Periods of shame
The historically lingering stigmatization of a bodily process.

Fellow period-havers, how many times have you unconsciously tucked your pad under your arm on the way to the bathroom? Concealed under your shirt, maybe? Ever stopped to wonder why you feel the need to do this in the first place? Why is the female menstrual cycle such a subject of secrecy? Periods have been viewed as impure, shameful, and even a curse, for centuries! Why is it that such a natural process as breathing is considered frightening, even in Western contexts? The answer lies under a thick layer of concretized perceptions, rooted in patriarchal governance (surprise!). 

Historically, the shaming of women’s periods was a direct product of religious teachings, where the menstruating woman was deemed ‘ritually unclean.’ Passages in Christianity have reduced the menstrual cycle down to a period of shame, something to be treated as dishonorable upon one’s family. It is not unheard of for a girl to be sent out to live in a shed until her period has ended—such a practice exists in a variety of cultures, including Nepal, under the religio-cultural practice known as ‘Chhaupudi.’ Anything the subject touches in this state becomes dirty—set it on fire! 

But what about the period is unclean? Is it the fact that blood is involved? But, men have blood too… don’t they? Is it because it comes out of a vagina? Ah, that might be it. 

The most problematic perspectives on periods that have stood the test of time are primarily thanks to the male leadership over societal affairs for all of history. Religious passages are taken without a grain of salt and become the law. It is no question that religious rulings that have stuck with society are anything but equal. They are disproportionately against the autonomy and naturalization of women’s bodies. Such a patriarchal origin carries incredibly real consequences. It is why women are tossed alongside animal pens, looked at with disgust. It is why girls cry in shame when they wake up to a red spot on their bedsheet.

But these problems are isolated to the rest of the world, right? We Canadians, unlike people in ‘other’ places, are completely liberated from such bouts of shame and ostracization for our menstrual cycles. It is simply not a concern. Oh, if only that were the case. Period-negative culture in Western contexts still exists and is interwoven throughout the female experience. It is why you hide your menstrual products. It is why you hesitate when asked why you are taking your bag to the bathroom.

Although we know that the treatment of periods as taboo and uncomfortable is a painfully outdated stance, what can we do to change it? This Women’s Day, I want to offer you some small ways in which you can contribute to period positivity. 

Begin by reminding yourself in moments of shame that you exist in a human body, one with natural processes. Your period is the result of a complex physiological system that operates beautifully. It is natural! Openly carrying menstrual products and saying the word ‘period’ out loud are not criminal offenses (although they feel that way sometimes). Have a conversation with the disgusted, irrationally frightened male in your life next time you bring up your menstrual cycle. Ask them what about the period is so deterring. Notice how they hesitate, how there is no basis for such a belief besides years of indoctrination. It will surprise you how powerful the period can be, not as a threatening force like those who stigmatized it, but as a sacred element of womanhood. 

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