Your Period: How Do You Own It?

By OBOS Anatomy & Menstruation Contributors |

In mainstream Western culture, menstruation is largely taboo. We may hear jokes about it on television, or we may see advertisements for menstrual products, but rarely is menstruation talked about in honest terms. When’s the last time you heard menstrual blood even mentioned? Instead, we often feel obligated to apologize when discussing menstruation.

i go and find the only other woman on the floor
it’s the secretary sitting at the desk by the door
i ask her if she’s got a tampon i can use
she says oh honey what a hassle for you sure i do you know i do
i say it ain’t no hassle no it ain’t no mess
right now it’s the only power that i possess
these businessmen got the money
they got the instruments of death
but i can make life i can make breath
Ani DiFranco, “Blood in the Boardroom

Until recently, most menstrual product advertisements tried to be subtle, showing women staying “fresh” and “clean,” wearing white while practicing yoga or dancing on the beach. Kotex came out with an ad campaign in 2010 making fun of the genre — to which Kotex readily acknowledged contributing. (Older ads used to include a strange blue liquid representing menstrual blood.)

But honesty could go only so far, as none of the three major television networks would allow the word “vagina” to be used.

“Fem-care advertising is so sterilized and so removed from what a period is,” Elissa Stein, co-author (with Susan Kim) of “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation,” told The New York Times.

“You never see a bathroom, you never see a woman using a product. They never show someone having cramps or her face breaking out or tearful — it’s always happy, playful, sporty women.”

For many of us, there is much more to the menstrual experience than bleeding. Our experiences, both physical and emotional, range widely and sometimes are connected to our religion or culture.

We may have certain traditions around menstruation, passed down through our families — even if the tradition is as simple as what kind of product to use or how best to wash out a bloodstain.