Yes, you read right. I am writing about periods today. Actually, I have been meaning to for the longest time now, but for the very reason you don’t talk about periods all the time, I did not. One of my boys has even seen five draft titles I have hidden away in here about periods. One of them read, ‘I am on my period, period!’
Now you can see why I did not actually publish then. My interest was reignited last year when I researched on periods and sanitary towels for a social media pitch. My eyes were opened, literally. Hope this post does the same for you too. I will start with the one that amazed me most.
1. There is this Indian guy, Muruganantham, who was so shocked at what his wife used during her periods that he took upon himself to manufacture a low cost sanitary towel. Unfortunately, no one wanted to be a test subject and those who did could not be relied on, so he decided to wear the pad himself to test it. His wife left him after his experiments — bordering on the disgusting — became an obsession. And here I was thinking, awwww, what a loving man. Read more about him on this quite recent article here. And what do you know, a documentary about him is out now. Needless to say, Muruganantham’s efforts have eventually paid off and he is empowering rural women in India. Watch his TED Talk here.
2. Pads got their break during the World War One. (You do know WW1 was exactly a century ago, right?) And the material (Cellucotton) used was not even intended for periods in the first place. It was for bandages for the soldiers wounded in the war. The discoverers had finally found a material more absorbent and cheaper than cotton when produced in mass. Eventually, the bright nurses discovered this quality and began to use the bandages for their own monthly flow. And just like that, sanitary towels were born! (Okay, there was a period of experimentation before Kotex was finally sold to women in 1920.)
3. Last year, there was a trending topic on Malaysian Twitter; #PeriodStories. Yes. People actually came out and tweeted their period stories, complete with memes and gifs. It is still a hashtag across social networks. It is quite a relief to know that people go through things you go through in secret and laugh about them in retrospect. (Or in continuance. It’s coming again. Sigh.) It makes you appreciate that we all go through the menstrual period but with significant differences. Some of us feel absolutely nothing. Others cannot even move. Some have their periods for days on end, others do not display any change in their moods. It is therapeutic to share these stories. The one GIF that made me laugh out loud was this one.
4. Always ads are so catchy, you will find my brothers singing along to them. Problem, or advantage, is that they manage to communicate the message without letting the kids in on it. I asked my baby sister what Always was and she told me that it is used when one gets to standard seven. That’s all she knows. That’s all she should know for now, right? Why freak an eight year old out? But then again they are getting these things way earlier than expected so again maybe my mum and I should reconsider that decision. Okay, rewind. I sat on this post for so long, mum finally told her and she was beyond shocked. Mum had to reassure her that it was completely normal. I also got to learn something else. She thought sanitary towels were diapers for grown-ups. You have got to love kids.
5. Millions of girls have no access to pads across the world and more so in Kenya. The feature on Citizen TV was a wakeup call to all of us about it. What broke me is when one of the girls said she’d rather have pads than food. I really did not know what to think of that. There are girls who sit on soil till it’s over, others who don’t go to school and other routine places because their menses take their toll on them. It is a fact that availability of sanitary towels improves school attendance in many areas in Kenya.
6. There are hundreds of charities out there who seek to help girls like these get access to sanitary towels. Some even make reusable sanitary towels. They are better than nothing, right? And cheaper. An initiative in Uganda uses banana fibre to make Banapads. Classic case of using what you have to make do.
7. Before I explored this topic last year, I had no idea there were things called menstrual cups. I was beyond shocked! Yes, besides tampons, there are contraptions called menstrual cups that have been around for 80 years, “but the truth about them has been lost in the frenzy of disposable tampons and pads.” That is according to a popular brand that makes them, DivaCup. Needless to say, I will not go into the details of that for now. You can click the link and find out more. 🙂
8. When female hygiene product were marketed in those early days in the West, the adverts bordered on seriously outrageous, to sexist and completely devoid of facts. Most, however, helped bridge the gap between the taboo it was in the West and the norm it is today. Before the refined sanitary pads, there were sanitary belts and aprons. Sample this pioneer.
9. Fast forward to today and ads on menstrual hygiene are so entertaining, you forget what they are about. Times do change. Let me point out three which got me smiling. These ads are yet to get to this side of the world though. They would actually be taboo. Yep. I am pretty sure they would be banned here, especially the second video.
10. Once upon a time, Shiku could not walk to the shop and get pads for herself. I could not even imagine myself doing it. Pretty much like how that guy in that ad could not buy condoms. I do not know what the issue was exactly. Was I ashamed or afraid? I am not sure. I guess I was just transitioning. Even when Kotex was sold in those early days, women could just drop the money in a box, not ask the shop owner for them. Today, I will not even bat an eyelid. Sometimes I even wonder why that Always packet is wrapped in newspapers? But then that makes sense since you do not want everyone to know that it is that time of the month. The very same reason I did not publish this when it was that time of the month. I do not want everyone concluding that I was feeling hormonal and whatnot. 😉
There you have it. Menstruation and how it is viewed in different parts of the world. I am sure the blue liquid will not disappear from our TV screens nor will the wrapping in newspapers. (Always used a red dot on a pad in a Western ad some time ago and that got people talking.) This is a natural process that deserves that level of discreetness for all our sakes. We even have euphemisms for it, every girls’ high school had a special one. Sometimes it catches us unaware and we have to live through embarrassing leak moments. All I hope is that those who see it as taboo will open their eyes. And that girl in that classroom will not be afraid to ask the teacher to go out before it’s too late. And you will help out where you can.