• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Period Years

A public discussion.


September 28, 2016

I’ve always been interested in how we divide topics into private and public categories, particularly in regards to sex and gender. This is why I have been following so closely the shift of menstruation from private to public. Some media outlets have declared 2015 as the Year of the Period.

The public period is becoming more and more popular. During the Olympics, Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui spoke publicly about what it was like having her period while she competed. Presidential candidate Donald Trump seemed to allude to it when he complained about the treatment he received from Republican primary debate moderator Megyn Kelly.

The period also received attention as the company Thinx moved into the marketplace to offer a new version of period underwear. It wasn’t so much the new item they sold (period underwear is actually not new), but the way that they publicly chose to come out of the (bathroom) closet about their product. For example, the company took out ads in the New York City subway system, though they faced some challenges). Thinx broke down more barriers by featuring a transgender model in its ads.

In a new form of “period activism,” runner Kiran Gandhi ran a marathon while “free-flowing” during her period. While some critics reacted by calling her action disgusting, many others supported her effort to push back against social pressure to hide menstruation. Period activism has found its way to social media: a popular Twitter hashtag is #Livetweetyourperiod. BuzzFeed has featured a story about a teen boy who carries tampons for his friends who are girls. He started his own hashtag, #realmensupportwomen

Some parents now throw their daughters period parties (aka first moon parties) to make their first menstruation a mark of pride and excited anticipation rather than one of worry and dread. A colleague of mine criticized this as fetishizing the period. It did make me pause for a moment to question the line between celebration and fetish.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled by these developments. I believe that normalizing menstruation is important toward eradicating the shame and objectification of the female body. However, I also wrestle with the loss of privacy as every aspect of life becomes a public spectacle. Just recently, I read a Facebook post from a mother who was searching for some information about a period app and consequently announced the arrival of her daughter’s period. Another mom commented that she might want to delete her post because her daughter might become angry for outing her first period in a semi-public forum. The first mother countered that her daughter was proud of her period, so why should it remain private?

I still can’t decide if, as a young girl with my first period, I would want to plan for its arrival with a period party, or if, as a high school teen, I would want to have my male friends carry tampons for me. If I say no, am I ashamed of my body and its natural processes? When can moments be private but not shameful? If you don’t join the period party, are you helping to stop the progress against body shaming? What are your thoughts regarding the questions of private vs. public and the female body?


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