I’ve never been one to shy away from the nitty gritty. Ya know, the strange, the uncomfortable. The kind of conversations that make your fingers and toes squirm. There’s practically no topic I’m not willing to dive into with enthusiasm and an insatiable desire to scratch the surface of conversation. Ya know, that boring ol’ surface that we all hate.
I have no problem patting myself on the back for having this quality (and a long list of taboo items I’m itching to ‘organically’ bring up in dinner conversation at Chili’s). But (I know you’re all ecstatic about the ‘but’), there’s one thing about my list that infuriates me: some of the items shouldn’t be there. (If you ask me, none of the items should really be there, but 1) I understand that the nature of humans is to fear what we’re unfamiliar with and 2) living in a world where everyone is okay with talking about everything would mean I would never get any joy out of making people uncomfortable ever again *sheds one single tear.
One particular item that shouldn’t be there–one that has carried significant weight on my mind for the past couple of years–is the P word. No, not the word that means cat or the word that frat boys chant when one of their brothers is choking on their third beer bong of the night (God, toxic masculinity is exhausting). The P word I’m referring to is: periods—as in, menstrual periods. That thing that half of the world’s population experiences once a month for several decades of their life. The word that, if it gets mentioned, sends the men in my family into an instantaneous series of eye rolls, nose crinkles, and, most certainly, an urgent plea to “go talk about that somewhere else.”
Don’t be fooled. Discomfort around this topic spreads much farther than just my family’s living room in Raleigh, North Carolina and much earlier than the year 2020. The predictable ugh’s and blegh’s surrounding this topic is evidenced in texts extending as far back as the Bible. Leviticus 15:19 states: “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening.” Um, excuse me? Did the Bible just refer to a women’s menstrual period, a cycle she has approximately (*takes out invisible calculator) ZERO percent control over an IMPURITY? Yes. Yes, it did. And did it also say that anyone who touches a woman who is menstruating is also impure? Yup. It sure did.
So, let’s be honest here. Is the discourse (or lack thereof) surrounding periods really that surprising? As someone who experiences the good ol’ monthly bleed, I have to say: no. It’s not. I can’t even fit onto two hands the number of times I’ve wanted to curl up in a ball, call Management (or whoever it is out there in the universe that’s in charge of all this) and hand in my ‘womanhood’ like it’s a tacky sweater my grandma got me for Christmas ‘cause she “still thinks I like Hello Kitty”. In fact, reflecting upon one of my first memories of feeling the oh-so-sexy emotion of shame conjures up an image of 7 year-old me and a ruby-red, strawberry-flavored popsicle.
So, there I was. Sitting at a picnic table outside Olive Chapel Elementary School. I was at summer camp, which meant I was surrounded by a hundred other kids whose parents either couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of them during those blissful/confusing/sticky summer months. As is to be expected on a North Carolina summer day, my popsicle was melting all over the place, including on (yup, you guessed it) my white shorts. The next thing I know, a boy next to me takes one look down and immediately announces, with the gusto of a Gen Z teen achieving a 100-day snapchat streak, that “Mackenzie started her period!”. This announcement was met with a tableful of ewwww’s and finger pointing that shot me into a complete state of panic and embarrassment. I somehow knew what a period was at this point, but had no idea that it was something that was supposed to be gross. Well, I sure learned that day. Right then and there began the indoctrination of my personal menstrual shame, as well as the perpetuation of period shaming that has, evidently, been around since biblical figures walked this Earth. Sad, isn’t it? But, my friends, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. The indoctrination of shame surrounding this biological process is daunting and deep-rooted, certainly, but it can be unraveled. Through education, open discussion, and exposure rather than avoidance (dads around the world who refuse to buy their daughter’s tampons, we’re looking at you), society’s attitudes surrounding the “P-word” can be re-wired. I like to compare this scenario to that of the Boogeyman: your big brother teaches you to be scared of a strange, terrifying man that lives under your bed until one day, you pluck up the courage to throw off your duvet, get on your hands and knees, and take a look for yourself. Once you’ve done some investigating, you see that there was nothing to be afraid of after all. Of course, the Boogeyman isn’t responsible for the existence of all human life on Earth, but you get the point….