Shark Week, Aunt Flow, Mother Nature’s Gift, the Monthly Visitor, the Monthly Cycle, Werewolf Week, the Plague, the Curse and a period…These are all common nicknames for the biological process called menstruation. As I have become an adult, it is abundantly clear that even some grown adults are unsure about what menstruation is or how it works.
What is menstruation? In short, menstruation occurs once a month from the onset of puberty until menopause. Only pregnancy, certain birth controls and specific conditions can delay or hinder the process of menstruation. Most people with a uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes will have a period, meaning that menstruation does not only affect cisgender women, but some transgender and genderqueer individuals as well.
For more specific information regarding the process, please click here to read an article that explains menstruation and everything you should know about it.
Yes, periods are bloody. Yes, most of us would agree that they are a pain in the ass. No, periods are not gross. No, we absolutely cannot control when our periods come. And no, we definitely cannot ‘hold it.’
I am by no means a medical professional, but as someone who has been menstruating for almost 12 years, I’d like to think I have enough first-hand experience to talk about it. Having a period is not like having to urinate. When it comes to a period, we cannot contract our internal muscles to stop the bleeding. The best we can do is put on a pad, tampon or menstrual cup and change it as regularly as our bodies find necessary.
More often than not, the people most misinformed about periods are men. Now, part of me understands that some men may be unfamiliar with the internal workings of a menstruating person’s body. Yet, in this case, ignorance is not bliss.
I recently came across an article about a high school student in Canada who unexpectedly got her period while she was in a class on Zoom. Because the school has a policy that the students cannot turn their camera off in class unless they had permission from their teacher, the girl privately messaged her teacher (who was an adult man) and asked if she could turn her camera off so she could step away to use the restroom. The teacher denied her request, not just once, but several times before deciding to ignore her entirely.
The young woman even went so far as to explain to her teacher that she had started her period and needed to address the issue as she was physically uncomfortable. To this, the teacher told her that “she should’ve planned better,” and that she would have to “hold it.” The teenager, who acted far more patiently than I would have by this point, proceeded to turn off her camera and go take care of her physical needs. The teacher then wrote her up and gave her a warning about further disciplinary action.
It turned out there were several complaints against this teacher for similar actions and comments made to other young female students. Yet there are some people, including the girl’s own father and brother, who have attacked her for potentially causing trouble for the teacher’s career.
Upon hearing this, I was absolutely livid. I want to argue that the young woman had nothing to apologize for and that her actions were completely justifiable. If you have to use the restroom during class, on Zoom or otherwise, you should not have to explain in detail what you have to do in there in order to get a teacher’s permission to go. Furthermore, male educators need to stop shaming their menstruating students about a natural process that the student has no control over.
Sadly, this is just one story of many. As much as I hate to say it, it is not entirely uncommon for a male teacher to either privately or publicly ask a (usually) cisgender female student why she needs to go to the bathroom, why she took so long or why she is taking her bag with her. While I cannot speak for the LGBTQ+ community, I am sure this is not just a cisgender problem.
For those of you who do not menstruate, especially if you are going into education or are already educators, I ask that you become better informed about what a period is and how it works. Don’t be a dick and tell your menstruating students to “hold their period” or “control themselves” or “plan better.” It just doesn’t work that way.
Believe me, our lives would be so much easier if we had that superpower. But we don’t! All you are doing, by behaving in such an unprofessional and demeaning way, is showing us how misinformed you are about basic human functions, which invalidates your credibility as an educator no matter what field you teach in.