‘We’re having a menstrual liberation’: how periods got woke
Periods happen to half the population so why are they still treated as something to hide? Meet the activists seeing red
I am sitting in a hotel meeting room with 12 women, all of us squeezing menstrual cups against our cheeks. The blinds are down, the wine has been flowing for the past hour, and after a few people have taken selfies, Mandu Reid, an expert in “cupography”, explains how to use our menstrual cups.
“Do you feel that gentle suction?” she asks. “That’s one of the most important features. It is one of the reasons why, if you’re good at using it, it’s more reliable than a tampon.” She goes on to demonstrate some of the best positions for inserting a cup – sitting on the edge of a toilet seat “manspreading”, standing with one leg up on the toilet seat (her own favourite), or lying down with your legs in the air, a pose she holds while we take pictures for social media. “The most important thing is for you to be relaxed. Put on some jazz, light some candles,” she jokes.
This is a CupAware party, designed to get women together to talk about menstrual cups. It couldn’t be more different from the last bit of menstrual education I received, when I was 12 and the “Tampax lady” came into my school in her navy blazer and gave out freebies. The evening feels more like a hen do, except that most of us are meeting for the first time and the colourful silicone objects scattered across the room are not sex toys. The goal is to break the taboo around discussing menstruation, and to raise awareness of period products beyond the tampons and sanitary towels that dominate the market. Reid starts by asking a simple but revealing set of questions: how old were you when you first got your period? Who did you tell? How did you feel? The exercise, like the entire workshop, is enlightening. Responses cover everything from difficult relationships with parents, to gender identity issues, to the ludicrous lies we told our friends (guilty). There is something very liberating about sharing period stories, the woman next to me says: “And the more people talk, the more everyone wants to talk. It is like the sexual liberation of the 60s. We are having a menstrual liberation.”
Reid is part of a new wave of period activists, determined to challenge the status quo of our flows. Despite being part of the lives of half the global population, there has been little innovation or big thinking around periods in 80 years – since the tampon was invented. Recently, however, there has been a flurry of activity, from campaigns to petitions, product launches to new advertising imagery.