The first time I learned I was supposed to hide my menstrual products was in early middle school. My friend had gotten her period unexpectedly, and we had come to help. As we were leaving the bathroom, another friend pointed to a spare pad — the criminal object — and said, “Tuck it in your boot!” When I got my period, my mom bought me a little pencil case. “So you can store your products when you go from class to the bathroom,” she explained. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was nothing to hide.
It wasn’t until junior year of high school that I questioned this ritual. One day in English class, my teacher walked in, clearly shocked. His previous class had been discussing the stigma of the female body, he explained. “I learned today that women hide their menstrual products when they go to the bathroom. Is this true?” he asked.
All the girls in the class were amused; wasn’t this obvious? There’s even a WikiHow titled “How to Sneak a Pad or Tampon to the Bathroom.” Looking at the shocked expressions of the boys, this evidently wasn’t common knowledge. We began to explain various hiding spots: stacked in a little bag, pushed up one’s sleeve, placed in a boot, tucked between a shirt and belt. As I heard so many people taking such careful measures to conceal a very normal bodily function, I realized how ridiculous this was. What exactly was I trying to hide, and why?
It certainly wasn’t for hygienic reasons. The products were actually very sterile: They weren’t used yet and they also had a wrapper to protect them. In reality, the embarrassment of being on my period encouraged me to conceal my tampons.
This embarrassment exists for many reasons. First, societal biases of periods being “dirty” unfortunately persist. For example, a 2016 Instagram post by poet Rupi Kaur was quickly deleted after it showed a period stain, and then reposted after a flood of criticism. Instagram’s community guidelines prohibit posts containing sexual acts, violence and nudity. How does a period stain fall into any of these categories? And until recently, many commercials for pads and tampons showed a mysterious blue liquid instead of blood.
Aside from being seen as physically dirty, women are often viewed as overly emotional while on their period. This attitude delegitimizes women’s emotions — they’re just “hormonal” feelings rather than important and valid ones. Furthermore, stereotypes abound of women who are helpless or unable to perform basic tasks because they’re on their period. This often plays into workplace or academic environments, where women may be viewed as less capable or intelligent as a result.
So why does hiding your pad or tampon matter? According to a linguistics study by the International Women’s Health Coalition, “period” has over 5,000 different slang words and euphemisms in 10 languages: It’s one of the most taboo subjects. We’ve made progress in the conversation about periods, but the fact that we hide its existence in our daily lives shows we clearly have stigma to eradicate.
There are two reasons why we should proudly hold our tampons, pads, diva cups, etc. in our hands. First, when we don’t see the products that women use, it’s hard to address issues and regulate them. For example, The New York Times found that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the ingredients of these products, which may include fragrances, gels and even pesticide residues that may be toxic. A significant reason there has been a lack of federal action is a lack of awareness. When we all realize the importance and prevalence of menstrual products, there will hopefully be more activism to regulate product safety.
Another associated regulatory issue is the expense of period products. Many states still do not classify these products as “essential,” but rather as luxury products. As a result, period products are subject to what is known as the “pink tax.” This has led to period poverty, in which low-income women are not able to afford a consistent supply of period products. Yale has made admirable progress in this effort by providing free products in women’s bathrooms, but reform also needs to happen on a governmental level.
A second reason not to hide our period products is that hiding them contributes to societal stigma. The more periods are hidden, the more mysterious and gross they become in the public consciousness. This leads to misinformation about periods: If you don’t realize people are having their periods and live normal lives, much less talk to them about it, it’s hard to understand.
Periods are a normal aspect of the female body and should be treated as such. Yale, like many other colleges, has provided free condoms for years, but it’s important to note that the introduction of free menstrual products was only last year. We can capitalize on the momentum of the Yale College Council’s program, using our own campus as a template for wider reform in both other colleges and government policies. On a cultural level, we should take women’s pain and struggles seriously rather than using them to delegitimize female strength. So, next time you’re on your way to the bathroom, I say tampons out, ladies!
RABHYA MEHROTRA is a sophomore in Morse College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .