There will be blood

By Lin Luwen and Li Jieyi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/7 19:58:20

One step forward to smash the stigma around menstruation

Menstruation is gradually arousing wider public discussion in China. Photo: VCG

Thirty-six-year-old Li walked to the door at the end of the corridor, she opened the door and walked into the restroom. Li is an assembly worker working in a low-temperature environment that requires wearing a protective suit that has several layers, which makes going to the restroom a challenge as she needs to take off layer after layer of clothing to remove her menstrual pad. After changing to a clean sanitary pad, she repeats the process of putting back on all the layers of clothing, and then she goes back to the assembly line.

She is overwhelmed when having her period because she's unable to change sanitary pads on time, so Li chooses to keep it a secret from other colleagues. "It's too personal and I'm too shy to speak to others," she said. 

When it comes to periods, Li is just one of the millions of women who never talk about it.

However, a period emoji might shed light on the menstrual taboo. On February 6, 2019, an organization called Plan International UK announced that a blood droplet emoji, symbolizing menstruation was selected among five other proposals including a sanitary pad, a monthly calendar, smiling blood droplets and a uterus, which means people can use this exclusive emoji to talk about menstruation in public. 

Period-shaming bothers many girls and women worldwide, but this emoji is revolutionary and conveys a concept that periods aren't shameful.

Born to be ashamed

The stigma and taboo around menstruation is a global issue. The feeling of shame and embarrassment are written into almost every girl's development.

A 17-year-old high school student surnamed Xü who has just reached sexual maturity believes that periods are an unspeakable topic because every time she buys a sanitary pad from convenience store, the cashier will put it into a black plastic bag. "This tells me that buying a sanitary pad is an embarrassing thing," she said. "Gradually, I feel like a period is a women-only topic which can only be discussed behind closed doors," said Xü.

Menstruation is a taboo topic in some cultures where women can only reveal their periods to their husbands. "It's a secret for women. They avoid delivering any signal which might show that they are having a period," Abdulrahman Alamoudi said, a 25-year-old engineer from Yemen who came to China for a training course.

Why hide?

Why hide a period? Some women think that the taboo and embarrassment is mainly rooted in how males perceive menstruation. Besides, it extends the stigma of sex.

 Belen Alvarez, 24 years old, is an exchange student from Spain who echoed Xü's view. Leaking blood on her pants will not embarrass her when she's with other females because other women have had the same experience before. However, when it happens in front of a man, the reaction is different. "It will make me self-conscious and embarrassed if boys saw my menstrual leak," she said.

A community service worker surnamed Ma, keeps it a secret from male colleagues to be polite to the opposite sex. Every time she is on her period, she chooses to put her used sanitary pad into a separated sealed bag and throw it away outside of the office instead of dumping the pad in the general bin in her office's unisex toilet."It's considerate to my male colleagues. Seeing a bloody sanitary pad will make them feel uncomfortable," she said.

 Period blood may represent shame and hiding a period is a way to show decency. This so-called decency could be exploited in a bigger social environment. Whether on TV, the internet or in magazines, the period product commercials always use blue liquid to represent the actual red blood. "It's kind of taboo to show the menstrual pattern or relative words on the hygiene products," said Victoria (pseudonym), 35, a tampon sales manager. She told the Global Times that taste and decency is the guiding principle in producing period product advertisements. "It's not visually appealing and it may cause physical discomfort," she explained.

Luo Ruixue, who runs a community organization devoted to female rights, explained that menstruation has a sexual taboo and discrimination towards women at the same time. "It's the root of stigma which came from social influence," she said.

Breaking the hush

The new emoji made crimson waves across the internet. 

Wang Mengyang, a social media blogger who is better known as Alex, is one of the Chinese pioneers in sex and health education. As a devotee of destigmatizing the period, she posted a video series about menstruation that went viral online.

"It's a good start because menstruation is starting to be exposed to the public," she said. On her Weibo channel, she introduces different hygiene products like tampons and menstrual cups which are relatively unfamiliar to Chinese women compared to pads, and shows women how to use these products correctly.

"The emoji is a good thing because it's a small step forward to let girls feel no shame when leaking blood," she said. According to her research, most Chinese females have just started to share their experiences. She believes that discussing of menstruation issues on the internet is raising females' awareness. The stigma around menstruation will be smashed gradually.

"From the male perspective, I think it's something associated with feminism," said by Wang Xiaotian, a freshman at Beihang University. He mentioned that the rise of promoting feminism provokes the period emoji design.

Liberating bleeding 

The misunderstanding of different hygiene products and dysmenorrhea hinder the road of liberating bleeding to some extent. 

The majority of women who refuse to use tampons or menstrual cups hold the view that the implantable products will cause hymen destruction. "It's nonsense," said Luo. Women can use various products according to their preference freely and without other concerns. "The cultural issues, such as being afraid of losing one's virginity, should not be blamed on the products," she said. 

Period cramps are always a burden for women," she added. Taking the proper medicine or seeing a doctor to relieve the pain is less painful than enduring it alone. "Dysmenorrhea should be treated like other parts of the body that are affected by pain," Luo said.

"It's about blood no matter if it's from a vagina or another part of our bodies," Alvarez said.


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