In Defense of the Awkward: How Talking about Periods Can Keep A Girl In School

It is the guaranteed conversation killer, the “get out of this moment free” card.

“This is awkward.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, it is awkward!”


Well, I am over it. I am over using awkward as a way to disengage. There are a lot of things that are a little bit awkward, but they need talked about!

So today, we are going there. We are talking about periods, menstruation, bleeding. We are going there because we need to.

I don’t know a lot about period-shame. I come from a father who has three girls. According to my memories, my sister Emily started her period when my mom was out-of-town. he had to handle that. So he did. I’m sure everyone would have prefered my mom be home, but it was handled.

I was not one of those girls longing for that moment.  I had seen my sisters lying on the bathroom floor clutching a hot water bottle to their abdomens. I wanted none of that.

But it happens, doesn’t it? At your grandma’s house on the way out the door, when neither sisters nor your mother has a pad and you have to drop by the pharmacy on the way to church. Your dad doesn’t make a big deal, nor does your grandfather, because it isn’t. Because the men in your family are strong and gracious and periods don’t have to be a big deal.

This not a big deal, this isn’t everyone’s story.

It wasn’t until college that I realized what a gift this is, what a gift it is to have a dad willing to walk the feminine hygiene aisle and pick up the different brands for his different girls because that is what needs done. I was in a linguistics class when I said the word “vagina” and everyone froze. Apparently that is a show stopper, I thought it was just a body part.

I didn’t know to be embarrassed or ashamed about periods and vaginas. I didn’t know because I wasn’t taught. It was probably modeled most often by my mom, but it was my father’s reinforcement that sealed the deal. We didn’t have to be embarrassed around anyone.

My story isn’t even close to the story of the precious girls I learned about in Gulu. For these girls starting their period means more than just terrible cramps and being paranoid about white uniform pants. (Okay, in my case a pale yellow spanish-dancing costume I had to wash out in the sink. Everyone knows I had no athletic-unifrom kind of problems.) It means they can’t go to school anymore. It means dropping out because they can’t afford underwear and pads and the shame of menstruation is so deep culturally they can’t go to school for a quarter of the year and they fall too far behind.

And people don’t fundraise for this, there aren’t any major campaigns because the branding is weird. No one wants to talk about girls being on their period. That is awkward. No one wants to lead the keep-a-girl-from-bleeding-on-her-pants walk. Periods aren’t sexy. But they happen every month, and for some this has permanent consequences.

SheLoves Magazine is raising money to keep a whole schools worth of girls in school! 40 dollars a month pays for underwear and pads for the whole year. If you would like to make a donation you can read more about this effort here, here, and here. Or you can donate directly here.

I know not all of us can donate. Talk about it, tweet about it, tell a friend. Talking about these things sheds light, and shame doesn’t live in the light.




7 thoughts on “In Defense of the Awkward: How Talking about Periods Can Keep A Girl In School

  1. Amen, Abby. I am just embarrassed that, even after living in Africa for TWO YEARS in the 1960s, this whole idea never once occurred to me. I was so happy to be able to contribute to this cause and I salute all of you who are actively writing about it. Great job.

  2. I ran across this article that claims to debunk everything you and so many others say. I have some doubts about the article but don’t really know anything. KG


  3. Abby thanks for the endorsement. I know we had a deal but your writing has made me decided to support a girl form the She Loves sponsorship instead of giving the bribe er I mean cash to you. Hope you don’t mind. LOL (except about the donating part).

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