Two billion people around the world have periods, but as a society we still don’t talk about them enough. Here, we kick off the conversation with some stories we couldn’t quite believe...
Women have been having periods for as long as we’ve walked the earth, but we’ve only started seeing them on our TV screens in the last decade. As author of Constellations, Sinéad Gleeson says: “The shedding of blood has historically been seen as a male act of heroism – from right-of-passage fistfights to contact sports and combat…”
Periods, on the other hand, are rarely talked about and even more rarely shown on our screens. It’s no wonder then that 48% of girls aged 14-21 are embarrassed by their periods and 71% have admitted feeling embarrassed buying sanitary products.
At Team Jennis, we want to open up the conversation around periods and the menstrual cycle, so we're starting with these stories from all-too recent history.
NASA doesn’t go with the flow
In a giant step for womankind, astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman to enter space in 1983, but the people packing her luggage appear to be slightly less progressive in the period know-how department. For her 7-day mission, NASA engineers famously asked Sally whether she would need 100 tampons to carry with her onboard.
Even if you had an 8-day period and exceptionally heavy flow, that would still be about 60 tampons too many!
Ad-land introduces the period... in 2017!
Up until 2016 a real-life sanitary towel had never been shown on TV ‘in action’ before. Bodyform were the first to give a pad a primetime spot, airing an advert called ‘Trapeze ', which featured a trapeze artist putting a pad in her pants before nailing an incredible performance in a white leotard.
According to Huffington Post writer, Natasha Hinde: “For me, putting a sanitary towel on is the same as, say, blowing my nose - I probably do it about 10-20 times a month. This is why it surprises me that tissue adverts featuring people blowing their noses have been airing on our TV screens for yonks, however sanitary towels had to hide away behind closed doors like they were something to be ashamed of.”
Blue blooded women?
Even more shocking is the fact that up until 2017 (that's only four years ago!) period blood had never been shown on TV ads in the UK, either. Taboo-busting Bodyform were the first to give period-blood its long-overdue debut in an ad which ran with the tagline: “ Periods are normal. Showing them should be too .”
The ad depicts period blood in two different forms. First, with a realistic (shock!) red liquid being poured from a test-tube onto a pad to demonstrate absorbency. (Up until this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that women bled blue.) We then see period blood running down a woman's leg while she's showering, followed by images of a man very casually popping into a shop to buy a pack of pads. Huge!
Tampon tax no more
After six years of campaigning, the 5% tax on tampons was finally abolished in January 2021, with the move saving the average woman nearly £40 over her lifetime. Prior to this, tampons were curiously classed as both a ‘non-essential,’ and a ‘luxury’ item, so subject to VAT.
Gemma Abbott, a lawyer and campaigner with the Free Periods group, said of the victory: "I think we can all agree that any tax that characterises period products as non-essential is absurd and has no place in a society seeking genuine gender equality."
Instagram removed a period picture, twice
Finally, when Canadian artist Rupi Kaur published a photo series on Instagram designed to challenge the taboo around periods, the social media platform chose to remove one of the images, not once, but twice.
The image, which depicts her fully clothed with a spot of blood between her legs and on the sheets was removed for allegedly violating community standards. In her response on Facebook, she wrote: "Thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique."
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