I have learned to discreetly put my tampon in my boot when leaving to change it during class, because God forbid anyone catches me holding it. I have put tampons in days before I am scheduled to get my period, just in case any blood leaks out beforehand. I have bought copious amounts of vaginal washes and cleansing wipes for on the go to ensure that my vagina remains in pristine condition, taught to be ashamed of when its anything but. I. am. done.
Girls are socialized from elementary school to be ashamed of their periods, to speak about them only in codewords and hidden glances. I remember a particularly panicked incident in 5th grade when a boy in my class found one of the girl’s pads. My fellow pre-teen classmates stumbled through a explanation about how they were scented tissues, terrified of the consequences that would result if he discovered what they really were. That incident happened six years ago and I am still trying to reconcile, with myself and others, that I do not need to tell men what I’m holding in my hand is a scented tissue.
This is not a phase that girls are allowed to grow out of. Fast forward to seventh grade health class; we were split up into groups of girls and boys during the sex education unit. Ignoring the issues that arise due to this gender division in the future, it did enable many of the female students to feel more comfortable asking otherwise taboo questions. One of the girls raised her hand and in a meek voice asked, “what do I tell a male teacher if I have my period during school?” Her face flushed immediately along with those of every other student present. My health teacher, a woman herself, cleared her throat and told her to “just tell them you have to go to the bathroom, they don’t need to know you’re on your period.” And she’s right, they don’t need to know I am on my period, but they don’t have to not know either. The pressure put on young girls to be polite about their period is nothing short of misogyny, causing girls to be ashamed of their own anatomy and reviled by their natural bodily functions.
When my male gym teacher asked why I was not swimming a few weeks ago, I was unbelievably tempted to respond with a generic “I don’t feel well.” Instead, I told him in an unwavering tone that I was on my period, and I was not going to swim. His discomfort was evident but I felt liberated. Gradually, I have started holding my tampons in my hand as I walk to the bathroom and I no longer feel a need to lower my voice when talking to friends about my cramps. True, we no longer live in a biblical society that requires women to stay in their homes for seven to ten days during their cycles, but sometimes it doesn’t feel far from it. I’m sick of it. I am sick of being told that my period is gross or being asked if I’m being moody because my hormones are “flaring up.” The monthly shedding of my uterine lining should not be taboo, I will not be polite about it and I do not care if it makes you uncomfortable. I am angry, I have the right to be angry, and my anger will not subside in five to eight days, when it’s no longer that “time of the month.”