"I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility."
When women mention menstruation, it should be treated as no more remarkable than discussing how one has slept the night before, as it is just another bodily function.
However, it is not. For thousands of years, women have been shamed for the act of menstruation.
Despite centuries of the stigma that women have had to endure, in recent times public discourse on menstruation has been changing.
The impact of these changes can be seen in the realms of legislation, education, and the marketing and availability of menstrual products.
The menstruation movement is constantly evolving and one such evolutionary step is the concept of period positivity.
The period positivity movement is about ensuring everyone, including men, is literate about menstruation.
Period positivity advocates want menstruation to be seen as a normal part of people’s lives – not a shameful thing to be dealt with in secret.
The period positivity movement is not just about creating cultural change but has the potential to save lives.
This has been made clear by Chella Quint, who coined the term ‘Period Positive‘ in 2006, who has said:
“Period taboos and the habits that uphold them lead to negative consequences like period poverty, late diagnoses of reproductive health problems, sustainability issues, unsafe behaviour, gender discrimination, and social exclusion all around the world, including right here in the UK.”
The rise of period positivity has led many to look at menstruation in a new way. Not just as something to be endured, but to be celebrated.
In an Instagram post in 2016, the poet Rupi Kaur likened her period to a religious experience.
Kaur posted a picture of a woman lying down with menstrual blood on her trousers and bedsheets. The photograph was deleted twice by Instagram as it violated community guidelines.
Kaur had a powerful response to the post being taken down: “I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine. A source of life for our species.”
Kaur added: “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of a misogynist society…. where women (so many are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”
Instagram was forced to apologise and put the post back up.
Musician Kiran Gandhi made the decision to fight period shaming by opting to free-bleed during the 2016 London Marathon. In doing so she gained global media attention.
On her decision to forgo a tampon, Gandhi said: “I could choose whether or not I wanted to participate in this status quo of shaming.
“I decided to just take some Midol, hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run.”
Gandhi then went on to say: “I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist.”
Period positivity can be seen as a progressive movement, but not everyone feels they are able to engage with the movement.
There are countless reasons why an individual may have a complicated relationship with menstruation.
This could be because they have a condition that makes their period more difficult to manage, they are experiencing period poverty, or due to physical and emotional discomfort.
Menstruation may also be difficult for individuals who are trying to conceive. In such situations, the arrival of your period would not be experienced as an empowering moment.
It is clear that it is not always possible to be positive about periods, and no one should feel pressured or obligated to feel a particular way about their periods.
This has led some to call for a move towards period neutrality.
Period neutrality is about ensuring people can confidently talk about their period without shame, but not having to celebrate it or be excited by it if that is not how they truly feel.
By widening the conversation to include people who have a complex relationship with their periods, we are ensuring that vital information on menstrual health reaches everyone who needs it and that all forms of period stigma are brought to an end.
Menstruation in South Asian communities
In South Asian communities, there are deeply ingrained views about menstruation being dirty.
It is not uncommon for South Asian women to find it difficult to talk about menstruation in a household setting.
Menstruation can be relegated to the realm of women’s troubles, which should not be seen or heard.
Women are often socialised not to complain or talk about their bodily functions. This can lead to women suffering needlessly from bad cramps, hormonal migraines and irregular periods.
These problems are further compounded by ‘Mrs Bibi’ or ‘Mrs Begum’ syndrome.
These are well-known medical stereotypes often colloquially used to describe female patients of South Asian heritage with non-specific complaints.
South Asian women are seen to be exaggerating their complaints. It is used by Caucasian doctors as well as those from minority groups.
This stereotype is a further obstacle for South Asian women to voice and receives appropriate medical attention.
The momentum that the period positivity movement has been gaining over recent years should be viewed as an opportunity for all women, regardless of whether you are period positive, lean more towards period neutrality or stand somewhere else completely.
It is an opportunity for new discussions and to re-think how you may view your body.
It is the time to ask questions, receive the medical and social support you deserve and educate yourself on everything you want to know.
So, no matter how you engage with the period positivity movement, there are several great resources to help you.
If you are looking for a way to help a young person who is about to start their first period, then you will find the book Own Your Period by Chella Quint extremely helpful.
This complete guide will prove an invaluable companion to any young person and help them embrace their cycle with positivity and pride.
Another great read is Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get your Cycle working For You by Maise Hill, who is a women’s health practitioner.
Period Power reveals everything you need to know about taking control of your menstrual cycle. The book outlines The Cycle strategy, which helps women perform at their best, throughout their cycle.
If you want something that is thought-provoking but will also make you laugh then If Men Could Menstruate by Gloria Steinem is what you need.
In this satirical essay, Steinem asks the question what would happen if suddenly, men could menstruate and women could not?
The podcast 28ish Days Later is an educational and digestible listen. This podcast is produced by the BBC and is presented by India Rakusen.
It draws on the expertise of doctors, scientists, historians, and writers to bring together history, politics, mythology, and the myriad of ways menstruation has been misrepresented.
It is made up of 28 instalments, each lasting around 15 minutes, meaning it is designed to be heard daily as it plots the average menstrual cycle.
No matter what your sport and no matter what your goal FitrWoman takes the guesswork out of training. This is a great app for athletes and non-athletes alike.
You can find just about anything on Netflix and it does not disappoint when it comes to menstruation.
The documentary Period. End of Sentence follows a group of women, in rural India, where the stigma of menstruation persists.
These women make low-cost sanitary pads and stride toward financial independence.
A day that we should all be making on our calendars is May 28 as it is Menstrual Hygiene Day.
It is a chance to highlight the importance of menstrual care, and raise awareness about the issues faced by those who do not have access to menstruation products, safe and hygienic spaces in which to use them, and the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma.
There is a long way to go, but as the period positivity movement continues to strive forward, we are closer to achieving period dignity for all who menstruate.