What Should Education Surrounding Menstruation Encompass?
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Education; the bane of many peoples’ existences, but also quite a vital aspect to maintaining a not simply functioning, but innovating and progressing society. The public education system encompasses most necessary skills and knowledge needed for succeeding in adult life - debatably. Today, my intentions are not to debate the specifics of what schools should and should not be required to carry out or teach, but rather, look deeper into the teachings of menstruation: what it encompasses, who it is taught to, and if it should change.
As a menstruating person, there are certainly things about menstruation that school does not prepare you for: but should it be their job? What are the limits and expectations about teaching menstruation?
With an immense amount of gratitude I can proclaim that I was raised in a family with whom embraced all aspects to my person - menstruation being apart of that package. I was taught about periods in a non stigmatizing way, and supported when menstruating. Unfortunately, not all have similar experiences. Some grow up in homes where menstruation is seen as dirty or impure, some hide their periods from family members, and others are unable to afford menstrual products. Thus, the importance of providing public education about topics with great weight like menstruation are made all the more obvious. School, if carried out correctly, can be an open and shameless environment for menstruating people to thrive and feel comfortable. An environment like such may not be provided anywhere else in a person’s life, making school a vital place.
In school, my experiences with the teachings of menstruation were fairly accurate; it is not a dirty or impure action, the scientific logistics, and even the tools one might use. That being said, there were a few major cataclysms to the teachings. For one, ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ were separated. Personally, I am strongly against this practice; not only does it solidify the gender binary and transgender or non-binary people as invalid, but it encourages the secrecy behind sex and gender as a concept. By separating children based on their genders, you are shielding one sex from others’ experiences. This is a breeding ground for misinformation and conspiracy, shame, and secrecy. As a culture, I am one for being far more open about these touchy subjects, making them a little less ‘touchy.’
My experience also relied on stereotypes to drive reaction. This means that we were told that “women were far more emotional on their periods.” As I explained in my ‘Why Menstruating People Should Be Taken Seriously’ blogpost, the problem with statements like this is not the sentiment itself, but the negative attitude associated with it. Hormonally, menstruating people are more likely to be emotionally driven or sensitive on their periods; this is fact. The faulty thinking does not rely in this concept itself; instead, it revolves around the construct that this is a negative thing, that people cannot be trusted when menstruating, that they are less rational, etc. No one should feel shame for a natural process, and the same can be said for the side effects of said natural process. Teaching young people that it is inherently shameful to being particularly emotional, is jabbing at sexism, transphobia, and a multitude of problematic intersections.
So, how should menstruation be taught?
Real information, with real words, and real terms: Kids are not stupid, they have the capability to understand what we teach them, and even pick up on the sly nuances of issues: let’s start teaching them like so. There is nothing I hate more than phrases like “When Aunt Flo comes to visit,” “The Red Wave,” or “That time of the month.” These terms contribute to the stigma that menstruation should be shameful or kept a secret. By introducing kids to real terms and the real reasons as to why menstruation happens rather than shielding them from the ‘unclean’ truth, we teach them that no one should be shamed for their body’s natural processes (be it regular, or irregular).
All people, of all genders: Let’s be real, no matter the extenuating circumstances, cisgender males need to learn about menstruation. Simply because it is common knowledge, by learning about peers, we grow as people. If everyone was more comfortable with the process of periods, our society would be far more inclusive and aware. Not to mention that this introduces children to the idea of gender as a construct, and there being a spectrum; this assists non-binary children in discovering their own identities, as well as teaching students about the importance of diversity.
No more - Having a Period is Private: I was recently reading an article about sexual education from the Teaching Sexual Education Association describing how to explain periods to ‘young women.’ The most troubling sentiment they made clear to establish throughout the lesson plan was, “Having your period is private. It is not something that should be talked about in public as this can embarrass others.” What is most upsetting about this, is that it implies that your period is dictated by other people. Frankly, it is up to the menstruating person what they do and don’t want to share about their periods; what they decide is completely valid, and should be respected; however, others feelings ‘embarrassed’ only contributes to shame and secrecy and is not beneficial to anyone involved.
These are some broad and hopeful asks, but by gradually integrating them into classrooms progress will be made. Bleed Shamelessly hopes to work toward making menstrual education far more accessible and inclusive in the future, but for now we encourage you to take action in your own communities. If you have any thoughts on the matter please comment below or send me an email! I would love to discuss further!