Home is where the heart is, but this can’t always be the case when it is simultaneously the place where shame is tolerated. The way we conduct ourselves out in the world is a massive reflection of our upbringing, as well as of what we were taught in the home. Family is one of the most important first forms of socialization, so it is no question how absolutely critical it is that the proper beliefs, behaviours and dialogues occur from an early age within the home. When it comes to the discussion of periods and the process of menstruation, many people who menstruate feel that the handling of periods in their childhood homes influenced greatly their carried sense of shame, guilt, and general outlook regarding their menstruation. The “villainy of the period” is a narrative too often encouraged within families. From the harmful stereotype that daughters and other children at home who menstruate are unapproachable, “moody”, “scary”, or even “b*tchy” due to their “time of the month”, to the constant enforcement that any single piece of evidence in the house that blatantly or subtly may suggest “hey!!! People who menstruate live here!” must be immediately hidden away - we’ve heard it all.
For far too long, people who menstruate have associated shame and fear with their periods. Young kids are afraid to open a pad too loudly in the school restrooms, (which is ridiculous, because the restroom is meant for these things). More often than not, the harmful euphemisms we hear in society start out by being said at home. Parents, sometimes with no ill intent, reiterate euphemisms that link periods to intolerance, evil and disdain, and although they may appear as harmless and playful, their meanings bear deeper connotations and consequences. Children are incredibly impressionable, and the small things that are encouraged at home turn into larger beliefs in adolescence and adulthood that are so deeply ingrained it’s almost habitual. The first step to minimizing the issue of the toxic menstrual rhetoric within the home, is acknowledgement and accountability. There needs to be an active recognition of the problem, and sincere effort to rectify it. In light of step one, acknowledging the problem, this month I’ve interviewed 2 people of different ages (I will not be disclosing their names, so I will state their age and their pronouns), who can speak to what their experiences were/are regarding the handling of periods in their childhood homes. Each of them give answers that offer slightly different experiences, and that comparison is a great one to truly reflect on how families can strive to do better in this department. The voices of these two women will contribute to recognizing the truth of the matter, and to hopefully destigmatize menstruation from the ground up.
Q: On a scale from 1-10 what would you rate your experience growing up in your home when it came to the conversation and comfortability around menstruation? Elaborate.
A: “7 - everyone in my house other than my dad menstruates, so there was a good sense of comfort knowing there were so many shared experiences. However, I felt like my mom encouraged us to be quiet about it in the presence of other men, and there seemed to be a sense of shame that surrounded the idea.”
Q: Do you have an example of a time where you felt you had to be secretive about periods?
A: “My sister's boyfriend was over one evening, and I had recently bought tampons from the store. I left my groceries, unopened, on the counter. It included a pack of toilet paper, a box of tampons and a few other regular items. My mom immediately pointed and singled out the tampons and quickly asked us to remove them from the table because he was in the house. Although it was a normal necessity it felt like it was.. Like.. shameful for having it out - Almost like it’s “disrespectful to the man” to have it in sight. But my mom is always supportive and doesn’t totally block out conversations about it ”
Q: If you were the parent, what would be some ways you would enforce a positive period outlook in the house?
A:“Honestly my main thing would be a “no shame” policy kind of thing. I’d treat it like any other part of life, not something that needs to be hidden or censored. If I have sons, I’d want them equally involved in the conversation in a respectful way. Removing stigmas is really important and I’d want my kids to grow up with as much confidence as possible.”
Q: On a scale from 1-10what would you rate your experience growing up in your home when it came to the conversation and comfortability around menstruation? Elaborate.
A: “10. My mom made a ready to go emergency kit for my backpack from a really young age. I was really well prepared which was good because I was one of the first ones to get my period out of my friends. It didn’t feel like a scary surprise and I was happy to be educated at home and not just at school. My parents always made sure I was independently able to handle whatever came to me, while still making me feel supported and safe.
Q: What is a positive experience from your family that always stuck with you?
A: “It was actually when I first got my period. I remember it leaked through my pants at school which was obviously embarrassing for an 11 year old. But what kept me sane was remembering that my parents, both of them, encouraged a super open line of communication when it came to period, and I was able to, without shame, contact them for help. It was actually my dad who helped me, he picked up everything from the store that I needed, and nothing was weird about whatsoever for me, despite the fact that he didn’t menstruate. So that was a good experience for me.”
Q: If you ever have kids that menstruate, how will you encourage a healthy relationship with periods? Is there anything specific you would implement?
A: “I would simply teach them right away that all it is, is a natural process. Nothing to be ashamed of, nothing out of the normal. No matter who they are, daughter, son, transgender/non-binary kid, I want them to understand the importance of consideration when it comes to periods, and I’d definitely carry on the open communication that I had growing up. I want to be the first person my kids think to come to when they want to learn about something or need help with something, and to do that I need to make sure there’s no shame or worry about it. Every kid is different so mostly I would figure it out as they grow and focus on listening to them properly so I can address their needs in the best way.”
All it takes is erasing the negativity. It doesn’t have to be scary to support reduced shame, especially within the place one should feel safest.There is enough in the outside world and media that perpetuates body shaming, there doesn’t have to be the additional shame in the walls of one’s home towards a natural process of the body. There needs to be more contribution toward increasing menstrual positivity, and there can’t be any serious change without establishing strong roots. So, while school is essential, and organizations and modern media representation are great - there’s truly no place like home.