You probably don’t want to talk about periods. When periods are so much as hinted at around men the conversation is quite often either shut down or turned into immature jokes. One woman even had photos removed from Instagram because she dared to depict menstruation in a non-graphic way. I’m so used to the responses that I try to steer clear of the conversation. Even if it’s directly relevant, like if someone notices I’m not ok and asks, I avoid the subject if there’s a man present. I don’t say that I feel like there’s a knot of barbed wire in my abdomen, instead I’ll just shrug and say something vague about not sleeping well last night.
You probably don’t want to talk about periods, but they matter. They are part of the reproductive cycle that made you, me and every other human being on the planet possible. Roughly half the world’s population will experience them numerous times in their adult lives, including almost all the women you know. If someone dear to you was in pain and upset, you’d want to know, you’d want to help, right? Of course you would.
But periods are gross!
Yeah, I guess. But no more so than farts, snot, ear wax or the blood that drips out when you cut yourself shaving. We women have become quite adept at just cleaning up and getting on with life. I’m not asking you to become intimately acquainted with all the details, but not freaking out when they get mentioned would be nice.
Some things are for women only
Yeah, like bras and bikinis, but most men seem happy to talk about them. I’ve heard it said that women have periods and men suffer from them. Wouldn’t it be good if you knew a little bit more about them and could maybe mitigate that suffering for everyone’s sake?
It turns her into a bitch once a month, what more do I need to know?
Lots of things can make women seem like bitches, such as being patronised, or called a bitch, or having their emotional responses ridiculed. Donald Trump may have noticed this effect lately. Periods can make some women sensitive, but just because it’s hormones doesn’t make it any less real, and just because she’s emotional doesn’t make her wrong.
Also, periods affect everyone differently. Some women get debilitating pain, some feel bloated and lethargic, some barely notice any symptoms. Not many run marathons. In January, the BBC talked to a number of sportswomen about how their periods affected their game. They were brave enough and honest enough to share their stories and break “the last taboo“. Last year Buzzfeed staff drew what it felt like to them.
OK, so what do you want me to do about it?
You could do something amazing, like the guy who invented a sanitary pad machine to improve the menstrual health and earning power of women in rural areas of developing countries. Or you could do something a little more low-key, like listen, accept, and be actively tolerant.
Everybody has a bad day now and then. Sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes there isn’t. Most of the time, the reason isn’t any of your business. If everybody met those bad days with a little patience and a little kindness, that would be pretty amazing too.
On the practical side, if you’re in charge of running a building or organising an event, make sure there are suitable bins available in the toilets – I’ve been to conferences in posh hotels that didn’t think of that. If it’s feasible, a tampon machine is also a good idea, or even better start a Tampon Club. For some reason my local swimming pool doesn’t have any way of getting hold of a tampon at short notice. I found this out after I’d gone through to the changing rooms and discovered I didn’t have one with me. Cue anxiety, embarrassment and rushing to the shop down the road.
That doesn’t seem so hard. I could get into this “New Man” thing
It’s not that hard, or that icky, to just acknowledge that periods happen, and that they have both practical and personal implications. But men helping out women with the practical side of periods isn’t all that new. Take Lord Nuffield, for example. At a time when periods were probably talked about even less than today, he dipped into his own pocket to make sure the Wrens had what they needed during WWII.