Period dignity for our girls
I'm blown away about how comfortable my children are when talking openly about puberty, periods and sex. I'm not sure if this is down to our social environment these days, where these subjects are much more prevalent in our society then when I was a child, or whether it was a choice Ben and I made to just keep these topics as part of everyday conversation. I think a bit of both: Ben and I feel more open speaking about them because they are no longer so tucked away, separated from adult and child worlds and left for the kids to find out for themselves.
The hot topic in our house at the moment is puberty – with a 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, stuff is going on. Em has requested with urgency that we get together a period pack 'just in case' and I took to some research. I then happened across a promotion that the Welsh government are running: 'The Period Dignity Grant for Schools".
Periods are such a natural occurrence in every female mammal on our planet, it's incredible that women have been stigmatised for so long for menstruating. It's unbelievable, when it's really considered. I understand that for many women the world over, they are shamed and exiled during their menstrual cycle, sometimes with fatal consequences. Periods have been viewed as impure and dirty throughout the history of humankind mainly thanks to objections and shaming in almost every religion (with exception to Sikh and Buddist).
Thankfully for most in the UK, our battles are more progressive in terms of how menstruation is perceived. Until very recently, we had to fight the insane decision by our government, that menstrual sanitary products are not to be classed as 'a non-essential, luxury item' at all and are actually completely essential and breathtakingly basic. We are currently being taxed on our so-called luxury sanitary products but finally, this is being stopped on 31st Dec 2020. The savings are small (around 7p on a pack of tampons) but the statement is huge.
Alongside these seismic shifts in attitude from our government, comes the concept that periods don't actually need to be discussed with hushed tones and called 'women's problems'. I've heard young women refer to their menstrual cycle as such – probably to help avoid embarrassment to the men they were discussing in front of, but this only goes on further to increase the stigma that it's something that shouldn't be discussed in the open because it makes men feel uncomfortable. They only feel uncomfortable because it's made out to be such a taboo. Let's make men feel more comfortable, shall we? *insert eye roll here* No, we should all be comfortable to discuss normal, everyday topics, without shame.
Why was the liquid in period pad adverts always blue?
Excellent question! There are a few answers to this so here goes. First, by flipping the question: why was the liquid in period pad adverts not red?*
Back in the 80s commercials in the USA were strictly controlled for broadcastability. They needed to be clean from obscenity – so no lewd, filthy or disgusting words or pictures. This it seemed, included the concept of menstrual blood being demonstrated on the very product it was set out to sell. It's not just about the concept of blood – there is plenty of that on-screen every day. You see, period blood is seen as bodily waste. And that is icky and gross. It took a lot of public acceptance to even get to see period products on screen in the first place and now they were finally there, the best way to show off the wonderful absorbency would be by pouring blue liquid on to them. Not icky, not gross.
But why blue?
Because nobody would be happy thinking green stuff came out of them, and yellow looks too much like pee. Brown is a no-go for obvious reasons and orange, pink and purple are too much on the red spectrum. So now you know, that's why they settled on blue.
Hurrah!* It's now red!
To bring us up to date, Bodyform launched their Blood Normal campaign in 2017 showing an ad where red liquid is used. Through research of over 10,000 men and women they "found that 74% of them want to see a more realistic representation of periods in advertisements". By breaking down the old taboos and making the topic an open one, period chat should become part of our everyday conversation and no longer referred to as 'the time of the month'.
This brings us squarely back to the first point: period dignity. Women should be able to address their menstruation with dignity and not feel shame or embarrassment for a natural occurrence that can average 450 times in a woman's life. Dignity begins with the very first period.
Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret
When I was a little girl, all my girl friends and I read this book by Judy Blume as the bible on puberty, boys and periods. We all excitedly discussed how Margaret was going through exactly what we were going through and were thrilled when life imitated art and we went down to TammyGirl to buy our first bras.
I must have read this book several times over, probably hidden as the thought of actually discussing any of it out loud with my mum was beyond cringe. The sex-ed in school was confusing and led by someone who didn't know how to teach sex-ed to kids. We all sniggered a lot and couldn't wait for it to be over. I found out from both El and Em that they were both played 'Some of Your Bits Ain't Nice' during their 'talks' which was a massive blast from the past. Remember that sucker?!
Anyway, Em has been asking me loads of questions about periods and she seems open to getting together as much information as possible. I just bought her a copy of Are you there, God? for herself – I hope she gets as much out of it as I did.
Period dignity and period poverty
According to an article in the Evening Standard, based on a survey conducted by Intimina, the average menstruating woman spends around £10 a month or around £5000 a lifetime on period products. This doesn't include the extra expense of medication to ease cramps or menstrual pains. That is a lot of money. And for many, it's more than they can afford. It really is a choice between using a wad of tissue, a padded sock or... eating that day. This is totally undignified and can also lead to bacterial infection if women are not able to change themselves in a clean environment. For so many women, especially those that have heavy periods the necessity of not attending school or work due to lack of dignified period protection is not a choice. How can you go about day to day activities, while bleeding well over 80ml of blood over five days?
Period poverty is very real
I am in a good place. I am not in poverty. I won't pretend to understand how it must be like or how crippling it is. However, period protection should be accessible to all, and available to those that need it, without charge. There is absolutely no need that some can afford to buy protection and some have to use rags. Women don't choose menstruation. This is why the Period Dignity Grant presented by the Welsh government, is such a progressive and exceptional initiative.
What's in the pack?
If your child goes to a school in Wales, you can apply for a pack via email.
This email is for Bridgend county only. There is very little information out there, it's not a well-publicised campaign. I'm not sure if the word Bridgend can be swapped for your local county? You will need to include your child's name, your address and the school she attends.
In the pack Em received:
three packs of four reusable pads (6 mini and 6 midi flow) by Bloom and Nora
three pairs of period pants by Cheeky Wipes
The emphasis here is clearly on sustainable and eco-friendly products. (there are disposable options available in the Dignity Pack too, if preferred). For something that most women use on average for 40 years of their life, we've been marketed the idea that our periods must be dealt with efficiently and neatly and then disposed of, in the bin, out of sight. This plastic fantastic means we buy our products wrapped in cellophane or in a privacy wrapper. Then, we open them up and either use more plastic to insert them or peel off a plastic strip to get the pads to stick. Then, when we're done using this plastic coated item for around 4-6hours, we wrap it in more plastic and throw it in the bin. Where it will take an average of 500 years to break down and decompose.
It's true that for the majority of us, comfort, conformity and convenience of disposables far outweigh the calling to ditch the norm. But as we've seen from past practice (sorting recycling, reusing carrier bags, buying in bulk) what appeared at first to be a difficult adjustment soon becomes an everyday part of our lives.
I'm excited for Em and the next stage of her developmental journey, She was genuinely thrilled when she received her period pack – enthusiastically going through each item. I'm astounded and grateful at the quality and quantity of the pieces received (I was expecting a sample only) and that such an initiative is available. Here's to the future of period dignity.