Joyce Fegan: Sorry to offend, but women bleed

61% of our girls have missed school because of their period. Education is a serious right? As serious a political issue as those party whips and drink-driving politicians.
Joyce Fegan: Sorry to offend, but women bleed

Periods are political. And it's not offensive to talk about them, it's radical.

Periods are as worthy of column inches in a national newspaper as rogue party whips or politicians drink driving.

Periods are as worthy of debate on the Dáil floor as pub opening hours or the ever-bumbling Boris and the ever-threatening Brexit.

But to some, periods are taboo, gory, smutty, and perhaps frivolously provocative. And as we saw this week, even offensive, when the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) prohibited a Tampax ad from being shown in its current form.

Why?

Because 84 people found it offensive.

Have any of those 84 people ever experienced the excruciating pain of a uterus contracting as it sheds its lining month after month?

That kind of pain is offensive but never talked about it. It's hush, hush.

Have any of those 84 people ever been so impoverished that they've had to resort to using dry banana leaves to stop their one pair of clothes from being stained by their monthly menstrual blood?

And have any of those 84 people ever been forced to miss school or drop out of education entirely because of the unearned shame their body brings?

No.

Those complainants do not live in Malawi or Uganda or Ethiopia.

They live in Ireland.

But you don't have to travel too far out of Ireland, a developed affluent country, to find period poverty.

In 2018, Plan International Ireland found that 50% of our teenagers struggle to afford sanitary products.

In Ireland, sanitary products cost from €2 to €6 per pack. You generally need more than one pack per cycle. And when you buy your monthly supply of sanitary products you more than likely buy one or two 12-packs of pain relief tablets, costing sometimes between €6 and €10.

The maths? Most women and girls, having 13 cycles a year, will spend €208 annually on sanitary products and pain relief.

Furthermore, 61% of our girls have missed school because of their period. Education is a serious right? As serious a political issue as those party whips and drink-driving politicians.

And 55% of our girls have felt embarrassed because of their periods.

How did a normal biological function, one that ensures the continuation of our species on the planet, become such a shame-laden taboo?

Because of mindsets like those 84 complainants and others like them. And there are others like them.

Homeless Period Ireland helps women in need during their menstrual cycles. Women and girls trapped in poverty, homelessness or direct provision are provided with sanitary products so as to afford them some semblance of dignity once a month.

There are collections for these tampons and pads and cups in workplaces around Ireland.

In one Irish workplace, a few senior male employees alluded to the provision of period products as "going a bit far" and being "inappropriate".

What part of providing expensive and essential personal hygiene products to people experiencing poverty is going a bit far? If anything it's a paltry corporate gesture in the face of systemic political problems such as homelessness and direct provision.

And it wasn't just "a man thing". In that workplace, there were a few raised eyebrows from the senior women too. Although, there weren't as many senior women as senior men.

In the words of Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: "What is there to say to a man (or anyone) who isn’t listening?"

What is there to say to the people who do not read this article because to them it's 'fluff' or 'female' or 'frivolous'? Or not a serious enough topic to give their time to?

Nothing. People like that will never bring about any kind of change worth keeping.

Instead, people who bleed once a month need to reclaim their menstrual cycle from the gutter.

There is nothing dirty or disgusting about periods. The only thing dirty about them is the shame they're saturated in.

The bare bones of the matter is that every human being on this planet came from a bleeding uterus. It's not taboo. It's not offensive. It's science and to most, it's an absolute miracle that we can create, sustain and birth new life like that.

That is the kind of conversation we should be having about periods.

But this isn't simply about periods. This is about women's bodies. Bodies that are hyper-sexualised and commodified for monetary gain. There is a pretty offensive ad doing the rounds on bus billboards right now from a fast-fashion clothing brand, but no one is banning that one because it isn't offensive to the collective male gaze. We're not even batting an eyelid.

This conversation is about women's bodies, what we think of them, how we feel about them and what's their acceptable representation in the public realm.

Much like the archaic saying that 'children should be seen and not heard', it seems that women's bodies should be palatable to all and offensive to none.

So what's a girl to do?

Talk. Tell people about your period. Tell them about the low mood and irritability as your oestrogen drops at the end of each cycle.

Explain to people about the effect of progesterone rising and falling in your body every month. It can make you groggy and lethargic and may slow down your digestive system, much like in the first trimester of a pregnancy.

For those of you who have given birth, talk about that first post-partum period. It's not easy. The emotions are cascading.

Share this article with the men who are listening, with the politicians who are listening.

And on a more practical level, look up Homeless Period Ireland and send pads or tampons or a moon cup towards their drive.

Also, look up the work of Irish woman, Kitty Maguire, who runs menstruation cycle awareness training and works to destigmatise the very thing that keeps our species alive.

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