End the stigma

Highlighting the stigma surrounding the female body

Jasmine Lee and Sreya Kumar

Taking out a pad is a daunting task. Your eyes briefly scan the classroom before subtly sliding it up your sleeve. Your feet calmly carry you out the door before you start making a dash toward the restroom. When you look down, you realize that there’s already a stain.

While MVHS is typically characterized as an accepting community, the topic of menstruation still lingers as a taboo topic around campus and in our community, but it’s about time we normalize and feel comfortable with a natural process that over 50% of the population endures. 

According to a survey of 212 MVHS students, 73% believe that there is a social stigma around openly using and discussing sanitary products, thus leading many to feel the need to hide them when going to the restrooms. Plan International UK conducted a survey with 1,000 young women between the ages of 14 to 22 and found that 48% of those surveyed felt embarrassed about their menstrual cycles and only 22% of them felt comfortable discussing the topic with a teacher. 

Growing up, many of us were taught to hide and be embarrassed about the very process that makes us the most feminine. Many of us come from immigrant families, where topics revolving sexuality and female bodies are generally unspoken. America’s traditionalist views combined with a deep sense of culture ingrained in Cupertino has produced a blanketed discussion about periods overall.

We were taught to keep this big, red secret from the eyes of half of the world. The pain and struggles remain fairly unknown to men. In such a highly developed community, the discomfort surrounding this naturally-occurring function seems out of date. 

And we have succumbed to these patriarchal pressures, silently stuffing pads and tampons into the crevices of our sweatshirts and pants before discreetly slipping away to the restroom. We cringe at the sound of opening a pad and the red stains on our jeans.

It’s in complex situations like these when so many invisible factors have created the mentality to forgo normal conversations about our bodies with others. We internalize the pain and oppression within ourselves, and grow to become strangers to our bodies.

We all have different bodies, and no two people experience the same reality, emotion or pain — and when it comes to periods and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), it’s hard to empathize with each other as we all experience different symptoms. Anxiety, mood swings, bloating, loss of appetite, motivation and sleep are all symptoms due to hormonal changes and PMS is not being taken as seriously as it should be. Instead of joking, “Oh are you on your period?” or assuming we’re just skipping class, this shouldn’t be treated like a joke. PMS can be a serious condition for some, and it’s time to start treating it as such. 

Teachers must also recognize that half of their students are dealing with periods and its symptoms. It is inevitable that some of us have experienced starting our period in class, and our teachers’ reaction towards this situation seems to vary on a spectrum. Strict policies about not going to the restroom after brunch or lunch or during a lecture seem to create an air of discomfort for students as periods often require immediate attention. 

Admittedly, it is difficult to gauge whether or not a student is using the restroom as an excuse to miss class, but reacting in a stringent manner towards the subject could make students more unwilling to approach others for assistance in the future.  

Even outside our community, this taboo is prevalent, with the Pink Tax being the most prominent example. While condoms and Viagra, tablets to treat erectile dysfunction, aren’t taxed, tampons and pads are taxed as they are considered “luxury” goods. The Pink Tax is often used as an example of gender inequality in terms of consumption; we’re essentially being monetarily punished for being female. The sexual pleasures of men seem to be favored in America’s market over the hygiene and health of women. It’s almost ironic how women are paid less but are forced to pay more for products catered to them.

The Pink Tax represses female purchasing power and there has been an increased urgency to take action in advocating for consumption gender equality, with the Pink Tax Repeal Act introduced by Representative Jackie Speier on April 3, 2019. 

However, we do believe that MVHS is making the effort to effectively address the subject and by doing so, effectively erasing the stigma little by little. The ninth grade Biology curriculum does put an emphasis on the female body in its sex education unit, which helps clear the air of unease as students take on high school and become more mature individuals.

In addition, commercials about pads and tampons are becoming a norm, sandwiched between advertisements for food and other products. We’re slowly breaking the traditional, obsolete outlook on period products, but it’s not enough. 

On campus and within our community, we shouldn’t need to whisper when asking for a pad or tampon, we shouldn’t need to feel anxious when requesting permission to use the restroom right after brunch or lunch and we definitely should not be embarrassed about our bodies. In a society where we often see advocates for body positivity and acceptance, it is disheartening to continue the culture of feeling discomfort whenever we hear the word “period.” Instead of being ashamed of ourselves, let’s be proud of our bodies and build a community where we encourage and support each other.