At least once a month, the nine steps I take from my desk to the toilet feel significantly longer.
There’s a tense build-up. Indecision. It’s a covert operation and the stakes are high.
It begins at the desk, when I decide how I’m going to transport myself and a new tampon all the way to toilet. If I’m lucky enough to be wearing something with pockets (which is unusual, because women’s clothing is an awful pocket-less shambles), it’s simple. The tampon gets stashed and I’m on my way.
If I’m wearing long sleeves, I can do the sneaky ‘holding the tampon tightly so it doesn’t fall out of my sleeve’ trick.
But if I have neither long sleeves nor pockets, I’m bloody* screwed.
I can attempt to just wing it and clench the tampon in my fist, but it’s likely to poke through and be visible to anyone who happens to be looking intently at my clenched hands.
I can take my bag with me, but I’ll have to put up with knowing that every woman in the office may turn, see that I’m taking a bag to the toilets, and suddenly know that I’m on my period.
…but why would that be such a bad thing?
For some strange reason, loads of people who have periods work themselves into a panic over discreetly carrying tampons, pads, or menstrual cups from their desk to the toilet.
We try desperately to sneak them past prying eyes. We clench our fists, scurry quickly, and blush the entire way.
Because for some reason, we think our periods absolutely must, under all circumstances, remain a secret.
We can’t let people know that we’re menstruating at work. That would be madness. We must make sure that no one in the office knows that we have a vagina that lets out fluids.
Which is a pretty insane complex, considering that our periods are just another entirely natural process that every adult (we hope) knows happens.
By walking to the bathroom, we acknowledge that we pee. We subtly acknowledge that we might be pooing (the embarrassment around pooing at work is a different topic for another day).
Both are bodily functions that – while we may not choose to discuss in detail – we wouldn’t deny doing entirely.
Imagine if every time we went to the toilet, we made a big show of having to sneak into a cubicle, so we could pretend we don’t actually urinate and just need to nip to the loos to wash our hands.
That would be absurd.
So why is it any different for another natural, normal bodily process?
Simple: it’s because a significant portion of the public still think that periods are too ‘gross’ to even be acknowledged. That periods are disgusting, dirty, and unpleasant.
It’s 2016 and we’re still dealing with stigma surrounding something that’s been happening to people with vaginas since the beginning of the human race.
The producers of tampons and pads play into that.
Tampon ads show women going about their days with no visible signs of any period even happening. They cycle while wearing white trousers. They dance. They run on the beach and they smile.
We’re shown tampons soaking up a mysterious blue liquid – because anything that resembles actual menstrual fluids a little too closely would be too much – as voiceovers praise how ‘discreet’ and tiny the products are.
Tampons are wrapped to look like sweets (although they really, really don’t look like sweets), pads are sold with minimalist tins.
Basically, these products are marketed on the idea that they won’t blow the secret that you’re on your period.
Which sends a pretty clear message: no one should know about your period, because it’s something to be ashamed of. Not something to talk about, shout about, or even acknowledge is a thing.
Which is bullsh*t, I reckon.
It’s absolutely absurd that in what we hope is a modern, forward-thinking society, we still can’t bloody well talk about periods. It’s absurd that we’re ashamed to do something that we’ll likely have to do once a month for a significant portion of our lives. It’s ridiculous that we’re making a special effort to conceal something that’s perfectly natural.
Being sneaky about tampons might not seem like a big deal, and yes, it only eats up a few seconds of your day.
But it contributes to the overwhelming silence and shame surrounding periods and vaginas as a whole.
And it does have consequences, from our reluctance to publicly ask around the office for a tampon we urgently need (or to offer the tampons we have), to the distraction of stressing about accidentally showing your tampon-packed hand.
So let’s take a stand.
Or, more accurately, a walk.
A walk to the bathroom with our tampons held openly. No hiding, no shame. Brandish your menstrual cup proudly. Wave your pad in the air.
Or, you know, just hold your period products without feeling like you have to make any effort at all to hide them.
That walk isn’t just a walk to the loos, it’s a massive step in taking down the shame around periods. It’s something we can all vow to do from our next period onwards.
Let’s all stop upholding the idea that periods are shameful, because they’re not. Let’s stop treating our periods like they’re top secret.
From now on, no more sneaking and hiding. Hold your tampon without shame.