Why am I doing a radio documentary on the menstrual cycle?
This is a question that I have been asking myself since I committed to covering this subject matter in my radio documentary class. If I am honest, I talked about the possibility of researching the topic of periods with my girlfriend.I am actually squeamish when the conversation comes up, and there is no reason as to why. My lecturer asked how do I fit into the scope of inquiry; what am I trying to convey? It should be noted we never have this conversation in the class, it is usually done in a whisper. You know just in case, insert rolling eye emoji here.
By that event alone I know it is essential and that there needs to a start to the conversation around periods. I mean come on why are we whispering about a radio documentary project?
The easiest place to start, or so I thought, was looking at period poverty in Ireland. I had stumbled across a post on Facebook that was discussing the relationship between women in poverty and affordable sanitary products. On the 7th of October 2019, the Journal.ie published an article called: ‘Minister sets up period poverty committee: ‘Menstruation is not a choice”. The article discussed the departments involved in the period poverty committee from those on the committee ‘Department of Health and includes representation from several government departments and NGOs, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Department of Finance’. The committee was set up to tackle period poverty.
What is period poverty?
According to Dáil Éireann debate -Wednesday, the 13th of March 2019 which can be found here in the opening paragraphs it was stated that:
‘The average woman, or anyone who experiences periods, will have 507 periods from age 12 to 51, for roughly 39 years of her life; in Ireland, sanitary products can cost from €2 to €6 per pack, with the average pack containing 10 to 15 pads or tampons,
A 12 pack of pain relief tablets costs between €6 and €10; most women and girls will have 13 periods a year, with some using up to 22 tampons and/or towels per cycle leading to an estimated annual cost of €208 for sanitary products and pain relief, costing €8,100 over a lifetime’.
It also stated, and I shall copy and paste the information here as well so that there is full context as to what I am trying to convey, also it’s kind of mind blowing:
according to a survey of more than 1,100 young girls and women aged between 12 and 19 years by Plan International Ireland, nearly 50 per cent of Irish teenage girls find it challenging to afford sanitary products;
— some 109 of the young women who participated in the survey said they were forced to use a ‘less suitable sanitary product’ because of the high monthly cost involved;
— nearly 60 per cent, or one in two, of young women and girls said school does not inform them adequately about periods;
— six out of ten young women reported feeling shame and embarrassment about their period, 61 per cent miss school on their period and more than 80 per cent said they did not feel comfortable talking about their periods with their father or a teacher; and
— nearly 70 per cent of young women take some form of pain relief during menstruation;
— tampons and sanitary towels are not subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) in Ireland, which has a zero rate treatment on women’s sanitary products, but new period products that may better suit some women, girls and the environment, are still taxed at the highest rate of tax at 23 per cent;
— due to the high cost of these products, women and girls in period poverty are resorting to unsuitable options such as newspaper, toilet paper or unwashed clothing’.
— girls and young women who suffer shame and embarrassment surrounding their period are more likely to use unsuitable options rather than approach family members or their teacher’.
I realised after reading the debate exchange that there are other conversations to be had. Before solving period poverty normalising the conversation around periods is the first step.
However, the question still remains, why should I be the one to have that conversation and who would actually listen to it, and why is it interesting?
These again are the questions that my lecturer brings up to me again and again. Still, I don’t have the answer as to why, me, a man, should have conversations with women about their periods.
I bought a book:
Well, I didn’t buy a book. My girlfriend bought it for me. It is called ‘Period’ by Emma Barnett. Barnett is a British broadcaster and journalist and a she is a presenter for BBC Radio 5 Live and an occasional presenter of Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. I told my lecturer that I have this book and maybe it will give more insights as to why my project idea is important. It should be noted I have done most of my interviews and I know what story I want to tell.
However, it might be a good idea if someone else’s work convinces him.
Emma Barnett is better known for her work on politics rather than being a champion for women’s right. From what I have gathered when Ms Barnett talks about the reactions she received from writing a book on periods rather than politics. She decided to announce live on TV in 2016 that she was menstruating that sparked a debate around the conversation of periods which led her to write her book.
Hopefully, reading Period will shape the answers to the question I have been repeatedly asked. Barnett opens the book talking about how much she hates her period. Still, there is something that she loathes more than her period: not being able to talk about it. Barnett wants to fight to normalise the conversation around periods and tackle the fear of conversing about periods and the subsequent sniggers that usually follows. Barnett also argues that men are never going to lead the charge to stop periods as being treated as gross. You would imagine that this would be my argument to make to my lecturer, and perhaps it should be. Barnett argues that woman can be their downfall when it comes to normalising the conversation of periods. Barnett suggests that when women censor themselves from talking about periods, this allows the communication around periods to remain taboo.
Only fourteen pages into the book and it would seem like I have enough in my favour to argue that what I am doing makes sense: why should I be the one to have that conversation around periods and who would actually listen to it and why is it interesting?
I am a man, and I am willing to lead the charge of normalising the conversation around periods, this, however, might not be enough to convince my lecturer. Who would listen to it? my lecturer thinks that guys who are 15-16 won’t listen to it, I think the same way, but I also think if thy are not mature enough then it’s not for them. I would hope that women would listen to it as it is an experience that they all share and to answer the next question why is it interesting? I guess because there are peoples actual experiences is what makes it interesting.
And hopefully after it is all said and done we won’t have to whisper in fear.