How to Talk About Periods, Period.

I think I finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up:

I want to be a menstrual activist.

I know what you’re thinking — not another menstrual activist — but I’m telling you, there’s definitely room for more. 

Take, for example, the feminine “hygiene” biz. First off, from a marketing perspective, that is a horrible word to use when it comes to periods, which are, by nature, a bloody mess. Secondly, let’s give a big shout out to the Huffington Post for their recent expose, “Even Companies That Sell Tampons Are Run By Men.” Would any card-carrying X-chromosomal being think that BLUE LIQUID was a suitable representation of menstrual blood? Would she EVER show a woman ecstatically bounding around in a white body suit as if that’s somehow freeing ANY time of the month, but especially when it’s THAT time?

(By the way, it’s not just the pads ‘n ‘pons manufacturer Kimberly-Clark, that boasts an predominately male board of directors and senior management staff; pretty much all major companies that market to women — aside from Avon, those beautiful little bell ringers! — have Y-chromosomal thugs pulling the shots at the top levels.)

Making the leap from female to menstrual activist actually isn’t all that difficult. When I look back, I realize that my training started almost four decades ago when my parents sent me to an all-girls camp. It’s nearly impossible to avoid becoming indoctrinated in the wily ways of womanhood when you spend two months each year surrounded by people who have the power to make you bleed with them in concert.

From my early days as a camper, where I clearly remember older girls giving my bunkmates and I graphic demos of how tampons work, to my turn as a counselor when I took great pleasure slapping girls who got their periods for the first time squarely across the face (a fun, allowable abuse as dictated by ancient practice), it was a magical, liberating time when you could actually yell from the bathroom, “I’m not going swimming today — I got my period!” (And then of course only the male counselors would ever buy that lame-ass excuse.)

And so, the embarrassment that normally came with the monthly visits from Aunt Flo were washed away by a sea of women who always had Motrin on hand for cramps, a hidden square of chocolate for the hardest days, and no issue with emptying the overflowing tampon box at the end of the most synchronistic weeks.

Now that I’m the mother of a young teen, the roots of my activism are finally coming to full-flower. Just minutes before leaving for her own sleep away camp, my daughter was in a full-on panic, worrying about what she’d do if she had to deal with her period when she was signed up for (sniff, sigh, wail) WATERFRONT all week long.

At first I was loving and kind, reassuring her that there would be some nice counselor that would take her under her wing. Then I gently reminded her that if it came to that, there surely would be other girls in the same boat as her. Finally, I tucked into her backpack a little stash of supplies, disguised as any other toiletries in a dark black bag.

None of this calmed the savage beast. She looked at me with angry tears in her eyes and said, “WHY DOES THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN? It is SO unfair! Boys have it so much easier!”

At this point, maybe I should’ve logged into YouTube and showed her any one of the new crop of menstrual activists talking about how empowering it is to embrace your creative force. Perhaps I could’ve sympathized and coddled her with old-timey, shameful ways of describing menstruation, like “The Curse.” 

Or I suppose I could have shared with her the creeping sadness I’m feeling nowadays as my own periods become irregular, and the potent monthly promise of fertility begins to fade.

But her anguish, combined with the shame and embarrassment I clearly heard in her voice, instead set something off in me, from a deep, primal, maternal place.

A nobody puts baby in a corner well of anger made particularly turbulent by the fact that baby was doing her own personal cornering.

“YOU WILL PUT IN A TAMPON,” I lectured. “And you will handle yourself. This is what women do all the time: when we feel the lowest, and the crappiest, we just freakin’ deal. Because we are lucky to have this thing happen to us every month. It means our bodies are working as they are intended to, which is healthy, good, and most importantly, NORMAL.”

And then I took out a mirror, grabbed a handful of tampons, and showed her how it all works.

As I watched her face light up with curiosity and understanding, I knew that I had hit on the magic bullet of how to talk to girls about their periods. 

Straight-up, clear, and all about the incredible workings of the female body. No muss, no fuss.

And most important of all, no shame.

In five minutes, I went from being a normal mom, to being an activist. And it felt damn good.

Still, if you see me yelling at a gaggle of young teen girls, “Just wait until childbirth!”, remind me that being an activist isn’t necessarily about wielding scare tactics. Then again, vagina dialogs are always best when served up with a little humor.

Now, if you’re still wondering how to get this convo started with your own daughter, take a page from the funny, activist/capitalist folks at Hello Flo, the folks that first brought you “Camp Gyno” and now present, “First Moon Party” — and btw, all activists should have a uterus piñata and they’re not so hard to find… ()