Hey…don’t hide your period

Nigerians are some of the least environmentally friendly people I know. Man, woman and child, we toss garbage out of our moving cars. We unwrap items and let the packaging fall where we stand. We then innocently wonder why our roads flood when it rains.

Where other countries are trying to cut back on plastic bag usage (Wales, for instance, introduced a minimum of 5p charge), we Nigerians seem to be just getting started.

At Shoprite, for instance, they pack every item individually, shaking another bag open before one is filled up. KFC puts your food into the classic brown takeaway bag and then places the paper bag into a takeaway carrier bag. But nowhere do I find this wastage more ridiculous than when my small pack of Always sanitary pad is given its separate, and more often than not, black plastic bag.

Most times, when an item is put in a separate bag, it is because it may contaminate other items. So your frozen food is kept isolated, in case it melts and soaks through something else. Also, your bleach, or air freshener, is put in another – in case the smell or liquid gets into other items. What is it about the sanitary towel that makes it deserving of its own standalone bag? Do we really have to hide it in an opaque bag?

This is the general attitude of society to our periods. Periods happen but no one is supposed to know about them. And in some societies when they do know about it, you’re meant to remain hidden away. In some homes in India, you’re not allowed to enter the kitchen, the house or attend temple. During the Ramadan, Muslim women on their periods are not allowed to fast.

We tend to hide our periods even from other women. I recall when I was about 7 or 8, I came across a yellow package in my much older cousin’s box. It was the size of a book and almost as thick as a dictionary. When I squeezed it between my palms it felt like foam. She said it was bread that only girls her age could eat. Her and my other cousin found that hilarious for some reason. When we ask for a spare pad from other women, we usually do it in an apologetic whisper like we’re getting our weekly fix of drugs from the dealer. When she brings out the pad/tampon, she palms it off to you like an eight ball of cocaine and you quickly shove it into your bag or pocket and walk away furtively. It really should be as normal as turning to your colleague and asking for white powder, the facial kind.

Your period shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. It is a natural part of life and we shouldn’t have to lie and say we have a mildly upset tummy when we are actually dying from period cramps. There was a time I called in sick at work and on my return to work interview I plainly told my team leader, a man, that I had had period pains. Yes it was awkward and it got even more awkward when he moved on to the next question which was how likely is this to occur again?

We have been socialised to think that our periods are disgusting, shameful and not normal even though menstruation is as natural as boy’s voices deepening at puberty. The classic South Park joke “…I’m Sorry Wendy, but I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die” typifies the attitude. Have you asked a man to buy sanitary towels for you before? Their faces twist up like they are in pain not unlike the one you are currently going through.

I have a love-hate relationship with my period and oscillate between thinking of my period as something gross (the smell, the sight) and then something to glorify in. Seeing my period every month means that I’m more likely than not, still able to bring life into this world., a much needed assurance. It also means an even greater relief, the leg weakening kind, since I’m not quite ready to bring said life forth just yet. The days waiting can age you while you grapple with how to raise a child on the salary that can barely sustain your Uber trips.

It’s also a great wheat and chaff separator when it comes to guys. If he still asks you to come to his place despite you being on your period, keep your appointment with your manicurist because something special is about to happen.

As sickening as many people find periods, they are not so put off that they can’t make money off of us. Periods are serious business. The female hygiene market is said to be worth $15 billion and a recent study in the UK revealed that British women spend as much as £18,450 on their periods over their lifetime. This covers pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups, new underwear (due to spillage), pain relief, chocolate/sweets (yes they tell us sugar makes the pain worse but we beg to differ) and others.

Let’s stop being so ashamed of our periods. They’re normal and people have built fortunes off of it. So next time you go to a supermarket, proudly slam down your pad/tampon on the checkout counter and when the cashier whips out the little black bag to hide it away, tell her to stop, you have a planet to save. Then pick up your pads and dance away like the Always girls.

Photo Credit: henna lion via Compfight cc