It's time to stop forcing women to hide periods - opinion

As a woman, I’ve become an expert at slipping a tampon or pad up my sleeve or into my pocket when I go to the toilet in a public place.

A colored drawing of female anatomy depicting a uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Menstruation, monthly period (Illustrative) (photo credit: FLICKR)
A colored drawing of female anatomy depicting a uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Menstruation, monthly period (Illustrative)
(photo credit: FLICKR)

This week, I’m going to talk about periods. Not a very pleasant subject, I grant you, and one which is rarely discussed in polite society, but as half of the population gets them for almost half their lives and without them, none of us would be here, it’s about time we did.

Sadly, women and girls have historically been taught or expected to hide the fact that it’s their “time of the month” when it comes around, hiding the necessary paraphernalia (tampons or pads) in their bags when they go anywhere. 

As a woman, I’ve become an expert at slipping one up my sleeve or into my pocket when I go to the toilet in a public place. Advertisements for such products have also traditionally skirted round the central issue, namely periods and blood, preferring instead to focus on a woman partaking in sporting activities and the like, generally in light-colored clothing, leaving it up to the viewer to make the connection.

Attitudes are slowly changing, however, along with the products that have more recently become available, such as period knickers or period pants. Many women are now swapping tampons and pads for more environmentally friendly period knickers. Not only have period knickers made a lasting impression on those who now swear by them, one company’s advertisement for their product has caused quite a stir for entirely different reasons.

This ad, which was recently aired on prime-time Israeli TV, tackled the subject of periods head-on in a sensitive and straightforward manner, but it was too much for some. It showed blood trickling down the leg of a woman in the shower and a blood stain left on the sheet as another pulled back the covers of her bed. 

 A girl experiences menstrual cramps and period pains (Illustrative) (credit: Wikimedia Commons) A girl experiences menstrual cramps and period pains (Illustrative) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Too graphic,” said one. Another said that he’d rather not see pictures of women having periods when he’s eating. Not all of those who objected were men, as it happens, a sad indictment of the attitudes that still persist among both men and women toward something as natural as menstruation. Had this blood been caused by a nose bleed, for example, I doubt it would have left viewers feeling uncomfortable. It’s the simple fact that period blood was shown on screen which made it disagreeable.

Not everyone was outraged, however. 

Many praised the advertisement for tackling this largely taboo subject using real women and girls, doing ordinary things like showering or getting out of bed, rather than having skinny models with forced smiles prancing around – something that frankly, most of us don’t have the energy for when we have a period. 

I’m not advocating for “free bleeding,” a movement in which women don’t use tampons, pads or any other products to absorb or collect the flow, even when they go outside. The thought of all that washing is enough to put me off!

I do, however, feel very strongly that the time has now come to stop hiding our periods, as if somehow they are something about which we must not speak or – heaven forbid – signal to the outside world when we are having one. Girls and women should feel free to discuss their periods openly and unashamedly. After all, periods take up so much of our time, energy and money, and most importantly, they’re just another part of everyday life.

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.