The Silent Punctuation

PERIOD @ UCF members packing period products

By Radhika Desai

My Grandma does seva– praying to the idols in her personal temple– every day. Promptly after waking up, she showers and prepares the prayer plate. She sits in front of her idols and sings, summoning the Gods that are represented by these statues. It is for her, as for thousands of Hindus, an act of holiness and purity. So, last summer, when she found out that I was on my period, my “uncleanliness” was announced to the house. No one was to touch me or my clothes. I was not allowed to go in the kitchen, and I definitely could not go near the temple room. Growing up, I had already faced small forms of period taboo associated with my Hindu religion and Indian culture, such as not being allowed to go to the temple during my period or touch certain things deemed as holy. This experience with my Grandma, however, was the first time I felt directly stigmatized for having a period. I know she did not mean to make me feel ashamed; it was just a result of her cultural beliefs and norms. This experience is one shared with thousands of menstruators, from a wide range of cultural, social, and religious backgrounds, worldwide.

Period stigma is the perception of periods being unclean and embarrassing. Its effect is debilitating and encourages isolation and silence around menstruation, formulating and strengthening a persistent stigma. Menstruation is a natural process, but it is treated as something to be ashamed of. A lot of us remember growing up and feeling the need to hide a tampon in our sleeve when going to the restroom from class or talking to friends about our “time of the month” to avoid using the word “period” in public. Cultural norms, such as hiding products or having to avoid religious events and places, exist globally — including in the United States — and they affect access to proper reproductive health care and overall quality of life.

Talking to students on campus about their period experiences has demonstrated that my story with my culture and my Grandma is common for so many of us.

The feelings of fear and disempowerment cloud menstruators, flourishing on the existing strain associated with a menstrual cycle. However, many menstruators are harmed by the intersectionality of menstruation when considering concepts like socioeconomic status (SES) and gender. Homeless, incarcerated, and low SES menstruators face period poverty and are burdened by constructs such as the Tampon/Pink Tax, in which period products are deemed a “luxury item” and taxed unnecessarily. Trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming menstruators face an exponentially increased sense of discrimination, exacerbating their experiences.

Period stigma has a dramatic effect on access to products and proper reproductive health care and on life in general. Not being able to openly discuss periods or menstruation makes it difficult to talk about legislative changes that need to be made or health concerns that a menstruator may be having. The silencing culture that exists around periods does just that; it silences menstruators from being comfortable with discussing this perfectly natural biological event.

One of the largest things that drew me to UCF was its dedication to supporting students in their pursuit of social justice and advocacy. However, intrinsic in advocacy is verbalizing thoughts and having open discussions — acts that are made difficult when considering stigmatized topics, such as menstruation. Young adults are left unable to advocate for reproductive justice out of fear of shame. I was empowered to find a way to combat the stigma from a university level, which led me to co-found PERIOD@UCF. By fundraising for and donating period products to local organizations in need and hosting workshops aimed at dismantling period stigma and poverty and about various reproductive health topics, we are able to practice the drive for advocacy found in our student body. Talking to students on campus about their period experiences has demonstrated that my story with my culture and my Grandma is common for so many of us. While still respecting and understanding our cultural norms, we fight the silencing effects and power of period stigma.