You’re Taking WHAT Class???

Activism, Communication, Menstruation

Guest Post by Alexandra Epstein – Marymount Manhattan College.

how school helped me come out of the menstrual closet

Finally, the time had come where I was choosing my classes for my senior year of college. I had finished my required courses to complete my social work minor, and with only a few required courses left until I complete my psychology major, I had lots of room to choose electives! What to take though? Maybe an art class? Or what about a science class? As I scrolled though my options online, something caught my eye. “The Social Construction and Images of Menstruation”. Honestly, anything to do with the social construction of anything is good in my book, so without even thinking much about it, I registered.

Day one in class, it hit me; I was in a class completely focused on the idea of how menstruation is viewed by society. I was a bit taken aback. As a woman, I had grown up “dealing” with my period, but I had never actually thought about it, or what it meant to me as a woman. Now, I can’t stop. I can’t stop thinking about it, I can’t stop talking about it, I can’t stop reading about it. The idea of the social construction behind menstruation has not left my head since I entered that classroom on the first day of the semester.

Not only has this class opened my mind to a whole new concept, but it has made me more comfortable to openly talk about menstruation and everything that goes along with it. It wasn’t even two months ago that I was so uncomfortable with the concept of the period. I wouldn’t talk about it often with my friends, I would hide my tampons in bags within bags so no one would know that I was on my period, and I thought of my period as a burden and huge inconvenience. Within the past month I have grown to love my period. It is something I am proud to be able to experience. I have become very open with conversation regarding menstruation. I have asked all of my female friends about their first experience with their periods, and all of my male friends if they know how to use a tampon. I love the responses I get. Some people embrace the chance to talk about something we as humans don’t normally talk about. However, most people I talk to become so uncomfortable with the fact that I’m talking about such a taboo topic. They ask me why I choose this class, or why my school even offers such a rare subject to study. What they are most shocked by is the fact that my professor is a male. “A guy teaches that class? Isn’t that awkward?” “No!” I reply, “Its brilliant and insightful and I am in love with it.” Too many people are uncomfortable with this topic. I am making it my mission to take the awkwardness out of menstrual conversations.

Girls, Periods, and Missing School II: Breaking the Silence

Activism, DIY, Girls, Menstruation

In Rwanda, Harvard Business School Fellow Elizabeth Scharpf is breaking menstrual silence and challenging female poverty with the Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) program. SHE helps local women in developing countries “jump-start their own businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable, quality, and eco-friendly sanitary pads.” This truly innovative program combines microloans with the use of local raw materials (instead of imported materials) to ensure affordability and accessibility.

In our previous post on this topic, Chris theorized, not unreasonably, that cramps and menstrual silence play at least as big a role as lack of menstrual products in keeping girls out of school in developing nations.

Both factors are likely at play, to varying degrees depending on the locale. The Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) recently reported that in Uganda, lack of menstrual supplies coupled with inadequate latrine facilities for girls seriously impacts the education of girls ages 11-13.

Despite tax waivers introduced to reduce the cost of sanitary pads, finding money to buy them each month is a challenge for many grown women, never mind pre-teen girls.

A packet of sanitary pads costs the equivalent of $1.50 in Uganda – for the same amount you could get a kilo of sugar for the whole household. Girls whose parents can’t afford to give them the money improvise with strips of toilet paper or old cloth.   [. . . .]

As Chris suggested in her post, the solution is about communication as much as it is about resources; FAWE found this to be true among the girls they studied in Uganda. The silences and taboos around menstruation make it difficult for girls to ask their parents for money to buy pads. FAWE has launched a campaign to de-stigmatise menstruation through educating girls. They’ve started a “girl education movement”, organizing clubs in schools, and teaching girls that menstruation is is a normal occurrence, nothing to be scared of or ashamed of.

You can’t ask for help if you can’t talk about it.