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You may have noticed a couple of weeks back a certain trend on Twitter going under the #PeriodEmoji hashtag. The hashtag announced the launch of the brand new and much anticipated Period Emoji for those times when we feel the urge to share a menstrual moment on Twitter, Whatsapp or Instagram.
I don’t know about you, but I for one almost always end up live Tweeting my period. It’s never planned and it’s almost certainly more information than anyone else in cyberspace, or IRL for that matter, wants to know about the intimate workings of my uterus. Even so, it seems to have become part of my monthly ritual along with eating chocolate and crying for no apparent reason. It’s a well known fact that I am obsessed with all things period related, but also my period symptoms dominate my life to such a degree for three to five days of the month, every month, that in this world of TMI on Twitter it seems absurd not to be sharing the most intimate details of my cycle with the rest of cyberspace.
And yet each time I go to tweet about it I find myself scrolling through all those random emoji’s trying to find that one that will capture how my uterus feels when it is trapped in a vice grip, always to come up wanting. Strawberries are too sweet, and a red X doesn’t quite have the drama I am after, you know. There are plenty of graphic gifs that can some up my ambivalent feelings to the crimson wave: Carrie having a bucket of pigs blood spilled over her, that elevator in the Shining, Kathy Bates talking a sledge hammer to James Caan’s ankles, or any Stephen King movie really. But sometimes you just need a simple emoji, you know?
Rumours of this mythical period emoji had reached me months ago, and every time I updated my Whatsapp I would scroll through waiting to see the addition of a happy uterus, a pink sanitary towel, or a pair of blood-stained undies only to find the usual yellow faces and smiling turds.
Now the new period emoji, a simple drop of blood, doesn’t get quite so graphic as some people (i.e. me) were hoping, but I can already see the endless possibilities; one drop for a light flow day, a rainy shower for other days.
But seriously, why has the announcement of a period emoji got so many people like me excited?
Menstrual education, publicity for menstrual hygiene products and society in general often reinforce negative stereotypes around menstruation as something which is dirty, gross, shameful or which must be kept secret. This can be as simple as separating girls and boys for the school talk about periods, sending the message that menstruation is something only girls need to worry about. Or in advertisements where nary a drop of menstrual blood is ever seen, implying that every month a blue liquid will be flowing from between our legs. Or the persistence of myths that claim menstruating people should not cook, clean or milk animals because they will ‘contaminate’ everything they touch. Or censorship on social media.
Menstrual shame is a global problem from women in the UK reporting that they still feel embarrassed about their periods to the isolation of young girls during menstruation. Plan International found nearly half (48%) of girls aged 14-21 in the UK are embarrassed by their periods. One in seven (14%) girls admitted that they did not know what was happening when they started their period and more than a quarter (26 per cent) reporting that they did not know what to do when they started their period.
Menstrual stigma can manifest itself in the most everyday experiences: the public embarrassment of finding a blood stain on your clothes, your friends/colleagues/partners who get uncomfortable if you mention the ‘P’ word in friendly conversation, or the taboo around sex during menstruation. This kind of stigma prevents people from talking openly about their bodies natural processes, seeking out correct information and in the worst cases creates a sense of shame and fear around everything related to menstruation.
The good news is that there is a growing movement of feminist activists working to end period stigma and achieve access to safe and ecological menstrual products for all menstruators. The Pro-Period movement is diverse but it could be said that its principal focus is on menstrual health education, body literacy and body positivity, inclusivity and promoting healthy, affordable and alternative products to the commercial tampons and pads offered by the ‘femcare’ industry.
Period positivity means, according to menstrual activist Chella Quint that “you are willing to confidently ask and/or frankly answer questions about periods, understand the importance for menstruators to chart their cycle and treat it as a vital sign, avoid passing on shame to others, and if you joke about it, that you make sure menstruators aren’t the butt of the joke.”
So fellow menstruators, watch this space for more bloody awesome period positivty, and bloody dreadful puns, over the next weeks and months.