I recently supported the fund-raising for the publication of a new book called “About Bloody Time: The menstrual revolution we have to have”. It was a Victorian Women’s Trust initiative, with Jane Bennett and feminist writer Karen Pickering as the co-authors.
The fund-raising was successful, and I picked my copy of the book up on Thursday.
The book examines the taboo that continues to surround menstruation and how breaking down that stigma can lead to greater gender equity.
“What’s a revolution? It’s a radical change, and we do believe we need a radical change,” Ms Bennett said.
“It’s part of an overall gender equity agenda. For women to be fully present in all arenas in life, all forums, they need to feel comfortable in their body, and to do that this is one really important aspect that is so often ignored and I feel is often the elephant in the room.”
The book was written after years of research, including the study of almost 3500 women and girls from Australia and abroad.
Forty-two per cent of women had mostly negative sentiments about their periods, a trend that was most pronounced among teenagers – girls aged 12 to 18 reported they either disliked everything about their period, or it was almost entirely bad.
Some survey participants spoke of the embarrassment that came with their periods, especially in school settings – even in all-girls schools.
Ms Bennett said the societal stigma attached to menstruation sometimes came from culture or religion, or was the result of family attitudes.
This negativity did harm to those who had period, she said.
“Now of course this is not everyone and it’s not everywhere, but a surprising number of girls and women don’t feel supported, don’t feel able to get the help they need, or feel really uncomfortable or unable to be honest about it at work or at school,” she said.
Ms Bennett said it also had health implications.
If women and girls felt uncomfortable, she said, they were less likely to seek help from medical professionals.
One respondent to the survey said her period pain was enough to distract her from her school work, but she was “too shy” to discuss it with her GP or mother.
“It’s an important aspect of having a female body and we need to be supported in that, rather than feel we’ve got to be secret and hidden and ashamed of it,” Ms Bennett said.
She said there was also an issue with women and girls not having enough information or knowledge.
Without information on what was normal, she said, they did not know whether what they were experiencing required attention.
The research behind the book uncovered there was a knowledge gap especially when girls first got their period.
It found almost one in 10 women and girls did not know what was happening when they first menstruated, and 55 per cent did not feel prepared.
“We feel that all of these inadequacies in how we manage it and how we support menstruating people, is because we’re not yet – as a society and as individuals – fully comfortable, fully feeling that this is normal, this is healthy, offering dignity to people who menstruate, so that they can be well-supported,” Ms Bennett said.
The stigma surrounding menstruation has existed for millennia and across most societies.
Ms Bennett said menopause was part of the same continuum and many women felt a stigma around being menopausal.
“What we saw was the issues that were present at the beginning and through a woman’s menstruating life were really there in a somewhat changing form at the end of periods as well,” she said.
“That is stigma, lack of information, feeling uncomfortable, not being able to talk about, feeling isolated.”
The book came about after Ms Bennett and a group of other menstrual educators approached the Victorian Women’s Trust in 2012 with the idea of a research project that focused on the experiences of menstruation – not through a medical lens, but women’s feelings towards it and what they wanted to change.