Bringing men into the conversation: why talking periods is so important
Think back to when you were first taught about periods in school.
Was it in a mixed group environment where menstruation was made to feel like something natural, normal and certainly not shameful?
If your answer is “no” then you’re definitely not alone. For most of us, our first experiences of being taught about periods meant being segregated from the boys, to learn about why some people bleed in hushed tones. In these formative years, the message that a lot of us took on board was clear: Periods are the concern of females. This, alongside generations of stigmatisation, has culminated in a society here in the UK that is still working hard to undo menstruation taboos.
However, we think that it’s about time we bought men into the conversation, to truly irradicate the belief that period issues are a female issue and replace it with the reality that period issues are a human issue!
Before we dive into this conversation, it’s important to note that we are referring to educating cis-gendered men on period issues within this article. It’s essential to recognise that not only women menstruate and that not all women have periods. We truly believe that by bringing cis-gendered men into this discussion, we can make the world a better place for everybody that menstruates, including transgender and non-binary people.
De-stigmatising periods, one conversation at a time
By not talking openly and honestly about periods with men and boys, there’s an immediate association between bleeding and shame. After all, we can talk about other normal parts of the human experience - headaches, what we had for dinner, the weather - but not about menstruation, which 288 million of us are experiencing right now.
So it must be something to be embarrassed by, right?
Obviously that’s not true. We believe that everybody that menstruates has a right to feel comfortable and confident in managing their period. And so, as a step towards this, it’s important to remove the associations of shame that come from not talking openly. If ⅓ men continue to think it’s unprofessional to discuss menstruation in the workplace, how are people supposed to feel comfortable doing so? And what about the 68% of girls in Bangladesh that avoid being around men and boys when on their period?
By bringing men into the conversation, and making them more comfortable with and educated about menstruation, they can unlearn the stigma that they have attached to bleeding.
More people fighting the good fight
There’s also the simple fact that the more people you have behind a movement, the more powerful it becomes! Whilst there are countless incredible women out there fighting for period rights and battling the taboos, it’s always a good thing to have more people on your side.
All genders face their own struggles. By getting men clued up on the personal and systematic problems related to periods, instead of treating it as a hush-hush subject, we can unite to fix the issue. After all, it is lack of empathy that can often lead to thoughtlessness (like no access to sanitary products in the workplace bathroom) and straight-up discrimination (enter the Tampon Tax).
WaterAid is working hard to involve more people across the globe in their fight for menstrual equality. Take the work they've supported in Karamoja, Uganda, for example. Having taught students how to make reusable period products and how to safely manage periods, the students were then encouraged to form a WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) Club. This empowered the individuals to share the lessons they had learned with their wider community, benefitting health, education and well-being.
Exemplifying the power in having more people fighting the good fight, WASH Club member Dennis (middle), 14 shares his experiences: “It is good for boys to know about periods too so that they can teach their sisters. I teach my family. In my songs I talk about menstruation, and other things. I’ve just performed a song about maintaining hygiene and sanitation to the community so that they can take away my message to teach others”
Open communication as a catalyst for change
Ultimately, simply involving men in the conversation about periods allows for better, more effective communication. If families are comfortable discussing menstruation and its related topics, this can have a huge impact on day-to-day living.
WASH Club member Abraham (third from left), 18 from Uganda, is a brilliant example of how teaching cis-gendered boys about periods will ultimately benefit those that menstruate: "If I have daughters I will send them to school. Because I want them to go to school like me. When they start their periods I will teach them how to make pads, to manage their menstruation, and to clean their pads, and dry them in the sunshine. To bathe regularly, three times a day."
Through education, men become more equipped to help those in their families, communities and peer groups that menstruate. They are more likely to have their needs met, so that they can handle their periods with safety and dignity.
How can we open up the conversation with men?
Knowing just how important it is to bring cis-gendered men into the conversation surrounding periods, you're likely now wondering how to get started. Even if the idea of discussing bleeding with the men in your life still makes you feel a little awkward, don’t worry. We’ve got three tips to ease you into it.
Start by talking to the men closest to you
Begin by talking to your partner, dad or son, who you are likely to feel more comfortable being vulnerable around. As you get more at ease, you may find it becomes natural to talk about menstruation when relevant with friends, colleagues and peers.
Use scientific and honest language
It’s been found that there are over 5,000 different slang terms for the word period!
Whilst some of them did make us chuckle when we read them (“Having the painters in” was one of our personal favourites), there’s so much value in speaking scientifically about periods. By using terms like “menstruation”, “vagina” and “vulva”, we’re all linking arms and agreeing that those topics are nothing to be ashamed of!
Tag your posts with #WeAreFempowered
Talking about periods online may feel like a big step. However, whether it’s discussing your own experiences, spreading statistics about period poverty or even sharing our blog posts, we’ve created the #WeAreFempowered hashtag for you. Join our community and use it on any posts related to period positivity.
At Fempowered, we believe that the fight to make sure everyone can have their periods safely and with dignity is one that we must take on together. There are so many brilliant people out there, men, women and non-binary people alike, who are passionate about making a positive change and we’re proud to work alongside them.
To join us on our mission to help people with periods live a life free from limitations, become a Fempowered subscriber today.
Where did we get our stats and facts from?
- Metro: A third of men think it’s unprofessional to talk about periods at work
- WaterAid: Why do we talk about periods
- WaterAid: Integrating Menstrual Health, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, and Sexual and Reproductive Health in Asia and the Pacific Region
- The Guardian: Budget 2020: chancellor plans to finally end tampon tax
- The Guardian: The stigma over periods won’t end until boys learn about them too
- The Independent: Menstruation study find over 5,000 slang terms for “period”