While at first glance, it might seem like this post is only for women, but honestly I wrote this post for guys just as much as girls. There is a very large global misunderstanding about women’s periods and the issues women have to deal with around the world. Since many men make laws and voice their opinions on women’s bodies (birth control, the tampon tax) I figured it’s about time we have a conversation about menstruation that includes men.
No blood and gore here (I promise), just a conversation about how menstruation affects women globally, and steps we can take to help solve this “global period taboo” and empower women at home and abroad!
I’ll never forget the first night I spent in Xi’an with my Chinese roommate. As we got ready for bed, she took out a red, ornately designed piece of cloth and laid it on top of her her sheets, spreading it out carefully.
“What’s that?” I asked her.
“Oh! It’s for my menstruation,” she responded in a casual tone.
I felt awkward. I was always awkward when the subject of periods came up. The matter-of-fact way she talked about her “female time” was a bit bizarre to me. The way she left her bloody pads in the bathroom trashcan without rolling them up and wrapping them in toilet paper grossed me out.
Seriously girl? Nobody wants to see that!
The longer I stay in China, the more I’ve begun to realize that Chinese women are much more vocal about their “time of the month,” even around guys!
A few weeks ago I had a long conversation over lunch with my co-workers about how you can’t find tampons with applicators in China. Having spent a lot of time in America, my Chinese coworker was aghast! She had no idea us foreigners had been bringing tampons over in bulk from America. After lunch she ran back to the office to purchase a box of tampons on Amazon, rush-delivery.
While this conversation was pretty standard, I definitely wasn’t expecting her to parade the box of tampons around the office when it arrived (in front of male students and coworkers * gasp *) She also told one of her male students who was procrastinating that he needed to give her a break because she was on her period and “couldn’t deal with him right now.”
Wait… what?! In what world is it okay to mention to your male students that you’re on your period? I was shocked! But you know what her student did? He laughed and offered to buy her some chocolate.
Obviously, China is doing something right. Why should I be ashamed of my period? Why do we need little nicknames like “aunt flow” and “monthly gift?” Half the population of this planet gets their period for a large majority of their life, so why are we so ashamed of talking about it?
Teenage Period Shame
I still remember the first time I got my period. I was about 12 years old, and on vacation in California. I was so embarrassed I tried to hide it from my family. I was the first one of my friends to get my period (and wear a bra… and go through puberty) and I didn’t really know what to do. I knew about pads and tampons, but I was too ashamed to tell my mom I needed them, so I just used some toilet paper for the rest of the week.
Obviously, I was an idiot twelve-year-old because my mom found out the second she did the laundry. She brought a package of pads to my room and I just about died. So embarrassing mom!!
This shame and confusion is really common with young girls, especially if you develop early. Thankfully I knew what a period was before I got mine, but a few of my friends have told me their parents and school never warned them. Some of my friends thought they were dying the day the got their period! Seriously.
Because of this teenage period shame, I’m a huge fan of Knixteen, a company that specializes in period underwear for teenage girls. Underwear from Knixteen is perfect for teens who are new to their period and aren’t ready for other more complicated products like the Diva Cup. They also have a whole section of their website dedicated to awkward and embarrassing period questions. If only this was available when I was younger!
Chinese Period Taboos
While I’m a huge fan of how open Chinese women are about their periods, China does have a few major period taboos I’ve noticed while living here. For example, many Chinese women will not drink alcohol while on their periods. Also, a lot of my Chinese friends refuse to eat or drink anything cold. While that might seem a bit strange, Chinese people also avoid cold things when they’re sick too.
As with most Chinese medicine practices, I’m not quite sure if any of this is rooted in fact, or if it’s just a long-held superstition.
Whatever it is, literally no one is talking about this. I googled “Chinese menstrual taboos” and “Chinese period taboos” and absolutely nothing came up besides a few academic journal articles. I can’t be the only person who has noticed these menstrual practices, but for some reason no one has deemed them interesting or worthy of discussion until now. Why is that? Why is no one interested in the fact that Chinese women will refuse ice cream or cold veggies on their period?
Getting your period on the road is an important element of female travel no one ever seems to talk about either. While it might not seem like a big deal, sometimes forgetting that certain “items” aren’t available can really inhibit your trip!
For example, over the summer I was in the Philippines and I forgot to pack pads and tampons. While I could find pads at the grocery store, I couldn’t find tampons anywhere. Apparently Filipino women don’t really use them, especially outside of the large cities. I was heading to Siargao for a week of surfing, swimming and snorkeling. What was I going to do?!
Thankfully, one of my fellow travelers gave me a few tampons to use, but I felt so guilty I offered to pay her for them. Tampons are like gold when you’re traveling in Asia. They’re either nonexistent or expensive, so girls tend to hoard them. Thankfully this girl was only traveling for a few weeks and had some tampons to spare. She was literally my life-saver!
Menstruation is a big worry for girls, especially on the road, but we’re all too ashamed to talk about it, lest we offend the male population. While I think this is ridiculous, I always find myself buying into the idea that periods are some mysterious wonder that need to be talked about in hushed voices away from men. I remember I was embarrassed to include “tampons” on a China packing list for my study abroad company. But you know what? Girls need to know this stuff!
Thankfully, I’m not the only travel blogger talking about this. Adventurous Kate published a post a while back about her menstrual cup and how it has become her constant travel companion.
The “Women’s Tax”
I’m going to get a little political here, but I think this lack of male understanding about menstruation really impacts women in a huge way. Women spend waaay too much money on menstruation products which are an extremely important aspect of our basic personal hygiene. Guys, I suggest you talk a walk down the “lady isle” one of these days and just look at the prices of pads and tampons. We spend a fortune on this stuff!
To make matters worse, many countries count sanitary items as “luxuries” and tax them as such. You might have seen the huge petition to ban the “tampon tax” in the UK. Over 270,000 people have signed this Change.org petition and counting. Two women even “free bled” in white pants in London to show just how much of a “luxury” tampons and pads are.
Can you believe that the British government used to charge a 17.5% tax on feminine hygiene products?! While this has been lowered to 5% in 2001, it’s still way too high for women to be paying every month for necessary “luxuries.”
This “tampon tax” isn’t just a British thing, it also exists in the USA too. Because tampons and pads are not considered a “necessity” by most state governments, they fall under the normal sales tax. Only five states: Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, have changed their laws to include feminine hygiene products under the list of non-taxed items.
Also, American food stamps don’t cover expensive pads and tampons, forcing some women to sell their food stamps for money to cover their monthly menstruation. That’s right: these women are forced to choose between food and hygiene.
Read Next: If you can’t afford tampons, what do you do?
In 1986 Gloria Steinem wrote that if men got periods, they “would brag about how long and how much”: that boys would talk about their menstruation as the beginning of their manhood, that there would be “gifts, religious ceremonies” and sanitary supplies would be “federally funded and free”. Women might “faint at the sight of blood” and could not participate in the “holy ritual of purging impurities.”
Honestly, I wonder how different things would be if men had periods too.
Let’s Stop Being Weird About Periods
I recently watched this awesome video by THINX (period panties) about removing the shame of menstruation. If you have 13 minutes to spare, be sure to check it out!
Feminine Hygiene and the Developing World
To be honest, before I saw this video I never really thought my ability to purchase pads and tampons was a privilege. In comparing myself to men, who never have to worry about these sorts of things, I forgot to recognize the immense privilege I have over other women who can’t afford them.
I never thought about how access to pads and tampons (or lack of) affects my education. While I knew other cultures had “menstrual huts” and refused to let women partake in daily life during their periods, I had no idea how much menstruation can really affect a woman’s future.
Many women in the developing world (and poor women in the USA!) can’t afford access to things like pads and tampons, and resort to using newspaper, toilet paper, cloth and leaves. Because these things shift around while you walk, the fear of leaking or worse, having your bloody cloth fall out, shames girls into staying home from school for a week every month!
Because of this, girls fall behind, fail tests, and often drop out of school. This can majorly affect a country’s development, economy, and GDP. When half your society isn’t educated and can’t make money to support the family, that’s a lot of missed potential.
Thankfully, this video discusses a new solution, AFRIpads, which are washable, reusable pads that women can use to save money and avoid the period shame that keeps young women home from school.
The Big Takeaway
We need to stop being ashamed of women’s periods. Girls, stop talking about your period in hushed tones, trading tampons like cigarettes in a prison! Don’t be ashamed of your hygiene products, using the self-checkout out of embarrassment. We as a society need to also better educate men on what a period is and why we have one. Honestly, periods aren’t actually that gross, especially if you use a tampon.
It’s just blood guys!
If you’re interested in supporting AFRIpads, the new solution to menstruation in the developing world, be sure to purchase a pair of THINX period panties. With every purchase, a year’s worth of AFRIpads will be given to a girl in need to help keep women in school.
In case any of you were wondering, I wasn’t paid to promote THINX panties or video. This is just a cause I really believe in, and I wanted to share it with you all. Personally, I’ll be purchasing a pair of THINX when I go home this winter, and if you’re curious, I’ll let you all know how they work out on my travels!
Do any of you girls have an embarrassing travel period story? Do you have issues taking care of your “lady business” abroad?