Culture,Health & Wellness

Why Periods Are Still Political in 2019

Whether it’s female athletes discussing their periods, progressive period products initiating honest conversations, or body-positive brands celebrating the feminine body in all its glory, we’ve come a long way in recent years when it comes to the normalisation of menstruation in society. 

However, there is still a long way to go. In this post, we’ll be looking at why periods are still political — even in 2019 — and what we can do/what is being done about it.

Menstruation still = isolation in certain cultures

Despite Western attitudes towards periods and the way we treat them becoming more enlightened, there are still many countries and cultures in which women are shamed and isolated for something as natural as menstruating. 

For example, in Nepal, the ancient practice of chaupadi — where ‘impure’ menstruating women are exiled, forced to sleep in dirty sheds or huts outside — has now been officially outlawed, but it is still carried out. 

Bad period practices mean that women are placed in life-threatening situations: often left without clean water, food and warmth, and at risk of disease, wild animal attacks, and sexual assault.

And it’s not just remote areas and developing countries where menstruation is stigmatised and considered unclean or even dangerous. There are period superstitions in countries across the world which stem from a lack of education and transparency. 

This video by period tracking app Clue, offers great insights into global period taboos:

Until period health and education is taught and prioritised, this will continue to happen — and at the moment, our governments simply don’t place enough importance on period shame.

The ‘tampon tax’ still exists

You will have heard of the tampon tax  — the VAT charge applied to the sale of sanitary products. This is because sanitary products like tampons are currently classed as ‘luxury items’. 

The ridiculousness of something which is a monthly necessity for nearly 50% of the population being classified as a ‘luxury’ is such a gross error in judgement that it’s clear periods are still political, even in 2019. 

How can countries like the UK and the USA tax people for tampons, but not viagra or chocolate body paint?

The tampon tax has decreased in the UK in recent years — going from 10% VAT in the 70s to 5% currently — but it has yet to be eradicated, and there is a similar situation in pretty much every other country worldwide. (Australia is the only exception, officially scrapping the tampon tax at the start of 2019).

Language — “feminine hygiene” products

Periods are nothing to be ashamed of, but the language that surrounds them is often associated with words that seem to imply uncleanliness, shame, or dirt.

The idea that periods need to be dealt with using “hygiene” products has failed to keep up with the times where female beauty products have embraced ideas of empowerment, self-care, and environmentalism. 

Even the development of period products was marred by taboo and shame. Victorian sanitary pads were not adopted because manufacturers couldn’t even talk about periods to their would-be customers (women). 

Women only moved on from stuffing their underwear with the rags and linen they’d used for centuries when nurses in World War II picked up on the qualities of the dressings they were using.
Slowly, we’re seeing a growing momentum of women and girls owning their periods and using period-proof underwear and menstrual cups to help combat period waste and shame by taking back control. (Check out Cosmo’s list of the top ten menstrual cups).

Women aren’t taken seriously enough

All too often premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is laughed or brushed off by popular culture (and sometimes medical professionals too). 

Serious premenstrual syndrome is no laughing matter and can be a debilitating condition, requiring women to take time off work. Despite thousands of years of periods, the condition is not well-understood, and women often struggle to obtain the required adjustments.

Alarmingly, diagnosing serious underlying female conditions like endometriosis is often delayed by the unhelpful stance we’ve adopted towards periods. Young girls and women are not taught to talk openly about their bodies and its functions, leaving the door wide open for ambiguity. 

Misdiagnosis can lead to permanent damage and infertility, so gynaecological education is a must.

It affects education

Two things are important about periods and education: how periods affect girls at school, and how periods are taught in our schools.

Period poverty is a real social issue that’s recently made headlines up and down the country. 

Some schools are campaigning to tackle period poverty head-on due to girls routinely missing school because of the expense of tampons and pads.
In America, the period charity Period has partnered with period underwear brand, Thinx, in order to march against period poverty in the US in the form of demonstrations, rallies, and petitions.

The way periods are currently taught is often considered inadequate, and there are calls for period education in our schools to start at a younger age in order to reflect the average age that girls actually get their periods. For many girls, it’s simply too little too late. 

Menstruating needs to be normalised from a young age and kids need to be given the language to talk about periods constructively.

We’re making progress

“Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth” — isn’t that the truth! Normalising period proof underwear sold provides evidence  a wider shift in the way that women are marketed to about their bodies and their periods.

This is about powerful women who don’t let periods stop them —  in a way that feels more real than the over-sanitised adverts of yesteryear. 

It’s not about hiding blood and periods, but about embracing them and all the wider connotations of the female experience.

Imperfect bodies, cellulite, stretch marks, blood, surgery, non-binary — all these are part of femininity and womanhood and in 2019. Thankfully, brands are starting to take note and are changing the way they talk to us (just check out these examples of period product ads keeping it real).

Periods are political, period. Think about how the power structures of state, language, education, and have tried to make periods something to be ashamed of and silenced over the past two millennia. No more — say no to period shame.

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