Posted on: 29 March 2018
Having covered the attitudes that young girls have towards menstruation and, in particular, the education they receive about it in the last blog, we’ll now consider the role of other external factors that contribute to the current situation in the UK.
As Amelia Young commented in response to our last blog: “it’s also worth pointing out as a parent we need to be more open, informed and honest to our children”. Although most parents will claim to be open and considerate when it comes to menstruation, the reality does not necessarily follow. Indeed, 12% of the girls Plan International UK surveyed had been told not to talk about their periods in front of their mothers. Additionally, 11% of the girls had been told not to talk about their periods in front of their fathers. Worryingly, this is not as a result of a lack of knowledge about periods, but due more to the supposed embarrassment that is attached to periods. As put by Evan, 15: “In my family if it happens my sister just takes the day off and my dad just says: ‘Yeah your sister’s feeling unwell…’ Me and my dad both know what it is but we prefer not to talk about it because it gets a bit awkward.”
Young girls are actually taking on the responsibility of breaking down the stigma. Fiona, 15 said: ““I talk to my boyfriend about it, and my brother, just so that they get more aware of what’s happening and stuff instead of just going ‘What’s happened to you?’; they are understanding.”
Although often a place of toxicity, many young girls find the internet to be a safe space to talk openly about menstruation, finding peer support in the sharing of their experiences. Samaira, 17, said that she thinks : YouTubers are so good, they have a platform for education.” As mentioned in the last blog, the education young girls receive often fails to explain or describe accurately the real-life experience of menstruation. Kellie, 15, discussed reading about the experience of menstruation online, stating: “I remember reading one about just how much blood you lost.” However, some portrayals of periods on social media often reinforce harmful stereotypes. Ivy, 15, argues that the depiction of girls indulging in chocolate and junk food as frequently represented online is not a useful stereotype. As she puts it, sometimes girls “just need support in a different way rather than just buying them whatever they want; some girls just want a cuddle.”
Nevertheless, it is perhaps corporations that play the most detrimental part in reinforcing the current taboo-nature of periods. Amika George, of Free Periods, put it perfectly when she said: “I think it’s really awful that it’s so enforced from such a young age and the fact that period product packaging is called things like ‘Whisper’ and ‘Discreet’, and subconsciously you’re taking all of it in, and you’re not doubting why it seems so embarrassing”.
Just this year Tampax released an advertisement titled ‘Radiant: Short, Shorter, Shortest’ emphasising their new discreet wrapping, with the word ‘Shhhhh’ covering the screen. It is just this type of advertising that perpetuates the idea of periods as a mysterious enigma, rather than an everyday, natural and normal process. In fact, due to the adverts, several of the study’s participants told Plan UK stories of young people who actually believed that periods are blue, since blue liquid representing blood is still used in most advertisements today.
It is just this form of secrecy, embarrassment and confusion that we reject at Freda. We believe that by repeatedly sending out the right message – that periods are natural and should be treated as such – young girls will no longer feel ashamed to open up to those closest to them. As the figures suggest, period stigma is still a prevalent and powerful force, which must be eradicated so that young girls can grow up free from shame.