Why do men­stru­ation people call their period Bloody Mary or Straw­berry week? The reason a lot of people use these period euphem­isms is because they are ashamed to talk about the real thing: their period. But why is that and how can we stop this period shame? Rocío has some answers for us:

Chil­dren start ask­ing ques­tions at an incred­ibly young age. They start ask­ing “why” to any sen­tence they hear, and they stop when they can look for the answers by them­selves. To put it another way, curi­os­ity is in human nature, and adults love to expand the know­ledge of those little human beings with all kinds of explan­a­tions and words. Well, mostly. There are some con­ver­sa­tions that seem to be easier than oth­ers, like, appar­ently, the one about peri­ods

A sur­vey, thou­sands of results

When people talk about men­stru­ation, this word and its syn­onym period seem to be the Lord Vol­de­mort (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) of this world. In 2016, Hel­lo­Clue pub­lished the res­ults of an inter­na­tional sur­vey where they gathered all the euphem­isms used for the word period. The res­ults were aston­ish­ing. They dis­covered over 5,000 period euphem­isms, from unique words to whole sen­tences that in some cases rhyme or are related to his­tor­ical events. Con­sid­er­ing that fig­ure, one could think that it must be the only word with so many euphem­isms that describes a bio­lo­gical func­tion of “only’” half the pop­u­la­tion. But why? Why have we turned the word period in such a taboo

Basic­ally, we use euphem­isms when we want to avoid say­ing some­thing that is rather unpleas­ant or offens­ive. In that case, we could say that the words period or men­stru­ation must have gained those con­nota­tions through­out the years. How­ever, how exactly did peri­ods become offens­ive? Is it that people nat­ur­ally felt some­how ashamed and they wanted to avoid the issue? Or is it rather that other factors (cul­ture, reli­gion, etc.) made people feel ashamed towards peri­ods? Maybe both?

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Cul­tural and his­tor­ical back­ground of period euphemisms

The his­tor­ian Greg Jen­ner wrote about the his­tory of men­stru­ation, men­strual products in his­tory, etc. in this post. He also poin­ted out some curi­os­it­ies that could have shaped the soci­et­ies as we know them today. For example, hav­ing a men­stru­ation for some reli­gions could be a syn­onym of impur­ity. As he notes, this, together with the odour of blood, the pain and the fears related to the blood itself would have made people avoid talk­ing about peri­ods. I mean, would you blame them? How­ever, what could have happened in the past is exactly what Kofi Agyekum points out in Men­stru­ation as a Verbal Taboo among the Akan of Ghana: “as men­stru­ation, a recur­rent event in human life, can­not be avoided in con­ver­sa­tions, strategies for mak­ing it speak­able need to be found”.

Should we really worry about using period euphemisms?

“Alright, I get you, but why talk about period euphem­isms when we should be fight­ing for real issues like equal pay?” “Why aren’t you just thank­ful for what you have and let oth­ers say what they want to?” “You should be wor­ry­ing about those who don’t have the same rights as you do and stop think­ing about such things”. I am sure you have heard or maybe even thought some­thing like this at some point.

Actu­ally, it turns out that it is not only about using cer­tain words. If you are ashamed of talk­ing about peri­ods, how would you feel if you could not afford period sup­plies? Only in Ber­lin, approx­im­ately 70% of 11,100 home­less womxn are men­stru­at­ors. This could imply that their access to men­strual products could be hindered or even non-existent.

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Implic­a­tions of not fight­ing the period taboo cycle

Yet, you don’t need to be home­less to not be able to buy essen­tial products. There are teenage/children men­stru­at­ors grow­ing up with the idea that peri­ods are so shame­ful they can­not even use the word. If these chil­dren needed men­strual products that they could not afford, they could start, for example, miss­ing classes while they are on their peri­ods. Con­sequently, as Amika George states in “The Power of the Period”, this situ­ation could “[…] cre­ate a mark gender divide in edu­ca­tional pro­gres­sion, leav­ing these girls trapped in the clutches of poverty and depriva­tion”. As poin­ted out, this gender divide ori­gin­ally star­ted with shame of talk­ing about peri­ods and the lack of men­strual products. How­ever, it can develop and grow until it affects every aspect of our soci­ety nowadays.

Cur­rent trends and new inven­tions would be signs of being on the right track. At least, that is what I thought until I recently read the news about this three guys’ “innov­at­ive” idea. Peri­ods are not dis­gust­ing, and we can­not let people think they are and/or be dis­gus­ted by our own peri­ods. We know bet­ter now. By using the proper nouns, we can stop the cycle of shame! After all, there is noth­ing more power­ful than words and we need to use the right ones.

Embra­cing peri­ods for a future without shame

This change may not come eas­ily, but I do believe in the power of the next gen­er­a­tions of people. We are wit­ness­ing this change in all the new apps, men­strual products, etc. being cre­ated, and all the data being gathered and pub­lished. Our only duty now, as Chi­m­amanda Ngozi Adi­chie advices in her A Fem­in­ist Mani­festo in Fif­teen Sug­ges­tions, is to keep teach­ing people “to reject the link­ing of shame and female bio­logy”. Ulti­mately, and I quote her, “Peri­ods are nor­mal and nat­ural, and the human spe­cies would not be here if peri­ods did not exist”.

Rocío Perez, Period euphemisms, Perioden-Euphemismen, Vulvani
Rocío 
Trans­lator & Writer | + posts

Rocío is an Eng­lish and Ger­man to Span­ish trans­lator spe­cial­ized in IT and Health sec­tors and liv­ing in Ger­many. Fem­in­ist since she learnt about the word in high school, she enrolled in a uni­ver­sity pro­ject about Women and Sci­ence that aimed to increase the vis­ib­il­ity of sci­ent­ist women in Wiki­pe­dia and bridge the gender gap on the plat­form. After com­plet­ing a Master’s Degree on Medi­cine and Health­care Trans­la­tion, she stud­ies the way of giv­ing women’s health the space it deserves using the most power­ful tool: words. You can find her and con­nect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.