“[Periods were] such a taboo topic when I was a teen,” said my 70-something grandmother when I asked her to describe her first period.
“We were taught a little about it in school but it was never discussed like it is today.”
My grandmother was right. Periods are more talked about today than ever. Now you can easily find print and digital advertisements, viral comedy sketches, articles and blog posts all relating to periods or period products.
Fine Brothers Entertainment, a YouTube channel with more than 13 million subscribers, are most known for their “react” series where they gather people of different age groups to film their reaction to viral videos with a short Q&A to follow. One video they had a group of elderly men and women react to HelloFlo’s very own “First Moon Party,” a comedy sketch about a young girl fibbing to her mother about getting her first period in which her mother takes it to extreme measures by throwing her a party to celebrate her daughter’s “womanhood.” The elders also watched “Camp Gyno,” a video about a young girl getting her first period at camp and uses her “expertise” on the subject to become the queen bee of her social group.
When the elderly women were asked about the differences of openness regarding the discussion of periods now verses when they were growing up, many said they were surprised by how much things have changed. One woman said she knew very little about menstruation when she was younger that when she got her first period she said she “was petrified” because she had no clue what was happening or how to fix it.
“I didn’t even know what a tampon was until I got into college because my mom didn’t believe in them,” she says.
The menstrual cycle was not something that was encouraged to be discussed, especially in the presence of a male, according another woman the Fine Brothers video.
“Everything was ‘hush-hush,’” she says. “Even in school they would put [feminine products] in a brown paper bag. [We] ran out of the classroom and then the boys would chase [us] to see what was in the bag.”
Although society has improved by making menstruation more of an open topic, there is still a lot of room for progress. Just last year, a university student named Rupi Kaur had a series of photos featuring period stains and feminine products removed from her Instagram account by the creators of the app because it was against community guidelines by not being “safe” for all viewers. Actions like this enforces in people’s minds the menstrual cycle should be secretive and shameful. After many individuals criticized Instagram for its decision to remove Kaur’s photos, the company later released a statement of apology and allowed her photos back on the app.
There have been heated debates in the media about how sex-ed needs to be taught much earlier at educational facilities in America. According to a 2012 NPR article, children are beginning puberty at a much younger age. It is noted the school should tailor the sex-ed discussion to the age group, but the discussion still needs to take place.
However, America is privileged when it comes to sex-ed education and access to feminine products. For example, according to Menstrual Hygiene Day, 32.5% of school girls from South Asia did not know about menstruation, and 97.5% did not know that menstrual blood came from the uterus. Millions of girls from around the world are missing school every day because they do not have the proper products to take care of their period.
In order for society to progress, it becomes parents and educators responsibility to work together to continue to normalize the menstrual cycle to teens and pre-teens. One cannot rely on the other to do all of the teaching for their child because it could create a gap of missed information or confusion. For example, what if the child’s caregivers are not fully educated about the menstruation process? What if the child’s education system does not provide information or leaves out important details on the matter? No matter how the information is received, the preteen needs to be educated about menstruation before it affects her so she can be prepared.
As for content creators and producers, I hope they understand they hold the power to continue to shed a light on the important subjects like menstruation. Entertainment and mass media does not need to be necessarily a learning platform, but it should at least aim to help make the menstrual cycle less of a taboo topic.
It needs to be clear in the minds of young women that periods are not something to be disgusted or embarrassed about. Aunt Flo is just another part of life, embrace it.