It’s International Women’s Day… let’s talk about menstruation!
When I was a little girl, a few years before I started my period, my Nan told me a story about a grown man who’d never heard of menstruation.
She said he got married still in a state of ignorance that once a month a woman bleeds from her vagina – let alone knowing anything about why, nor about how it affected her health, how it made her feel in the days before or the pain associated with it that she might suffer.
The best part of the story, which I perversely like to think is true but my Nan probably made up, was when as a newlywed his wife got her period and he apparently freaked out and called an ambulance because he thought she was randomly bleeding to death from her minge.
I tell you this now because after signing a petition about the need for political education in UK schools there popped up another petition I might like to sign. A petition to get the Unicode Consortium to introduce emojis relating to menstruation. Apparently we need images of a pair of bloodied pants, a half angry-half crying face, a hot water bottle and a woman with a balloon instead of a body so we can express in teeny, tiny picture form that we are having our periods – and they are awful!
I won’t knock the whole concept of emojis because frankly I could do with one now to illustrate the combination of exasperation, bafflement, despair, a little bit of anger and some hilarity I’m feeling about the idea not of menstrual emojis but that someone has started a campaign for them to be introduced.
I say ‘someone’, but the petition was started by Bodyform the sanitary towel brand (owned by Swedish company SCA). It says it started the campaign because ‘something that happens to half the world’s population every month shouldn’t be a taboo’ and the introduction of these little symbols will ‘help girls and women to talk about their periods in an easy and practical way’.
I can’t see though how reducing women’s feelings about their periods to six pink, miniature pictures – four of which do little more than perpetuate existing negative stereotypes of menstruation – is going to help them talk about it or feel less embarrassed about what is, of course, an utterly natural bodily function.
Instead it screams PUBLCITY STUNT – and of course it’s working because here I am writing about it and you are reading it.
What could they do instead to help destroy the stupid taboo around periods and the flack women have to take when we have them – especially if we suffer pain or mood swings relating to menstruation?
How about what Bristol-based business, Coexist, is doing? Not only is it introducing a policy to allow women with problem periods time off work if they’re feeling below par, but it has also looked at the positives around periods. Such as increased energy in the days after one’s period has finished – during which a woman is likely to get much more done than usual and thus makes up for any days when she felt lethargic or was in too much pain to work.
They are even hosting a seminar about it. It’s aimed at helping other businesses to formulate intelligent policies to help women workers and enable staff to be more productive by understanding how the menstrual cycle involves peaks and troughs of energy which needn’t be a problem if you understand them.
This is the sort of talk about periods women need. Something which looks at menstruation from a different angle and talks about it as more than just cramps and rage. We would all benefit from there being more of an understanding of periods and menstrual health. If we can achieve this it will be a whole lot more useful than a bunch of emojis that reduce women’s experience to a pair of bloody knickers.