Previously on The Leak, we published a piece by Sarah and Nikkola on research and policy responses in South Australia to period poverty. In this piece we hear about Sarah and Nikkola’s discovery and experience with the menstrual taboo – which they call the Red Elephant – while going through transitions in their menstrual journeys.
As soon as we learned how period poverty was rife in our local schools, we jumped to solutions. The injustice lit a fire in us. Sarah (the Founder of GOGO) and her knack for kick-starting big ideas for social impact started churning, and I deep-dived into the analysis.
This was when we both started to see how big the problem really is. Tackling the menstrual taboo is the red elephant in the room. We cannot get to gender equality without looking that elephant right in the eyes, and welcoming her to centre stage.
Naturally, we started our dialogue with her by looking at our own experiences.
Sarah: Periods were an open discussion topic in our home of 3 sisters. It was all pretty light hearted and managed on a very physical level with competence. It was not until we started looking into period poverty and its deeply rooted systemic causes, including the denial of knowing the richness of our bodies and the deep rhythm and connection to the menstrual cycle that I started to feel robbed! I am going through menopause, and now wish I was back menstruating so that I could experience a deeper, richer connection to my reproductive self, my feminine self and the shared experience of the women in my life.
Menopause is a mysterious beast! On (now numerous!) occasions when I have shared the ‘dread’ I wake with, the impact of sleeplessness and the physical changes I am going through with friends, we have shared revelations. Speaking out loud removes loneliness, blame and self criticism. A much deeper knowledge of what to expect – way beyond the physical changes of menopause – is so important to support women with love, value, compassion and the joy of life as they embark on their 3rd Act.
Nikkola: On the other hand, I have recently turned my attention to becoming a mother. The journey has allowed me to create a positive and proud relationship with my period. But having these realisations now makes me feel sad.. Well, part sadness… and part rage.
Why didn’t anyone tell me that my body and my womb are treasured, powerful and sacred?
My own menarche experience would have been a much better one if they had. By the time my first blood arrived, I had been so acculturated in the menstrual taboo that I inherently knew it must be hidden. And I was right! I had a terrible experience in primary school that still haunts me. Some kids broke into my bag and found my period care pack, including my daggy undies that were thrown around during a lunch-break. I didn’t know it had happened, until… you won’t believe this… I found out at the school disco. Gah!
To my ashamed 12 year-old self, the taboo was spot on: your body is something to keep quiet. Actually, all of you should stay quiet. Your unique enthusiasms. Your passions. Your big ideas. Keep them to yourself, and you’ll be safe. So on I went following a very linear, safe path of totally ‘approvable’ success into my late twenties. I feel in some ways that traditional feminism didn’t help me. I really did believe that in order to be successful I had to be like a ‘smaller man’. Strive, push, succeed. Be ambitious. Push through. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your career!
I now understand the role my blessed hormones play throughout the month, and I am a hell of a lot more gentle with myself. With this knowledge – which will continue to deepen in the coming years – I often feel a sense of fiery injustice. But I also feel empowered. This appreciation for the sacred feminine is available to all of us, and having felt it flood through me, I’m now ready to start using these gifts for good.
When I informally surveyed my girlfriends about their use of period products it didn’t take long for the conversation to drift to contraception, sex, pregnancy, maternity leave, employment, inequality in relationships and the silent struggle experienced by women as they navigate these things in an unequal world. It’s all connected, and it will take all of us – menstruators and non-menstruators – to unlock gender equity.
If you are lit up about this too, please reach out! We want to go on the journey with you.
Nikkola is an expert in strategy, writing, program development and communications at GOGO Foundation. Having worked across multiple sectors including refugee resettlement, international development, education and community development, Nikkola is drawn to collaboration with passionate people on movements and projects that seek to better our world. She sees menstrual positivity as a key to opening up all aspects of gender equality, creating a better home for all of us on planet earth.
Sarah is an award-winning social entrepreneur and champion for a socially equitable world. The social enterprise she founded in 2012 created jobs for over 85 women on their journey out of homelessness in its first 5 years. To expand this work, Sarah established the GOGO Foundation and is motivated to eliminate the impact and inequality created by period poverty across Australia. Sarah will leverage her deep partnership networks across Australia to build a movement to influence policy and drive system change.