By Melissa Stefanec
Being a woman means being exposed to certain things—certain undesirable things.
One of these things is jokes at the expense of your gender. Most women hear these jokes long before they are women. We are subjected to them from the time we are little girls. Most of these jokes are meant to put us in our places, feel ashamed and feel less than.
I’ve heard a lot of these jokes over the years and I don’t care to remember them all. However, I will never forget the first time I heard a certain joke.
“Why should you never trust a woman?” a teenaged guy with peach-fuzz leg hair asked me. My 15-year-old self stared at him blankly. I wasn’t quite sure where this was going. He went on. “You should never trust something that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.”
There it was. The thing I wasn’t supposed to talk about. The gross thing.
Except he was allowed to talk about it, in a school, in a way that shamed me. He could talk about periods and weaponize menstruation against me, but I was supposed to hide all evidence of it. The physical discomfort, the pain, the ibuprofen, the tampons, the pads, the leaks, the covering up, the exhaustion and the blood; these were my crosses to bear.
This was a long time ago. I graduated high school more than 20 years ago. I was hoping that we, as a society, had made some progress here. In my house, menstruation is part of normal conversation. I thought many other women had learned from their pasts and wanted to normalize menstruation for their daughters and sons.
• A wake-up call: Periods are still salacious. I was delusional in thinking the common American household had normalized menstruation. I came to this realization when one of the biggest animation studios of our time released a certain movie that talked about periods.
My social media feeds blew up with angry women. Throngs of parents vehemently reacted. They were disgusted. How could a movie meant for children passively talk about menstruation? Why should young children be exposed to talk about pads and tampons? Their precious sons and daughters weren’t ready for adult content.
• Do “kids” get periods? I find the fact that periods are considered mature content interesting. I know girls who got their periods at 9 and 10 years of age. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, most girls in the United States get their periods around age 12. Some start menstruating at 8. How are we, as a society, not ready to talk about periods with our kids when some of our kids are actively menstruating?
• Our silence and avoidance does our talking for us. By making menstruation exist in the shadows and failing to normalize it, we are teaching our children that menstruation is something girls should be ashamed of.
So, to all of the parents who thought it was inappropriate for a movie about a 13-year-old to talk about periods, I have a question for you. Have you talked to your daughters and sons about how gross women are yet? Have you lectured them on how much shame they should feel about menstruation or how to shame others for it?
Because, if you refuse to have conversations with your children about menstruation, your silence will speak volumes. And society will have the conversation for you. Unfortunately, it won’t be in the civilized and kind way a certain movie approached the topic.
• What we lose by not having conversations. More than likely, your kids will have a lot of questions about periods. If you passively or actively make periods taboo, they will go somewhere else to get their information, if they bother seeking information at all. Your kids will learn about periods from ill-informed friends in the back of the school bus. They will learn about periods through sneers in gym class. They will learn about menstruation through disrespectful jokes.
Your daughters will come to understand they are gross. They will learn that men can put them down for their periods. They will learn to smile and take the jabs.
Many of your sons will fail to have even a basic understanding of the process that initiates life. They will continue to make jokes about a thing they don’t understand. They will passively and actively shame girls.
• Why can’t we talk about it? All of these things will be set in motion because some adults are too emotionally stunted to talk about historically difficult topics with their children. I know there are a lot of men (and some women) out there who think periods are gross and shouldn’t be talked about. There are many people who think menstruation shouldn’t be discussed with children and teens under a certain age.
I challenge you to defend that stance. We live in a world where children watch violent movies, television and sports. Children play video games with killing, high-stress action and violence. Sex and scantily clad women are advertised on billboards, in store windows and all over the internet. These things are normalized, accepted and even promoted.
But, the amazing, natural and normal thing that keeps the whole human race going, let’s not talk about that. That’s gross and dangerous for our children.