What about 'shark week'? Or should we only be saying, 'menstruation', when referring to our cycle?
Almost all of us have used period slang. Heck, we did it in the title. The term ‘period’ itself is slang for the bleeding portion of the menstruation cycle and has its roots in the Greek words ‘peri’ and ‘hodos’ (periodos) (Druet and Kennelly, 2017) meaning ‘around’ and ‘way/path’. Its common use began in the early 1800s and survives to this day as the de facto term for the cyclic shedding of the uterine lining.
Is it okay to say 'period'?
From ‘It’s my time of the month’ to ‘the painters are in’, menstruators the world over have come up with many phrases and euphemisms to communicate around their cycles. A euphemism is defined as the substitution of a perceived harsh or blunt word or expression with one that is deemed as politer and ‘less direct’. With an astonishing 31% of people (Talking Heavy Periods, n.d.) reluctant to discuss periods because for a multitude of reasons, and over 5,000 euphemisms (Druet and Kennelly, 2017) around menstruation, is it time we looked at our use of period slang? We took this opportunity to explore whether keeping period slang in our vocabulary is helpful or a hindrance to the overall discourse around them?
The argument against
The taboo around periods dates back millennia and is rooted in issues around religious, socio-economic and gender equality. In today’s world, we use euphemisms to describe many aspects of our anatomy in daily life which could actually be perpetuating problematic notions that periods are ‘dirty’, ‘shameful’ and something best kept to ourselves. Using colloquialisms (read:slang) are so ingrained in our societies that using anatomical terminology such as ‘vagina’, ‘vulva’ or ‘labia’ is seen as more euphemistic than the phrases we opt for instead. How does this impact us?
Well, for one thing, it separates us from our bodies and makes having candid conversations about how they function more difficult. We wouldn’t go to the doctor’s for a lung problem and describe them as ‘airbags’, so why do we do it when it comes to talking about menstruation? Using period slang projects and perpetuates society’s discomfort around menstrual bleeding, contributing to the idea that it’s not something up for open, comfortable debate which could actually lead to better healthcare provision, equality and understanding.
How many times have you had to slide a tampon up your shirt sleeve at work or under a desk at school for fear of being outed as being on your period? When going to the bathroom during your cycle becomes an exercise in concealing a basic fact of life, we need to challenge the status quo and make being upfront about being on our periods the norm.
After all, if menstruation is just a fact a life then what’s the big secret anyway?
The argument for
On the flip side, euphemisms can be protective for those with a history of trauma or those who feel that periods are a betrayal of their gender identity. Period slang seldom carries emotional weight so can be a good way of ‘lightening the mood’. It’s important to remember that euphemisms exist in the first place because of stigma. Politics, gender and spirituality have all played a part in creating shame around menstruation. Slang can be the vessel that allows people to talk about their bodies without feeling embarrassed, to access vital sanitary products or healthcare services.
Who are we to tell people how to talk about their periods anyway? If using slang enables someone to have an open conversation about their menstrual cycle, a seemingly rebellious act in itself, then surely we should welcome it? Judging someone for their vocabulary choice around menstruation may only result in shaming people into being reluctant in talking openly about their bodies. Society needs to put in the work to erase stigma around periods and encourage healthy body literacy full stop. If using such terms as ‘shark week’ or ‘on the blob’ enables people to have conversations about their cycles can they really be that bad?
Druet, A. and Kennelly, L., 2017. Is Period Slang Ever Useful?. [online] Helloclue.com. Available at: <https://helloclue.com/articles/culture/is-period-slang-ever-useful> [Accessed 10 September 2020].
n.d. Talking Heavy Periods. [ebook] Wear White Again. Available at: <https://www.wearwhiteagain.co.uk/talking-heavy-periods-pdf-reader/> [Accessed 10 September 2020].
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