Catherine Durkin Robinson: Why do enlightened, educated American women feel ashamed when we menstruate?

I consider myself brave. If something scares me, even a little, that’s a pretty good indication I should try it. Give it my all. See what happens.

Fellow runner Kiran Gandhi takes bravery to a whole new level.

The night before she ran the London Marathon, her first, Gandhi got her period. Any endurance athlete, male or female, who also knows how our bodies have minds of their own, is wincing right now.

Gandhi had a choice to make – use a tampon and deal with the uncomfortable clogged-up feeling, worrying about a leak for over 26 miles, or bleed freely.

She chose to bleed.

She also used the opportunity to shed light on period shaming. This is an issue facing millions of women, many in dire poverty, all over the world, including here at home. Poor or homeless women routinely suffer from lack of sanitary napkins. Female prisoners are humiliated when guards withhold necessary products and they can’t manage that time of the month while incarcerated. In India and other countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East, women are shunned and isolated several days out of every month – suffering in silence among a male population that refuses to discuss the issue. Diseases from unsafe and unclean menstruation practices are killing millions of women, yet political officials are too embarrassed to save their constituents’ lives.

Gandhi, a Harvard graduate and drummer for rap artist M.I.A., had been raising money for breast cancer research while training for the London Marathon. She decided to also use her biological predicament to raise awareness about the need to remove this stigma.

Women shamed for menstruation, the uniquely female and natural process of a body cleansing itself and starting anew every 28 days (or thereabouts, as we know it can be unpredictable at times) is tragic, but not surprising in areas where science and biology are not fully understood.

What’s our excuse?

Why do enlightened, educated, modern, Western, American women feel ashamed when we menstruate?

When I was a teenager, my independent and bold Nana lamented the unholy sight of maxi pad commercials on television.

“Men don’t need to know about wings!” she would shout. “There’s no mystery anymore.”

The only mystery to me was why they used blue liquid in those commercials.

What else doesn’t make sense? Half the world’s population menstruates every month. We go about our business — running companies, organizations, fighting to save lives, and raising our children – all while the lining of our uterus breaks down and leaves our bodies.

Yes, feel free to commence with the PMS jokes, but most of the time no one can tell what’s happening because we’re too busy getting everything done.

That’s amazing.

Something to be proud of.

What happens if someone can tell? We almost want to die.

I have a friend who runs a marathon every year. She once crashed her bike during an Ironman competition, dislocated her shoulder and still finished with an impressive time. Oh, and she raises two kids and runs a business. Yet, a few months ago, she bled through her clothes at Target and had to hurry out of the store.

Embarrassed and ashamed.

How many of us can relate to her? I know I can.

No one wants to bleed during sexy time, but it happens. It once happened to me. I thought to myself, I could make it an issue or I could carry on: This is natural, it’s happening, let’s fool around anyway.

But I still cringe when I think about it.

I need to stop.

A major manufacturer of maxi pads researched ways, using advanced technology I’m sure, to develop a quiet maxi pad. This is a pad that doesn’t make much noise when it’s being removed from its wrapper.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

If a maxi pad is opened at home, kids or partners can hear. What’s wrong with that? If it’s opened in a public restroom, other women can hear. We don’t want other women to hear us doing what those same women do each month — open a pad or a tampon in order to use it?

There are more important things to be embarrassed about – like reading romance novels or wearing musk perfume.

A few months ago, Instagram removed a photographer/poet’s self-portrait because the picture showed menstrual blood. If you’re wondering why someone would take a picture of leakage and call it art, you’re missing the point of Instagram. What’s more disturbing is that Instagram thought a perfectly normal picture featuring menstrual blood was beyond the realm of good taste.

That’s right. The same site that posts Kardashian pictures.

This is something your mothers, sisters, wives, lovers, and daughters experience every month. Life is difficult enough without adding anxiety on to something perfectly natural. So let’s hear it, ladies. Next month proudly rip open that maxi-pad, run through the streets of downtown London, or walk out of Target with your head held high.

Periods are not shameful, people. Outdated attitudes are.

Sorry, Nana.

Catherine Durkin Robinson co-parents twin sons, organizes families for advocacy purposes, writes syndicated columns, mentors kids, runs a few races, and next time may or may not wear a tampon. Follow her on Twitter: @cdurkinrobinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Guest Author


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