I remember when I had "the talk." At the end of it, I received a cute, small, orange pack to conceal my "equipment" at school when I'd have to make the trip to the washroom.
When I first got my period, I picked out a few magazines for tweens to help me learn how to deal with it. Inside one there was an article about how to talk about your period discreetly, how to minimize the social discomfort. If you need to tell someone you're on your period, call it the "red dot" or the "monthly gift." I also read how to discreetly mark the date on your calendar when you get your period, so you can predict the next one. Even the word period is disgusting. Draw a red dot. I used a red crayon, marking my passage into womanhood with a tool from my childhood.
While all of this advice is intended to help young girls become more comfortable during what can be a distressing experience, it socializes them to be ashamed of their periods. It says that they have a reason to be distressed.
To this day, I am unable to tell men that I'm suffering with severe menstrual cramps, to say that I need to get some pads or an Advil or something.
But that's not just because I was socialized as a teenager to be ashamed. Women of all ages are taught to be ashamed, to fear even other women knowing they are menstruating.
Kotex has released quiet wrappers. Now you don't have to distress other women in the bathroom with the crackling suggestion that you are menstruating. Public bathrooms really should carry swooning couches.
Tampax airs commercials featuring a bitchy woman who carries a wrapped gift box, following active women around, announcing that their fun lives are about to be ruined by their "monthly gift." Their period. Don't worry! Tampax products will save the day!
In both of these cases, we see companies instilling fear in women and capitalizing on it. Tampax tampons are framed as a feminist tool. Until just decades ago, women were taught that their biology made them emotionally and physically fragile. Not anymore! Now you can play sports! You can hide your period! You are not bound to the loud, clunky pads earlier generations of women had to wear.
My awareness of this socialization and how wrong it is doesn't remove my discomfort. I usually keep my pads hidden in zipped up compartments of my bags. I occasionally cough over the crackling in the washroom. But I know I shouldn't. I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm not sure how to overcome this fear, but writing this is a start.
Women shouldn't be made to feel that they have to experience their periods alone, that they are disgusting, that they can't talk about their pain, that they have to find a way to inconspicuously get their pads or tampons out of their bag and with them to the bathroom.
Women should be able to talk to men about their periods. Why are men so uncomfortable with periods, anyway? Any time I've tried to bring it up with a man, or it has been necessary that I bring it up, he cringes and reacts similarly to a child plugging his ears with his fingers and going "La la la la la la. I can't hear you!" Of course, not all men are like this. Maybe most aren't. But it's really widespread and it's certainly not socially acceptable to talk to men about your period.
It's socially acceptable for bags of baby diapers and individual diapers to be visible, so why not pads and tampons too?
Read my post on some history of the socialization of menstruation.