Let’s crack the code. Period.
What is your code name for your period?
Will you be seeing Aunty Flo this month? Or maybe going to Japan? Sounds like fun! Go easy on the Bloody Mary and think twice about that Ketchup diet – could be unhealthy!
Well some of you know what we are talking about - code names for menstruation. These euphemistic terms vary across countries and generations.
Send us the term you use – or a term you have heard used – for periods. We will conduct an online poll to choose the favourite (wittiest, most imaginative) code name and there will be a prize for the person who was first to submit that term. Deadline for submissions is a month, of course.
One recent survey came up with 5000 terms that girls and women use to avoid saying ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’.
Parting the Red Sea, seeing Carrie at the Prom, ‘surfing the crimson wave’, more graphically Shark week (ouch!), the Blob, Tom (time of the month), ‘having the painters in’ and The Curse are just a few of the terms that are commonly used to refer confidentially to having a period.
The Clue/ International Women’s Health Coalition survey received 90 000 submissions. That got us thinking – firstly about why we use all these metaphors and secret codes to talk about a natural, regular, healthy occurrence that affects more than half the population of the planet. Reading about what girls and women call periods in different parts of the world also made us wonder – what about Africa? Code names from our continent didn’t feature in the clue online survey but we know they exist.
The terms we use range from the hilarious to the obscure. The reasons we use them are not at all amusing and are painfully obvious. Girls and women face anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation as a result of the stigma attached to menstruation. That stigma comes from religious and cultural taboos, from the way boys and girls are socialised, and from the way media, marketing campaigns and others reinforce ideas about the female body.
Girls are often laughed at or made fun of at school, if their period starts unexpectedly, if blood leaks on their clothes or they don’t have best brand pads or tampons. Some people see women as unclean during their period. In some cultures a menstruating woman is not allowed to cook for the family due to this belief; in others, women can cook but are allowed not to add salt to the food. This is because it is believed that they will add too much salt to the food making it inedible. In more extreme cases, girls are isolated or not allowed to take a bath during their period and menstruating women are forbidden from entering places of worship.
Menstruation is more of a hidden than a visible stigma - because women go to a great deal of effort to conceal it. In public, women who can afford pads or tampons hide them up their sleeves on their way to the bathroom, so that no one knows ‘Tom’ is around. We wear dark coloured clothing during ‘shark week’ in case of a leak or stain. We stick wads of toilet paper, cloths and mattress stuffing in our underwear when we are caught without supplies. On top of all this indignity, we get taxed on sanitary wear as if it is a luxury item that we can do without.
It has been like this for thousands of years. It is going to take a lot to change. So let’s start by talking about it.