Period Shaming: It’s Got To Stop

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I was at the supermarket earlier today, topping up on tampons because I have my period. As I unloaded my basket at the checkout, the woman behind the counter reached past the other items and took the tampons, saying, ‘Let’s get these scanned first, shall we?’ She smiled as if saving me from embarrassment.

Because menstruation is something to be embarrassed about, right?

Like many women, I grew up ashamed of having my period. I’d learnt it was something gross, alien and unmentionable. I was encouraged to endure in silence. Worse still, my period was often used against me whenever I made an impassioned argument about, well, anything. Because being ‘on the rag’ apparently made me irrational, emotional and my views invalid—regardless of whether I had my period or not.

I’d like to say that in the twenty or so years since I first began menstruating that things have changed. But they haven’t. In January, a young woman in India who chose not to be ashamed when blood showed through her pants was ogled by men and hidden away by other women. A runner who decided to bleed free during the 2015 London Marathon was met with debate and hysteria. Artists like Vanessa Tiegs and Petra Paul—who use menstrual blood as a medium—are vilified online and sent death threats. And then there’s Donald Trump’s fearful comments about Megyn Kelly, saying that blood was coming out of her ‘wherever’ when she questioned him about his history of sexism.

These are not rational responses to a natural monthly cycle affecting around 50% of the global population at some point in their lives. Instead, these responses are symptomatic of an insidious belief that a woman’s body is abnormal, shameful and a source of irrational behaviour.

It’s got to stop.

Because there’s nothing shameful about menstruation. Or having opinions. Or carrying tampons in a shopping basket. Or being a woman.

Period.

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Inspiring Quotes from Women Writers

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I met a rather lovely guy in a sociology class today, who asked me what I did when I wasn’t studying. When I told him I was a novel writer, he said, ‘Romance?’ When I politely told him I wrote fantasy, he replied, ‘Oh, magical romance.’

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing harmful about a woman writing romance. Some of my favourite books are firmly seated in that genre, written by women whose ability to create story and structure leaves me in awe.  What I resent is the assumption that being a woman and a writer automatically means I write romance to the exclusion or subversion of any other genre.

Feeling a bit glum at having to discuss women’s ability to write damn good fiction no matter the genre, I used a study break to look up inspiring quotes by female writers. Naturally, there’s a lot, so I’ll be posting a few every week. This is to remind myself and others that female authors are important and valuable contributors in the writing industry, and do not deserve to be pigeonholed because of gender. Enjoy.

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall

“Tell almost the whole story.” Anne Sexton

“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.” Rainbow Rowell

“If you want to cry, you’re not going to like my books.” Janet Evanovich

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” Jane Austen

“Write what should not be forgotten.” Isabel Allende

Female Stereotypes

I don’t know if I’ve made some poor choices lately or if it’s a reflection of ongoing gender stereotyping, but the female characters in the fantasy books I’ve been reading have played into some pretty shitty tropes: the meek and caring girl, the hapless love-driven schemer, the whore with a heart of gold, and the woman requiring rape in order to ‘grow’.

Where is the strong, independent female character whose self-worth and growth is not predicated on a dominant, masculine force?

I’m not saying that a female character can’t look for love or enjoy sexual freedom (hell, yes!), but why does it have to be her most defining contribution to the story? And let’s not even go there on the whole rape trope.

Seriously. What the hell, people.

And, sorry, making a female character a mercenary, sword fighter or ship’s captain doesn’t automatically make them ‘strong’ women. Strong characters aren’t defined by their physicality. It’s the inherent core of their being—their personality, flaws, foibles and decisions—that defines the character.

By plonking women into traditionally male positions which require physical strength, the writer can skip over any real sort of character development and still wave their hands around, saying, ‘See? Strong woman character over here!’ But what the writer is really saying is that these female characters are ‘strong’ despite their gender. They act like men. They fight like men. They’re essentially men with shapely breasts.

This type of writing is lazy, divisive and patronising. And I’m done reading it.

Come on, writers, we can do better than this.

Rant over.