Culture and menstruation: we need to talk about periods

Culture and menstruation: we need to talk about periods

We believed once that menstruating women could wilt flowers as they walked by, turn wine into vinegar, and drive dogs mad.

It’s a taboo rich in history and myth; so why can we still not talk about periods?

We use euphemisms like ‘sanitary products’ and ‘feminine hygiene’ and ‘that time of the month’, calling a period by anything but its name, whether it be out of discomfort, or habit, or both.

We give as many alternative identities to a period as we can, in the aim to keep them experienced in silence. We even represent our own blood on advertised period products as a brilliant bright-blue, should we ever dare bleed anything but.

It shouldn’t be an act of feminism to be unashamed of your period, but somehow still, it is.

Why does period stigma exist?

Period stigma can be found across most cultures and religions, and is deeply embedded even in modern society. Traditional teachings deem periods ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’ and ‘unclean’, and it leaves menstruating women feeling disempowered and ashamed of their own bodies.

What feeds the stigma is enforcing the idea that periods are meant to be a secret; whether that’s through persisting taboos or limited access to products and poor education, it all contributes toward it.

A lack of education and support, coupled with shame and poor pragmatic guidance, all perpetuates a legacy of shame.

Putting a stop to it might begin with looking to our common dialogue.

Change starts with language

On a micro level, changing the collective dialogue around periods begins with language itself, and even the smallest changes are proving worthwhile.

Venues like supermarkets and chemists, which house pads, tampons and menstrual cups, often refer to them as ‘personal care products’ and ‘sanitary products’.

Supermarket giant Woolworths, in February of this year, rebranded ‘Personal Care’ to ‘Period and Continence Care’; a change that, however small, takes a step forward towards destigmatising the language surrounding periods.

“Many of us still tread around using the word period as if it’s inappropriate or something to be ashamed of. The truth is periods are a very natural part of life,” says Woolworths managing director Natalie Davis.

This is a change we can make today that will help debunk the stigma of calling a period what it is and will help many young women grow up feeling less shame or embarrassment, so we’re excited to introduce this in Australia.

Davis says the retail giant’s research shows Australians agree there is still a stigma around the word ‘period’.

“As Australia’s largest retailer, we feel a responsibility to make a simple change, that can help remove some of the embarrassment around periods.”

It took until 2021 for one of Australia’s largest retail giants to finally recognise the power of reclaiming the word ‘period’.

We all can.

It starts with how we talk to each other.