Whichever way you look at it, menstruation is still a taboo—and that taboo is affecting women’s lives. Many women have to hide their pads and tampons (should someone—shock, horror!—realize that they are on their period) and some girls are unable to attend school, practice their religion or prepare food for 20 percent of their adult lives.
What we need is more education about menstruation, more open talk to break the silence and debunk the taboos that are hindering so many girls and women from getting on with their lives and thriving.
Here are some of the most prevalent and harmful period-related myths and urban legends:
1. Premenstrual Syndrome is not real.
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is claimed that PMS is made up, or psychological, an excuse women come up with to allow themselves to blow up now and then. On the other hand, when science seems to indicate that PMS is real, it is used to dismiss women, a confirmation that we are little hormonal beasts and therefore can’t be trusted to take rational decisions or be in positions of responsibility. Which brings us to …
2. Women cannot be leaders.
Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency of the United States is being questioned because, with female hormones and all, women shouldn’t be allowed to start a war. Others disagree and think she’s the perfect age … because she’s menopausal. Nice. There is no scientific proof whatsoever showing that women are not capable of leading. In fact, many think precisely the opposite.
3. Tampons and menstrual cups could affect your virginity.
This myth is based in the belief that virginity and an “intact hymen” are linked. However, according to Planned Parenthood: “The hymen is a thin, fleshy tissue that stretches across part of the opening of the vagina” and a virgin is “someone that has never had sex.” Apparently, the hymen is pretty stretchy so it is possible to be a virgin whose hymen was affected by, say, horse riding, and be someone who has had sex but whose hymen has not been broken. Some think that you cannot “pop your cherry” at all and the membrane just stretches.
4. It is a sin for a woman to visit a place of worship while she is on her period.
Hinduism and Buddhism, among other religions, believe that women are unclean and impure during their periods, so they are banned from entering temples, community spaces and other public buildings. This is downright discrimination. Menstruation is a normal and healthy function of every woman’s reproductive life, but women are effectively being banned from taking part in everyday and social life because of their bodies.
5. Women should not handle or cook certain foods during their periods.
In some southern European countries, it is believed that if a woman tries to make mayonnaise during her period, it will curdle. In India, women are advised against making pickle, in case it rots. In Japan, some people claim women cannot be sushi chefs because, when they menstruate, their hands are too warm to handle raw fish and sushi rice. Once again, this myth implies that women and girls are unclean during their monthly cycle. And once again, this is completely untrue.
Want to do some more myth-busting? Check out the Stop #Menstruphobia campaign and join us on May 28 for Menstrual Hygiene Day. Let’s start the conversation about menstruation.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jen licensed under Creative Commons 2.0