Why can’t we talk about periods? by Jen Gunther | TED Talk
Commentary by Laura Morazzini | Illustration by Armadilly
In line with the message of the video, let’s start with some facts: menstrual cycles are a biological phenomenon that affects half of the world population and a pretty unique trait within the mammal world. As Healthline reports, almost all people that mensutrate experience specific symptoms and 84% experience pain, which becomes severe in 30-40% of the total, forcing them to skip school or work. As Dr. Gunter explains, the pressure in the uterus during menstruation is equivalent to the one of the second stage of labour when you’re pushing. As she notices, this piece of information changes the cards on the table: we would not call someone in the middle of labour weak because they skip school, but we’d rather wonder how they made it that far!
This is the core of the problem when discussing menstrual rights and women’s rights in general: the lack of information and social taboos traditionally reinforced each other in a vicious cycle. In this sense, it is telling that the first full anatomical mapping of the clitoris apperead only in 2005. This is because not only law and politics historically revolved around men, but also science. The vicious cycle is in fact favoured by the underrepresentation or absence of women in decision-making positions: globally, the ones for whom the stakes are higher are de facto massively excluded from the discussion. Anything concerning women’s body, with abortion being only its most visible representation, is mainly discussed by men.
As a consequence, menstruations proved much before covid-19 the resilience of fake news over scientifical research and data. In fact, periods are usually referred to – even among women – with code names, puns and euphemisms and are still the confusing protagonists of myths and legends: it is more likely for young girls to learn that they might accidentally kill the plants in their balcony during their periods rather than what it is actually occuring inside their bodies.
As long as menstruations remain a social taboo, not only research and scientifical progress in the field will be disincentivised but also their divulgation. We would not have, for example, an objective estimate of how painful and debilitating menstruations can actually be and, as Dr. Gunter explains, we would not know that, differently from other mammals, the concept of choice seems to be coded in women’s reproductive traits… In times where womens’ body is still treated more as a political object than a scientific one, the words of Dr. Gunter are more relevant than ever: “It shouldn’t be an act of feminism to know how your body works.”