Going to an all-girls’ middle school and high school skews one’s perspective of the world, and in so doing, failed in small part to prepare me for the very different social dynamics of a not-all-female environment. There were about 500 people in my high school, only 112 in my graduating class, and we all more or less knew each other. I had become so accustomed to being around nothing but social, friendly females that I assumed I could do what I did in high school (be friendly) and get the same result (friendship). Not so. I walked into my first college class, sat next to a female student and immediately introduced myself and started up a friendly conversation. She was shocked into near-silence, and I was shocked by her shock. We created a shock-echo that sounds like nothing and vibrates at a frequency between awkward and stage-fright.
I encountered another social speed-bump when sharing a suite of four bedrooms with seven other women in my freshman dorm. One of them called out to me with a question, and I came out of my room with tampon in hand, joined them in the living room and started chatting. A few sets of eyes kept darting to my hand. ‘What are they looking at?’ I thought. Not one to allow the elephant in the room to go unmentioned, I ended a sentence with, “Dah-ling,” and pantomimed smoking my tampon like a 1950’s Hollywood starlet. A couple eyebrows shot up. ‘Why aren’t they laughing?’ I thought. I had found a point of cultural disconnect that I never knew existed between white, female Americans of the same age on a topic we all shared. Initiate shock-echo.
In high school, I went through a rapid shift of hiding tampons when I went to the bathroom to tossing them into the air for fun while I waited outside for a stall to open up. I give credit to the healthy self image the school managed to help instill in me as a female while still teaching Catholic values (quite a balancing act), and to my parents. The first day of my first menstruation, my parents congratulated me. My mom gave me a pad, then told my dad, who came rushing into my room and literally said, “Congratulations, sweetie!” before pulling me into a bear hug. It was a healthy environment for a young woman, which did nothing to prepare me for the shame and secrecy I would be expected to keep surrounding my menstrual cycle in the future.
I work in an office now, and I wonder where the line is for unprofessional behavior when I comes to dealing with natural bodily functions. Is walking to the bathroom with a tampon in hand unprofessional? My knee-jerk reflex says yes, but why? Is it any less professional than carrying a box of tissues around if you’re sick? Using a tampon is evidence of health and fertility, while being sick is proof of a weak immune system, and a threat to the health of everyone in a twenty-foot radius. We should be more offended by the sickly than the fertile, given that menstruation isn’t a catching illness, and yet the male (and sometimes female) population occasionally reacts like I’m walking through the halls of my office holding a grenade instead of thanking me for doing what must be done to keep myself from bleeding all over everything for days at a time. YOU’RE WELCOME, PEOPLE.
This needs to stop. There’s no reason for me to feel ashamed of my ability to menstruate. I’m capable of building an entire person. That’s AMAZING. I should get high-fives on my way to the bathroom, not shunned and encouraged to keep what is essentially a super-power in the down-low. I’ve never understood the culture of shame that surrounds menstruation. So I’m done hiding my tampons at work. Anyone so horrified by the blatant display of my (and by extension, half of the human population’s) desire to keep blood stains out of the office chairs is welcome to explain themselves. Starting now.