Changing a Taboo

Xiaofei YangFebruary 28, 2023Dreams and Desires

My community is a traditional neighborhood since nearly all members are retired professors, so they all embrace a conventional lifestyle. One typical day, I was heading to sort the garbage and I saw a group of the old professors chatting with one another. When I was greeting them, one girl passed by hastily, and she knocked my shoulder. Without an apology, she ran away. As I looked at her back, a dash of bright red came into view, pronounced on her white dress—it was blood, her period. Simultaneously, I heard denouncements: “What a shame she messed up her clothes,” “Doesn’t she feel embarrassed?” some of the old people criticized. Others agreed “She should not appear like that, a girl without upbringing.” The condemnation drove me to think: is the disgrace of menstruation what drives people to blame her? But having periods is a natural physiological phenomenon that girls cannot avoid. So, I tried to refute the comments, but my words were so insignificant that they were drowned in the disparagement.

The next day I went to school, with the old professors’ words still haunting me. And as I was washing my hands in the bathroom before lunch, my friend suddenly approached and whispered in my ear, “Did you bring pads? I got my period.” “Yes,” I answered. So, we went back to the classroom. When I was handing her the pad, she pulled my hand down and lowered her voice, gingerly, she said “Be careful, others will see.” Somehow, the action became stealthy.

After she changed, I finally blurted out my question: “Why do you act so cautious?” She hesitated, and said, “Because everyone else does the same.” I recalled my memory; her words were indeed true. Girls seem to be at loose ends when dealing with their periods because society taught them to hide it from others, so as time passed, menstruation became a taboo.

I decided to change that, so I joined the action to set up a self-service pad-selling center which was placed in the bathroom, and we designed posters to call on others to stop being humiliated by their periods but embrace them since it is an indispensable part of a female’s life. Our action aroused lots of feminists to actively advocate for us. Moreover, I reached out on the internet and found an organization named Lotus that focuses on female goods donations. I joined the external connection department, which is responsible for connecting rural schools in need of female goods and sex education. To ensure our efforts were being put in the right place, we regularly contacted the schools and visited them. In the community, I opened a workshop to infuse the idea of openly facing menstruation. At first, lots of old people boycotted my behavior, but as I delved into the origin of their attitude, their conventional perspective was shaken. At last, they admitted that society has changed and convention cannot always last.

Now, in my school and community, the concept of period-humiliation has died.

Xiaofei Yang is a 17-year-old from Beijing, China. She enjoys dancing and watching movies. Her favorite movie is Harry Potter because the world of magic fascinates her. She also likes playing tennis.