to periods because there is so much change needed in our society in the way we move forward talking about them.
To start, I had never thought about how much time I spend on my period. Given that it’s only a few days a month, I had never appreciated just how much time and money I will spend on it in my life time. Looking at the figures- 3500 days on my period and 11,000 tampons over forty years, I’ve realised I seriously need to think more about how much I spend and what I spend my money on. Do I want to be taxed on my periods- no not really? Do I want to be taken advantage of in an airport because they know I’m desperate; Fuck no. However, I also recognise that I am one of the ones who have the disposable income to afford any pad or tampon I want and live in a country where I will never be in short supply.
But what about those around the world who don’t? What about women in refugee camps who aren’t supplied sanitary products whilst they seek refuge? I complain about being late to classes because I had to run to a convenience store to buy some emergency tampons but what about millions of young girls in the developing world who can’t even go to school because they are hindered and shunned because of their periods. What about them?
What do Bodyform and Tampax do about these girls? Why am I being charged every month for synthetic and artificial pads just to fund some businessmen who don’t understand women’s needs, instead of charging me over the odds because they know they can? Does any of my money help the people that really need it?
Concurrent with my questioning of the femcare industry, I have also realised that conversations about our own periods aren’t anywhere near common enough. I have been conditioned to believe that I should keep my period secret; I’ve hidden my tampon up my sleeve walking out class, I’ve told boys I have food poisoning instead of period cramps and I still remember my fourteen-year-old-self waiting until everyone had left an English lesson because I was scared I had stained my white jeans. Magazines and adverts have told me that my period is something to be ashamed of, using sterile blue liquid to represent blood, and telling me I’m not myself when I’m on my period.
I am myself on my period. I may be a little teary and sleep deprived but I will still go out and kick-ass in the gym. I will still dance on top of tables on a night out and I will wear white jeans because a stain doesn’t mean I’ve got a disease. I am still the same fucking girl on my period and I will not be shamed into thinking differently.
It’s a shame it’s taken me until my twentieth year to realise how great my period is and how lucky I am to have it somewhere I can have access to products whenever and wherever. I had four years where I was unable to have periods due to being severely underweight and honestly it was scary. I didn’t know if I would ever have kids and the chance of osteoporosis was high. Getting them back is a blessing, not a curse and I will disprove anyone who says otherwise.
Ironically, It was not some edgy, millennial hipster who has got me period -preaching but my fifty year-old, gap-wearing mother of all people. She speaks openly and brilliantly about menstruation and breaks taboos every day whether it is tweeting politicians or in a coffee shop with a seventeen-year-old boy (another story for another time). Through Freda (sorry for the name drop), her company that donates a portion of profits to helping women who are less fortunate access sanitary products, she has shown me a world which isn’t as easy to live in and where periods aren’t just “something I get every month”. I have been taught to be more ethical in my approach to femcare and see every pad and tampon I purchase as an enabler to give back and show women periods are a gift rather than a hindrance.
So thanks mum for showing me that I can still be a fucking boss every day, whether there is a period stain on my jeans or not.
This article first appeared in The Standard – a digital publication of Duke University, USA.