When was the last time you talked about your period in public? Not in cutesy terms (the painters, Aunty Flo), or to sympathetic ears (your mum, flatmates, slightly awkward new man boyfriend), but actually talked about it, in all its bloody, uterus wall shedding, messy, wholeness?
Probably, you didn’t. Haven’t. Possibly the thought of doing so makes you cringe.
I’d like you to consider this, as we applaud the women who entered Parliament this week and pioneered a debate on the Tampon Tax. This week an institution, which as Helen Lewis points out, is specifically designed for people without vaginas, became awash with talk of them, their owners and their needs and their monthly bleedings. To stand up in a space that is incredibly unfriendly to women, face up to jeering colleagues on both sides of the house, and represent women up and down the country who are paying more than they should be for a basic dignity, that’s brave.
And recognition is overdue to those who have campaigned on this issue for years. Once we begin to notice how little we actually talk about this very basic, very simple, very normal need, it’s astonishing.
I recently took a Megabus, which, for those who don’t know, are notorious for their low prices, grumpy drivers, and constantly squalid toilets. This loo in particular was atrocious- semi blocked before we even got outside the M25, and so tiny that I, as a small woman, had my knees pressed against the door when I sat. I asked the driver at the next stop whether I could run off and find another toilet- and he gruffly told me that it was a non-stop service and customers were not allowed to leave the bus. It was at this point I asked him whether he’d ever tried changing a tampon in a Megabus toilet. Needless to say, he looked very embarrassed and I was permitted to go be a woman elsewhere.
Now, I’m certain that the designer for this model of coach hadn’t thought about how on earth women would be able to change a tampon in their miniscule bathroom. I’m also sure that the school board of my middle school didn’t consider girls of 11 and 12 could and would get their periods, otherwise they would’ve ensured adequate waste disposal bins.
The manager of my local food-bank mentioned that almost all of the women they saw on a regular basis had taken to re-using old socks as sanitary towels, despite constant appeals for toiletries.
My point being, when we ignore an issue, refuse to talk about it, it’s forgotten about. At best, this causes embarrassment when it is brought up, and at worst, it strips further dignity from those in society who are just trying to get by.
Whilst I write this, the tampon tax debate seems to have been eclipsed by an argument caused by the ever idiotic Philip Davies MP wanting a debate for International Men’s Day. Though I highly encourage you to go check out this shambles of a discussion, and hero worship at the feet of Jess Philips MP (as I so often do), I also beg of all of us that we don’t let yet another discussion about unsexy, awkward ‘women’s issues’ be forgotten.
What’s also unsexy is maternity leave, maternity pay, childcare, the pill, abortion, pre natal care, post natal care, post partum depression, cervical cancer jabs- the list goes on. Society hates to be reminded that we women don’t emerge naturally glowing and joyous from a bed of roses each morning. We also have bodily functions and messy, smelly, icky needs.
But if we continue to say nothing about them, nothing will ever be done.
So please, for all of us, start talking.