Six years ago, a diagnosis of cervical adenocarcinoma in situ (a precancerous condition that can lead to invasive cancer) forced me to part ways with my uterus. I was devastated. Not because I wanted children and not because my uterus meant anything to my gender identity. No one wants major surgery and the only upside of a hysterectomy that people continuously cited was getting rid of my period. That wasn’t a silver lining for me though because all the things I disliked about menstruation had nothing to do with my period.
I desperately wanted to mourn the loss of my period. I had a farewell party for my uterus with a cake that read “thanks for your years of cervix.” I still carry pads and tampons just in case someone needs a supportive handover under the stall. But now that I’m on the other side, I have felt the weight of period stigma lifted, I can see the financial savings in my bank account, and when Roe v. Wade was overturned, I cried for people with uteruses while feeling relieved that cervical cancer actually worked out in my benefit. I don’t want anyone to feel this way.
Women’s history month presents an opportunity to reflect on how much work toward equity still remains and one area that is in need of renewed energy is menstrual justice. People of all genders can menstruate and reproductive justice impacts us all.
I menstruated for 21 years of my life. Like many people who menstruate, I vividly remember the first day of my period. I was 13, in 8th grade. During my morning class, my underwear started to feel progressively more damp. By the time I made it to the bathroom, I had bled through my jeans. It’s a tale as old as denim. I was embarrassed, bewildered, overwhelmed, but also excited. I was eager to share the news with my friends who menstruated, to learn from them and empathize with them. This enthusiasm was quickly overshadowed by the panic of locating a pad and the embarrassment of wearing menstrual blood all day. That was my initiation into the dominant menstrual culture of inconvenience, shame, and disgust.
For many years, I played my assigned role in this culture. I took the appropriate measures to conceal the fact that I menstruated and complained alongside fellow menstruators about our lot in life. But the truth is, I never hated my period. As someone who doesn’t want to have children, the punctual and unfailing arrival of my period was always a source of joy. It provided a welcomed monthly reset, oriented me in time and gave me space to rest, and I loved being part of a large community of people who shared in a similar experience and knew how to support one another, even if we had to do it covertly.
Forty-five years ago, Gloria Steinem published a satirical piece about what the world might look like If Men Could Menstruate. She highlighted how the stigmatization of menstruation is tied to gender inequity by painting a menstrual utopia I yearn for, where menstruating is a source of pride, something that is discussed openly and regularly represented in media, menopause is celebrated, sanitary supplies are free, and research on menstrual pain is a nationally funded priority.
Forty-five years later, we have made very little progress toward this vision. Menstruation continues to be taboo, a source of shame, misconception, and discrimination. Period poverty is a persistent global issue, inhibiting millions of people from having access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, and education. Research on menstrual pain and cramping continues to be stalled due to lack of funding and very few policies exist to protect menstrual leave for employees.
It is beyond time for menstrual justice. Let’s use this moment as a catalyst to generate more momentum in the menstrual movement. Talk openly about menstruation, support organizations and policies that address period poverty, and hold political representatives accountable for menstrual and reproductive injustices. We deserve to live in a world where people can stop pretending to hate their periods when what they really hate are the systemic and cultural constraints that make menstruation a burden.