At GiveHer5, we like to keep ourselves updated on the topic of menstruation in whatever context it comes up – be it through a social issue, awareness campaign, a movie reference or even a book. As a topic, there is a vast spectrum of issues that intersect with it ranging from health and hygiene, politics, poverty, taboos, gender equality, pop culture, feminism, inclusivity and so on.
Research is never-ending, at least judging by the alerts that pop up in our email inboxes every day. People are talking about periods, and slowly but surely, menstruation is occupying a space where it was never allowed into before. However, not everyone has access to this information but if we keep persisting on keeping ourselves aware and educating others who may not have the resources to be informed then at the very least we are contributing by keeping the period movement alive.
Recently, Harper Collins very kindly sent us a copy of a book called PERIOD, written by Emma Barnett. She is a journalist, a broadcaster and the recipient of several accolades. PERIOD also happens to be her first book. With wit and a dash of humour, Barnett talks in a frank manner about the female experience. She shares a lot of anecdotes about her personal life and upbringing and the relationship she has with periods.
As someone who suffered from endometriosis for several years yet caught it in the nick of time before it got to her ovaries, she details how she put up with the pain despite subconsciously knowing that the pain she went through was not normal. It is an important story that serves to remind women to speak up if they feel an abnormal amount of pain. By keeping ourselves hushed up, we actually lose out on a timely diagnosis and unnecessarily put up with pain by covering it up with shame and humiliation. By normalising periods, we make it a safe place for other women to share their experiences with us without the fear of being judged, holding us back.
Each chapter covers how periods affect our lives – as women, for men, in school, in the workplace, with doctors. You see how periods are affected by politics and in advertising, and how the concept of big brands peddling products to women is problematic in itself. All the writer is looking to do is educate and inform us on how one word ‘period’ shouldn’t have any negative connotations tied to it. For most men, periods are nothing but a squeamish topic despite all men being birthed by women who bleed. Yet the hypocrisy is real when you imagine a world where men having periods is the norm. They would be lauded for something so natural, and talk about period would be as common as bathroom humour which if you think about it, is far less appealing than periods. We even learn what it means for those who wish to have periods but can’t have them or those who are constantly reminded that they are not who they want to be when they do get their periods. And how much we take this marvellous part of our lives for granted.
We come to understand what it is like to suffer from period poverty where women, particularly the homeless and vulnerable ones do not have access to menstrual products and what they have to resort to, to get through those five days. For girls, this means not going to school and missing out on education. Poor women become pawns when men on the street use sanitary products as a bargaining chip, as leverage to get women to do things for them. When nearly half the population of the world bleeds, menstrual products need to be accessible for everyone. So it is a wonder that menstrual products are not free. It is ridiculous that despite being a necessity, period products are taxed by the government as a luxury good. The book throws light on the fact that in most cases, policies are dictated by men who do not have an understanding of menstruation in the first place, as can be seen by the taxing brackets of menstrual products.
Barnett talks about why we should have period pride. Shame should be cancelled, as being outspoken and frank will allow for bonding over a shared female experience, and this enables us to go and seek help for periods that are unusually painful or irregular and general reproductive health. As women, we think the only time to go to the doctor is when we have a fever or an injury, but we tend to forget that our wellbeing is essential and while it is easy to deal with the pain and discomfort in silent, we really don’t have to.
Our verdict on the book:
This book is an easy and enjoyable read and leaves you with plenty to think about. In its pages, there are stories that you will relate to because those things have happened to you or a friend. Through this you learn that the solutions to rectifying issues in the menstruation space are really simple – all it takes is more open conversations be it with friends, colleagues, your husband, your boss and your doctors. Efforts need to be made to ensure all menstruators have access to menstrual products and that women need to be in spaces of research and policymaking to make a positive difference in understanding how to improve pain management of periods. Finally if you, the reader are looking to be more proactive in this space, this book might be the perfect place to start educating yourself to be loud, and proud and most of all, informed.
A big thank you to the team at Harper Collins for sharing a copy of the book with us.