When I was getting my graduate certificate in holistic health studies I did so at a women’s university. The course curriculum was rich in women-focused perspectives on health, culture and spirituality. Many of my classmates were women who had children and almost all of them defined “femininity” and a woman’s “power” in her ability to become pregnant and birth life.
At the time, my husband and I were experiencing round after round of failed fertility treatments and I wasn’t feeling very “powerful.” Infertility is an isolating, lonely place, and the program I was in only compounded my feelings of ostracism from the female sphere. I didn’t know where I fit in among these women. I often found myself doubting my own femininity as a woman who could not get pregnant. I felt excluded from womanhood.
I tell that story so I may more clearly express my next point:
2015 has been proudly declared “the year of the period” and that makes me very happy. Silence surrounding menstruation only validates stigma and stereotypes about it. Yet, I worry that while many of us who are cheerleading for #periodpositivity, we may be accidentally isolating women, girls, trans and non-binary people from joining our movement.
We must be cautious to not marginalize menstruating people who suffer painful or irregular cycles.
We must acknowledge that not all people who menstruate want to, not for reasons of body illiteracy, but for reasons of personal choice.
We must be careful not to silence the voices of our sisters who are brave enough to speak their truths.
We must not judge those who use disposable menstrual products or hormonal birth control.
We must not make “menstrual enthusiasm” the stick upon which we measure the success of our cause.
If we are to continue building upon the momentum of 2015, we must go forward by including all types of menstruating people by accepting their informed choices, even if those choices go against our own.
It is a terrible thing to feel you don’t belong because your body doesn’t work the way you want it to, or it’s not realistic to use reusable menstrual products, or you prefer to use hormonal birth control, or because your monthly cycle is painful.
Let’s not make those mistakes in this movement.
There is an egregious overreach of lawmakers, marketing executives and physicians who continue to perpetuate shame, stigma and the over-medicalization of women’s bodies. And yes, taking back the power and declaring menstruation as our own absolutely needs to be done. But we must remember to listen to the stories, concerns and objections of our sisters. Because when we come together as a whole: straight, trans, cis, non-binary, post-menopausal women and women and girls with menstrual irregularities, our voices will be strong, our voices will be powerful and we will not be ignored.