Can We Talk About Periods? By Sarah Crook and Kelly Grehan

Recently we came across the picture above and loved it.  We talked about copying the wording and using it for an art exhibition on women we are involved with. We decided it was not suitable for a family audience, which got us thinking about why periods are such a taboo subject?

Why aren’t they freely discussed?

We remember our own mothers being shocked when sanitary towel adverts were first allowed on TV in the early 1990s.

In fact in 1993 an advert featuring Claire Raynor for Vespre Sanitary towels was banned following 700 complaints that concerned matters such offence being taken ‘about the format in which lots of women talk freely and easily in their own words about the product.’

Comments included things like ‘I didn’t know where to look when it came on and my husband was sitting beside me.’

The complaints led to sanitary adverts being banned between 4pm and 9pm.

More recently the advert above was banned on the New York subway because of the language used.

The first-time menstrual blood was depicted as red in an advert (as opposed to as blue) was in October 2017!

Why does the mention of periods remain a taboo?

Why does a perfectly natural process, one which without which we wouldn’t exist, still cause embarrassment and shame?

Does ‘discomfort’ come from ancient beliefs that menstruation is dirty?

This belief continued in numerous cultures and religions and was one reason why women were deemed unfit to hold positions such as priests.

The Old Testament makes numerous references to bleeding women being unclean (see here http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp)

Given that they are experienced by half the population, women are likely to bleed for between 2,250 to 3,000-plus days across their lifetimes and a quarter of women of reproductive age are menstruating at any one time – So why are periods still such a taboo?

From the time we start menstruating; girls are taught that periods are something to keep a secret and that sanitary towels are to be kept hidden.

Research has found that women go to lengths to hide their period — from concealing tampons and pads at the bottom of their shopping basket, to putting a used pad in their handbag when there is no bin in a bathroom.

We recall trying to work out the least conspicuous way to go to the toilet at work with a tampon, is it to take our whole bag, hide it up our sleeve or squeeze it tightly in our fist and hope no one sees?

Some women experience their first period as young as 8 years old now. Feelings of shame or embarrassment at a completely natural process are reinforced before they even hit being a teenager.

If it’s not openly discussed and spoken about honestly by all in society then how are we supposed to allay their fears and feelings of shame?

Only when periods are openly and honestly discussed in the media, at home and at schools can we set about change.

Education for all that enables women to feel empowered and comfortable by the natural processes of their bodies is needed.

We have both started using moon cups and it is astonishing how many women view them as a “bit disgusting!”

Of course, this stigma continues into other female associated words, with most women terrified to use the word vagina, often using euphemisms like ‘mini’ or ‘nunny.’

Very rarely do we hear the word vagina used in conversation or the media.

We would guess this avoidance to talk about our own bodies leads to the gynecological cancers being often undiagnosed until it is too late.  

Women suffering in silence or too scared to speak to doctors with health issues related to vaginas. We don’t tend to have nicknames for other parts of the body like arms and legs!

We believe stigma around menstruation is a form of misogyny. Negative taboos condition us to understand menstrual function as something to be hidden, something shameful.

This leads on to the issue of period poverty.

Anyone who has seen the film I, Daniel Blake will recall the harrowing scenes where Katie, played by Hayley Squires is driven to shoplifting sanitary towels, having been sanctioned by the benefit office and having found there were no sanitary products at the food bank.

Hayley Sims, ‘I Daniel Blake’

A recent survey of 14 to 21-year olds by Plan International found that 15% of girls have struggled to afford sanitary care at some point, with one in ten girls admitting to borrowing or improvising with sanitary products.

Shockingly, 7% of girls described using socks, newspaper or fabric to get through their period, in place of tampons or pads.

Plan International’s findings highlight that there are a significant number of girls in the UK whose daily lives are impacted by period poverty, both physically and emotionally, as taboo’s around menstruation are impacting girls’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Scotland has taken a step forward to becoming the first country to outlaw period poverty as Labour plans to formally introduce the legislation at the Scottish Parliament.

Monica Lennon’s member’s Bill has won the backing of each of the five parties at Holyrood, giving her the right to press forward.

Her proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill would create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products.

We recently started running a Red Box Project in Dartford (https://www.facebook.com/RedBoxProjectDartford/).

This is a project where women set up drop off points for sanitary products and then give them to schools to give to girls in need.

All the effects of poverty are cruel, of course, but there is something particularly desperate about a girl trying to learn whilst worrying about bleeding through her school uniform, feeling unclean all day and the dreadful impact this has on a girl’s self-esteem.

The fact that periods are treated by taboo by many will reinforce those feelings for that girl.

The response we have had from the community has been fantastic, although we have received criticism, including one woman calling us ‘pseudo feminists’ trying to solve ‘a non-existent problem’ and ‘favouring women over men.’

Of course, this just spurred us on, but it showed the disdain some people hold those unable to afford sanitary products in.

We believe girls, dealing with the misery that puberty almost inevitably brings, as well as all the stresses of school, friendships and modern adolescents, should be spared the embarrassment of period poverty.

We hope our Red Box Project makes some difference.

Women’s Contributions In History is Under Represented… Even In Stone Statues By Kelly Grehan

Today Millicent Fawcett made history as her statue joined the 11 others already at Parliament Square and she became the first woman to feature there.

That it has taken 100 years since some women got the vote for her to be included perhaps, speaks volumes about the contempt women’s roles in history are viewed with.

Millicent Fawcett was a British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer.

She is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women to have the vote, having led the nonviolent suffrage organisation, the NUWSS from 1890-1919, and therefore played a key role in gaining women the vote.

She also engaged in other political activities such as supporting worker rights and overcoming laws which were based on a dual morality for men and women.

Parliament Square is not the only place where women have been overlooked for commemoration.  

Research by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez revealed; of the 925 statues listed in the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association database, only 158 are of a woman as a lone standing statue.

Included in this figure are numerous statues of Queen Victoria and numerous nameless sculptures, typically rendered as naked, curvaceous and reclining.

Criado-Perez commented that if you are a woman “ your best chance of becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.”

The need for female representation was recognised as long ago as 1952 when a correspondent wrote to the Times about women being neglected in statues and memorials. The piece was entitled : “A Man’s World Even in Stone”.

Sadly there does not seem to have been a great deal of progress in the intervening years.  

It is not that women’s roles in history were minor, it is that they have not been celebrated enough to become common knowledge.

Many key women have not been recognised in stone… here are just a few;

Virginia Woolf,

Matchgirl strike leaders Mary Driscoll and Sarah Chapman (who’s pauper’s grave is at risk being moulded over),

Suffragettes including; Jessie Kenney, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst (there is a plaque for the latter on the statue of their mother),

Family planning pioneer Marie Stopes,

Social reformer Octavia Hill,

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson –  the first woman to train to be a Doctor (the rules at the time designed to keep woman from doing so),

Rosalind Franklin – whose x-ray work eventually led to the discovery of the DNA double helix and

The first British astronaut Helen Sharman.

Hard to believe that none of these women have a statue to commemorate them isn’t it?

A campaign for a statue of  Mary Wollstonecraft to be put on Newington Green  has been started.

Wollstonecraft was the author of the 1792 text  “Vindication of the Rights of Women” which was the first book in English arguing for the equality of women and men.

She is also notable as an early human rights advocate, educational pioneer, icon of social mobility, key Enlightenment philosopher, first female war correspondent and mother of Mary Shelley – let us hope this campaign proves successful.

You may ask why this matters, well in my view it matters because history matters.

Much of our cultural identity comes from the people and events we choose to celebrate.

Could a reason why women make up only 32% of the MPs in the House of Commons and local authority councillors be because we are socialised from birth into expecting those in such roles to be men?

I think one reason I have always been so drawn to the stories of the suffragettes is that learning about them  is the only time at school I that I can recall learning about females in history who were not Queens!

Another question is does the nature of many of the male statues being war related lead to a culture where we celebrate achievements in battle high above those in say medicine, or education?

I would say the evidence that we do this is all around us.

So let us celebrate our new statue of Millicent Fawcett, but let the real celebration be when the number of statues of women matches that of men and the number of women inside Parliament does the same.

Donate to the Mary Wollstonecraft statue here https://www.maryonthegreen.org/project.shtml

Petition to save Sarah Chapman’s grave is here https://www.change.org/p/minister-of-justice-save-sarah-chapman-s-grave-a-leader-of-the-1888-matchgirls-strike-trade-union-heroine?recruiter=109957635&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Petition for 50:50 parlaiment here: https://www.change.org/p/50-50-want-to-build-an-inclusive-modern-and-gender-balanced-parliament-it-would-lead-to-more-responsive-and-informed-decision-making-so-everyone-would-benefit-50-50-are-asking-those-in-power-for-solutions-and-taking-action-join-us-5050parliament

Information of some statues that are of women in London http://www.secret-london.co.uk/Women_2.html

A Review Of The ‘Inspiring Kent Labour Women Event’- 10th March 2018 By Kelly Grehan

Spurred on by International Women’s Day on Thursday a group of us from Dartford CLP headed down to Canterbury for this event.

Since becoming Kent’s only Labour MP last June, Rosie Duffield has become the pride of the Labour Party movement throughout Kent, with all of us feeling that she is ‘our Rosie’ .

The fact she worked in ‘ordinary, but important’ jobs such as a Teaching Assistant and for charities and juggled this with being a single mother has certainly been inspiring for the rank and file female Labour members.

Ive written before about how in my experience women often play down their skills and experiences and do not realise the value they could add to their communities as councillors https://theavengeruk.com/2018/02/28/a-womans-place-is-on-the-ballot-by-kelly-grehan/ ; so it was interesting to hear Rosie say that not so long ago she felt that standing as an MP was not a realistic option for her and that talking to a fabulous woman called Frances Scott from 50:50 Parliament had made the difference in her outlook.

Frances explained that she launched the 50:50 Parliament campaign which campaigns for gender equality at Westminster with the aim to inspire, encourage and support women in being elected to Westminster and is asking Parliament and all the political parties to work on solutions.

It is very exciting to know that this is exactly what encouraged Rosie.

Women are 51% of the population so it is indefensible that women make up just 32% of our MPs.

Frances spoke about how men can represent women (and vice versa) but are more likely to do a good job when there are women around.

All people use their experiences to understand the world, so it is no surprise that issues which primarily concerning women such as maternity, childcare, the wage gap and domestic abuse have not been priority issues within a male dominated parliament.

Men and women have different experiences – it is not that one is superior to the other – they are just different and all people benefit from those different experiences being valued.

Laura Cashman is Programme Director for Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. She made the point that woman and men vote in the same proportions – yet the false narrative that ‘women are not interested in politics’ persists.

The idea that women cannot be good mothers and good politicians is a myth. Just look at the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who is currently pregnant, and closer to home, in France last year; Senator Larissa Walters addressed the chamber whilst breastfeeding her baby.

Yet woman are sidelined in arguments, for example in the Brexit debate only 16% of media appearances to discuss the issue were women!

Given a choice of seminars I opted (after some deliberation it must be said) for Confidence In Campaigning; led by an inspiring woman called Fiona Crawford.

Like many Labour party activists Fiona came to prominence after feeling compelled to campaign on issues she felt strongly about such as racism and the ‘Save Broadstairs High Street’ campaign. This spurred her on to other campaigning.

Other women told of their campaigning experiences, with the message being that campaigning is so varied that there is something everyone can excel at – whether it be door knocking, designing leaflets, making displays and numerous other things.

Hearing women talk with passion about their champion of various causes was so motivating, and a reminder of how much woman have to offer.

What I am increasingly learning is that ‘inspired women’ inspire other women.

As women, we need to get better at telling others what we have achieved and what we value about them.

#AskHerToStand was a campaign championed by 50:50 Parliament.

The power of the movement was bought home to me speaking to one of the members of my group, Sarah Crook, attending her first political event.

Sarah commented “50 : 50 really struck a chord with me. It has seriously made me think about standing. I cannot believe in 2018 it’s still a 2:1 ratio of men to women in Parliament. Frances was so impassioned – she made me want to campaign for the movement”

I ask all women (and men) to join https://5050parliament.co.uk/ and ask friends to think about standing for parliament, council and all other public offices.

Together we can make a difference.

Kelly Grehan is a member of Dartford Labour Party and co founder and writer for The Avenger.

My Vulva Has Betrayed Me By Lucy Chapman

By Lucy Chapman

I love my vulva. I even like to say ‘vulva’. But my vulva doesn’t like me.

It is because of my vulva that I bore children. Wonderful, full-of-joy children. It is because of my vulva that after doing so I dropped down from being a full time secondary teacher to working three days a week.

We had a choice, it could have been my husband who stayed at home two days; I earned more than he did at the time, so it would have made sense financially, but it was my breasts which fed the babies, so it was me who went part time.

Damned breasts.

Being part time, there aren’t many positions of responsibility in a school; if you’re a Head of Department, your staff could need guidance and you’d be at Baby Song Time or as a Head of Year a child protection issue could arise when you’re at soft play / ball pool hell. It just couldn’t work.

So, as I stagnated in the workplace, I watched with pride as my husband (who worked at the same school as me) progress, get opportunities and promotions that were just not available to me. His pay was now already more than mine, simply as a result of me going part time and still the gulf was getting bigger.

As a direct result of this common phenomenon, my husband is swiftly paying off his student debt whilst I chip away £14 one month £21 the next. His pension contributions are also substantially higher than mine are now.

So, does any of this matter if we plan to grow old together and pool our income forever?

Well yes actually, it does. 

What if I was to become a single mum (imagine he had an affair or I discover he’s gambled away our life savings)?

Firstly, I would probably have to move my boys out of their school to get a more affordable home, I’d also become reliant on benefits and as a result I’d probably be labelled a ‘scrounger’ and television programmes would be made about my ‘sort’ of person.

I’d be villainised and people would wonder why I didn’t think about this before having children. I’d still be part time, so we’d struggle a little.

I’d still have a tonne of student debt left to pay and in my old age I’d be trying to manage on my meagre pension, whilst my now ex-husband joins the fancy golf club and books a cruise on his.

Women currently make up two-thirds of Britain’s poorest pensioners and changes being made to pensions (both public and state) will disproportionately affect women further still. 

It’s 2017 and in response to me querying why I’d not be getting my expected pay increase when returning from maternity leave, my boss, I kid you not, replied “it’s not as if you’re getting a pay cut”.

It’s 2017 and if my husband was beating me I’d honestly have to decide if I could financially afford to separate.

It’s 2017 and there are hundreds of thousands of mothers working part time and passing up on opportunities whilst fathers continue to breeze their way up the management ladder with the people they work with not knowing nor caring that they have children at all; it’s just not an issue. Nor should it be.

Girls have been doing better than boys in school for years yet we still have more men in management and leadership positions and there are much more male higher earners.

Only a mere 7 bosses of the 100, FTSE 100 companies are women.

It’s shameful. 

Women have been hit far more drastically than men by welfare cuts due to harsh austerity measures, a whopping 74% of welfare cuts are coming out of the pockets of women.

Women’s refuges are closing up and down the country despite 2 women being killed every week at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.

Women are considerably more likely than men to be in part time work and part time workers earn less per hour on average than their full-time peers.

65% of public sector workers are women so have been disproportionately affected by public sector pay freezes and job cuts.

I sound bitter.

I sound jealous.

I sound dried up; it’s not sexy to be overtly feminist, but is it that unladylike to want to be self-sufficient (even if from within a marriage)?

Am I that much of a bore to want a fair shot?

Is it so very unappealing to ask not to live completely dependent on another person?

It’s 2017 and my wonderful, sensual, sexy vulva has betrayed me. 

The Fight for Equality is Everyone’s Fight By Nathen Amin

By Nathan Amin

We appear to be living in a peculiar period here in the UK where a bitter divide has opened between opposing sections of the populace over a topic that should, in truth, be a unifying force – equality.

What one person proclaims should be a natural right for all is often vociferously condemned by another as a threat to their culture’s established way of life. It is a bizarre time indeed, and this is one ideological conflict I am not quite sure I understand. Surely, the battle for equality is a battle ALL of us should be fighting, regardless of our genealogical background, which we have no control over incidentally, or political outlook.

I can’t be the only person exasperated by witnessing protests by those seeking to establish equal rights for minority sections of the British public; reduced to nothing more than violent clashes between the right and left. Both sides often degraded by the other with unhelpful monikers such as fascist and Anti-FA, Nazi and snowflake, and so on.

How the hell a term like ‘liberal’, incidentally, became an insult, I’ll never know, and truth be told, I’ll never comprehend how anyone can protest against equality in the first place.

Let me expand a little bit. Whether we appreciate the fact or not, and it appears that many in modern-day Britain are wilfully preferring to remain ignorant, we are all affected by issues surrounding gender, health, sexuality, race, religion or creed. The fight for equality for those who are dreadfully affected by prejudice on a daily basis is a fight we should all be partaking in, as a united society, and not one that divides us into separate battalions headed for an inevitable clash every time our divergent paths cross, literally and figuratively. And yet, here we are.

Now, admittedly, I may be in an unusual place where I am affected by the fight for equality on several fronts, courtesy of my immediate family unit. I am affected on racial and religious grounds because of my own mixed-race ethnicity, my non-white father being a Muslim. I am affected on grounds of disability and mental health because of conditions which affect my sister and wife, whilst I also strive for equality based on sexual orientation because another sibling is LGBT. Naturally, some of these relations are women in the workplace, which opens up another front on which I want to see them receive parity they wholeheartedly deserve. It is absolutely in my interest that those people get every inch of support needed to, at the very least, ensure they are receiving equality in and out of the workplace.

If support is lacking in their life, if the women aren’t being paid fairly for a job a man does, or if a gay woman is discriminated against on account of her sexuality, or whether another family member gets overlooked for a role based on their colour, then you best believe that affects my own life. So I am a supporter of gay marriage, rights for migrants, support for mental health services, and yes, I am a male advocate of feminism.

Not everyone is in my situation, however, so I want to speak directly to those who openly criticise folk for espousing the desire to see equality given in all areas of life. I’m speaking to those who post bitter, obscenity-laden, diatribes online decrying another ‘lefty’ attempt to destroy our ‘native’ culture by pushing for gay marriage, defending immigration, giving too much credence to mental health issues, or even supposedly pandering to other faiths such as Judaism and Islam to the detriment of ‘our Christian way of life’. How dare those women call for equal pay in work!

Well, have you guys ever considered the fact that any fight for equality might just be a fight you will someday appreciate, and even be grateful for?

Allow me to be a bit blunt, hereon in. The majority of those who loudly decry ‘pandering’ to minorities, whether based on racial grounds, on sexual orientation, or any other basis, are largely drawn from a straight, white British-born male demographic. Not all, of course, as some within that background are as left and inclusive as the next person, but it’s not incorrect to suggest that the make-up of most EDL, Britain First or other Far-Right or conservative movements tend to be from those drawn from such a background. It is these counter-activists who claim to stand up for their endangered culture, to be the defenders of perverse notions such as embracing multi-culturalism or freedom of sexuality. And you can, on one hand, understand why. After all, those men, you know the types, often snarling with indignation whether in person or on the internet, don’t care about being foreign, gay or a woman, and who often implore those with mental health issues to simply ‘suck it up’. They’re white, British, straight, male. This, it seems, is not their fight, and they don’t see why concessions should be made.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder. In time, these men will have wives, they will have daughters and sons, and they will perhaps even have a brood of grandchildren.

Have they never considered the fact that equality in the workplace between men and womencould mean the difference between their wives being paid the same amount of money to do a job another man does? 

Or the fact that one of their children, or grandchildren, may be homosexual and want to marry, or perhaps are even straight but have wed into a family of an immigrant background with different faith. Perhaps they will have a child who suffers from mental illness that prohibits them from leading a full and active lifestyle. Maybe even THEY will suffer from a depressive episode in their life. Having a ‘stiff upper lip’ won’t fend off the ravages of depression, regardless of their boasts of ‘manning up’. The very ideas these, I hesitate to call them men, persons stand against are the very things that could, one day, be imperative in protecting their own families. And that’s, after all, what it means to be a man, surely – to protect your loved ones, and ensure they have every opportunity to become the very best versions of themselves?

Would these people be satisfied to learn their child didn’t get that job because they were a lesbian, or their wife couldn’t get that promotion because she was a woman?

No-one in their right mind in today’s British society should sincerely consider equality to be a negative thing. 

Freeing everyone of any shackles, mentally, physically, legally, will only benefit everyone. I want the best for my family and friends, be they white, brown, male, female, straight, gay, disabled or otherwise. I want everyone to be free to reach whatever goal they have set for themselves, and not to be barred by their race, gender, sexuality or health. That’s not a bad thing to stand for.

Equality affects us all. Let me repeat that, Equality affects us ALL.

**

Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and is the author of non-fiction books Tudor Wales (2014), York Pubs (2016) and House of Beaufort (2017), an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Wars of the Roses. He is currently working on his fourth book, Pretenders to the Tudor Crown, for release in 2019. He has also featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.