Who knew that in 2019 the words “menstrual products” and “period” would be used so frequently in various news headlines? It’s almost as if we have made a cultural shift into the 21st Century! Of course, I am speaking about the decision by the British Columbia school system to begin providing free menstrual products to students and the like-minded gestures of other organizations to follow suit. Finally, we can put a period and an exclamation mark on that conversation!
When I heard that they were going to begin offering free tampons and/or pads to girls in the school system I reflected on my own uncomfortable conversations with the gym teacher went back in 1979. Invariably my teacher was either surrounded by students at her little kiosk near the gym equipment room or she was standing on a field blowing her irritating whistle at the time when I needed a little something-something.
I was uncomfortable making the request and very hesitant to say the actual words: “May I have a tampon please?” When I finally got her attention with the embarrassing whisper. “WHAT! What do you need?” Nary a hint of empathy was involved.
I would then have to suck up the courage to make my request clearer so that she would a) give me what I need, and b) not embarrass me any further.
Handing her my money (yes, you needed to give her 50 cents), I would try it again: “May I have a tampon,” my words mumbled so that tampon didn’t sound like tampon. I also was intimidated that she would judge me because I asked for a tampon versus a pad. Any woman who is from my generation will know what I mean by that statement. My gym teacher would then hand me a pad so hideously thick and long as if to dare me to hand it back and ask clearly for a tampon.
Red-faced and embarrassed, I would grab the horribly huge pad and scurry away before anyone could laugh. Would I rather simply tie my jacket around my waist or should I actually use this huge piece of cotton-wrapped material that everyone would be able to see underneath my clothing? In my imagination it would make a swish, swish sound as I walked. I might as well have had a sign on my back that said, “I have my period!”
Times have certainly changed and, with it, the period stigma has changed. Menstruation was never a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but it was something that we whispered about and never truly got comfortable with freely discussing in front of others. Why? Who knows. Maybe it was because the store in my town brown-paper wrapped up the sanitary products so they could not be seen or identified by prying eyes.
What does that tell you? Maybe it was because you needed two hands to carry out the box of Kotex from the store – they were bigger than a box of clothing detergent! You kept expecting to get a complimentary towel or tea set from inside the box like you used to get from the big box of Tide!
What I’m trying to say is hallelujah and amen to the cultural shift we are seeing as it pertains to something that naturally happens to every single woman on the planet. I’m so happy that the women who follow in my footsteps are having the courage and conviction to affect change and lessen the ridiculous stigma that surrounds a fact of life.
It’s time, don’t you think?
Judy Kucharuk is a lover of sarcasm, witty people and footnotes.