And today in Adventures In Modern-Day Period Stigma, we have this: A woman claims she was removed from a flight after complaining about period pain. According to The Sun, Beth Evans and her boyfriend, Joshua Moran, claim they had boarded an Emirates Airline flight in Birmingham, UK headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday when Evans mentioned that she was experiencing some mild cramps due to her period. She and Moran claim they were subsequently ordered to deplane just a few minutes before they were scheduled to take off. Emirates said in a statement to the Sun that the captain had “made the decision to request medical support and offload Ms. Evans so she could access medical assistance” in an effort to avoid “[endangering] her by delaying medical help had she worsened during the flight.” (Bustle reached out to Emirates for comment, but received no response by press time.)
According to the Sun’s report, Evans claims she had been speaking about the stomach pains brought on by her period with Moran when a flight attendant overheard her. Emirates’ statement disputes this characterization of the situation, saying according to news outlets including the Sun, the Times, and the Washington Post that “the passenger alerted crew that she was suffering from discomfort and pain and mentioned she was feeling unwell.” Although Evans claimed that she described the pain as “one out of 10,” according to the Sun, the couple allege that they were then removed from the flight.
“To be kicked off for period pains, it was madness,” Moran told the Sun. “Beth was in tears and getting upset when the hostess was asking her questions. It’s embarrassing to have to explain about period pains when it’s being overheard.” He also claimed that the airline “didn’t have anyone look [Evans] over,” but rather simply “contacted a medical team in the U.S.,” who “said Beth couldn’t fly.”
“The safety of our passengers and crew is of paramount importance, and we would not have wanted to endanger Ms. Evans by delaying medical help had she worsened during the seven-hour flight to Dubai,” said Emirates in a statement, according to the Washington Post. “We hope Ms. Evans felt better soon and look forward to welcoming her onboard again soon.”
The Sun also reports that the couple were allegedly required to rebook their tickets, which cost them each an additional £250 (around $350).
There’s a lot of he-said, she-said in this story, particularly with regards to how the airline became aware of Evans’ cramps; no matter which way you slice it, though, the fact that the whole story has since gone viral speaks volumes of our culture’s problematic attitude toward and lack of knowledge about menstruation.
On the one hand, yes, it’s understandable that a company would want to cover itself in the event that someone’s pain was indicative of something other than the fact that she was on her period — but practically speaking, it’s just not feasible to assume the worst every time someone who menstruates has period cramps. Menstruating people would never be able to go about their everyday lives if that were the case; they’d experience severe disruption simply in their own state of existence. (Indeed, there are many places in the world where this is still the case. It’s one of the things that many global activists who work toward attaining equal rights for all people regardless of gender are fighting to dismantle — the period stigma that literally removes menstruating people from society and can cause great suffering, from a lack of access to education to actual death, as a result.)
While it’s true that extremely severe period pain can be a symptom of a larger issue, such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts, most people who menstruate know what a typical amount of period-related pain is for them versus what amount of menstrual pain might mean that something bigger is at play. If someone tells you that their menstrual pain is typical and only rates as a “one” in terms of severity, you’d think we’d be able to trust their assessment — but, possibly due to the fact that our society so frequently treats women as less capable than men, our cultural default is to assume that the person’s assessment of their own condition is wrong.
This is particularly infuriating when held up against the biases that women typically experience when seeking medical treatment. Research has shown time and time again that, even when men and women are experiencing the exact same symptoms, men are more likely to be taken seriously and believed, while women are more likely to be told that they’re exaggerating their pain or that it’s “all in their head.” Pair this phenomenon with this particular story, and what the big picture shows is that our culture not only doesn’t trust women to know when their pain is bad enough to require medical attention, but more often, that it also doesn’t trust women to know when their pain does require treatment. Either way, the end result is a culture full of people telling us that they know what we’re experiencing better than we do themselves.
And that’s a problem.
There’s no easy solution for it — but that shouldn’t stop us for trying to forge ahead anyway. There are big picture ways to fight period stigma, and smaller, everyday ways to do it, just as there are big picture ways to fight gender inequality and smaller, everyday ways to do it. Indeed, I’d argue that the “smaller” ways are actually quite big as well — because that’s how you normalize things that absolutely should be normalized, from periods to consent culture.
That’s how you make the kind of cultural shift we so badly need.
Let’s get to work.