Menstrual Shame & How We Can Work to End It

Real Talk: Menstrual Shame & Why It Should Be Cancelled
By: Haley Guerin

        Ever heard of menstrual shame? If you haven’t yet heard of it, you have absolutely encountered it in some capacity––either directly or from word of mouth. Menstrual shame is a term that refers to the embarrassment (or shame) that many womxn feel simply because of the fact that they are bleeding. Menstrual shame is a concept that is highly relevant and relatable on a global scale. It’s important to have open, honest, and raw dialogue about menstrual shame and how it affects how womxn view their relationships with themselves and their bodies. Let’s do things the Viv way and jump right in!

        First, it is important to explore the origins of menstrual shame. Where does this feeling come from? Not surprisingly, it comes from our society’s patriarchal structure. When people talk about periods, it is usually in a negative context––referred to as “menstrual moaning” by Maureen McHugh in “Menstrual Shame: Exploring the Role of ‘Menstrual Moaning’”. This term is not meant to carry any sexual connotations. Instead, it serves as a way to articulate the negative language we use when we communicate about periods. Interestingly, this type of communication is common amongst both men and womxn alike. However, out of the forty-two percent of womxn that have experienced menstrual shaming, a fifth of them felt this way due to the negative remarks of their male friends. The societally implemented stigma surrounding menstruation has caused conversations about it to take on a negative dialogue, encouraging the idea that periods are painful, embarrassing, filled with bad moods, and a private experience that should be silenced. In fact, over fifty percent of men report that they believe womxn having discussions about menstruation in the workplace is inappropriate. Umm, can you say Toxic? 

       It is important to consider how this toxic ideology negatively affects womxn’s perceptions of themselves and their bodies. McHugh writes that “menstrual moaning, by reiterating negative cultural constructions of women’s bodies as flawed, deficient, and diseased, may have a deleterious impact on women’s menstrual attitudes, and perpetuate menstrual shame”. In this way, menstrual shame acts as a societal constraint on womxn, causing them to have negative relationships with their bodies as a very natural and beautiful process their body performs becomes a marker for shame and embarrassment. 

        Further, it has negative implications for the way in which womxn communicate about their periods. Menstrual shame causes womxn to feel that the only way in which they can have open conversations about their periods is if they are complaining about them. We have all witnessed this amongst womxn of a variety of ages. I think it becomes especially prominent in this all too familiar line: “Yea, I just started my period today. It sucks.” This statement likely doesn’t come across as striking because of the sheer amount of times we have heard it or something like it, but when we take a closer look, it is a way of creating space for womxn to talk about their periods. However, this space is socially defined as taboo, perpetuating negative dialogue. 

        Now we must ask ourselves, how can we change this space? How can we create a sincere invitation to have open, honest, free conversation about our periods? It all starts with awareness which we can advocate for by starting within our own inner support circle. The next time you are having a conversation about periods, try using a positive statement to open up the space. In this way, we are encouraging positive communication about periods which helps to destigmatize them and leads to womxn having healthier relationships with their bodies as they will no longer view them as sources of shame, rather as the true sources of power that they are. 


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