By Julianna Alyssandra A. La Rosa
Your period starts today. You're outside having coffee with your besties but no convenience store can be located nearby as you look around. You mentally scold yourself for not being prepared, but then get mentally aggravated with the thought of, "Why do we have to experience the hassle?"
But then you're back to reality. You're probably about to bleed all over your seat as you picture it in your head. Um, maybe not... but you might. You tapped a trusted friend's shoulder and whispered, "Do you have a pad?" Then you both stared knowingly at each other for a non-verbal conversation, then made a discreet transaction. Then you walk away, with your friend looking at you, your hands hiding an item, rushing towards the nearest restroom.
Well, it'll happen again next month.
Maybe that is why it's called a cycle. But not a cycle of ongoing bleeding regularly until you're 56 or 65, it's an ongoing cycle of being in a battle that we're too scared and embarrassed to prepare for, but we're all required to go for it.
We don't talk about this at the dinner table, on a casual get-together, or a busy weekend. Heck, sometimes we openly don't even want to talk about it. We just don't. It just feels like a reality that has been normalized but oftentimes ignored as it is expected to happen normally and smoothly.
It doesn't. It's not being addressed normally as an issue to solve. But it should be.
I started the red flood journey when I was in 4th grade—our school uniform’s blue skirt became dark blue with a hint of dark red spots. The big spot on my rear wasn’t just a siopao’s bola-bola, but a full bottle of ketchup splashed on my skirt from the inner side. It wasn’t a good sunny Wednesday for me, nor anyone who would experience this my age. I didn’t know what I was having; I thought I was seriously sick but no symptoms. I went home and when my mom found out about it, she was skeptical to tell me about it at first and just asked me to wear a sanitary pad.
Of course, as someone who thought I was having a deadly sickness, I followed every step of it religiously. Those sets of steps were followed in the next days, in the next cycles, in the next years as I grew up—but it never was opened up. The leaks, the cravings, the mood swings, the infamous menstrual cramps, and so much more—they were never talked about. 5th grade Science lessons were just about the reproductive parts of a male and female, and 7th-grade Biology lessons were mostly about how mitosis and meiosis stuff work, plus the sermons of teachers being, “Masyado pa kayo bata para malaman 'yung iba sa mga ito,” but too early for what? We were clueless—it was Period Shaming all along.
Period Shaming or Menstrual Shaming is a social stigma, that has been going on for generations, which views menstruation negatively from the lack of education, cultural taboos, discrimination, silence, and period poverty (Canning, 2019). For a picture, menstruating women are considered less pure and unclean. 10% of girls in Africa skip school while on their period, according to UNICEF, due to being shamed and teased by fellow children. Not only that, Indian and African girls use rags, hay, ash, cloths, and even leaves to manage menstruation. Similar incidents also happen in Indonesia and Nepal.
Women were shamed for buying tampons. The word “period” was never uttered as a menstruation reference until 1985 in American televisions. “Tampon Tax” is still a thing in over 30 states in the U.S. alone. Last February 2020, 68 young females in India were pulled out from their classes and were made to strip so they could prove that they are not menstruating in order to follow certain rules such as not entering the temple and kitchen, as well as not touching other students during their period. Media also views menstruation as “debilitating” or weakness or disease, with over 2,000 tweets relating to menstruation from 2010 within just 2 weeks.
The thing is, it’s not an isolated case, and the aforementioned situations are still being practiced today. Menstruation is a natural bodily event that we are taught to suppress and hide, even never speak of (Cafolla 2015; Driscoll 2015). This issue on Period Shaming also leads to more gender-based violence and discrimination, urging the call of Menstrual Equity—the affordability, accessibility, and safety of menstrual products (“What Does Menstrual Equity Mean to You? - Women’s Voices for the Earth”).
I found out more personal things about menstruation like dysmenorrhea, pre-menstrual syndrome or PMS, and even conditions like endometriosis, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD, and even myomas only through curious, juvenile questions like “Why does my tummy hurt so bad?” or “Why do I feel emotional?” I even had those awkward forum encounters until I came to a point of wanting to know more about my reproductive health, my sexuality and how my body works, how I take care of myself better—because that’s how I understand how to love myself better.
I learned to love and appreciate how women’s bodies work, how we are all different in some yet so alike in most ways. I understood how some women menstruate every 28 days, some may have theirs every 2 months, every 4 months, or not at all. I learned different methods on how to maintain our hygiene, even the different methods which introduced me to the side of menstrual cups and discs—which is a controversial topic since we're in a conservative country. I even encountered women uttering complete disgust by using menstrual cups and discs since it is not a conventional method for most Filipinas. I side with the convenience of everyone, no matter what method we choose to use, but with enough education about how we are to menstruate and with Menstrual Equity.
Your period may start today, a period of accepting and empowering our own bodies that work naturally, a period of comfortable communication about a natural phenomenon as human beings, a period of better access to a wider range of knowledge and safer options for our health, and a period of acting upon ourselves as women of society. I hope for a forward-looking nation, which starts among the very people who experience it first-hand. Nod to keep the conversations going, answer questions to keep them learning. Your period matters, girl.
Julianna Alyssandra “Cheeky” La Rosa is a Broadcasting Student from Colegio de San Juan de Letran. She hopes for the radio booth in front of her, and hopes for empowerment of the self among youth.
YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.