It is one of society's greatest ironies that millions of viewers can tune in to blood splattered shows like The Walking Dead without batting an eyelash, but in some circles, the mere mention of menstruation is enough to make people faint with disgust. Case in point: Tuesday's post on Reddit about the period-shaming one woman endured while visiting her husband's family for the holidays. Given that the kerfuffle took place just a few days into a three week vacation, she turned to the subreddit TwoXChromosomes for advice on how to handle the rest of the trip. While it remains to be seen how the situation will turn out, her post makes it clear just how deep menstrual stigma goes.
User santex8 explained that she has endometriosis, a condition that affects about one in ten women and girls in the United States. It occurs when a tissue similar to the endometrium, aka the uterine lining, grows outside the uterus, attaching to other organs in the pelvic cavity. This can cause extremely painful period cramps, heavy flow, infertility, and a whole host of other less-than-fun symptoms. Despite being relatively common, endometriosis is not well understood by many people — something santex8 ran into on the long road to her diagnosis. She wrote:
"I have stage 4 endometriosis, and had my right ovary and Fallopian tube removed in February 2009 at age 18. Being diagnosed was such a relief, as I’d struggled through 10+ years of debilitating cramps, massive bleeding, etc. All the while my family told me to stop complaining, suck it up, and so on. My parents had never even heard of endometriosis."
She went on to say that she refused to treat her condition as something shameful. "People need to know this debilitating disease exists, because women shouldn’t have to suffer in silence because it’s ‘just period pain,'" she wrote.
Therefore, when her sister-in-law's boyfriend ("E.") asked if she was okay on the first day of a three week family vacation, which also happened to be the first excruciating day of her period, she answered honestly.
"I’m in so much pain I’m struggling to function and am obviously not well. Sister’s boyfriend E asks if I’m okay, to which I respond ‘period problems’ or something along the lines thereof. That was it, I didn’t even think anything about it."
He asked, she answered. She didn't even go into detail about her condition. You might think that would be the end of the story, but that wasn't the case.
A few days later, her sister-in-law berated santex8 for mentioning her period to E. Santex8's husband briefly defended her before storming off, leaving santex8 to weather everyone else's reaction alone. Instead of changing the subject, the remaining family members — her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and a family friend — tried to console her by saying she didn't know better.
"I stay behind and get ‘soothed’ from husband’s mum, sister, and family friend all about how it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t know the British don’t talk about periods with men," she wrote. The catch? Santex8 is no stranger to British culture. She has lived in England for two years.
"I’m offended they tried to console me by essentially saying that I’m a silly American who doesn’t understand British ways," she wrote. The problem isn't that she doesn't "get" British culture; it's that women are discouraged from even mentioning menstruation.
She later told E. that if he had a problem hearing about her period, she would rather he bring it up to her face. Just as importantly, she reminded E. and her husband's dad that half the population menstruates — it's not some rare, disgusting condition. "I didn’t suffer for 10 years and to this day to see people not even acknowledge that periods exist. I’ve never been so ashamed and humiliated," she wrote.
In the comment section, other Reddit users chimed in to sympathize. Many pointed out that it's one thing to be squeamish about bodily functions, but santex8 didn't exactly go into gory details about blood clots or uterine linings. "I think that it's just his family hun. ... You didn't go into any specific detail about your period, so I don't see what warrants their attitude," wrote one user.
Another called the family's reaction "childish" and advised her to tell them to take their attitudes back to the middle ages. To read the entire post, along with the comments, head over to TwoXChromosomes on Reddit.
The holidays always have their fair share of awkward moments, but santex8's story shows that menstrual stigma is alive and well. At least there's hope for change in 2018.