A boy slides along the bench to sit too close to my friends and me. He looks as though he might be nearing 30, but his awkwardness implies he has only recently left high school.
‘Keep talking, don’t mind me,’ he says. ‘I’m conducting some research—I want to know how girls talk to each other. What they talk about.’
Our new friend seems to perceive women as wildlife to be studied: he is somebody who extolls the value of the “red pill” on Reddit, most likely. A virgin who can’t drive.
‘What do we talk about?’ I ask my friends sarcastically, deciding to indulge this seemingly real-life troll. ‘Oh you know, girl stuff: periods, vaginas, all of that.’
‘Periods!’ he says, about to hit us with some ~real truth~ that he stole from someone online. ‘Periods are proof that God doesn’t exist, because they’re so disgusting!’
Obviously he didn’t get much further with his research.
Aside from the obvious misogyny and reductive depiction of ‘girls’, it was so upsetting to hear someone crack a joke about the universally accepted repugnance of menstruation. This boy was completely certain that we would all agree that PERIODS SUCK!! and I HATE MY TIME OF THE MONTH!! and URGH MY PERIOD IS SO GROSS!!
Is this still the only acceptable narrative when it comes to the period? How annoying and disgusting it is?
A few weeks later, after spending a few minutes before class telling my friends just how much I love my period cup and overexcitedly answering their questions about the whole putting-it-right-up-in-you process, I received a cough and a hard look from an older student who could hear our conversation.
‘I think that’s enough sharing for now, don’t you?’ she reprimanded.
I was floored—then infuriated.
I admit I can get a bit rowdy when sharing personal details. I have no filter and it’s impossible for me to feel embarrassed. It’s a blessing and a curse.
But I’m aware of social cues. If I’m in class, I’m not going to share the story of the time my period cup overflowed. Or when I put a tampon in without unfurling the string, giving myself a panic attack about having a tampon stuck in me forever. I understand what subjects are appropriate in the given circumstance.
So, to think that my fellow classmate of the sisterhood was disgusted by my (appropriately non-gory!) period details—this really got me down.
I have genuinely positive feelings about my period. Obviously I don’t love it as much as my cat, or re-watching the 2017 AFL Grand Final, or telling everyone I meet that I’m an Ilana, but I certainly don’t hate it or dread its arrival.
These positive feelings towards my menstrual friend stem from two things: firstly, knowing how lucky I am to have things like a period cup, period-proof undies and, of course, THE PILL; and secondly, being able to talk about it out loud—it brings me great joy to find solidarity with other menstruating ladies and to make them laugh with my No Filter menstrual stories.
My mum, for one, is a big fan of my period confidence. She didn’t grow up with the same devices for periods, which reminds me how grateful I should be for a cup that can collect your period blood for 12 straight hours without a leak, for example. You empty it once in the morning and once before bed and you’ll never even know it’s there.
My mum tells me that no one ever talked about their period when she was young. Not with friends, not with family. Her mum told her you couldn’t wear a tampon until you were married. My grandmother didn’t tell her this because of any religious concerns—she simply didn’t know it would fit up there. So, my mum had to wear some sort of elastic contraption that clipped onto a pad to hold it steady, as pads that stick onto your underwear didn’t exist yet. She still shudders remembering a school swimming carnival when she realised while changing into her bathers—too late—that she forgot to take the elastic belt off. Why was this such an awful moment? Because the other girls would know, she said. That I was on my period.
If there’s shame about periods, you know that the pill is still a strange thing to talk about. But I will praise the pill forever. The life-saving, autonomy-giving pill that reduced my mum’s excruciating cramps, allowing her to return to work after having kids. The pill that makes my period arrive at 2pm on a Monday and leave by 5pm on a Friday every month, without fail. The pill that balanced my hormones enough to reduce my mood swings and anxiety enough for me to go to university classes and make friends and feel normal. I’m a bit of a fan of the pill.
The fact that I live in a time where I can access the pill, the cup and period-proof undies and a place where I can talk about this very normal occurrence out loud makes me incredibly grateful. Of course, I understand that this is a reductive thought process that disregards the many uncomfortable and unlovable aspects of menstruating. Just because my generation has it a bit easier than my mum’s doesn’t mean we have to all love our periods unconditionally. Plus there are millions of women far less privileged than me for whom the period only serves to further oppress their rights and diminish their humanity in the eyes of our patriarchal society. I’m lucky that I can still go outside when I get mine.
But I’ll keep fighting the good fight where I can, so this is my perspective for now: until I get pregnant or finish menopause, blood will be pouring out of my vagina every 28 days and there’s nothing I can do about it. In fact, if my period does suddenly stop, then I know there’s something very wrong with me: it’s Mother Nature’s message to us that we are healthy and receiving enough nutrition.
So what is the alternative? There isn’t one. It’s just going to keep turning up. So the very best advice I can give is to think about your period in the most positive way you can. The only difference between a weed and a flower is your judgement. Talk about it with other people, boys and girls. Don’t frown at somebody who is happy to share a pretty personal (though almost universal …) part of their life with you. As a bona fide cup user (#cuplifesince2014) I shouldn’t be too preachy about this one, but don’t hide your tampies! Have them sitting on your desk to remind everyone that you are a healthy menstruater. Carry them conspicuously when you visit the whizz palace. Put your tampon wrapper in the normal bin outside—that’s right, in front of the MEN.
Lastly, your period is a very normal, very essential part of you. It’s a vital aspect of femininity. We have to love every part of ourselves, even the sticky, uncomfortable parts. In the words of our Queen RuPaul: ‘If you can’t love yourself then how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’
If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? pic.twitter.com/9xemGP93SA
— RuPaul (@RuPaul) June 12, 2017
Alexandra K Robson has a BA (Hons) in Linguistics and is currently studying Publishing and Communications in Melbourne. She is a one-eyed Richmond supporter and cuddler of all creatures furry and feathered.