Talking about having a cold is pretty socially acceptable. Common ground conversations start with this, not unlike the weather. But talking about something as normal as having a period needs to be prefaced with some sort of, “Sorry for any guys around,” and half-expecting disgusted protest to follow whatever you say. This isn’t about all the physical details—sometimes the mere admittance of menstruating is deemed offensive.
To mention menstruation is to mention … the vagina. And we are taught that vaginas are gross.
Vaginas are so awful, many of us can’t even say the word, opting for pretty nicknames like “flower” instead. If referring to a part of our body as a symbol of beauty was a thing of pride, that’d be one thing. But these nicknames are used because—gosh—we can’t actually say vagina in public.
There are a whole bunch of other nicknames out there too, to emphasize that having a vagina is a terrible thing. Pussy is used to call out someone, usually a guy, for being passive or cowardly, in other words, unmanly. Cunt is used as the worst insult ever against a woman (in North America).
“Think about ‘Fuck you’ or ‘Go fuck yourself,’” Erin McKelle writes on everydayfeminism.com. “We may not always actively think of it this way, but think about what this literally means: You are telling the person on the receiving end of this exchange that to be fucked, to be the one receiving penetration, is shameful and so much so, that it’s insulting to suggest that one be in this position. Because this role is usually associated—in our heteronormative, cissexist culture—with women, saying ‘Fuck you’ translates to ‘Be the woman and the vagina in sex.’”
“Girls are told bleeding is a bad thing, an embarrassing thing, a secret thing that we should hide and remain discreet about come hell or high water,” writes Inga Muscio in her book, Cunt. So instead of learning about our bodies, we worry about being discreet (thankfully, Tampax thought of that!) and making sure our vaginas don’t offend anyone with their overpowering unhygienic ways by buying unnecessary and potentially harmful products to make sure we smell like Febreeze. There’s also the peskiness of making sure our vaginas are pretty enough.
“It’s amazing how much misinformation is out there about the vagina,” writes Dr. Lissa Rankin writes in her article “20 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Vagina.” “Given how fascinated our society is with the female body, you’d think we’d be a little more informed.” A lot of us don’t even know what a vagina actually is!
Practice saying “vagina” if you need to in order for it to be comfortable. Stop using it as an insult. And if you have period cramps or need to borrow a tampon you can say so, as casually as the person next to you speaking at great length about it being sunny in the summer.