Menstruation is often described using different expressions including “it,” “the thing” and “the red monster.”
The cycle takes the form of an actual being as a result of these nicknames, as if menstruation were an attacker who plagues each woman with hormonal threats of when it will strike. And when it does, torture ensues with cramping, irritability and fatigue.
The bloody stains serve as a uterus’ destiny unfilled and marks the end and the beginning of another planned attack. Because the cycle is a normal occurrence in the female body, women should feel more comfortable addressing this topic when brought up in discussion. Instead, these negative representations of menstruation reflect a negative attitude filled with shame and concealment.
To challenge the current blanket of secrecy surrounding menarche and menstruation, mothers and mentors need to start discussions with girls at an early age to establish comfort and security. These girls would be prepared handling menarche, defined as their first period, and grow comfortable talking about menstruation as adults.
In the 2005 study “Girls’ Experiences of Menarche and Menstruation,” girls ages 12 to 15 were examined as to how they constructed “meaning of menstruation in social interactions and specific contexts.”
The study revealed the school context and socio-cultural representations that develop and perpetuate the ideas of menstruation as embarrassing nasty and to be hidden.
Narratives of gender-related differences also reveal how a boy’s disgust sends the destructive message of the female body as a messy, disorderly thing. This internalized fear follows into adulthood with women feeling initially awkward when discussing their periods and creating vague representations of the menstrual cycle.
The 2011 journal “Menstruation Matters: Introduction to Representations of the Menstrual Cycle” states this blanket of secrecy displaces an opportunity to seek and offer good quality information about a body’s functions and how to keep it healthy.
This presents an opportunity for girls and adult women.
The first time I had the opportunity to learn about the menstrual cycle was in the fifth grade. While my classmates got the chance to be disgusted by outdated images of the reproductive system, I ate Fruit Roll-Ups as I sat idly in another classroom. My conservative mom didn’t feel comfortable with the school telling me blood will soon come out of my vagina every month.
Due to her own discomfort, I didn’t receive any teaching from her either.
After an eventful day of swimming, I sat on my bed watching “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” when my menarche occurred. As I shifted around, I noticed a red stain on my sheet. As a 12-year-old, I didn’t know how my body worked and I certainly wasn’t ready to discuss my first experience of being a “strawberry syrup dispenser.”
Girls need a solid psychological education that when their vaginas bleed, the blood is not dirty.
There is no illness.
Adult women shouldn’t be afraid to talk about their periods to younger women. Taking the first step out of an inconvenient zone of familiarity will establish a better comfort zone for females because menstruation is normal and should be treated as normal.