A new generation of women claims menstruation as a crucial issue in their lives, their bodies, and their emotions. Why silence her? Why keep painting it blue? Why are there no compresses in refugee camps? The “menstrual revolution” is here.
We checked it in the last edition of Operation Triunfo: the young women do not even maintain the relationship with the body that, in general, we have experienced the previous generations. The formality with which they have confessed not to shave or how they refer to the rule has left us stunned. How and when has this chip change occurred, that we have not seen it coming? How is it possible that many of us continue to go to the bathroom with the tampon hidden in my pocket while Aitana can announce in full record signing: “I got five minutes to the bathroom that I have the rule”?
Those of us who learned to live menstruation as a silenced horror, almost like Carrie (unforgettable Sissy Spacek) in her shower, today we witness her emergence in the public with some feeling of having fallen into a trap. What made us so ashamed? Where did that self-contempt come from? Remember: until recently, superstitions worked that prohibited us from washing our heads, doing mayonnaise or touching plants if we had the period. Luckily, we have deactivated prejudices and we have the important thing: to ensure that women in poverty, on the streets or in refugee camps access the hygiene products they need or end up with the pink fee which taxes these products as if they were caviar: with the VAT of luxury (10%). Millennials are committed to a cheerful ‘menstrual revolution’: we update our software. These are the new rules.
1. End of silence
Menstruation has gone from intimate or hygienic issues to star in the story. Most of us attribute meaning to the rule through two television referents : compress ads, where the primary objective remains that nothing gets stained; and that chapter of Blue Summer and his ‘Bea is already a woman’, which gathered the naturalized meaning of the menstrual: an instant mutation that led us to go to the next stage as a child without clarifying what exactly was beyond the new monthly nuisance. In general, pop culture ignored the existence of the rule and female characters never suffered from it., neither for good nor for bad. Today, the issue has been integrated into the television narratives orchestrated by women: ‘Fleabag’, ‘Broad City’, ‘Girls’, ‘Vis a vis’ … The stigma that menstruation still entails in countries like India is part of the story of ‘This is my blood’ (Tin sheet) the book with which the French journalist Élise Thiébaut deactivates interested myths. Lola (Lumen), by the Chilean illustrator Alejandra Lunik, approaches it in a funny ironic way, while the Spanish Raquel Riba Rossy uses it as a symbol of empowerment of her star character: Lola Vendetta. Also from here is the fanzine ‘ Regla’, in which ‘menstruation is drawn, felt, seen and heard as something beautiful’.
2. Dismantling the stigma
The consideration of the rule as something dirty is not natural: it is a cultural and social construction that, fortunately, is mutating. Anthropology once again came to the aid of women in their task of tackling the strength of taboo. At the beginning of the last century, Margaret Mead discovered that menstruating in Samoa was not disrepute since her society was not organized in patriarchal terms. In their culture, it was linked to the worship of fertile divinities, while in ours it makes us feel dirty, uncomfortable and inappropriate. At present, the only acceptable rule is one that does not move, does not show, does not feel: we have deleted it from the map. In the book ‘ Women’s thing: menstruation, gender and power‘(South American), Eugenia Tarzibachi explains how the appearance of feminine hygiene products made it possible to build a menstrual female body, where the’ defective ‘of the women’s body was masked. But, under this ‘liberation of women’, the issue of stigma remained unsolved. Shame at the possibility of a red stain going through clothes continues to affect us.
‘The logic applied to it is that of concealment, like other fluids considered impure – says Begoña Enguix, an anthropologist expert in gender and body and director of the degree of Anthropology at the UOC. Although more and more openness indeed exists, the rule continues to be invisible to hide a feminine specificity that puts us in a position of inferiority, since it implies bad mood, emotional instability … Therefore, to avoid criticism or control, it is best not to name it. ‘ Or dye it blue in the compress ads.
In ‘This is my blood’, Élise Thiébaut states that knowing the history of menstruation means entering the genesis of human society. Thiébaut quotes the anthropologist Alain Testart, who argues that if women had banned their weapons and, therefore, hunting, it was for the symbolic prohibition of mixing blood (menstrual and that of the hunted animal). Therefore, the rule as a cultural taboo would also be at the origin of the division of labor that we still suffer today. Isn’t it fascinating?
3. The rule of those who cannot afford it
As the law of silence falls, we know the menstrual secrets of women we never imagined in this trance. In 2016, swimmer Fu Yuanhui surprised the audience by explaining that her team’s fourth position in the Rio Olympics was due to her having the rule. A year earlier, tennis player Heather Watson explained that she had been eliminated from the Australian Open for the same reason, allowing her compatriot and athlete Paula Radcliffe to denounce that ‘ the sport has not yet learned to treat menstruation, ‘ because neither sports doctors They investigate this issue. Incredible, but true: we don’t have enough studies to see how the rule affects sports performance.
The taboo applies not only to the elite of the sport but to the maximum poverty. The refugees are in an unprotected: only social organizations try to address the lack of napkins, tampons, and wipes suffering in the refugee camps, where infections are a threat as certain as violence. Unfortunately, there is still no regulation that mandates expanding the refugee aid kit to cover menstrual hygiene needs.
4. Know the world
The social and political consideration of menstruation is an indicator to read the situation of girls and women in society. Throughout the world, there is a preeminence of the cultural taboo and a situation of lack of access to basic hygiene measures where there is poverty. In Bolivia, compresses and tampons are not thrown away because it is believed that menstrual blood can cause disease, including cancer. In Iran, 48% of young women believe the rule is a disease. In Afghanistan, they think that women who wash during menstruation are sterile. In Nepal, the stigma of impurity is extreme: chhaupadi rules, a custom that requires locking up menstruating women in cartouches without electricity or heating or huts in the forest. They are not allowed to touch fresh fruit, milk, vegetables or livestock for fear of contamination. In some areas, they cannot read or write so as not to anger the gods.
5. From crying to superpowers
With the deconstruction of stigma, the narrative about the rule is enriched with nuances. Without reaching the extreme of denying premenstrual syndrome, the myth of attributing ourselves in a bad mood on those days of the month is questioned. Dr. Sarah Romans, from the University of Otago (New Zealand), reviewed the studies on mood changes attributed to PMS and concluded that more than half of them did not connect menstruation with a bad mood. On the other hand, the increase in progesterone that occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle is comparable to the emotional ups and downs that produce testosterone fluctuations in men.
Also, the unique account of menstruation, which links to pregnancy and fertility, is broken with readings that underline it as an indicator of health and a longevity factor. The flow announces when something does not work well: monitoring its color, smell and duration is very useful and allows us to know ourselves and be more aware of our health. The rule is one of the factors that explains why women live longer. A study from the University of California School of Medicine found in 2016 that women who have their first period and late menopause increase their chances of living nine decades.
6. Challenges: From education to health
The breaking of the taboo has unleashed the claim to governments. The issue is transversal: it involves a reflection on education, tax, and assistance. Let us ask ourselves: how do you talk about the rule in schools? On the other hand, the tax issue also demands a review. After a campaign led by the Adwoa Aboah model, the British government announced that everything collected by the so-called ‘pink rate’ (that which taxes feminine hygiene products with the luxury tax) would be dedicated to alleviating ‘menstrual poverty’ It would result in impoverished British families. In November 2017, the Canarian government canceled the current 3% rate in the islands (in the peninsula we have 10% instead of 4% that is applied to the products of first necessity ). In terms of care, the urgency has to do with incarcerated or homeless women: why is access to these products not considered a human right that is dispensed free in cases of maximum need?
7. The speaker
One of Meghan Markle’s most celebrated decisions was to invite seven representatives from as many charities and donate their wedding gifts. Among them was his favorite and only non-British: the Myna Mahila Foundation, dedicated to supplying compresses and tampons to the women of the Indian slums to fight against the so-called ‘menstrual poverty’. According to UNICEF, 23% of Indian girls drop out of education because they do not have access to compresses or bathrooms. In Ethiopia, 56% of girls do not go to class during their period because they lack hygienic material. In sub-Saharan Africa, girls lose 20% of school days for the same reason. The Duchess of traveled to Mumbai in 2017 to learn about Mahila’s work first hand and, on the way back, wrote an essay for Time magazine in which she defended the end of the taboo about ‘the most natural thing in the world’.
8. Discover our cyclic nature
A step beyond the clinic, hygiene and politics is the evidence of being connected to a hormonal cycle, a succession of phases whose presence can depend both on the constitution of each body and the attention we give them. Erika Irusta, menstrual pedagogue and founder of the soy1soy4.com community, emphasizes the benefits of knowing the personal hormonal cocktail and the chemical changes it produces. The key is to dissect the four phases of the menstrual cycle and their physical, psychological and mood characteristics: a coming and going of estrogen and progesterone that causes our body to complain (pain, irritability …) if it is not in balance. Stress, poor diet, fatigue or productivity demands affect this kind of meter of maximum receptivity of our quality of life that is our menstrual cycle.