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JACKSON: We need to talk about periods

Column: Writer's Block

The societal stigma around menstruation affects everyone, especially those who must spend thousands of dollars throughout their lifetime buying period products. – Photo by Natracare /

Many of us have experienced, will experience or do experience menstruation. Maybe everything you know about it comes from the tampon ads you see on TV or from scrolling through Instagram. And that is a problem.

If you have seen those ads and you menstruate, then you likely understand the disparity between the represented experience and the reality of a period. 

When I am on my period, I do not want to go rock climbing or perform gymnastics routines, despite what some tampon commercials would have you believe. When I am on my period, I am just getting through the day — dealing with cramps, lower back pains, fatigue and nausea.

If these tampon and pad advertisements were accurate, they would show people laying in bed eating microwave popcorn, attempting to balance their intake of caffeine and ibuprofen. Or they would be searching through their bags for the tampon, pad or menstrual cup that they are positive they packed.

I am sick of the narrative that periods do not change anything because they do.

Let us talk about the emotional and physical effects of periods. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone because everyone experiences periods in different ways, but for some, periods result in bouts of depression or severe anxiety. That is real. Some research has suggested that the severity of period pain can be comparable to experiencing a heart attack. Those who suffer from endometriosis often endure incredibly painful periods.

All of this is going to affect someone's lived experience. Yet, there is an overwhelming narrative that periods should not change the way we function and that we must persevere.

I think that in pushing back against the misogynistic characterization of women as overly emotional and irrational, there is a desire to act as though periods do not affect the way we function. As a result, there is pressure to soldier through the pain and discomfort that periods bring.

This in itself is damaging. The normalization and acceptance of pain is concerning. Why are we expected to silently suffer? Is this really any better than the reality of our pain?

This fits into a bigger part of the way so many women have been conditioned to accept and embrace pain. It feels like much of the cultural bonding that goes on between women is rooted in suffering — period pain, dealing with unwanted advances or striving to achieve the so-called "perfect" body through excessive dieting and exercise.

So much of womanhood is predicated on shared experiences of pain. Yet I also have felt shared support and empathy from others with or without periods. If you ask someone who gets a period if they have a tampon or pad you could use, I would say 99 percent of the time, they will say, "Yes, of course." And there is something beautiful about that. But it does not make me any less upset that so much of the bonding between women is based on pain.

It is hard to feel like you are not in control of your body and how it is affecting you. The pressure to remain silent about your period is worsened by the stigma around it. This stigma manifests as feeling uncomfortable and awkward just visibly grabbing a tampon or pad out of your bag in class or as feeling inexplicably off that day.

Perhaps you have told people the reason you felt off, and they responded, "It is just a period." It is not just a period — it is something that can ruin your day, your energy and your confidence. It can change your body.

So, it is not "just" a period.

On top of everything else, periods are expensive. A person will spend $18,000 on period products throughout their lifetime. So, while your period is taking its toll on your body, it is also taking its toll on your bank account.

Some institutions will offer free pads or tampons, but it is certainly not a mandated practice, and these are not often high-quality products. I still cringe at the thought of the cardboard tampons in the bathroom of my high school. So not only are we discouraged from speaking about and acknowledging our periods, but we are also forced to spend money to hide them from the world.

If you have read this far, then perhaps consider re-examining how you think about menstruation and the pain that is consistently experienced by those who have a period. Offer a safe space for your friends or family that have them. Or maybe just start carrying spare tampons and pads with you!

Kate Jackson is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in history and minoring in critical intelligence studies. Her column, "Writer's Block," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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