Periods are shameful. You know this, I know this. My college roommates knew it. My teachers knew it. For most women, their first period is the most shameful of all. Told never to speak about it again. Made fun of by classmates. Roared at for ruining furniture.
Unless you happen to be my mother. Upon my first period, she clapped her hands, left the room for a moment, and came back with a pair of earrings and a Starbucks gift card (the great commodities of 2005).
Did I know, at that moment, that what she had done would affect me forever? That I had been given a gift that would save me years of shame? Of course not. If anything, I was weirded out. I wasn’t sure what other moms did, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t that. So I didn’t think about it for almost a decade, relegating it to the pile of strange actions that I later identified as Feminism. Huh.
But then I also became a Feminist. More than that, I became a woman who was given the opportunity to meet and befriend an extraordinary number of spectacular women, who shared their stories of personhood, their journeys to Feminism, and often, the stories of their very first periods. And almost every time I told them of my own coming-of-age moment, they sighed. I never thought of my mom as more of a hero/cool badass/feminist icon than when I heard my friends say, ‘God, I wish my mom had done that. No one told me anything.’
I don’t tell this story to brag about my luck, or to shame women who are unable to talk about these things. Being okay with your body, especially with your period, is really difficult. I still cringe just a little inside when I buy tampons or pads and the cashier is male. I DO tell this story because it’s time we did something about it. Because we give our young people no rituals, no signals, no explanations of how coming of age, regardless of sex, will change their lives forever. Because I am 22-years-old, and my friends are starting to have children, and I want to protect them from the shame that society will inevitably thrust on them if we don’t become a new society.
So I make the call to young mothers, to old mothers, to women who struggle with their periods, to women who have none, to women who watch their calendar to those who couldn’t care less— help your sisters out. Turn your periods into something to be celebrated, or at least, something that can exist without shame. Help a new generation of women understand and love their bodies.
And while you’re at it, (if you can afford it) buy a cloth pad. It’s a goddamn revelation.