For her anthropology research, senior Alexa Dava decided to talk about something that the Wheaton community doesn’t address very often: menstruation. She was inspired to address the issue because of the stigma that often surrounds periods. She explained that, “Studying anthropology has given me an awareness of the harmful ways that gender stereotypes affect us. I think the menstruation stigma exemplifies these stereotypes well.”
Her presentation was open to the public and advertised across campus in the preceding week, causing a lot of buzz throughout the student body. A table was set up in lower Beamer students could engage Dava in the conversations that had already begun in class and across Saga tables. Her posters seemed engineered to get a response: They were splotched with red to mimic period blood and prominently featured the title of the event: “Let’s Talk. Period.”
Just five minutes after the event started, Phelps was standing room only, packed with both women and men who came to join the conversation. Dava began by presenting her research, for which she had interviewed over 500 people both online and in person. Her research explored how people had first learned about periods and how comfortable both men and women felt talking about it. Almost everyone she interviewed agreed that men and women should engage in a dialogue about periods, but the question remained: What is the best way to get the conversation started? Over the next 45 minutes, Dava tried to give attendees a starting point.
Amidst some uncomfortable whispers and giggles from the crowd, six student panelists answered questions about their period experiences and attempted to educate both men and women about menstruation. The women were chosen to represent a diverse range of experiences, as Dava explained: “to diversify the panel, I reached out to women from different ethnic backgrounds and campus involvements.” The women addressed everything from the stigma surrounding periods to the methods that they use to manage the pain and blood during each cycle. Tramaine Kaleebu emphasized the fact that girls in other countries often have to miss school during their periods because of the lack of proper sanitary products and the stigma surrounding it. Others, including Basye Peek, brought up the issue of homeless women, who often have very poor access to sanitary products as well.
Closer to home, topics such as the effect that periods have on students and their ability to work and go to class were addressed also addressed by the panelists. Several said that they had at least one period day a month where the pain, fatigue and even vomiting prevented them from attending class. To that end, many discussed using birth control medication to regulate hormones and alleviate bad period symptoms, as well as the stigma surrounding birth control in Christian circles.
As the panelists talked about the methods they used to deal with their periods, Dava realized that many people in the room may not understand how one of the most popular sanitary products works. She asked the room if anyone had a tampon that she could use to demonstrate, and amid much laughter, several girls offered them from the pockets of purses and backpacks. Dava then unwrapped the tampon and went through an explanation of how it is used to capture period blood. She also showed a photo of a menstrual cup and explained how it works as an eco-friendly, reusable alternative to tampons and pads.
Dava emphasized that the presentation and panel were just a starting point for a continuing conversation around menstruation. She believes it is an important topic to understand as it affects most women every month, and can have a significant effect on daily activities. Understanding and support from the men in their lives can go a long way towards making the period experience more comfortable and less stigmatized for women at Wheaton and around the world.