In the course of just one short month we have had the launch of a period emoji and a documentary all about periods, Period. End of Sentence, won an Oscar. One can only conclude that periods are finally going mainstream. It only took several millennia to begin dismantling one of the patriarchy’s most diabolical of schemes: to make us hate and fear the workings of our own bodies.
Period. End of Sentence documents the efforts of a small collective of women to provide hygienic and affordable menstrual products to the women of their community. Using the low cost, user-friendly machine created by Arunachalam ‘Menstrual Man’ Muruganantham, this women-led collective has already produced thousands of affordable, high quality pads which they are now trying to market in and around their community on the outskirts of New Dehli. In doing so they are earning a modest income and have achieved much desired economic independence.
This documentary, however, is much more than a feel-good story about women’s empowerment. It broaches the issues of period poverty and shame, evidencing the silence, misunderstandings and myths that surround the issue of menstruation. It explores the real obstacles people who menstruate face when they do not have access to suitable menstrual hygiene products and when the culture around them stigmatises their monthly cycle, such desertion of women in education and the exclusion from public life. The promotion and sale of their product has put these women in a unique position to begin conversations about periods with people from their community and to begin breaking down what Muruganantham describes as India’s greatest taboo.
And it does all this in just under half an hour.
Why is Period. End of Sentence so important? Well we live in a world where, in 2016 people were worried about Hilary Clinton getting sick during her ‘time of the month’ if she became president. Nevermind that if she did still menstruate after 60 it would be nothing short of a medical miracle. Thinx, a brand of menstrual underwear, had their ads banned from the New York subway when they launched their business in 2015. Most ads for tampons and sanitary towels still use a blue liquid, because apparently menstruators leak Toilet Duck, not blood, once a month. Advertisements still rely on buzzwords like ‘discreet’ to sell their products, on the assumption that all anyone with a period wants to do is hide the fact that they are menstruating.
So yes my dears, whether it is India, Ireland or Indiana, period stigma is alive and well, and this documentary is a major leap forward in putting periods at the centre of public conversation.
While I cannot but celebrate the fact that a documentary on Periods won an Oscar, especially given that one of the judges said he would refuse to vote for it because periods are too “icky for men”, I was somewhat disappointed that the whole focus of this project is the production and sale of disposable pads.
Menstruators across the world have used natural and reusable methods for collecting or absorbing menstrual blood for centuries. Rather than dismissing these methods as backwards, initiatives such as the Pad Project represent an opportunity to promote more sustainable menstrual products, such as reusable and washable cloth pads, that serve the practical needs of menstruators just as well, if not more, than disposables.
I’m a huge fan of reusables, whether it is the menstrual cup, pads or the sponge, they are healthier for us, for the planet and for our pockets. And before you say that’s all well and good for a western woman who has access to washing machines to keep them clean (though I hand wash mine with vinegar), there are many initiatives in the Global South of women recovering the tradition of making their own cloth pads.
Guatemala Menstruante, is just one example of a local collective of young women who use pad making workshops in rural communities to educate about menstrual health and break down the stigma around periods. Reusable pads can last for years with proper care, saving menstruators from the monthly expense of disposables, and saving the planet from mountains of non-biodegradable trash.
Even so, the Pad Project is an initiative deserving of the attention it has received through this documentary, and for taking periods to the red carpet.