Menstrual Cycle Stigma is Unacceptable

by Brynn Smith ’19

 Last year, social studies teacher Beth Shevitz, sponsored the first annual feminine hygiene product drive as a way to collect tampons and pads to give to the nurse, for the nurse to give to students “in need.” In the past, as reported by the Warrior last spring, the school nurse had spent her own money to ensure that students needing emergency supplies were able to secure them. But one’s individual donations proved too little, and without MCPS’s assistance, the feminine hygiene products available were subpar and inadequate in quantity.

 This year, EmpowHER, the club promoting the drive, decided to use posters to get the word out about the collection. The posters featured drawings of clean tampons and pads to highlight the product being collected to the Sherwood community. To hang a poster in the hall, a club or sponsor must get the poster approved by the administration. But the administration wouldn’t sign off on these completely appropriate, informative signs. The explanation given was that it made some members of the administration uncomfortable or offended. Wow. The very products that are discussed in health class (to both girls and boys) were barred from being represented in public. In effect, a couple of persons’ emotional discomfort has trumped our Sherwood women very real physical discomfort.

 In arguing for the posters, Shevitz explained that by not approving them, administration was shaming women for a natural process and enforcing the belief that it’s something to be embarrassed about. Administration agreed to look at the posters again and eventually signed off on 11 of the 13 posters. The two left unapproved remain that way because the red stripe down the middle of the pad (a completely accurate drawing of one) could be interpreted as blood. Administration suggested some other words the club could use instead of menstrual cycle. They suggested “time of the month” which just uses colloquialisms to disguise what actually happens during a woman’s period.

 The monthly cycle of menstruation is a natural process a female’s body goes through once a month and without which none of us would be here has been shamed for centuries. This is the case, whether it’s women in Nepal being confined to a shed with the livestock for the duration of their period or simply hiding a pad or tampon up your sleeve so no one knows why you are going to the bathroom so suddenly.

 Through organizations like Plan International, U.N. Women, and Unicef “ ‘period poverty’ activists seek to make menstrual products more affordable and available. While these institutions help many women by putting their focus on providing hygiene for women’s periods, they need to start putting efforts into ending the stigma of menstrual cycles in societies and religions around the world. In Egypt, the local convenience store wraps pads in newspaper so they won’t be seen. In the country of Georgia, women are taught the stealthiest ways to hide their periods from the men in their lives. In Kenya, many women have to resort to using leaves or sticks to absorb the blood. According to Project Humanity, girls on average in Kenya miss 4.6 days of school a month because of their period.

 This is not only a problem in countries in the developing world, teenage girls in America are conditioned to see their period as a problem to solve, evidenced by the administration’s actions concerning EmpowHER’s posters. Menstrual cycle are a normal part of life, it’s the reason everyone is alive, and it needs to be treated with respect. The fact that there is a struggle in Olney, Maryland, to allow simple representations of female products shows that, while in great contrast to shutting our female students into a shed each month, we still have a ways to go.