Let’s talk about periods

She’s being a right grumpy cow- is she on the blob?‘ ‘It’s that time of the month, is it?‘ ‘Oh man up, you’ve never been hit in the balls before‘.

Periods, aka. the menstruation cycle, have been a social taboo for far too long. There is way too much negativity associated with it. Women have been made to feel ashamed for a natural bodily function which means they have the power to give birth to life. When a young girl starts their first period, she feels a transition into womanhood. They are growing up, which they are made to feel horrified about, ashamed to talk about; they feel embarrassed to be a woman.

I didn’t have my first period until I was 15. I guess you could call me a late bloomer, but I was glad that I didn’t start until much later than a lot of my friends. I felt disgusted, due to the social stigma associated with periods, having blood flowing out of me. I used to experience bad cramps for the first few days of a new menstrual cycle, but I could overcome these through walking and simply ignoring the pain. I never took medication for my periods as I could handle the pain, but I knew girls who had it much harder.

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I was constantly conscious of my lower clothing when I was on a period, that I might accidentally leak and become the laughing stock in class (I already had enough things to deal with, such as facial hair). I was worried that the blood would smell so I kept my legs constantly closed, which was ok because women weren’t (aren’t) supposed to sit with their legs open. My legs would hurt, but it was better to suffer pain, along with the menstrual cramps, than to have a boy saying, ‘It smells of fish in here. Which girl has got their legs open? Shut your legs!’

I remember trying a tampon for the first time- it was uncomfortable. I could feel it moving inside me as I walking, and I was worried that it might fall out! I remember my sister saying it would be easier to wear a tampon after having sex for the first time- I still don’t like tampons all that much (I only wear them for swimming). My mum used to say that wearing tampons is a lot more sanitary than using pads, and a lot easier too. I agree with her to an extent, but I always opt for comfort.

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I no longer believe that I should have to experience gender-specific pain e.g. having my body hair removed by waxing or wearing a tampon. However, periods are of course sex-specific. All women experience the menstrual cycle, some more frequently or with a greater cramping sensation than others. While this is a pain all women have to bear, I feel that I shouldn’t have to go through other forms of pain just to conform to how my gender should look or behave. The only area of my body which I have waxed is my eyebrows, but I refuse to have any other part waxed. Women suffer from enough pain.

The main reason why I’ve written this blog about periods is because of a recent story in the news. A company in Bristol is allowing women to take menstrual leave in order to help improve their work performance and break the social taboo surrounding periods. The company, called Coexist, is currently creating a ‘period policy’ which aims to synchronize work with the woman’s natural body cycle. Coexist will be the first UK company to introduce such a policy.

Bex Baxter, the director of Coexist, stated the following: ‘I have managed many female members of staff over the years and I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods. Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. And this is unfair. At Coexist we are very understanding. If someone is in pain – no matter what kind – they are encouraged to go home. But, for us, we wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body’s natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness.’

Of course there has been much debate about letting women have time off for their periods. Some people have said that it would be discriminatory and/or sexist to introduce a period policy as it would mean women are receiving ‘special treatment’. I argue that if men were to experience something similar to a woman’s period, then something would have been done about it a long time ago. After all, men have always been put first, haven’t they, while women have been expected to suffer in silence and deal with it?

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Others would argue that it would be difficult to implement such a policy because some women would take advantage of it i.e. using the leave unnecessarily and/or lying about being in pain from menstrual cramps. There might be the issue of some females not taking time off for their period and those who need to take the time off would be seen as ‘weak’. It shouldn’t have to be this way of course. Remember that pain is difficult to measure because it is greatly subjective. Women who suffer from a lot of pain shouldn’t be belittled for taking time off. Surely it is better to have a person working who is not in pain, rather than make them work and as a result, possibly produce work of a lower quality?

Baxter states that taking time off work doesn’t mean less productivity. She argues that ‘There is a misconception that taking time off makes a business unproductive – actually it is about synchronising work with the natural cycles of the body […] It’s not just about taking time off if you feel unwell but about empowering people to be their optimum selves. If you work with your natural rhythms, your creativity and intelligence is more fulfilled. And that’s got to be good for business.’

I agree with Baxter’s move towards introducing a period policy. While I am quite fortunate that I do not suffer from as much pain as I used to, and I feel that I can work at my optimum level when I am on my period, the policy would greatly benefit women who feel they need to take time off or work from home during their menstrual cycle. The policy would improve productivity, make women feel more empowered and better about themselves.

It is time to break the negative social stigma around periods. I’ve heard men and even women say too often ‘Periods are disgusting’. They are a completely natural bodily function which allows women to reproduce if they desire to. Evolution could have been more in a woman’s favour, or God could have made a much more comfortable experience for women.

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Whatever your sex, gender, belief or culture, periods are not disgusting.

 

 

Many thanks,

Clare Abbott

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