Why We Need to End the Stigma around Menstruation

The global implications behind shame culture, lack of education, and lack of access to feminine hygiene resources

According to a recent study, over half of all men believe it is inappropriate to openly discuss menstrual cycles in the workplace. The same study revealed that nearly three out of four women hid feminine hygiene products on their way to the bathroom. These statistics shouldn’t surprise anyone too much; it seems as though we have stigmatized menstruation since the beginning of time. And, this stigmatization has seemed to negatively impact nearly every single culture. Not only does the stigma surrounding periods exist, it actively harms everyone with a monthly cycle.

Yes, a Stigma Does Exist

We often use euphemisms for periods because as a society we are too disgusted or embarrassed to have open and honest conversations about something that is already accepted as a fact of life. Perhaps the most distressing part of the stigma is the fact that women play a more active role in perpetuating it than men do. Mothers often teach their young children that menstruation is something that is shameful and needs to be hidden. Men aren’t innocent either, as they have contributed to the stigmatization by passing on harmful attitudes.

The Damaging Effects in First World Countries

The stigmatization causes serious issues for all genders. For starters, it could inspire people with periods not to request information when they have health questions or concerns. It also causes problems as period pain is too often dismissed as minor. Many people are embarrassed to ask for time off even when menstrual cramps become excessively painful. Furthermore, men’s attitudes about menstruation could have a negative effect on transgendered men, leading to depression and isolation.

The Damaging Effects in Other Countries

As mentioned in earlier posts, feminism needs to be a global movement in order to be successful. In countries like the United States of America, where citizens have access to sanitary products and equal rights, the stigma might not seem like a big deal. Perhaps it’s only mildly inconvenient to hide feminine hygiene products on the way to the bathroom. However, this is a much larger problem in countries where these types of hygiene products are either unavailable or unaffordable. Over one billion people do not have access to a private bathroom, and over 500 million people do not have access to a bathroom at all. Impoverished conditions have led many to use plastic bags, newspaper, and old fabric in place of more sanitary options. This can lead to infection and health complications. And, donating disposable sanitary products does not necessarily solve the problem since many of those with monthly cycles attempt to reuse disposable products due to poverty. For this reason, education, de-stigmatization, and donating reusable products are much more effective solutions.

Why It Matters

When societies and cultures continue to stigmatize and shame menstrual cycles, we attempt to hide away what we feel is shameful and disgusting. However, this creates a big problem. If humans are too embarrassed to discuss menstruation in first world countries, how will we ever advocate for those in less developed countries who do not have adequate access to sanitary products and bathrooms? If we still believe that menstruation is dirty and shameful, how can we possibly help those who are confined to isolation during their cycles? Equality needs to be a global revolution. In order to genuinely advocate for the rights of those who are shamed for a natural cycle, we need to start by ending the stigma and shame surrounding periods.