Quote card by Opinion.

*This article discusses menstruation and those who menstruate. While the language is intended to be inclusive, at times, those who menstruate are generalized as “girls” or “women” for simplicity. Please note that this language is not accurate for all individuals. 

The very word “period,” and all of the other terms coined to call it anything but what it is — like Aunt Flow, the rag or girl flu — reflect an unhealthy societal attitude toward menstruation. As a society, we spend a lot of time concealing this natural and fundamental part of our lives. It’s time we stop. I’m talking about menstruation today and giving you a few reasons why you need to, too. 

Even though half of our population experiences its effects almost every day, in Western culture menstruation is regarded as a very private business. It is a critical process for our bodies and the survival of our species, but is only briefly taught in health class and, sometimes, only to girls. This limited education leaves those who menstruate confused, afraid and anxious about what their bodies will go through and lacking a proper understanding of how to care for themselves. This can cause their initial reaction to menstruation to be one of fear, shame and embarrassment.

Poor education also leaves their male classmates equally confused, creating a wall of misunderstanding and separation between sexes from a young age. More thorough and specific education for both boys and girls would help to destigmatize menstruation and create more understanding and comfort between them, as well as keep young girls safe and healthy. 

Unfortunately, most girls learn early on how to hide this regular part of their life. Menstruation is disguised with language — using code words or nicknames to indirectly refer to it. Sanitary products are advertised for their discreteness and slipped into sleeves to avoid detection, while silly excuses are made to escape to the bathroom, as any discussion would be considered rude or embarrassing. Studies have found that women actively hide their menstrual status by avoiding certain activities, such as swimming, and changing their behavior, such as wearing looser clothing. In our society, “that time of the month,” which really has effects throughout the entirety of the month, has become as ominous as it sounds. 

These attitudes surrounding menstruation have created a culture of shame that is harmful to women’s health and even contribute to women’s lower social status. Economically, women face a financial burden due to their cycle, as the government profits off of the menstrual products all of us need. Twenty-seven states have a tax on sanitary products, nicknamed the “Tampon Tax,” deeming menstrual products as nonessential luxuries. Taxing an item as a “luxury” when it is necessary to proper feminine hygiene is gendered discrimination that demonstrates how ignorant and dismissive our society is toward the subject of women’s health. Women are treated as the “other” because of their bodily differences and viewed as dirty for natural processes that allow us, as a human race, to survive. This tax was repealed in Michigan in 2021, and Ann Arbor became the first American city to require the provision of free sanitary products in public restrooms that same year. Both legal actions were a step in the right direction to correct society’s treatment and perception of menstruation, serving as an example for the other 27 states who have yet to do so.  

The negative manner in which society views menstruation affects the everyday quality of life of those who menstruate. The stigmatization of Premenstrual Syndrome, commonly referred to as PMS, has become a way to attack and criticize women with a biological excuse. Women suffer silently through painful headaches, nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, irritability and many more symptoms, which, in any other context, would call for medical intervention. But rather than being socially conscious of these struggles and offering support and understanding, our society chooses to ignore them or even shame them. 

Women operate on a 28 day, four phase hormone cycle, while men operate on a 24-hour hormone cycle. This means that women’s bodies, mentally and physically, are changing on a day-to-day basis. Each of these phases affect women differently, so they should be living their lives differently. Depending on the day, one might change her diet, activity levels and rest according to her body, rather than the standard, repetitive day. 

For example, during the follicular phase, estrogen levels begin to rise, which can cause a spike in energy levels. This would be a good time to be productive and accomplish large tasks. During this phase, women have also been found to choose immediate rewards over greater, delayed rewards due to their higher estradiol levels. Such information would be good to know and take into consideration when making important decisions that require our best judgment. With a decrease in progesterone levels, the Luteal phase can cause women to feel mentally and physically sluggish and in need of more rest than usual. This would be a good time to relax and not push oneself too hard.

Menstruation fundamentally affects the lives of half of our population, yet the standard structure of our days only caters to the half that doesn’t. If women were to listen to their bodies and allow themselves to work with their hormones instead of against them, they could dramatically increase their daily comfort and happiness. Encouraging women to embrace their menstrual cycle rather than detest and ignore it could do wonders to improve the average woman’s quality of life. 

It might feel uncomfortable or inappropriate to talk about menstruation in this way, or it may feel unusual to give it the type of attention that I’m suggesting we do. But just like any other area of our health, it requires adequate care and attention. The menstrual cycle is the very foundation of life, and it deserves the respect that comes with that. You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel ashamed of something you should be proud of, period.

Amy Edmunds is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at amyedmun@umich.edu