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A Magazine for Sheffield

#PeriodPositive: Time to End the Hesitation Around Menstruation

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Hey Sheffield, we can talk about periods, right? We're cool with this. Because in Sheffield we tell it like it is. Just like in Brooklyn, where I'm from.

When I was growing up, you learned about periods from a little booklet from the tampon lady, and she gave you free samples too. When you went to the shop, you saw the same brands they gave out in school and you tried to save up and buy them, because you didn't want the other girls - or, even worse, a boy - to think you were cheap, and you certainly didn't want to leak. Why did I think that leaks were a fate worse than death, periods were awful, and boys were not to be told? Easy. I read the little booklet, saw the ads on telly and in magazines, and listened to my friends and teachers, who were mainly repeating stuff from the little booklet.

Things were similar in Sheffield back then too, and were pretty much the same when I started teaching here a few years later. Pad and tampon companies still give out freebies and booklets to a lot of schools in the hope of creating brand loyalty, and the booklets and packaging (and the ads that go along with them) still use words like 'secret' and 'whisper'. Some schools use them, because menstruation isn't a topic a lot of people are confident plunging head first into, and it's not really covered in teacher training college.

After doing some comedy projects about old advertising messages, I decided to be brave and challenge the stigma at my school. I looked at what was wrong with the way I was taught and I decided to try to undo it. And there was a lot to undo. I went back to uni and studied menstruation education for my Master's degree, and then I started the #periodpositive project. I designed my own lesson plans and got permission from parents to try them out and get feedback from my students.

[menstruation education] needs to actively challenge messages of shame

The students' responses were amazing. They had loads of questions and they were eager to learn. After my studies, I joined DECSY's awesome Gender Respect Project, which allows volunteer teacher researchers to create and test resources on all kinds of topics that challenge gender stereotypes across a wide variety of subjects, all over the city. The other teachers have some amazing projects going on and you should check out their blogs.

I've been trying out ideas and getting feedback from the other teachers, like Rebecca Stothard at Handsworth Grange, who wants students to be "informed, not influenced" about menstruation management. She doesn't use the branded stuff anymore either, and we've been working together to develop some engaging resources about the pros and cons of reusables like cloth pads and menstrual cups. Funny, those booklets from tampon companies conveniently don't mention them.

Carol Perry at King Edward VII School, who also runs theCHAT project, reports "embarrassment and some misunderstanding around periods for young people. It's important that they see periods as a completely normal part of life and have good information."

Another colleague, Boo Spurgeon, states it plainly: "We simply need to normalise bodies and what they do, and talk about them in an ordinary and matter of fact kind of way. Being unembarrassed and comfortable around these subjects ourselves makes young people comfortable too."

She raises something important - our attitudes affect the next generation. We need your help too. To be #periodpositive, you don't need to love periods, or even have them. All you need to do is be willing to talk frankly and openly, and seek out info if you want to find out more. And handily, there is a day designed to help you do that.

Menstrual Hygiene Day is on 28 May. It's happening all over the UK and all over the world with the help of people who all want to challenge menstrual taboos and end the hesitation around menstruation. Come join us in Sheffield and get #periodpositive.

Chella Quint

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