How do we view periods in 2017? Over the last few years, periods have become politicised, the by-product of a new wave of feminism led predominantly by the internet, resulting in women everywhere reclaiming their monthly bleed. We were fed up of the shame and secrecy surrounding menstruation in our culture – the elephant in the womb, if you will.
We suddenly questioned why sanitary products were classed as a luxury item by the government, and the so-called tampon tax became a signifier of our patriarchal culture. If men menstruated, would such an item be classed as luxury? Even many men were forced to admit that they probably wouldn’t be. Gloria Steinem, it would seem, was right.
And so, women free-bled outside Parliament to protest the tax. Labour MP Stella Creasy gave a rousing speech in the Commons, saying that these products were not marked as luxury “by accident, [but] by design of an unequal society, in which the concerns of women are not treated as equally as the concerns of men.” In March 2016 the government finally announced its plans to scrap the tax.
In March 2015 there was a furore when Instagram removed a photograph uploaded by the poet Rupi Kaur, of her lying on a bed with menstrual blood visible on her trousers. After the ensuing outcry that such a natural bodily function should be censored, the regulators allowed the photo back on the site. It didn’t stop them from removing photographer Harley Weir’s image of a woman with bloodstained thighs the following year. The message was clear: menstruation makes people uncomfortable; menstruation should be kept hidden.
Because of this shift in the conversation surrounding periods, last year Refinery29 ran the first Rag Week, during which we told fascinating, funny and educational stories about women’s different experiences of menstruating around the globe. So why are we bringing it back again?
Despite noticing slight changes – I, for one, am less likely to hide a tampon up my sleeve on my way to the bathroom these days, and I certainly hear more women talking openly about their menstruation in public – we clearly still have a problem with periods.
Just in March of this year, it was revealed that schoolgirls in Leeds were skipping class because they couldn’t afford sanitary products, and period poverty is rife around the UK.
Further afield, the shame surrounding menstruation can affect lives in unimaginable ways. Only last month did Nepal’s government pass a law to end the practice of exiling women for menstruating. And in Tamil Nadu, again only last month, a 12-year-old girl committed suicide after reportedly being shamed by her teacher for staining her clothes with menstrual blood in front of her class.
A report by BMJ Global Health in July announced there was a global “culture of silence” surrounding menstruation and it was putting lives at risk.
So that is why we’ll be shouting about periods all week – the good and the bad. You’ll find funny stories, heartbreaking stories, educational stories. Because until women no longer feel the need to pretend they’re taking painkillers for a headache, until girls don’t have to miss out on school, until periods are no longer a cultural taboo, we’ll keep on shouting.