Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Women Step Out of the Closet of Shame & Start Talking Openly About Periods

This is a guest post from Holly of Menstrual Poetry.

 image Most women remember their first periods and no matter what emotion or range of emotions they experienced on that day, they can still look back on it many years later and smile--for one reason or another.  No matter what a woman thinks about her period, the bottom line is that it is with us for the long haul.  It is one of our long-term relationships and even if we love it or hate it, it is with us for the majority of our lives; and if we live with our periods for the majority of our lives, why do women (in general) constantly feel shamed by it?

A great deal of women will give you an odd, 'what planet are you from' look if you ask them to tell you about their first periods.  Many women (and especially men) will visibly become bothered if you dare speak its name during a conversation.  Most men downright refuse to go on late-night or after work runs to the store to pick up a box of pads or tampons and all of these situations deal with the shame that is associated with menstruation.  Sure, our lack of openness can be chalked up to menstruation happening to be an awkward subject, but it goes deeper than that, especially considering that it doesn't have to be and it only is because our society has let itself become a woman-shaming society.

I have always been very open about my body, my sexuality, and the miracles that the body of a woman can perform in her lifetime.  I honestly did not know where this openness came from, being raised by a single father, but I always had strong female role models in my life, one of which was my father's girlfriend who became my mother-figure throughout my childhood.  She taught me that the anatomy of a woman is beautiful and despite the abuse I had endured as a child from my mother (and the reason why my mother has not been in my life for more than a decade) there is nothing to feel ashamed about when it comes to your own body because it is yours and no one else's and no one can tell you that you are not beautiful and that your body is in any way something to be looked at as vulgar or disgusting; including menstruation.  For a while I thought that perhaps my natural-born feminism was something instilled in me from my upbringing, but from running this website (and hello, have you noticed the name of  my website) as well as paying special attention to the women who come from my generation, I am noticing that there are a great deal of women who are coming out of the shame closet; who are demanding that the awkwardness associated with the bodies and bodily functions of women are what is truly shameful and that the period is something that should be spoken about openly and honestly.  That is exactly what Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, a young woman of 18, did when she started asking women to tell her about their first periods.

Nalebuff realized with her own first period and hearing the story of her Aunt's first period that she had kept a secret for over 50 years, that people needed to start talking about this and the other events that happen in a young woman's life that people are simply refusing to talk about openly.  Something needs to be done in this society that would let this silence continue for so long and keep so many women captive in its process of women-shaming.  And so she started collecting stories from women and girls all over the world about their first periods and now presents us with an absolute gem, My Little Red Book, for women and girls of all ages who are either just about to get their periods, just got it and feel awkward about it, or for women who remember their first periods vividly and celebrate the right of passage that we as women have to talk openly about it.

There are 90 short stories in all and several names we've come to know through their own books and activism work make appearances in this book, including Jennifer Baumgardner, Meg Cabot, Megan McCafferty, and Gloria Steinem's 1978 essay, 'If Men Could Menstruate' which originally had appeared in Ms. Magazine also appears in this book.  There are stories of how many women thought themselves to be dying when noticing the small stain in their panties, women who "faked" their periods when knowing that their friends had gotten their periods before them, and my favourite is a story about a mother who when her daughter first got her period and felt awkward about it, she had to do something to mark the day and so she bought her daughter a vase full of red roses and in another story, her daughter talks about how special those roses were to here and how she had kept the vase for years after that first period.  Another one of my favourite parts of this book is that so many women talk about the Judy Blume book, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret a book that you would think comes with all little girls at birth due to how widely-read and coveted it is, albeit a bit out of date for those of us who have never seen these menstrual pad belts Margaret speaks of. My Little Red Book is a must for all women who have ever felt shamed or awkward about their period and also for every girl's first period kit.

All of the proceeds of this book are being donated to charity because there is a lot to be done as far as making the bodily functions of women something that can be widely spoken about.  There is also a great need for activism in countries like Africa, where because of the lack of menstrual supplies, a young girl will not receive the education that she is entitled to because one week out of every month will be spent out of school due to her period.

In the back of My Little Red Book, there is a section of books to read about periods including, yes, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and there is also a Do More section where your support for organizations like Planned Parenthood, who are the largest provider of sexual education and health services in the United States, as well as Choice USA, a youth-led organization that seeks to protect women's reproductive rights, can tremendously help girls receive the sexual education that they too are entitled to.  A company that I would like to add, is Lunapads.  Lunapads are based in Canada and make reusable, cloth and fleece pads.  Not only do they make a transition from disposables to reusable pads easy, their pads are completely harmless, unlike disposables that contain bleach and synthetic fibers.  Lunapads also does great work for girls in Africa by giving them their Pads4Girls Kit and each pad has a lifespan of 5 years or more that will help African girls attend school when they have their periods.

You can find out even more about this book and even share your own first period story at MyLittleRedBook.net.


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