Feminist? Put your money where your vagina is.
I am pretty jazzed. I read an article this week about periods. It was written by the damn fine women at 40 Now What. That doesn't happen often. Not often do you read a whole damn article dedicated to menstruation. It was fantastic. It was about the pretty tricky PMS symptoms you can get after 40. I read it. I wept. I mean, I didn't actually weep. But I did clench my vagina in fear. Because my symptoms are already pretty effing bleak. The thought of them getting worse...it frightens me. And I'm not easily frightened. But I am scuuuuuured. And I'm angry. You should be, too. Are you a feminist? Put your money where your vagina is.
In the interests of privilege-acknowledgment, and in an effort to get you all to open your wallets and help a girl child or woman to RISE, I'm splitting this post into two.
Part 1: Me, you, and our periods
I don't know about you, ladies, but once a month I am completely man-down. WOMAN DOWN. THIS WOMAN IS DOWN. And why? Because I get my period. Now, look. I know this isn't something we talk about a lot. But it should be because over 50% of the world's population is smashed by the dreaded red Ferrari pulling into the garage every single month. So, I'm talking about it. Let's go.
Not to play into stereotypes, but every month my husband will say something or do something, and I'll respond in a way that makes him just look at me. You know? He LOOKS at me. And he knows. And I know he knows. And he knows that I know that he knows. And we don't say anything. But space is created. Between us. For a few days. He's a good man.
As a young teenager, I remember staying home from school several times because of my period. It was rough, yo. I'm one of those women who is affected really badly by it. Like, really badly.
Holler if you get any of the following:
Cramps that feel like knives slicing up your insides
Shooting pains down your thighs
Incredibly bad lower back pain
Needing to sleep at 2pm because you can't keep your eyes open
A desire to kill small creatures and/or children (and I am a VEGAN, so yeeeeeeaaaah...)
Feeling me? Add all of these to breast tenderness, a mood that can only be defined as the coming of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (in case you don't know what they are, they are Conquest, War, Famine and DEATH), and sometimes a skin breakout. I also eat my body weight in rubbish. Pizza, chocolate, bread, ice cream...anything I can get my hands on. I want to smash junk food in my face every second of the day for about three days before the actual event begins. And I do. Which isn't great for the bloating or the fatigue.
I also fall over. A lot. I fall over my own flip-flops. I walk into things. I drop and break things. My memory is worse. It's a whole lot of less-than-ideal things to deal with.
It is such a primal experience that if I'm alone in the house, and I'm feeling these things, I will curl up in the foetal position and howl. Or just moan. Like an animal. I'm not kidding.
Here's the thing though. I've told my female friends about this, and many of them don't have these experiences. They seem genuinely worried when I tell them what I go through. So, I started to wonder WTF was wrong with me. And I wonder if you experience the same things?
I was in the car last year, and a woman was talking about this on the radio. She was talking about something called PMDD. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of PMS that can have a severe impact on your work and your relationships.
Suddenly everything made sense. You know when you receive a piece of information that makes you go, 'Holy hellbags in a freight train, this is ME. This is what I experience. It is real and it HAS A NAME.' All these years of self-destruct and life implosion every two weeks were because of PMDD. I WAS NOT A CRAZY BITCH.
But what do I DO with this information? And, more pressingly, how do I run a business? Because this is happening to me every single month, every single year. And it's not just the week of my period to worry about, right? It's the week leading up to it too. That's half the month. HALF THE MONTH of physical, mental, and emotional confusion, pain, discomfort and, really in some cases, torment.
I'm not sure what to do with the information right now, but I have had the most incredible experience, and I have to share it, because what kind of feminista goddess would I be if I didn't? Hot yoga. I've been doing hot yoga every single day for just over a month now. And I have just finished my period. And...not one single symptom. Not. One. Hallelujah, praise the lord, my whole life this month has changed. I wrote about it here, if you want to get a sense of the full sweaty, hot mess that it is.
This leads me to....
Part 2: Period Poverty
Let's be honest, I am speaking from a place of immense privilege. I have access to sanitaryware, pain meds, hot water to ease the cramping. And I can go to hot yoga. I am lucky.
Where I come from, South Africa, there are women and girls who do not have access to any of this. In fact, not only do they not have access to basic sanitation, they don't have access to education either.
It's called period poverty. And it's evil.
It's estimated that one in three girls misses school every month, because of her period. This is because they don't have access to sanitary towels. So, they use other materials. Cow dung. Leaves. Newspaper. Cloth. There's nothing in schools to help them. Not even advice. (But condoms in the bathrooms are free, y'all. #justsaying)
Let's crunch the numbers
The average time a period lasts in a woman's life is seven years
2.3 billion people lack access to water and sanitation
1 in 10 women in the UK cannot afford pads or tampons
1 in 5 women in Scotland have experienced period poverty
One-third of girls in South Asia miss school during their period
44 percent of women who have experienced period poverty have trouble finding employment
1.5 million girls in South Africa miss school every month because of their periods
The number of countries that impose tax on sanitary items and labels them 'luxury' items beggars belief. If you live in the UK, this article makes for sobering reading:
"The tampon tax began when the UK introduced VAT in 1973. The tax was applied to sanitary products because they were ruled as ‘non-essential’ commodities. It is worth noting that male razors and condoms are not subject to this luxury tax. Neither are Jaffa cakes. Let that sink in."
Not only does a woman feel wretched because her body is in total chaos, she's also full of shame, and fear, because sometimes she has to choose between pads and food. And no one talks about it. Girls are not taught to talk about it. I'm pretty sure you don't talk about it, either, right?
Let's play a game of imagination...
Imagine if I said to a client, 'Oh, hey there, Client. I'm a bit behind on that job because I'm having my period.'
HELL. TO THE. NO. That is not going to fly. You can say anything but that. You can say you weren't well, you had a migraine, you had food poisoning, your dog was ill, your kid got sick, your husband needed help with something, you had a stomach bug, you were throwing up all day. But you would NEVER say that you're behind on something because of your period. Right? It's not done.
And I am a white, empowered woman who is in control of my body and my life. So, what must it be like for the women and girls living in countries where they have no rights, water, education, power, food, tampons, pads...
What if it was done? What if we owned it? What if we spoke about it a little bit more? Hmmmm?
I mention it sometimes, in groups of friends and acquaintances. It makes people uncomfortable. Especially men. And I find this reaction entirely weird and bizarre. It's the reason we all EXIST. So, we should probably all calm down. *shrugs*
More people are talking about it, though. Global Citizen is talking about it a lot. So are these people. How about giving them some money, and helping women and girls all over the world?
If you can't afford to donate, sign a petition. Write a letter to your MP. Raise awareness.
Whether you experience mild symptoms or the curse of PMDD, there are more and more women talking about it. I've wanted to write about it for a while, but I haven't. Because fear. Yes, the patriarchy even has me silenced at times. 'Come on, Ashleigh. You can't write about your lady experiences. NO ONE wants to read that.' Ummm...actually, they do. A ton of people (BILLIONS in fact) want to read about it, because they also feel like their vaginas are going to fall out once a month and THEY NEED HELP.
Bottom line. Let's de-stigmatise this thing. Please? For the sake of our mental health and for the sake of our girl children, talk about your period, ladies. Loud and proud. Men, if you know a woman, this affects you too. So, listen. Learn. And donate some money. Or sign a petition. Or lobby an MP. It's 2021. It's time for this bullshit to end.
Ashleigh is a copywriter who helps women find their authentic voices, so they can weave it into their business and their branding, and rise. Boom.
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