A free-bleeding activist, Kiran Gandhi said “as I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don’t exist. By establishing a norm of period-shaming societies, this effectively prevents the ability to bond over an experience that 50 per cent of us in the human population share monthly” (National Review,10 August 2015, p. 1).
Menstruation is considered as a social taboo which arises many issues at hand. Taboo is defined as a social or religious custom which prohibits discussion of a specific topic related with a particular person, place or thing. Women’s natural phenomena, menstruation is discarded in many cultures and society for its stigma. Menstruation is part of women’s lives and is constructed not only for shedding of their uterus but for healthy reproduction. However, the significance of menstruation is being hidden under the surface because it is embarrassing, unfamiliar and uncomfortable among men and even women. According to a study from UN, one out of three female adolescents in South Asia was not aware of the menstruation prior to getting it, and 48% of girls in Iran and 10% of girls in India believe that menstruation is a disease. As a result, due to lack of sex education, many women in developing nations are not aware of the need to reach out for feminine hygiene products, engendering more problems in women’s rights’ issues. Moreover, in poverty-stricken countries, many women lack access to economical hygiene menstruation products. Instead, they use unsanitary materials like rags, leaves, mud and shoe insole as a replacement. This can lead to infections and vaginitis which is dangerous for healthy reproduction. To the contrary, media does not fulfill its role of addressing this problem. There are stigmas associated with menstruation as a taboo, and media tends to capitalize it. Often, media does not dispatch any issues involved, and even advertisements also frame menstruation as filthy and stressful matters. Because these social conflicts such as lack of access to hygiene pads, menstrual taboos and media’s stigma prevail in the society, this phenomena undermines women’s rights and lead to women’s disempowerment.
To take a further look at social taboos in media, a Korean commercial from one of the most famous women hygiene brand called “good feeling” shows three males discussing women’s hygiene products. These men comment on a woman’s fragrance cologne, but they believe the woman was trying to hide the foul scent coming from her menstruation pad. They also replace the word for period by saying that it is “that day”. The absence of the correct term highlights the the idea that period is a taboo topic that must be carefully regulated in public sphere. The social remarks surrounding menstruation, as shown in feminine hygiene product advertisements, discloses the taboo message: women are dirty and dangerous to themselves, and women must strive to silence all signs of menstruation. This puts women in the position to constrain their voices and willingness when they discuss health issues on reproduction and menstruation cycle. Although emergence of feminine hygiene products’ commercials helped women to access the public, the ways products are presented still prevent women to become subtle. As a result, media does not address any surrounding social taboo, but rather attack women’s needs and shame to make them purchase their products.
In order to prevent stigmas and shame associated with menstruation problems and its hygiene products, people should promote sex education. Countries like India, Africa and Thailand do not have enough information to take care of their biological needs: menstruation , and women even lack access to sanitary pads. At least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods, according to a 2015 report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). Another reason why education should be stressed is shown through an indifference of a Korean student at a Korean high school. According to a Korean news report, a female teenager was sneakily walking towards the bathroom with her sanitary pad. A male classmate noticed and demanded her to take care of the sanitation problem before she arrived at school in an irritated voice. He also mentioned that she was probably too lazy to deal with her problem beforehand. Other startling reports in Korea claimed that some men believe a menstruation cycle is a process that women can control by her willingness to last the cycle only for a day. Some of the younger students thought the color of period was blue from frequent and wrong depiction of “clean” sanitary pads in Korean commercial ads. This situation inevitably demonstrates why education on menstruation and sex should be enhanced. Plus, the media is not effectively showcasing the reality by concealing the actual color of blood and most powerfully stigmatizing the portrayal. According to many education centers in Korea, accounts of these problems arise from lack of thorough education that needs to be clearly addressed.
Other implementations that people can enforce to remove menstruation issues could be campaigns and usages of social media. Many campaign movements have been potent. For instance, YWCA: “pink box project” has sent over 500 handmade sanitary pads to those in need; NGOs such as compassion groups and many other women activists have gradually altered people’s ignorance on menstruation issues by promoting hygiene management projects. Lastly, advertisements on menstruation should take over exaggerations on sanitization and shaming incidents. With such efforts, media can make a change in people’s beliefs. A epitome of this solution has been ongoing in China. Feminine hygiene brand in China called, “Kotex” is opening up the menstrual taboos by sponsoring a drama series: “Stuff Girl’s Don’t Say”, aiming to educate women about personal care and to make women feel comfortable talking openly about the issue. In the light of this, promotion of social media and campaign movements can halt the menstruation taboos to overcome the social challenges surrounding menstruation cycle that women currently face in the society.