Does the word “period” make you cringe? Do you find it easier to say something like “time of the month”, “lady time” or, my personal favourite, “shark week”? In todays’ episode I want to encourage you to think about which words you’re using to talk about your period, and why some phrases might make you feel uncomfortable.
This episode was prompted, in part, by a message I received on Instagram. Somebody reached out to me and thanked me for pointing out that a single menstrual blood drop can make you feel really uncomfortable.
Maybe you’ve heard this quote from Maia Schwartz, “Menstruation is the only blood that is not born from violence, yet it’s the one that disgusts you the most.”
I mean, think about that for a second. We see blood all the time on television and in movies. We’re so desensitised to it. And yet, some period products are still using a weird blue liquid in their adverts. Why is that? What is it about menstrual blood that disgusts us more than blood caused by violence?
opening up conversations
The lady who messaged me went on to say that my use of the words “period” and “bleeding” often made her feel uncomfortable. But she thanked me for bringing this to her awareness that she clearly felt some kind of shame in talking about these things. She felt that this in and of itself was really enlightening for her.
I do think in recent times, we have become way more open when it comes to talking about periods. You’ve got hundreds of accounts on Instagram who are run by people who openly talk about having a period.
This is all good stuff. It’s opening up the conversation for so many people. But, I think there is still work to be done when it comes to normalising periods in general.
I’m obviously someone who talks about periods and the menstrual cycle for a living. I do it day in, day out. But, there are still occasions where I find myself feeling a little bit uncomfortable when people ask “what do you do for work?”.
Of course, I want to tell them what I do, it’s not that I’m embarrassed about my work. I love the work I’m doing! I know how valuable it is and how impactful it can be. But I’m aware that this subject might make some people uncomfortable.
the shame around periods
I guess throughout history people with periods have been told, either directly or indirectly, that other people (and more specifically CIS men) don’t want to hear about it. I think that’s where this notion of “lady time”, or “girl talk” comes from. This idea that periods are only for women and that you may only speak about them with other women.
“But, of course, if you’re going to do that, do it somewhere that other people don’t have to hear it. I don’t understand how it works and it makes me uncomfortable therefore I will shame you into believing that it is not a topic of polite conversation.” Does this feel familiar to you?
I don’t believe periods are “girl talk”. In fact, I believe that periods should be openly talked about no matter your gender. The more we can educate everybody (men, women, boys, girls, non binary and everything in between) about how the menstrual cycle works, the more compassion we will all have for each other.
Of course, if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I’m intentional about being inclusive with the language I use. I choose to say “people with periods” when collectively addressing people with periods. Not all women have periods, and not all those who have periods are women.
For me, it has to be Mooncup.
Mooncup is an economical, eco-friendly alternative to tampons and pads. It’s my all-time favourite period product and it totally changed the way I feel about that time of the month.
So, to use the word “women” when what we really mean is “people with periods” is not only inaccurate but it’s also insensitive.
Of course, if you come to me as a woman, and you want to talk about your period – great! I will speak to you woman to woman. And at the same time, if you come to me as a man, and you want to talk about your period – amazing! I will speak to you man to woman. Person to person. Human to human.
If you’re listening to this like “what? Men don’t have periods?” you need to hear me out.
If we only speak about periods in terms of being a woman, we are invalidating the experiences of trans men and non-binary people who also experience menstruation. Yes, trans people and non-binary folks can experience menstruation too. Not just women.
And at the same time, being a woman does not necessarily mean you have a period. There are plenty of women out there who, through choice or otherwise, do not experience menstruation. So, if I was to say something like “women should give menstrual cups a try” – that automatically doesn’t apply to some of the people I just addressed. But when I change that to “people with periods should give menstrual cups a try” – I know I’m addressing the right people.
Your gender does not necessarily determine whether or not you have a period. What determines whether or not you have a period is… well, whether or not you have a period.
This is part of the reason why I feel language surrounding periods is so important. To call your period anything other than what it is, feels a bit old-fashioned to me. Like, it’s 2021 – can we not just call a spade, a spade?!
why "feminine hygiene" is problematic
I know sometimes it’s fun to use other terms. I already mentioned “shark week” is a personal favourite of mine. But that comes from a place of being silly, rather than a place of feeling shameful about saying the word “period”.
One term that really gets my goat is the phrase “feminine hygiene”. There are two things I think are wrong and outdated with this term.
Firstly, “feminine”. Periods do not determine femininity. You could be the most feminine person in the world and not have a period. So, to create this association with the words feminine and periods just doesn’t sit that well with me.
And of course, we have the “hygiene” part of this phrase, which comes with connotations of being unclean. I guess it kinda leaves you with this idea that periods are somehow unsanitary. That they need to be disinfected.
I’ll be honest – I really hate this phrase. I think a much better term is period products. Let’s just call it what it is. Not feminine hygiene. I’m not looking to sanitise my feminine parts. I want products for my period.
I did a search recently on a popular health and beauty retailer’s website (I won’t say which one). They were proudly displaying a rainbow for pride month on their site and I searched for the words “period products”. Now, I expected to be met with reams and reams of pads, tampons, maybe some period underwear and a menstrual cup if I was lucky.
Do you know what I was met with? ONE search result. A single one.
Just let that sink in. One of the biggest health and beauty retailers in the UK only produced one single result for the words “period products”.
And do you know what this search result was for? Not tampons. Not pads. Not even a menstrual cup. It was a box of ibuprofen.
Okay, fine. I might want to add some NSAID’s to my stash of period goodies. It can be useful to have some painkillers on standby just in case you get some cramps. But really, if I’m searching for period products, I want to see products that are specifically for my period.
I want to see pads and tampons and period underwear and every type of menstrual cup available. I don’t want to have to go all round the houses trying to guess what my period products might be called. Why can’t they just be called period products?
I had to do some digging to find what I was actually looking for. Period products yielded me no relevant results. So, what other terms could I use?
I tried “feminine hygiene”, knowing this is often the term you see on those overhead signs in the supermarket. This time I got some results.
The top results were all for “intimate area” washes and wipes. Now firstly, what the heck is an intimate area? I might find my ears to be intimate. Does that mean it’s an ear wash?
Of course, I know they’re referring to the vulva, vagina, lady garden, privates – whatever you wanna call it. But do we really need a specified wash for our downstairs? Is this not just furthering the notion that periods, vulvas and vaginas are dirty and need to be cleansed?
Again, what?! Not exactly what I was looking for when I searched for feminine hygiene (although it does kinda make sense), but if I scrolled down far enough I did eventually get to some pads and tampons.
If you’re looking for pads and tampons, they are relatively easy to find. If I searched for tampons, I got tampons. If I searched for pads, I got pads. Mostly incontinence pads at the top of the search, but if I scrolled, I got to some period pads too.
From here, my thought process was “okay, we found incontinence pads, what about period pads?”. So, I did a search for period pads. The results were, as expected – hundreds of packs of period pads. Great!
It wasn’t until I scrolled back to the top of the page that I realised my search for “period pads” had automatically been changed to “sanitary towels”. Hold on, what?
If this retailer knows full well that period pads and sanitary towels are the same thing, why change the search term? And why not include period products in the search terms? What is wrong with saying the word “period”?
period is not a dirty word
It’s instances like this that lead people to believe that “period pads” is the incorrect term, and that “sanitary towels” is the correct one. I’m not saying that either one is necessarily right or wrong, but let’s drop the idea that using the word “period” is somehow detrimental.
I mean, with this kind of behaviour, you can see how the belief that periods should not be talked about is being reinforced. You can see why there are people who feel shame around using these words. Because, subconsciously you’re being told “nope, we don’t say that around here!”.
Periods don’t have to be so formal. It’s like when you phone the doctors and you feel like you have to use the correct terminology when you speak to them. To anyone else you would say “my wee smells funny” – but to the doctors you end up saying “my urine has an unfamiliar aroma”. Why do we do this?! Or maybe it’s just me….
Let’s chill out a bit and say it like it is. The more we normalise the words “period” and “bleeding” the easier we make it for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with saying “period”.
I know there are companies who are getting on board with normalising these words. Period ad campaigns are changing to show a more realistic interpretation of period blood and what it’s like to be someone who menstruates. Honestly, I’m here for that!
Every time you show that it’s okay to have these conversations in the most honest and candid way, it gives somebody else permission to do the same. Every time you say the word “period”, it makes it easier for someone else to do it too. Every time you break down the stigma of periods, blood and the menstrual cycle, you’re opening up the door for somebody else to feel a little less shame.
We’re all in this together. So, let’s make a stand. If you’re listening to this podcast, screenshot and share to your Instagram story with the words “I have a period too”. Don’t forget to tag me so I can share to my story as well. Do it now. Let’s open up this conversation further, screenshot and share.